updated 3/25/2008 11:33:12 AM ET 2008-03-25T15:33:12

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Paul Rieckhoff, Jonathan Alter, Joel McHale

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

The 4,000th American death in Iraq: The vice president‘s reaction that these were volunteers and that, quote, “The president carries the biggest burden, obviously.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I‘m president to make sure those lives were not lost in vain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  How do you do that when you intend to make certain still more lives are lost in vain?

The Bush‘s plan to stop troop withdrawals.

No apologies.  Senator Clinton merely misspoke about Bosnia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I certainly do remember that trip to Bosnia.  I remember landing under sniper fire.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the video of that trip to Bosnia has resurfaced and it matches none of the senator‘s recollections.  Check the little girl for weapons.

Tonight, a campaign spokesman says, the point is she was on the frontline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON SPOKESMAN:  On one occasion she misspoke.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Are you misspeaking if you call a sitting United States governor a Judas over Easter weekend?

Howard Wolfson said if it was him, he would apologize to Bill Richardson.  But James Carville says he will not.  He will not resign, he meant it.

So, if he‘s Judas in this analogy, who‘s Jesus?

And it is not all one way, General McPeak says some of President Clinton‘s remarks about who is and who isn‘t patriotic resemble McCarthyism.  Now the Clintons are fundraising of McPeak‘s remarks.

The new “new math”:  Now the Clinton campaign wants the nomination assigned by the Electoral College votes in each state.

And: The last week of March.  It‘s not just for the Easter bunny anymore.  Join us on the campaign trail foolish Dyngus Day in Indiana, where you can throw water at anybody with impunity.  Puppet Theater brings you: Smigus Dyngus, everybody.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, March 24th, 225 days until the 2008 presidential election, which will decide just how much larger this nightmarish number will become: 4,000.

Four thousand American men and women in uniform who went to Iraq and never came home.  All of them in a vernacular of the White House seemingly sacrificed not by the Bush administration for its conflict, but instead somehow, having managed to sacrifice themselves.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight: A grim milestone reached with little accountability and a galling repeating drum beat today that they were all volunteers.  President Bush usually letting it passed without comment when grim milestones come and inevitably go in Iraq.

The U.S. death tool there is reaching 4,000 late yesterday.  Four U.S.  soldiers killed when a bomb hit their vehicle in South Baghdad.

Mr. Bush noting there are losses this afternoon, from the State Department, saying the fallen have set the foundation for peace in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  One day people will look back at this moment of history and say, thank God there were courageous people willing to serve because they laid the foundations for peace for generations to come.  That I have vowed in the past and I will vow so long as I‘m president to make sure that those lives were not lost in vain.  That, in fact, there is a, you know, outcome that will merit the sacrifice that civilian and military alike have made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Vice President Cheney today implying that the military members of that equation have no one to blame but themselves.  In the interview with Martha Raddatz of ABC News, Mr. Cheney is saying the U.S.  military casualties, to them, in effect, you volunteered, so.

Quoting him, “We‘re blessed with families who have sacrificed as they have.  The president carries the biggest burden.  Obviously, he‘s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans but we are fortunate to have the group of men and women, the all-volunteer force who voluntary put on the uniform and go in harm‘s way for the rest us.

You wish nobody ever lost their life but unfortunately it‘s one of those things that go with living in the world we live in.  Sometimes you have to commit military force and when you do there are casualties.”

We‘re not longer living in the world we live in.

The decision to commit U.S. forces is not exactly a “have-to” scenario.

At the White House, the president‘s press secretary also managing to absolve anyone in the administration from any connection to that verb, “to sacrifice.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  President Bush thinks that every single loss is tragic.  From the very first several years ago, to the ones who sacrificed yesterday.  And he‘s extremely proud of the courageous men and women in uniform and all that they‘ve done to help protect Iraqis, to protect each other and to protect this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Proud but not proud enough to allow any photographs of flag draped coffin returning from Iraq, a ban still vigorously enforced by the Pentagon.

Ms. Perino is saying that Mr. Bush, who claims not to base his decision making on public opinion regarding Iraq, is merely following the wishes of the families of the fallen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO:  Most of the families of the fallen that he meets with have one request of the president, which is do not let my loved one‘s sacrifice be in vain.  And the president assures them that he is committed to staying and fighting and winning.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Aren‘t there also families of the bereaved who ask him to stop the war?

PERINO:  There have been.  But the vast majority have all asked him not to allow that sacrifice to be in vain.  But certainly, there are some.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Can you say that with certainty?

PERINO:  He has said that repeatedly.  And that is true for the - I think almost nearly 1,000 families of the fallen that he‘s met with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Operative phrase: that he‘s met with.  Gold Star mothers like Cindy Sheehan and others for whom where (ph) had met only tragedy and waste, having been denied any chance of making their request of this president.

Ms. Perino is also addressing the fallacies on which this war was sold to us more than five years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO:  There‘s no doubt that secretary—I‘m sorry.  Excuse me.  Saddam Hussein was a state sponsor of terrorism.  What we know is that al Qaeda has decided to make Iraq the central front in their war on terror.  And we are fighting them there so that we don‘t have to fight them here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Freudian secretarial slips aside, al Qaeda never having been in Iraq, not even in franchise form until after the U.S. invaded.  Yet, to hear the top U.S. commander in Iraq talk, the biggest threat in that country now would seem to be Iran.  General David Petraeus who spent the morning briefing President Bush and will, again, brief Congress on the eighth of next month, is telling the BBC that he believes Iran was behind yesterday‘s attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad.

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:  General Petraeus managing to raise the prospect, again, of military confrontation with Iran about this.  If anyone might be wondering how exactly his April testimony will distinguish itself or improve upon the September version, did we just get the answer?  Should we expect more saber-rattling against Iran and very little about Iraq?

WOLFFE:  We should always expect more saber-rattling because there‘s very little else the administration can do.  And it‘s done it before when it felt that Iran was maybe meddling more than it currently is in Iraq.  But, I think, what it really—the real question is why the saber-rattling now?

And there are two answers to that.  First of all, maybe the security gangs from the so-called surge are not as actually secure as the administration has been presenting.  And certainly the upswing in violence that Petraeus was talking about is a sign that this may be actually a much more tenuous situation than the White House would have us believe.

And the second reason comes back to this whole sorry attempt five years after the invasion to come up with a justification for the war.  And if you are --- still, as the president does, believing that this is really about regional security, about remaking the region, and of course you are going to talk about Iran.  Because plainly, anyone can see that Iraq is not safer now in terms of America‘s national security than it used to be.  So, this is another rational for this war.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s been 15 months since the president announced the so-called surge.  And we got word from the “L.A. Times” that the scheduled summer drawdown of the forces is timed to when already extended tours would end it might be paused.

That would mean, at least 140,000 troops would stay in Iraq through the end of President Bush‘s term.  One hundred forty thousand was the figure in January of 2007.  So, there are no troops coming home in the understood meaning of that phrase, are there?

WOLFFE:  No.  There are troops rotating in and out but that doesn‘t make great headlines.

Look, of course any troops coming hope is good news for their family and a much-deserved rest after the appalling exertions of these tours of duties.  But overall, you can‘t take the timeline set when the president made the decision to announce the surge.  What really matters is the overall arc of the war and the overall state of America‘s national security.

Not so much even about Iraq‘s stability.  So, yes, what matters is the overall number.  What it was at the start, which was zero, and what is it now.

OLBERMANN:  About Mr. Cheney, anybody thinking those repeated uses of the words volunteer, voluntarily was some sort of inadvertent happenstance?  He also used the phrase “all-volunteer force” at a roundtable today in Israel.

So, he‘s only trying to get this message across that any service member who died, any of the 4,000 who sacrificed ultimately, assumes the blame for having volunteered in the first place, but as if their families are not suffering enough, today, he decides  that he has to explain that the president carries a bigger burden than the families do?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  It‘s very curious phrasing.  And the vice president uses so few words that each one is very carefully weighed.  I don‘t know how an all-volunteer force makes the deaths any easier to bear or even less politically controversial.  What really matters as Dana Perino said, is what the families are asking for which is not - to make sure that these people did not die in vain.

And unfortunately, what that really comes down to was the war worth it.  On that we‘d seen, not just public opinion, but every serious analyst of the region, every government in the region say that it has been a complete catastrophe.  So, it‘s a depressing construction that the vice president has used.  But what it‘s really about is that there‘s no clear exit strategy.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek” on the occasion of this grim milestone.  Thank you, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Here is a new one.  What would you say to a presumptive Republican nominee for president/decorated navy vet, who says he is on the same side of any issue as is Osama bin Laden?

Not exactly how one might have expected the death toll milestone on the campaign trail to merge.  On the campaign trail today, but Senator John McCain telling a group of vets in Chula Vista, California, that he and the leader of al Qaeda and General Petraeus are all in agreement when it comes to the venue of the primary fight in the so-called war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The first time I have seen Osama bin Laden and General Petraeus in agreement and that is that central battleground in the battle against al Qaeda is in Iraq today.  And that‘s what bin Laden is saying.  And that‘s what General Petraeus is saying.  And that‘s what I‘m saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Last April, the senator having taken a much publicized stroll through a Baghdad street market.  Violence on the ground in Iraq is now making a trip to that same market by Senator McCain just last week impossible.

Let‘s turn now to Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, also of course, author of “Chasing Ghosts: A Soldiers fight for America from Baghdad to Washington.”

Paul, good evening.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Pew Research Center came out last week, indicating that fewer than 30 percent of those polled new to the nearest thousand, how many military dead we had?  This large number thought we had 3,000 or less.  This has yet not resonated, again, as it was perhaps last year in the early stages of the presidential campaign.

But flatly, how many more men and women are going to die in Iraq depends on whether a Democrat or the Republican wins in November?  Do you think there is going to be a point at which that becomes clear to the public?

RIECKHOFF:  I hope so.  But the public‘s got to pay attention and the reality is that right now, the American public and large parts of the news media are tuning out of Iraq entirely.  The news coverage of Iraq last month was down to 3 percent of overall news coverage compared to 15 percent last year.

So, Americans are tuning out of the war and the media it appears can‘t walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.  They‘ve got to cover the economy and they‘ve got to cover the presidential races but they‘ve compromised coverage of the war in its place.

So, I think, we need continually, to focus on the war, on veterans issues, on this entire human cost of the war throughout the entire campaign going forward.

OLBERMANN:  What Senator McCain had to say today, I think, under other circumstances had gotten sort of the lightning rod attention that anything Senator Clinton had said, or Pastor Wright or anybody else in a deader spot in the political campaign.  Could that be turned into a Democratic ad waiting to happen, an issue on which John McCain, Osama bin Laden, and General David Petraeus all agree?

RIECKHOFF:  Sure.  I mean, that‘s a campaign ad waiting to happen.  I think, what it shows is this very narrow understanding of not only Iraq but entire war on terror.  You hear people oversimplify who our enemies are, the battlefields.  The reality is, we‘re facing global threats, and they are not just military, they‘re political, they‘re economic, they‘re social.

And this very narrow-minded understanding, I think, has really hampered the entire American dialogue on the war in Iraq.  It‘s got to change.  We‘ve got to go deeper.

And that‘s why our organizations and others are calling for a greater focus on Iraq by the media, by the American public and we want to put the candidates on the spot here.  Let‘s force them to drill down and show that they have an understanding of who the enemies are, what are the human costs and what are the back end costs here at home.  For veterans, they‘re going to come and flood our V.A. and hospitals of the next few years.

OLBERMANN:  Why has this notion taken hold that the surge, Mr. Bush‘s escalation which was what we used to call it before it had fancy, you know, driven names like surge, the troop escalation, more people being put in more harm‘s way, where did this notion come from that it has been a success?  What did they take hold?

RIECKHOFF:  Because there have been incremental violence decreases over the last few months, few weeks.  And we have, again, a narrow understanding.  We assume there‘s only military ways of evaluating success or lack of in Iraq.

So, the social lack of success, the fact that we can‘t get water running, we can‘t get electrical grids not working, we can‘t get people back in school, that‘s really in an understanding of Iraq.  It‘s a very simple analysis, black and white, about troop numbers, killed in action and what‘s happening in Iraq.  We need a much more robust, much deeper and broader understanding of what‘s happening in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  The 4,000 figure, let me leave you with that.  The (INAUDIBLE) Press calculated that 97 percent of those 4,000 have come since the White House declared mission accomplished.

Could the argument not be made as we think about the somber nature of that number, that ground number, that mission was accomplished as of May 1st, 2003, and that 97 percent of these men and women have, in fact, died in vain?

RIECKHOFF:  You know, I don‘t ever say they died in vain because as soldiers, we don‘t worry about the mission, we don‘t worry about the president, we don‘t worry about the rhetoric in Washington.  You worry about that man and woman to the left and right of you.

And we know that, you know, half the troops that have died are under 25 years old.  There are about 2,200 kids that have lost parents in this war.  That‘s the human side of this war that soldiers and veterans understand profoundly.

And we try to separate the politics and understand that our personal human cost is often misunderstood and very different from what you hear in the news or what the politics talk about.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  The fatality and the post trauma, or whatever kind, physical or emotional is the same one way or the other.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, always a pleasure.  It‘s a strange word to use, but thanks for coming in, Paul.

RIECKHOFF:   Thank you, Keith.  Appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  It is not Iraq but Bosnia emanating the presidential campaign at the moment.

Breaking news tonight: Senator Clinton‘s first comments on what her campaign had called misspeaking about her arrival there in Bosnia in 1996 which she described as happening while under fire, though the videotape suggests otherwise.

“I say a lot of things,” she said tonight.  “Millions of words a day, if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.”

And: Surrogates gone wild.  No apology, no retraction for calling Governor Richardson a Judas over Easter weekend.  And a comparison of Bill Clinton to Joe McCarthy has no place in the campaign but tonight, Senator Clinton has begun trying to raise money of it.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton recalled it as so dangerous the greeting ceremony at the airport was canceled and the American party was advised to run for the cars because of the sniper fire, and then, the videotape without the sniper fire or the running, but with a greeting ceremony at Tuzla in Bosnia turned up.

Tonight for the first time, she admits it may have been a misstatement, breaking news on that next.

Later in worst: John McCain did not misspeak about Iran and al Qaeda, says a media supporter, he only had a senior moment.

Well, and there‘s no reason to be fearful of the McCain presidency, is there?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Breaking news tonight: For the first time, Hillary Clinton, herself, is calling her claim about landing in Tuzla under sniper fire a, quote, “misstatement,” reversing her past defense of her account even as she told Will Bunch of the “Philadelphia Daily News” this afternoon, this was, quote, “a minor blip.”

In our fourth story tonight: That minor blip, a major point though, in Clinton‘s narrative about herself as a crisis-ready candidate.  Her own campaign staff earlier today acknowledging only that it was possible she misspoke last week about coming under sniper attack so heavy that a 1996 greeting ceremony at the airport in Tuzla in Bosnia had to be canceled.

That acknowledgment coming after a videotape of the ceremony that wasn‘t at all cancelled reappeared on the Internet and even then, Clinton‘s spokesman, Howard Wolfson, insisted today, that she was still, quote, “on the frontlines.”

Clinton‘s war story first started unraveling when they came under fire from her former comrade in arms, Sinbad, the comedian, who was also on that Tuzla trip.  Last Monday, Clinton dismissed Sinbad‘s claim that Bosnia was safe enough not only for them but also for President Clinton to have visited.  At least when and where they went to Tuzla and she offered a brand new version of that trip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  There was a saying around the White House that if a place was too small, too poor or too dangerous, the president couldn‘t go, so, send the first lady.  And that‘s where we went.  I remember landing under sniper fire.  There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport.  But instead, we just ran with our heads down to get in to the vehicles to get to our base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Spokesman Howard Wolfson on Sunday acknowledging only that it‘s possible she misspoke about her exit from the plane.

Possible as in the “Washington Post” found this photo of President Clinton two months before at the same Tuzla airport she now suggest was too dangerous for him then, possible as in contemporary news accounts reported, no sniper fire, possible as in video of the event shows her not running, and her head is not down, not dodging bullets but rather kissing an 8-year-old girl who somehow made it on the front lines and read Mrs. Clinton a poem.  Possible as in that 8-year-old told Mrs. Clinton, quote, “There is peace now.”

Even today, Senator Clinton having insisted, quote, “I was also told the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but that there was this 8-year-old girl and I can‘t rush by her.  I‘ve got to go at least greet her, so I made, took her stuff and then, I left.  The tarmac now apparently, not safe enough for the first lady, safe enough for an 8-year-old‘s poem recital and this despite the commander in charge at the time telling multiple media outlets now that there was no sniper threat.

Clinton and her campaign also not explaining the fact that her alleged misspeak came both during those prepared remarks last Monday and the question and answer session afterwards and that she misspoke about the same thing on other occasions having claimed in late February during her White House phone ad roll out, that sniper fire forced the airport ceremony inside, having Clinton debut (ph) in December both that Bosnia was too dangerous for the president and that she ran across the tarmac.

The full statement of the Philadelphia Daily News today: “What I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire.  So I misspoke—I didn‘t say that in my book or other times but if I said something that made it seem as thought there was actual fire—that‘s not what I was told.

I was told we had to land a certain way.  We had to have our bulletproof stuff on because of the threat of sniper fire.  I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac but there was this 8-year-old girl and I can‘t rush by her, I‘ve got to go at least greet her—so I made—I took her stuff and then I left.

Now, that‘s my memory of it.  I went to 80 countries, you know.  I gave contemporaneous accounts.  I wrote about a lot of this in my book, you know.  I think that a minor blip, you know.  If I said something that, you know, I say a lot of things—millions of words a day, so if I misspoke that was just a misstatement.”

With that clear and defining terminology behind us we‘re joined by Jonathan Alter, also of course, MSNBC political analyst and senior editor at “Newsweek.”  Good evening, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you want to try to explain what that statement in the “Philadelphia Daily News” was?

ALTER:  Well, it was not a very good effort at damage control.  Look, this isn‘t the biggest deal in the world.  It‘s kind of like a fish story, how big was the fish, this bigger or a war story that a lot of people tell and they embellish a little bit.

It‘s not a federal crime to do that, but when you get caught with videotape saying something that turns out not to be true, the best thing to do instead of hemming and hawing the way she was is do what the old mayor of New York Fiorello LaGuardia days, said, when I make a mistake it‘s a beaut.

We want our presidents to be able to disarm people with—when they make a mistake or move past it with a little bit of humor.  That is a very, very important tool for a president of the United States.  And she didn‘t pass that test tonight.

OLBERMANN:  But of course, if she were going to do that, she would have said that with her Iraq vote.  She could have used the line there, right?

ALTER:  Well, that one might have been a little different.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  A joke would have been all right.

ALTER:  Certainly in retrospect, she should have fessed up to a mistake on that many, many months ago and she would have been better off.

OLBERMANN:  But has anybody look at this in a context and said, what would the Republicans do with this in a general election?  I mean, she has said she negotiated to open the borders in Macedonia, the borders turned out to have been opened the day before she got there.

She claimed the critical role in the peace process in Ireland, there‘s two equally weighted testimonies about whether or not that was true.  So, that‘s like a 50/50 on that.  But there are people involved of the process, David Tremble (ph) who says she‘d never had anything to do with it other that arranging lunches (ph) for people, and now, the Bosnia thing.

Can you treat this as—is there a perception that this will be treated as misstatements, misspeaking now, but will the Republicans not come out and say you, are resume padding, you are lying?

ALTER:  Well, you know, who knows what the Republicans might do.  But I think that it‘s important to distinguish between the substantive exaggerations on things like her involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process, where I saw her terribly exaggerate her role there.  She was involved in helping women on both sides come together, but she was not involved in the actual negotiations.  That‘s very clear.

She substantively exaggerated her role in S-CHIP, the children‘s health program.  She was not involved in the passage of that.  She was involved later on in helping it be implemented by the states.  But she was not involved in the passage and she claimed that she was.

She was not involved in the Family and Medical Leave Act passage.  She was involved in some follow on, more minor legislation.  So, I think it‘s important to look at the substance rather than the exaggerations of whether she made a corkscrew landing or dodged fire in Tuzla.  And I do think that there is an issue here where she wants to run as the experienced candidate.

OLBERMANN:  Right.

ALTER:  She has made the point of claiming that Barack Obama passed much less legislation, which is also not true.  Each one of them has only two pieces of legislation of any consequence that they got through the United States Senate.  It‘s two to two on important legislation.  So, there is a whole series of distortions here that she‘s engaged in order to advance her campaign.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  If they are predicating a campaign on, you know, I have passed the commander in chief test.  We still haven‘t seen this test.  We don‘t know if it is administered by the people who do the SATs or who does it.

But if you were saying you passed the test and the other guy did not, doesn‘t your track record on everything you supply as evidence for that have to be, no pun intended, bulletproof.

Don‘t you have to have not any mistakes on this or you‘re - if this is your premise of why you are the candidate and the other guy is not, don‘t you have to score 100 percent in this topic when you speak publicly?  (INAUDIBLE) That‘s a misspeaking for a minute or two about whether those were roses or gun fire, that‘s a pretty big misspeaking.

ALTER:  Well, especially if you‘re way behind.  I mean, that‘s the context for this.  And you are quite right.  At this point she can‘t afford these kinds of mistakes.  She has very little margin for error.

She‘s behind in the delegates.  She‘s behind in the popular vote.  This doesn‘t help her momentum.  So, she does have to, you know, get it right.  And then, if she doesn‘t she has to fess up in a way that is at least a bit charming.

OLBERMANN:  Well, if it‘s a misstatement then that means she misspoke or she misspoke and it means a misstatement.  That has a certain elliptical char to it in a certain methodology.

ALTER:  Yes, I mean, the larger problem is she didn‘t have a security clearance in the Clinton administration.  So, while she was there, in the cockpit with the commander in chief she wasn‘t actually in on any, you know, discussions about national security policy because she didn‘t have the proper clearance to do so.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” magazine, and MSNBC, when we‘re fortunate.  Thank you, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A John McCain supporter explains he wasn‘t mistaken about al Qaeda and Iran and he wasn‘t lying and it wasn‘t a flip-flop.  It was just a senior moment.  And that reassures me how?

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Coalition of the bullies-gate.  A new book by the Chilean ambassador to the U.N. describes from the inside what it was like to be on the receiving end of Mr. Bush‘s pressure on allies to support the invasion of Iraq five years ago.  Geraldo Mu¤oz writes of Bush telling Chile‘s president next Monday time is up.

Words still he says, he and the ambassadors of the other reticent nations began to meet not at the U.N. but in a secure room at the German embassy because at the U.N., he says, Americans were eavesdropping on their conversations.

Number two: Historical delusion-gate.  Karl Rove is celebrating the fifth anniversary of Iraq by forgetting all he said before.  Al Qaeda extremist decided to make it the central battlefield in the global war in terror, he says now.  No.  The administration said we were going to fight terrorists there instead of here.  But, just in case you‘re worried Mr.  Rove was only living in the past, he added, “by winning, we will send a powerful message that the momentum is on our side and it will rally the Muslim world to us.”  Yes, we will be greeted as liberators.  I‘m sorry.  That was Cheney. 

One more quote, “think about the creation of the democracy in the Middle East with the third largest oil reserves in the world.”  That is going great too.  Average price of a gallon of gas in this country this weekend, 3.26, the all time high. 

Number one, re-surge-gate; the conservative American Enterprise Institute, which sponsors wars and Michelle Malkin and other fatal things, is about to announce a push for a U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan.  No figures offered. 

Given how stretched thin the military already is, if the Institute is recommending more than 17 additional soldiers for Afghanistan, its members better be ready to go there themselves. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Worst persons; ever thought the occupants of the Fox news room were rotten louses?  It turned out you are partially correct.  A little bed bug problem over at Chez Hannity. 

Also, can you compare a former president‘s words to McCarthyism?  Can you call a sitting U.S. governor Judas for endorsing a rival candidate?  Yes, obviously.  Only the man who made one of those remark is refusing to apologize for them or even withdraw them. 

The president meets with his latest new adviser, the White House Easter Egg hunt meets Dyngus Day on the campaign trail in Indiana.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s best persons in the world.  Only one of them tonight.

Saturday Walter Schneller died.  He was the first teacher to instill in me a true understanding of American politics.  Paramount in it was that truth that history is not inevitable, that each of its chapters is made up of a million decisions, often by very ordinary people, and we can all define and shape and insist on the history yet to come. 

Mr. Schneller twice ran for president, carefully crafted campaigns of one day each to give the entire school an up close glimpse at the process.  Others of us were luckier still.  Will Bunch (ph), who just tonight got those exclusive comments from Senator Clinton about Bosnia for the “Philadelphia Daily News,” he says his interest in history was taken to another level by Mr. Schneller. 

I got to have a one semester tutorial with him, in which for 12 weeks he discussed with me Theodore White‘s “Making of The President” series.  To this day, and I mean to tonight, those books and his insights, especially, about them inform my perception of what you and I are seeing in this year‘s making of the president. 

Walter Schneller taught at Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York for 42 years, and thereafter served as its historian.  He was 75 and he had prostate cancer.  I spoke to him last September, and he said he was delighted to think he had influence on this newscast.  It was the only time in the 37 years I had known that I had ever known him to be mistaken.  His influence on this newscast and me and the hundreds of students who went before me and after me was immeasurable. 

Thank you, Mr. Schneller, and goodbye. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s hard not to wonder whether the relevant electrons passed each other in somewhere in the ether today.  In our third story tonight, the battle of the surrogates; at almost exactly the same time, the Clinton campaign today sent out an e-mail seeking donations because two Obama supporters analogized Bill Clinton‘s rhetoric with that of Joe McCarthy, the fear mongering senator of the Red Scare of the ‘50s.  Clinton supporter James Carville was on TV defending his comparison of former Clinton cabinet member Bill Richardson‘s endorsement of Obama to the betrayal of Judas, the guy who gave us Easter, to put the nicest spin on it. 

Carville not elaborating on his analogy, to explain who that makes Obama.  Richardson now saying, quote, that is typical of many people around Senator Clinton.  They think they have a sense of entitlement to the presidency. 

Today, Clinton‘s campaign too suggested that Carville had gone too far, just as Obama‘s campaign now says there is no place in this race for those McCarthy references.  Clinton‘s former Air Force chief of staff General Tony McPeak the first of several to compare President Clinton‘s rhetoric to that of McCarthy when he said a McCain-Clinton race would be good because it would involve two Americans who love their country, one of two conclusions being that there was an implication by omission. 

Another conclusion tonight, the Clinton campaign sending out the fund raising e-mail that asks, “do you think Bill Clinton is like Joe McCarthy?  Of course you don‘t.  Neither do I, but Barack Obama must because this past weekend, his campaign compared President Clinton to Joe McCarthy, Joe McCarthy!” 

Some of the campaign surrogates who are not redefining the candidates are now redefining victory.  Senator Evan Bayh, a Clinton supporter, pushing the notion yesterday that super delegates, Clinton‘s last realistic hope for the nomination, should cast their votes based not on popular vote, nor delegate count, nor states won, but based rather on which candidate would be leading if this had been a contest being decided by the Electoral College, a formulation unique not just in its lack precedent, but in its status as the sole metric yet found in which Senator Clinton enjoys even a slight lead. 

Let‘s turn now to the Einstein of electoral physics, MSNBC and NBC News political director Chuck Todd.  Chuck, good evening. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Happy Dyngus Day. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  How many criteria now have the Clinton campaign advanced for super delegates to make their decisions?  Do we have any estimate? 

TODD:  I believe it is four now.  We‘ve had the popular vote, which is one that wasn‘t part of this equation.  Remember, delegates nominate more than anything.  It was popular vote, the caucus delegates separated out to the pledged delegates, blue state delegates.  Now we‘ve got electoral college. 

Look, they found a metric where they are leading in.  And I think they are going after not necessarily that somehow states—these states are going to translate into victory in the fall, because it is a ludicrous argument.  George Bush carried New York and California in 2000 in the primaries.  John Kerry knocked John Edwards out of the race in 2004 when he won the Virginia and Tennessee primaries.  He didn‘t carry either one of those states.

So it is not a good argument there.  But it does serve to emphasize, hey, when you see the fact that Obama has won 27 states to Clinton‘s 14, a lot of those states are pretty small. 

OLBERMANN:  If the party intent in creating the super delegate safety net was to somehow mirror the Electoral College breakdown, might not it have been created in such a way so that the party weighted its delegate counts in part on the breakdown of electors per state? 

TODD:  What is interesting, Keith, is they do weight the states, but they don‘t weight it on their importance in the general election.  They weight it on how Democratic they vote.  You can see it in that, for instance, there are more—Texas is bigger than New York, but there are more super delegates, for instance, awarded to New York than Texas because New York has been a more Democratic state and more Democratic.  So they do weight it, they just don‘t weight it toward the Electoral College.  They weight it towards Democratic performance. 

OLBERMANN:  In terms of Democratic performance, are we over-estimating possibly the long-term effects of the inter-party bickering?  I mean, so what if someone was called a Judas and someone else was compared to Joe McCarthy.  Has there ever been a general election in which the was based in part by the American public on what had happened in the primaries, besides the Democrats in 1968 and the Democrats in 1980, maybe the Democrats in 1988, maybe the Republicans in 1992.  Other than that it has never happened, right?

TODD:  Right, and the Republicans in 1976.  The fact is, the longer this goes on, the more likely that the party that has this very long nomination will lose the general.  It‘s something like nine of the last ten general elections the party that got its nominee first, that finished its primary process first, won the general election.  So I talked with a couple of Democrats today who have no horse in this race, because they have to worry more about Senate races, House races, things like that.  They believe this is a tipping point.  We are now in a position where this is hurting the party first and the longer this goes on—

The problem is this same person said, if I were Hillary Clinton, I wouldn‘t get out either, because there definitely is a little bit of a question mark over Senator Obama.  How is—what kind of long-term effects will this Reverend Wright controversy have on him in a general.  There is no reason for her to get out.  And yet, every day this primary goes on, it is now—we‘re at that point on the Hill where it is now hurting the party more than it is helping. 

OLBERMANN:  Give me a quick read on Bosnia and these latest implications of—now she is saying maybe it was a misstatement.  Maybe those weren‘t gun fire things that I heard on the videotape that shows no gun fire. 

TODD:  Well, look, I mean, why did they continue to use this story when there have been questions about this story for months?  It was an odd decision to make, and they now feel like they had to pull back and say, yes, she did misspeak.  When you compare the story to what she has on her website—versus the story that was told in the book, versus other remembrances of it, it doesn‘t match up. 

The things is, they don‘t want to be having those stories questioned, because that is part of the experience that she has been running on. 

OLBERMANN:  That is the problem right there.  MSNBC and NBC News political director Chuck Todd.  As always, Chuck, great thanks. 

TODD:  You got it, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Worst persons tonight; finally, we understand what has been so wrong inside these buildings all these years, bed bugs. 

And it is Dyngus Day on the campaign trail.  You never heard of Dyngus Day?  It involves throwing water at other people for no reason.  Better than throwing mud, I suppose.  Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s Dyngus Day and you forgot to send a card.  Celebrate this Polish holiday of throwing water and dirty dishes with Bill and Chelsea Clinton on the campaign trail in Indiana.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s Worst Persons in the World. 

The bronze to Warren Vanderveer (ph), senior vice president of operations at Fixed News.  The “New York Times” reporting that the company has finally eliminated a problem inside its news room, bed bugs.  So bad they had to bag employees‘ clothing and pull the fabric off some of the chairs. 

In one Fox noisier‘s home they found, quote, the worst infestation the exterminator had seen in 25 years in this business.  But, Mr. Vanderveer says the bugs are now gone from the news room.  It is, quote, totally eradicated.  So that‘s what happened to John Gibson‘s show. 

The runner up, William Kristol of the “New York Times,” claiming there are no comparisons between Jeremiah Wright and Pastor Rod “destroy Islam” Parsley and Pastor John “the Catholic Church is the Great Whore” Hagee.  Quoting Kristol, because these are just individuals who endorsed Senator McCain.  Leaving that aside, no, this would be like attacking Obama because random individuals in the Democratic party have endorsed him. 

Once again, Bill, you can‘t take 45 percent of the facts and call them truth.  Hagee and Parsley each appeared with McCain at campaign events in the last two months.  Hagee didn‘t just endorse McCain.  Hagee said McCain solicited his endorsement.  After it, McCain said he was very honored, very proud of the endorsement. 

We, in the media, have largely given McCain a big fat pass about these nut bags of his. 

Our winners tonight, Senator McCain and one of his press spokesmen, Brit Hume of Fixed News.  After McCain four times said Iran was training al Qaeda for missions in Iraq, then was corrected by Senator Lieberman, then said, not al Qaeda, extremists, then went the next day back to saying it was al Qaeda and not just extremists.  Spokesman Hume said, it was probably just a blip.  The feeling was not that he is a dope, didn‘t know his way around.  He might have had a senior moment there. 

So taking your best-case scenario, you want we should elect a guy who has senior moments about starting wars?  These are my choices?  He is a dopes, he is a liar, or he has senior moments?  Senator McCain and his press spokesman Brit Hume of Fox, today‘s Worst Persons in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Today is indeed Dyngus Day.  In Polish tradition, a celebration marking the end of Lent, as opposed to a search of the definition of that similar word, Dyngus, a day when boys playfully douse girls with water, and girls are allowed to strike the boys back with pussy willows or, in some cases, dirty dishes.  Those are not the same thing.  All as a means of showing affection. 

But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, Dyngus has evolved to a largely political event in South Bend, Indiana.  And today, former President Clinton was stumping for his wife in that upcoming state.  Thus, the water splashing and pussy willowing were kept to a minimum.  But, a good time was still had by all with the former president and Chelsea Clinton declaring that when it comes to Dyngus, Senator Hillary Clinton is ready on day one.  No, they didn‘t need to say that, because honoring Dyngus is what counts.

Since Bill and Chelsea Clinton did not take part in the traditional water splashing we estimate what it would have looked like if they had in a brief edition of Clinton Dyngus Day Puppet Theater. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hey.  That was fun. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, President Bush today kicked off the traditional Easter Egg roll on the south lawn, you know, for kids.  Sure.  Sure.  The president also squeezed in some face time with Miss Bunny.  Harriet Myers, is that you? 

Let‘s turn to the host of the pop cultural show of record, E!  Entertainment‘s “The Soup.”  “Soup” special‘s now Monday nights at 10:00 p.m., in direct conflict with COUNTDOWN.  Joel McHale.  Good evening, Joel. 

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you for having me on to talk about politics.  Howard Fineman, you watch your hairy back. 

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations, as we start again, on the new edition to your family. 

MCHALE:  That is why I look like a homeless person. 

OLBERMANN:  This is your current excuse.  Senator Clinton, giving a speech on the economy in Philadelphia today, sent the former president and Chelsea to celebrate Dyngus Day in South Bend, Indiana.  Senator Obama is on vacation.  He sent a surrogate, former Indiana congressman.  Does this give Dyngus its due? 

MCHALE:  I think that any candidate that shows up in person to Dyngus Day festivities is selling out, because Dyngus Day has become so commercial.  I feel like when I walk into a Starbucks, I hear Dyngus Day music like six months before the holiday.  It‘s ridiculous. 

OLBERMANN:  The traditions regarding this day differ.  There are more modern versions.  The water can be thrown both ways, boys at girls and girls at boys.  In some of the celebrations, girls actually throw dishes.  Do we know how Dyngus was celebrated in the Clinton White House or in the Bush White House? 

MCHALE:  In the Clinton White House, the girls wore white t-shirts and threw the water on themselves.  And in the Bush White House, the boys just water boarded the girls. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.  Also today, at the White House, the traditional Easter Egg roll; the president blew a whistle, hugged the bunny.  Did he seem wistful now that his final year in office, his final Easter Egg roll? 

MCHALE:  Blowing a whistle and hugging the bunny is actually a drinking game he used to play back in the ‘70s in Texas.  I think he is happy this is all behind him, because he got very confused as to where they got an enormous genetically mutated, upright walking bunny to head the Easter Egg hunt.  He thought it was an abomination. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, that is still a secret in the military apparatus. 

Only Cheney knows about that at this point. 

MCHALE:  They are being used in Afghanistan. 

OLBERMANN:  There were questions today about Senator Clinton having claimed that when she was in Bosnia as first lady, she needed to run for the airport because of the dangerous sniper fire.  Now she says she misspoke.  Is it or is it not true that once, when she was first lady, and a particular Easter Egg Roll got out of hand, she had to duck for cover under the portico of the White House? 

MCHALE:  That is true.  It is not her fault.  The White House made a mistake in inviting the New York Rangers to compete with the kids in the Easter Egg Hunt.  Mark Messier broke a four-year-old‘s girl clavicle and never apologized for it. 

OLBERMANN:  Fortunately, they haven‘t had the New York Rangers back, because if you saw the New York Rangers play lately, of course, the little girls will beat them every time at Easter Egg Roll or hockey. 

MCHALE:  Oh, I‘m telling. 

OLBERMANN:  Go ahead, you do that. 

MCHALE:  I‘m telling. 

OLBERMANN:  Joel McHale, host of “The Soup” on E! and “Soup” specials Monday nights at 10:00.  Great thanks for joining us, Joel. 

MCHALE:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,789th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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