updated 4/7/2008 3:08:56 PM ET 2008-04-07T19:08:56

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jonathan Alter, Dana Milbanks

RACHEL MADDOW, INTERIM HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Tax day: The Clintons release their post-White House tax returns.  Their combined income over seven years: $109 million.  Will this affect Senator Clinton‘s blue collar appeal?

On the campaign trail: A day to remember the 40 anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King.  McCain goes to Memphis and tries to make amends.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  When I voted against the federal holiday in memory of Dr. King, I was wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Clinton goes to Memphis and announces she‘ll have a poverty czar in her administration.  Obama bypasses Memphis and goes to one of the biggest tossups states yet to vote.

The politics of all of this: with Dana Milbank.

A new poll out shows that 81 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track -- 81 percent.  Eighty-one percent?

But even in that context in head-to-head matchup with Obama and Clinton, McCain ties?  We‘ll figure out that twisted logic with John Alter.

And: The twisted logic of continuing the war without letting the public know what the intel community says about how the war is going.  How does it serve the troops to have the country debate their fate without the facts?

Does staying up late make you more likable?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I was worried I wasn‘t going to make it.

JAY LENO, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  Oh.

CLINTON:  Yes, I was pinned down by sniper fire.

LENO:  Really?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I almost forgot about that until you brought it up, again.  Self-defalcation or self-destruction?

And: The destruction of the habeas corpus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, COUNTDOWN:  Thanks to modern post 9/11 thinking, those rights are now alienable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Fifth anniversary week here on COUNTDOWN continues with what you voted as one of your favorite segments.  Let‘s all wave goodbye to our civil liberties all over again.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann.  He‘ll be back on Monday.  This is Friday, April 4th, 214 days until the 2008 presidential election and 40 years to the day since the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died from a sniper‘s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee.

The presidential candidates address the meaning of that event today.  We‘ll see how in a moment.

But in our number five story tonight: Late this afternoon, Bill and Hillary Clinton released information about their post-presidential taxes, from 2000 through last year.

The headline: $109 million in income, averaging more than $10 million a year.  More of it coming from President Clinton‘s speeches than anything else: $52 from his speeches, $30 million from his books, $10 million from her books.  They paid $34 million in taxes which is 31 percent of their income and 10 percent, $10 million they gave to charity.

The Clinton financial figures somewhat awkwardly, came out on the day when all three campaigns had something to say about poverty, an issue pushed to the fore (ph) by today‘s anniversary of King‘s death.

Speaking in Memphis, Senator Clinton said she should appoint a poverty czar to serve her cabinet.  She also spoke about her reaction to King‘s death 40 years ago today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I will never forget where I was when I heard Dr. King had been killed.  I was a junior in college, and I remember hearing about it and just feeling such despair.  I walked into my dorm room and took my book bag and hurled across the room.  It felt like everything had been shattered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator John McCain was also in Memphis, apologizing for his previous opposition to the federal holiday honoring King, getting booed in the process.  McCain also pledged to make poverty a priority but made no promise of a cabinet-level position.

Senator Barack Obama did make that promise but unlike McCain or Clinton, Obama was not in Memphis today.  Speaking in Indiana, Obama recalled not his own personal account of that day, he was just seven years old after all.  Instead, he talked about Robert Kennedy, giving a crowd the news about King‘s death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Some of you heard of the recordings, the shouts, the pain that were heard as Robert Kennedy made that the statement as the shout turned into anger, Kennedy reminded them of Dr. King‘s compassion and his love.  And on a night when cities across the nation were alight with violence, all is quiet in Indianapolis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The anniversary and talk of poverty today somewhat overshadow the minor scandal among the Clinton campaign staff.  Clinton‘s controversial chief strategist and pollster Mark Penn also had drawn his salary from his own lobbying company.

Today, it was revealed that on Monday, he met with Colombia‘s ambassador to the U.S. because Colombia has hired Penn‘s firm to lobby for a U.S. free trade deal with Colombia.  Why do you care?

Well, the catch here is that Hillary Clinton is opposed to that trade deal.  While her chief strategist and pollster is being paid to lobby for that free trade deal.  Penn today called the meeting an error in judgment.  The Clinton campaign said, they see no conflict of interest.

I‘m joined now by fellow MSNBC political analyst Dana Milbank, who‘s also national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”  Hi, Dana, thanks for joining us.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s great to join you on this auspicious anchoring debut.

MADDOW:  Thank you.  Why do you think that John McCain and Clinton went to Memphis while Barack Obama did not?  Do you think the Reverend Jeremiah Wright enters into these kinds of calculations, Dana, as (INAUDIBLE) to Reverend King?

MILBANK:   Maybe, Rachel.  If you remember, it was just about a year ago, we were asking, a lot of folks were asking is Barack Obama black enough.  Well, I think thanks to Reverend Wright, nobody is asking that question right now.  In fact, he‘s giving the race issue a bit of distance and I think that was a sensible thing to be in Indiana today.

Clinton played it quite well with what seemed to be a heartfelt tribute and then you had John McCain who, obviously has the most work to do among African-Americans.  Perhaps not the best imagery to go there and give his speech in Memphis on King Day and have a black man holding an umbrella over him, but at least he did not refer to Dr. King as a negro.

MADDOW:  Yes, at least.  Barack Obama today evoked RFK, do you think this was to rationalize the fact that he‘s in Indiana which of course votes this month?  Or do you think that he was in part trying to make a substantive point about—to try to tie himself to what it took to move the country on after King‘s death in the way that echoes his own interest of moving the country on on the issues of race?

MILBANK:  Well, I think this is what Dr. King might have called the fierce urgency of convenience for Barack Obama.  And that is a - obviously, a very important primary coming up there.  So, a very good reason to be there and it also did make sense to give himself some distance.

I think the RFK line was one of convenience because he happened to had been there and if Indiana were not about to hold a very important presidential primary, I doubt he would have gotten there to celebrate RFK.

MADDOW:  Oh, well, I hear you.  The Clintons, of course, today pulled a classic Friday night news dump with their tax information today.  Are you seeing a headline here that they‘re trying to avoid with this Friday night release strategy?

MILBANK:  Yes.  I think it was Bill Clinton as rich as Dick Cheney that they were probably trying to avoid.  And there‘s 109 million reasons why you wouldn‘t want this out right now and clearly, Bill Clinton has disqualified himself for the role of poverty czar.

There‘s also the issues of, you know, there‘s about $13 million in there that Clinton earned doing business with campaign contributors, nothing necessarily wrong with any of this, it‘s just harder to equate yourself with the common man when this sort of thing is out there.  But they did and bit the bullet and it‘s done now.

MADDOW:  It does seem awkward that it came out on what is essentially a poverty day on the campaign trail.  It does seem like an awkward coincidence.

Finally, on the Mark Penn issue, her very controversial top strategist, gets paid by her to communicate her opposition to the Colombian trade deal and he gets paid by Colombia to try to pass it.  It seems to me like the one thing we know we here is that Mark Penn is very good at getting paid but how big a problem is this for the Clinton campaign, do you think?

MILBANK:  Yes, I think Mark Penn is also not a likely candidate for poverty czar.  We know as of several months, he‘d already received $5 million from the Clinton campaign.  So - but evidently, Colombia is paying him somewhat more than that since he made their case here.

It is a minor issue because nobody is really paying attention to Colombia, but it does bring back the whole of Austan Goolsbee and the Obama campaign.  The Clinton campaign made a big deal of this, saying he was essentially contradicting Obama‘s message on NAFTA.  This is one heck of a contradiction right here.

MADDOW:  And if the Democrats hope to make any political hay out of highlighting the number of lobbyists to (INAUDIBLE) and John McCain‘s campaign, Mark Penn is the great rebuttal to their own argument on that.

Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, thanks for your time tonight.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Rachel.

OLBERMANN:  If racial or economic or a partisan differences were on display in terms of campaign strategy today, a sit up and take notice new poll has found that we Americans are extraordinarily united about some things.  Men and women, Republicans and Democrats, Americans agree that the country is off track.

A new “New York Times”/CBS Poll files a staggering 81 percent, more than four out of five Americans say things in our country are going the wrong direction versus 14 percent who say things are fine, keep it coming.  These are the worst numbers in this poll‘s 17-year history.

Despite the fact that unemployed Americans has grown by more 1 million in the past year, despite the fact that the number of jobs in the U.S. shrunk by 80,000 last month alone, despite the fact that this decade‘s economic expansion is now ending as the first in recorded history to do so without improving household income, despite the fact that the government is projecting nearly one in 10 Americans to be on food stamps in the next year, despite all of that, the same poll finds voters comparatively favorable towards the one candidate who so far is promising four more years, Senator John McCain.

McCain is only a few points behind Obama, 47 to 42, is only five points behind Clinton, 48 to 43.

Joining us to crunch these numbers, MSNBC political analyst, also senior editor at “Newsweek,” Jonathan Alter.  Hi, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  First, can you put these track numbers in context for us.  Historically and causally, what do you think is behind them?

ALTER:  Well, first of all, they are really huge.  Just three years ago, in 2005, it was 50 percent who thought the country was on the wrong track.  George Bush promised in 2000 to be a uniter and not a divider.  And he has succeeded.  He has united the country in believing that the future is going to be worse.

And this maybe, you know, the first generation that does worse than their parents, that‘s always the fear when people are thinking this way.  So, this is just bad news for the government as a whole, and that would include the Democrat Congress since the public tends to hold the government responsible for the country being on the wrong track.

MADDOW:  Although if you look the overall downward trajectory of these numbers during the Bush administration, it seems fairly clear that Bush and his Republican policies are getting a lion‘s share of the blame for the state that we‘re in, for Americans.

If that‘s the case, why don‘t the wrong track numbers mirror the numbers for John McCain?  He‘s a Republican household name, Republican Washington insider for a generation, famously a hugger of George W. Bush.  Why don‘t these numbers track his numbers?

ALTER:  Well, I think it‘s because he does have this reputation as being a maverick.  Now, remember, he is not Bush‘s vice president.  If he was vice president it would be very hard for him to separate himself from Bush.  But he did depart from Bush on dozens of votes, including many important votes, particularly in the early years of the Bush administration and he established a public profile himself as something other than George Bush‘s lackey.

So, it‘s not that surprising that they don‘t seem to be joined at the hip in the public imagination and it‘s up to the Democrats now to campaign against the John McSame, you know, the Bush/McCain policies.  And they will try to do that but they haven‘t really had time to, Rachel, because they‘ve been so busy fighting each other.

MADDOW:  Right.  And meanwhile, John McCain, a lot of those early votes against George Bush are things that he has flip-flopped on, things like the Bush tax cuts, things like immigration, things even like throwing in war (ph), McCain himself says he‘s offering a continuation of the Bush policy on both the war and the economy.

But, why do you think that he is still treated as a maverick in the media as if he‘s offering some substantial departure from the status quo?

ALTER:  Well, I think it‘s because the battle hasn‘t really been joined.  You know, it‘s up to the Democrats, and this is what politics is about, to portray him as, you know, Abe Simpson, you know, Bart‘s grandfather, that krotchy (ph), the old guy who wants to foreclose on your house.

You know, that‘s not the job of the media to do.  That will come out of our politics.  I think it‘s only a matter of time because, you know, McCain made a speech recently that was very unsympathetic to people who had been victimized by predatory lending.  His health care plan does nothing for those who were discriminated against because of pre-existing conditions, and that‘s a lot of Americans.

So, there are certain issues where he is really out of step with the American public, but the American public doesn‘t quite know it yet because the general election campaign hasn‘t really gotten going.

MADDOW:  And of course, with such a positive relationship between McCain and the media, historically, there‘s always the risk that if the Democrats do start going after him on that stuff, what they‘ll get is attacked for going negative on Senator John McCain.

ALTER:  Well, I think that‘s a good point.  And there is that relationship with the media that‘s been very strong for many years, partly because McCain is so acceptable and he feeds the beast, you know.  And being accessible takes you a long way with the media.

MADDOW:  Jonathan Alter, thanks for being accessible to us tonight.  Have a good weekend.

ALTER:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”

Next week is the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad when the Bush‘s administration‘s goal of toppling Saddam Hussein was achieved.  And the subsequent mission for U.S. forces in Iraq became harder to summarize in three words or less.

On the anniversary, Americans will hear a progress report on Iraq from General Petraeus.  But it will be the facts only the Bush administration wants out there.  The views of the intelligence community are being kept under ramps.

And: Senator Clinton goes late-night comedy.  Will adding some snort (ph) to the sniper controversy put that issue to rest?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Five years after the fall of Saddam, General Petraeus set to give another Iraq progress report to Congress.  But the findings of the intel community won‘t be anywhere for public consumption.  Are the facts in Iraq too politically inconvenient to see the light of day or is that whole informed citizenry thing generally just so last century?

And later: Happy anniversary to COUNTDOWN.  The war against terror is triggering the death of habeas corpus.  What you voted as one of your most favorite Keith‘s segments in COUNTDOWN‘s history.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The surge in Iraq is working.  Progress is being made.  Those are the kinds of nonspecific, generic White House approved impressions that the administration is allowing to leak to reporters about the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.

So why, on our story on COUNTDOWN is the administration now refusing to release the actual findings of the latest NIE, especially as they released the last two NIEs, and especially as the latest one, at least from the preliminary leaks appears to support what General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker want the American people to believe when they testify to Congress next week.

In anticipation of that testimony, Democrats are urging the administration to reconsider its position on the NIE.

Senators Carl Levin and Edward Kennedy writing to the director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, that quote, “Without a current unclassified assessment of the situation in Iraq, Congress and the American people will not have the essential information needed for an informed public debate.”

And, House and Senate leadership are already getting their debate points out ahead of next week‘s testimony, writing to President Bush to urge him to change his strategy in Iraq before he leaves the White House, quote, “We are deeply concerned that you and the congressional Republican leadership are intent on staying the current course throughout your administration and then handing the Iraq war off to future presidents.”  End quote.

Regarding these future presidents, the current secretary of Defense is apparently making promises on their behalf, telling reporters on his way to Oman, that the United States intends to send additional troops to Afghanistan in 2009, even if troop levels in Iraq remain the same.

I‘m joined by Jon Soltz.  Jon is chairman of Votevets.org.  Thanks for your time tonight, Jon.

JON SOLTZ, CHAIRMAN, VOTEVETS.ORG:  Great to be on with you on COUNTDOWN, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thanks.  We‘ll get to the Afghan deployment issue in just a moment, Jon.  But first, this refusal to declassify the NIE, how can the president expect the public to accept his version of what‘s happening in Iraq without allowing us to see any kind of independent assessment like we‘d had from these previous NIEs?

SOLTZ:  Well, it hurts.  It hurts people like me because when we fought the war in Iraq, you know, we trust this administration on WMD.  There‘s 160,000 troops, like myself, people who are just regular Americans serving on the ground in combat right now in Iraq and the only voice that they have are people here at home.  Maybe it‘s their families, their mothers or fathers, maybe its their representative in Congress.

And they have a right to see this information right now, unclassified, so they can, you know, appropriately address General Petraeus next week when he testifies.  Now, one of the reasons that people have been talking is to why they won‘t release it.  It‘s interesting, I mean, they‘re playing domestic politics with this intelligence report because it was only up to January.

So, it‘s a very limited NIE.  It only deals with Iraq.  I mean, you put that much combat troops in the ground, you know, there‘s been better control of certain streets in Baghdad.  But, are they going to release it next week to try to back Petraeus and play politics with it?

And I think that‘s a huge concern.  They need to release it now because there‘s soldiers and marines‘ lives that are at stake and they are disgracing their service by being so secretive with America‘s information.

MADDOW:  And in a democracy, the idea is that when a democracy goes to war, the citizenry is informed about why and how it‘s going and what the point is.  Jon, do you expect that the testimony from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker next week is going to be substantive and frank or are you expecting White House P.R.?

SOLTZ:  Well, obviously, it‘s White House P.R. because it is General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker.  Now, that‘s not to say they‘re going to lie.  They‘re two very honorable men who deserved American‘s respect.

But this is not about a couple of streets in Baghdad.  This is not about shoves (ph) and tactics.  And the question for Democrats next week, in organizations like ours invoke, that is—we‘re going to broaden this debate.

The fact of the matter is that Admiral Fallon retired because he was being undermined by a direct channel that the Iraq commander had to the White House.  And so, the fact of the matter is is Admiral Fallon was concerned about Afghanistan, you don‘t have to retire.

So, where is the Centcom commander?  Where is the secretary of Defense?  Where is the chief of staff of the Army, General Casey to say, the Army can‘t hack this troop deployment anymore?  So, they‘re giving you a very limited scope and that limited scope will be honest.  But they‘re not going to tell you is that George Bush and John McCain have our country in a policy of retreat.  And people of who served in the military were tired of it.

MADDOW:  Jon, one last question for you.  The Department of Defense told NBC News that they might divert troops who are training for Iraq into Afghanistan in 2009 instead.  And the secretary of Defense says they‘re going to be a ramp up in Afghanistan even if there isn‘t a ramp down in Iraq.

And next week we‘ve learned, that the Pentagon will announce plans to shorten deployment from 15 months back to 12.  So, where are these extra tens of thousands of troops going to come from and what are we looking at in terms of our overall military readiness?

SOLTZ:  Well, they‘re giving you political spin now because they‘re concerned about the fact that they know they‘ve been playing defense and retreat from Bin Laden.  The fact of the matter is you have 42 active combat brigades in the United States Army.  Your commitments in Iraq alone with the surge is about between 22, 23, 24, 25 brigades.

So, if you‘re a soldier in today‘s Army, you are either in Iraq, just coming home or getting ready to go.  So, the fact of the matter was, if you have taken the five combat brigades, that‘s the surge in the Baghdad and put them in Afghanistan, you would have doubled your poor structure.

You can‘t do it all.  We should have more troops in Afghanistan the whole time but I‘m not concerned about Gates because he‘s not going to be the secretary of Defense in 2009.  And, you know, these guys are making promises for domestic political purposes.

They can‘t do it all.  You can‘t lower troop levels and, you know, lower time of deployment and keep all of your troops in Iraq and go to Afghanistan.  You can‘t do it all.  So, they‘re just, once again playing politics and not being honest.

MADDOW:  As a famous American president said, the math doesn‘t work.

Jon Soltz from Votevets.org.  Thanks for joining us tonight.

SOLTZ:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Some much needed comic relief headed our way.  A baton twirling bear?  This only means that Oddball is on the corner.

And remember the thing we used to have called the Constitution?  That was awesome.  Remember that quaint little Latin sounding foundation of western civilization, habeas corpus?  As COUNTDOWN celebrates five years, Keith will examine how the Bush administration has spit up all over some of our most important rights.

But first: Some of the headlines in the administration‘s 50 continuing scandals—Bushed.

Number three: R&D for terror-gate.  A National Intelligence Estimate once warned that a prolong U.S. presence in Iraq would give terrorists top-notch training in fighting highly skilled opponents, skills they would spread around the world.  Well, today, a defense contractor that while about 600 IEDs explode each month in Iraq, as many as 300 are being sent off every month elsewhere in the world.  And that‘s not including Afghanistan.  The number of IEDs around the world is rising for the third straight year.

Number two: Who gets help in the home mortgage crisis-gate.  The Senate unveiled the $15.3 billion housing bill yesterday.  According to the “Washington Post,” $3.3 billion is directed to tax relief for troubled homeowners.  The rest of it, the other $12 billion goes to businesses, four times as much money for businesses as for homeowners.

Yes.  It also stripped down the provision that would have let bankruptcy court judges rewrite mortgage repayment terms to help people stay in their homes.  If this is allowed to stand, expect to add another 500,000 foreclosures to this year‘s total.

And number one: What they really think of the troops-gate.  North Carolina Republican Congressman Pat McHenry told a local Republican event Saturday about a recent incident where U.S. soldier guarding a gym denied him entry.  McHenry says he was told he didn‘t have the right credentials.

In telling the story, Congressman McHenry referred to the soldier as a, quote, “two bit security guard.”  The Lincoln County North Carolina Republican audience he was addressing did not say a word of protest.

Just so you know, the gym McHenry wanted to use?  It was in the Green Zone in Baghdad.  The “two bit security guard” McHenry derided was an American soldier in harm‘s way protecting visiting Americans like Congressman McHenry.

And because this soldier followed proper procedure and refused special treatment to a big shot like Congressman McHenry, he‘s reward?  Did he get to go home like McHenry did?  No.  This “two bit security guard” stayed behind in Baghdad to fight McHenry‘s war for him.

Congressman, do you feel a little apology coming home?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Looking ahead to tomorrow, it was on April 5th in 1792 that Georgia Washington exercised the first ever presidential veto.  Washington used his veto power to reject a Congressional measure for apportioning representatives among the states.  If we have learned anything from the HBO mini-series, we know that Vice President John Adams was laid up in a bed, really clammy, sweating his butt off when the first ever veto went off.  Let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP

MADDOW (voice-over):  History-shmistory.  We begin in Hiroshima, Japan, where we get a look at a bear twirling a baton.  Look at him, he is like bring it on meets Mutual of Omaha.  This is Claude, an Asiatic black bear at the Asa Zoological Park in Hiroshima.  Claude‘s keeper saw him fiddling with sticks when he arrived at the zoo six years ago, so they made him some customized lumber to fling around.  The bear‘s stick handling has since made him one of the zoo‘s top attractions and the now New York Rangers are reportedly considering him for a spot on their play off roster. 

Let‘s head over to Shuf Poori (ph), India, where the local government is attacking the serious problem of over-population with deadly firearms.  Not the way you think though.  Over 150 men from the central Indian city have shown up for the new guns for vasectomies program.  Men show up at the clinic.  They have the birth control surgery, and then they get to go home with a brand new rifle. 

This way, Shuf Poori‘s sexually active gentlemen can go out and shoot weapons, come home and shoot blanks, and India‘s population explosion gets some of the big taken out of its bang.  Is there any problem that Smith and Wesson can‘t solve?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Late night laughs, can they lead to a surge of support at the polls, or do the politicians live by the laugh, die by the laugh.  The politics s of punch lines. 

And Diva in distress.  A supermodel gets super ticked when her bag disappears at the airport.  She‘s had to chill out in the crow bar hotel for a while.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Democratic presidential contest starts to look like trench warfare, slogging on to the benefit, apparently, of neither candidate, as the Republican candidate wraps up his biographical think of me when you think of war tour, sometimes it feels like someone is purposely trying to sap the fun out of what ought to be a good political time right now.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the candidates remember we are actually supposed to like them.  They try to put some humor back in to the race. 

Last night it was Senator Hillary Clinton‘s turn on “The Tonight Show.”  Her latest likability tour will also include yet another visit on “Ellen,” to be broadcast Monday.  Over all, I‘m not sure how much we really need to personally like these candidates, but there‘s no lack of effort on their part.  Senator John McCain also cracked wise on “The Late Show” this week.  As for their material and their comic timing, you be the judge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  It is so great to be here.  I was worried I wasn‘t going to make it.  I was pinned down by sniper fire. 

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  You know in L.A., that might be true, actually. 

CLINTON:  I know.

LENO:  Obviously, the campaign is grueling.  You use the term sleep deprived.  How much sleep do you get?  To answer the phone at 3:00, that‘s got to be -- 

CLINTON:  You know what, it happens every single nod.  Somebody calls up and they have something to say.  You have to stop calling me. 

LENO:  I will do that.

CLINTON:  I‘m here, I‘m here. 

CLINTON:  I want to ask you about Chelsea.  I know, as a parent, she‘s out there—she said she thought you would be a better president than her dad. 

CLINTON:  She‘s such a smart young woman. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  You know who I like?  John McCain.  Do you folks like John McCain?  He looks like the guy at the hardware store who makes the keys.  He looks like the guy who has always got wiry hair growing out of new places.  He looks like a guy who points out the spots they missed at the car wash. 

MCCAIN:  Hi, Letterman.

LETTERMAN:  Hi, how you doing?

MCCAIN:  You think that stuff is pretty funny, don‘t you?  Well, you look like a guy whose laptop would be seized by the authorities. 

LETTERMAN:  What!

MCCAIN:  You look like a guy caught smuggling reptiles in his pants. 

You look like the guy who the neighbors later say, he mostly kept to himself. 

You look like the night manager of a creepy motel. 

And you look like the guy who enjoys getting into a hot tub and watching his swim trunks inflate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Let‘s bring in “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor, and MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.  Hi Gene, it‘s nice to see you. 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to see you, Rachel.  How are you? 

MADDOW:  I‘m great.  I‘m spectacularly nervous, actually, but thank you for asking.  Jokes about taking sniper fire and inflatable shorts, necessary, weird or both? 

ROBINSON:  Both I think.  They are definitely weird, so therefore, they must be necessary.  The sniper fire line of humor is really kind of odd.  Why would she bring the subject up again and make us talk about it yet another day?  It must be that the Clinton campaign thought it was really a problem, and therefore they had to try to soften it and make light of it.  So that was a little odd. 

I thought McCain wasn‘t bad actually.  Letterman had been pounding him for days on the age issue, about which he is understandably a bit touchy.  So I thought his timing was not bad.  Of course, he had better lines, presumably written for him. 

MADDOW:  Very clearly written for him.  On that issue, so much of the time John McCain spends being self deprecating is about his age.  I think that‘s his strategy of dealing with the age issue, is that he‘s going to try to bring it up himself, try to make a joke about it.  Do you think that doing the cranky grandpa routine that he‘s doing around age is the best strategy for dealing with that concern among voters? 

ROBINSON:  I think at some point you have to give it a rest.  You can‘t keep doing it.  If you don‘t come up with one great line, the way Reagan did when age was the issue in his race, and then everybody said he dealt with it—if you don‘t put it to bed with one zinger, I think bringing it up again and again probably doesn‘t do you much good, might do you a little harm.  It doesn‘t take the issue.  I don‘t think it will stop Letterman from making those old guy jokes.  So it probably will not help him a lot. 

MADDOW:  I do think that McCain probably was funnier.  I didn‘t feel like this was Clinton‘s best performance.  But Barack Obama is no stranger to these either.  We have all seen them be funny and charming in person.  Do you think there is evidence that being funny, being personally likable really boosts any candidate‘s numbers all that much?  Is it all that important? 

ROBINSON:  I think it actually is important, not necessarily being funny, but being likable, these days, does seem to matter.  How many points do you think it cost John Kerry because some people didn‘t see him as likable and they saw George Bush as the guy you‘d like to have that beer with.  Right, that‘s what they always say.  You would like to have a beer with him. 

I think it does matter, even though, in the cosmic sense—Abraham Lincoln probably wasn‘t a guy you would like to have a beer with.  He was a pretty good president. 

MADDOW:  I think after Bush‘s second term, a lot of Americans think I would probably still have a beer or near beer with George Bush, but I sure wish we had elected John Kerry. 

ROBINSON:  I think a lot of people would even skip the beer at this point. 

MADDOW:  Yes, fair enough.  Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, thanks for your time tonight.  Nice to see you. 

ROBINSON:  Good to see you.

MADDOW:  When one of these presidential candidates stands on the steps of the U.S. Capital in January of 2009 and promises to uphold the Constitution of the United States America, what exactly is going to be left to uphold? 

And this is a surprise, Naomi Campbell arrested for fighting with a policeman.  She‘s normally so friendly and amiable.  All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Big felonious supermodel news today; Naomi Campbell is once again a free woman.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Keeping Tabs, her latest run-in with the law involved baggage, literally.  The violent and cantancorous, but nevertheless lovely Miss Campbell was released on bail just after midnight from the police station at London‘s Heathrow Airport.  She had been arrested on suspicion of assaulting a police officer. 

Campbell was one of the thousands of people whose luggage became misplaced at Heathrow‘s new Terminal Five.  When one of her checked bags went missing, she was asked to leave a British Airways flight.  The police were called in to eject her.  Witnesses say Campbell then spat on an officer.  Spat?  Spat!  You may recall that last year Campbell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for throwing a cell phone at her maid over a dispute about a pair of jeans.  Charmed, I‘m sure. 

From the really irritated to the really chill; a new strain of medical marijuana, given the name Tom Cruise Purple.  As you might imagine, Mr. Cruise is not amused, and the actor‘s lawyers may take action.  It seems that the pot is being marketed not only with Cruise‘s name, but with his hysterically laughing face plastered on the jar.  In fact, one joyful pot smoker told the “New York Daily News” that Tom Cruise Purple is the kind makes you hallucinate. 

As a Scientologist, of course, Tom Cruise deplores even prescription drugs.  Meantime, his supposed former alternative medicine consultant is on trial for practicing medicine unlawfully and for grand theft. 

Speaking of things unlawful, new details into just what rights this president has declared null and void, and a reminder about what happened to our oldest right of all, habeas corpus.  That‘s ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It‘s physical proof of something COUNTDOWN figured out back in October 2006, when the president did away with some of the oldest rights in our nation with the Military Commissions Act.  Footnoted in a March 2003 memo, written by then Justice Department Counsel John Yoo, is a reference to another John Yoo memo, written in October 2001, quote, “our office recently concluded that the Fourth Amendment had no application to domestic military operations.”

That‘s right, the Bush administration decided barely a month after 9/11 that our constitutionally protected right against illegal search and seizure was pretty much null and void now that they declared a war on terror.  That‘s just the beginning of what this administration has nipped out of the Constitution in the past eight years as part of their executive power grab. 

Our number one story tonight, the final installment of the five year COUNTDOWN anniversary celebration, voted most popular by web poll, Keith Olbermann‘s autopsy on the great Writ of Habeas Corpus. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, the Military Commission‘s Act of 2006 and what it does to something called habeas corpus.  And before we reduce the very term habeas corpus to something vaguely recalled as sounding kind of like the cornerstone of freedom or maybe kind of like a character from Harry Potter, we thought a COUNTDOWN special investigation was in order.

Congress passed the Military Commission‘s Act to give the Mr. Bush the power to deal effectively with America‘s enemies—those who seek to harm the country.  He has been very clear on who he thinks that is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For people to leak that program and for a newspaper to publish it does great harm to the United States of America.

That fact that we‘re discussing this program is, uh, helping the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, the president said it was urgent that Congress send him this bill as quickly as possible, not for the politics of next month‘s elections, but for America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The need for this legislation is urgent.  We need to insure that those questioning terrorists can continue to do everything within the limits of the law to get information that can save American lives.  My administration will continue to work with the Congress to get this legislation enacted, but time is of the essence.  Congress is in session just for a few more weeks and passing this legislation ought to be the top priority.

The families of those murdered that day have waited patiently for justice.  Some of the families of with us today, they should have to wait no longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Because time was of the essence and to insure that the 9/11 families would wait no longer, as soon as he got the bill, the president whipped out his pen and immediately signed a statement saying he looks forward to signing the actual law eventually.

He has not signed it yet, almost two weeks later because, of course, he has been swamped by a series of campaign swings at which he has made up quotes from unnamed Democratic leaders and because when he is actually at work he‘s been signing so many other important bills, such as the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act, the Third Higher Education Extension Act, ratification requests for extradition treaties with Malta, Estonia, and Latvia; his proclamation of German-American Day, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Act; and his proclamation of Leif Erickson Day.

Still, getting the Military Commission‘s Act to the president so he could immediately mull it over for two weeks was so important, some members of Congress did not even read the bill before voting on it.  Thus, as some of its minutia escaped scrutiny.

One bit of trivia that caught our eye was the elimination of habeas corpus, which apparently used to be the right of anyone who‘s tossed in prison to appear in court and say “Hey, why am in prison?”

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera):  Why does habeas corpus hate America?  And how is it so bad for us?  Mr. Bush says it gets in the way of him doing his job.

BUSH:  This legislation passed in the House yesterday is a part of making sure that, uh, we do have the capacity to protect you.  Our most solemn job is the security of this country.

OLBERMANN:  It may be solemn.

BUSH:  Bush, so solemnly swear.

OLBERMANN:  But is that really his job?  In this rarely seen footage, Mr. Bush seems to be describing a different job.

BUSH:  And will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN has obtained a copy of this “Constitution” of the United States, and sources tell us it was originally sneaked through the constitutional convention and state ratification in order to establish America‘s fundamental legal principles.

But this so-called “Constitution” is frustratingly vague about the right to trial.  In fact.  there‘s only one reference to habeas corpus at all, quoting:  “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”

But even Democrats, who voted against the Military Commission‘s Act, concede that it doesn‘t actually suspend habeas corpus.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  The bill before us would not merely suspend the great writ—the great writ—the writ of habeas corpus, it just eliminates it permanently.

OLBERMANN:  And there is considerable debate whether the conditions for suspending habeas corpus, rebellion or invasion, have even been met.

LEAHY:  Conditions for suspending habeas corpus have not been met.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, PENNSYLVANIA:  We do not have a rebellion or an invasion.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, we‘re not in a rebellion nor are we being invaded.

OLBERMANN:  OK, maybe the debate wasn‘t that considerable.  Nevertheless, COUNTDOWN has learned that habeas corpus actually predates the Constitution, meaning it‘s not just pre-September 11 thinking, it‘s also pre-July 4th thinking.

In this those days, no one could have imagined that enemy combatants might one day attack Americans on native soil.  In fact, COUNTDOWN has obtained a partially redacted copy of a colonial “declaration,” indicating that back then, depriving us of trial by jury was actually considered sufficient cause to start a war of independence based on the, then fashionable idea, that “liberty” was an inalienable right.

But today, thanks to modern post-9/11 thinking, those rights are now fully alienable—for your protection.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The reality is without habeas corpus, a lot of other rights lose their meaning.  But if you look at the actual Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments of that pesky Constitution, you‘ll see just how many remain for your protection.

OK, No. 1 is gone.  I mean, if you‘re detained without trial, you lose your freedom of religion and speech, press, assembly, all the rest of that.  So, you don‘t need that any more.

And you know, you can‘t petition the government for anything.

No. 2, while you are in prison, your right to keep and bear arms just might be infringed upon even if you‘re in the NRA, so that‘s gone.

Three, well OK, no forced sleepovers at your house by soldiers.

Three‘s all right.

Four, you‘re definitely not secure against searches and seizures, as it says here, with or without probable cause.  And, in prison that‘s not limited to just the guards, so forget the fourth.

Five, grand juries and due process, obviously out, so forget five and the little trailer up here.

Six, well trials are gone too, let alone the right to counsel.  Speedy trials?  You want it when?

Seven, well this is about—I thought we just covered trials and juries earlier so forget the seventh.

Eight, well, bail‘s kind of a moot point isn‘t it?

And nine, other rights retained by the people.  Well, you know, if you can name them during your water boarding, we‘ll consider them.

Ten, powers not delegated to the United States federal government.  Well, they seem to have ended up there anyway.  So as you can see, even without habeas corpus, at least one tenth of the Bill of Rights, I guess that‘s the Bill of Right, now—remains virtually intact.  No. 3 is still safe.

We can rest easy knowing that we will never, ever have to quarter soldiers in our homes as long as the third amendment still stands strong.

The president can just take care of that with a signing statement.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MADDOW:  That‘s it for this edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Rachel Maddow.  You can catch me on Air America weekdays at 6:00 pm Eastern.  Keith is back on Monday.  Good night.

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

END   

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