updated 5/23/2008 11:16:17 AM ET 2008-05-23T15:16:17

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow, Dana Milbank, Jonathan Turley

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

John McCain‘s pastor disaster: He repudiates the endorsement of John Hagee after Hagee said, “Hitler was sent by God to hunt the Jews so they‘d move to Israel.”  “You can‘t fire me,” says Hagee, “I quit.”

Minutes after the renunciation, the Hagee statement, “I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for president effective today.”

John McCain‘s ongoing pastor disaster: The man McCain called one of the truly great leaders in America.  Reverend Rod Parsley, now found on tape insisting, quote, “America was founded with the intention of seeing this false religion, Islam, destroyed.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. ROD PARSLEY, MCCAIN ENDORSER:  Islam is an anti-Christ religion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  On renouncing Rod Parsley, John McCain remains silent.

As he does on the new G.I. Bill.  It passes the Senate.  Obama: Aye, Clinton: Aye, McCain: AWOL.  He didn‘t show up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I respect Senator McCain‘s service to our country but I can‘t understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this G.I. Bill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  McCain responds with a statement accusing Obama of taking “easy advantage of an issue he has less than zero understanding of,” a statement issued as McCain attended a fundraiser in California.

Florida and electability: Senator Clinton keeps hammering even after Gallup polling showing her 11 points behind and leading him in only one remaining demographic group—women 50 and older.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m leading in the popular vote.  There are less than 200 delegates separating us out of 4,400.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Two hundred, more than all the delegates in Pennsylvania or Ohio.

Karl Rove‘s subpoenaed to testify about the U.S. attorney‘s scandal.  Even as one of his proteges, former swiftboat researcher, former U.S.  attorney, hired by the Republican National Committee to dig up dirt on Obama.

And McCain‘s televised faux pas.  Ellen DeGeneres nails him on his prejudice against same-sex marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We just have a disagreement, and I, along with many, many others who wish you every happiness.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV HOST:  Thank you.  So, you‘ll walk me down the aisle?  Is that what you said?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Thursday, May 22nd, 166 days until the 2008 presidential election.

A political apocalypse for the Republican presidential candidate renouncing the endorsement of one influential evangelical preacher who called “Hitler a hunter sent by God against the Jews” and who today, revoked his endorsement right after John McCain‘s renouncement announcement.

But in our fifth story: McCain is still not renouncing the endorsement of another influential evangelical whose anti-Islamic hate speech has begun to stir anger in the Arab world.

We‘ll start with number one: Pastor John Hagee.  After weeks of criticism, after learning of Hagee‘s name for Catholic Church-goers or Catholic Church rather, in his words, “The great whore,” a learning of Hagee‘s comments about gays and New Orleans deserving Katrina, only today did McCain finally renounce Hagee‘s endorsement, only after it was revealed online by Web site: Talktoaction.org and on air by this news hour last night, that Hagee considered Hitler an agent of God and the holocaust, God‘s means of driving Jews to Israel.

In a statement today, withdrawing his rejected endorsement, Hagee claims misrepresentation of his views but offers no alternative saying, quote, “I hope that Senator McCain will accept this withdrawal so that he may focus on the issues that are most important to America and the world.”

Instead, McCain, who actively lobbied for Hagee‘s endorsement issued a statement focused on Barack Obama, one that took all of three sentences before he dragged in the comparatively mild, silliness of Reverend Wright.

Quote: “I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them.  I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee‘s endorsement.  And I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.  I have said I do not believe Senator Obama‘s shares Reverend Wright‘s extreme views but let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor and I did not attend his church for 20 years.”

So, who does McCain call a spiritual advisor?  When McCain sought and won the endorsement of Pastor Ron Parsley, he called him one of America‘s, quote, “truly great leaders, a moral compass, a spiritual guide.”

ABC News today revealed video of McCain‘s “moral compass” making remarks we have discussed here previously, first reported by “Mother Jones” magazine, outlining his views not of Islamic terrorists, but of Islam itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PARSLEY:  Islam is an anti-Christ religion that intends, through violence, to conquer the world.  What some call extremists, are instead mainstream Muslim believers who are drawing from the well at the very heart of Islam.

I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I‘m not shrinking back from its implications.  The fact is that America was founded - I‘m going to stagger you right now - America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sadly, no.  We‘ve already debunked Parsley‘s wishful thinking about America‘s early relationship with Muslims.  The U.S. had a treaty with Muslims of Tripoli at the turn of the 18th -- 19th century rather.

But the report by ABC News says that newspapers and journalistic Web sites in the Arab world have begun picking up on Parsley‘s comments, one headline reading, quote, “McCain‘s Spiritual Advisor Calls for the Destruction of Islam.”  Parsley and his endorsement, as we mentioned, still embraced by Senator McCain as of tonight.

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC‘s political analyst, Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Pastor problem number one first, has McCain solved his Hagee problem or is Hagee going to stick to him in some way?

WOLFFE:  Well, he‘s done what Obama did with Reverend Wright.  He threw him under the bus, although, there is this exception here that Hagee decided to jump off the bus at the same time.  But that relationship is going to hang over him for the people who really care about it.

And the interesting thing here is this distinction that the campaign is making—the McCain campaign—that this was a personal relationship that Wright had with Obama, that wasn‘t there with McCain and Hagee.  I mean this was an explicitly political one.  This was an endorsement that McCain sought out.  They campaigned together.

And McCain‘s aides said that reaching out to Hagee was proof that he had bonded with social conservatives and evangelical voters.  So, I guess, voters are going to have to decide what‘s more important here, that‘s personal relationship or a political one.

OLBERMANN:  Or, at least, it brings into question the vetting process that the McCain campaign would use for people like this.

The Hagee comments about New Orleans, gays, Catholics—for Senator McCain, none of these were deal breakers.  What is the inference about him waiting just shy of three months after the endorsement and dropping him today?

WOLFFE:  Well, this is an inference.  I mean, we don‘t really know what lay behinds this.  But, the difference between these comments is clearly that - it‘s about Hitler and it affects Jewish voters.  I‘m here in Miami and I just left a synagogue where Barack Obama was campaigning, and clearly both campaigns, Obama and McCain‘s campaigns, see that Jewish voters are a critical swing block up for grabs in Florida.

Now, to be honest, I think that‘s shortsighted.  If this is really about Jewish voters, because Hagee‘s comments about Catholic voters has a much broader impact on the electorate as a whole because of Latino voters which are the critical swing block across the country.  So, if this really is about Jewish voters, I think that‘s shortsighted, and if it‘s really about the offensiveness about these comments, well, Hitler and the Catholics, I mean they‘re all offensive.

OLBERMANN:  Now, let‘s move to pastor problem number two.  Beyond the fact that Mr. Parsley‘s hate speech, what does this do to the theoretical McCain presidency when it needs to seek help from moderate Muslim nations, or in the campaign when he presents this claim that he still has—however manifest it is or not—that he would have a mastery of foreign relations and Obama is a tyro?

WOLFFE:  Well, I suspect McCain is going to have other problems with Muslim nations.  And his position here is going to be that—to the rest of the world, he‘ll be seen as another version of President Bush.  So, that‘s on one side of it.

I actually think he‘s also got a domestic problem here with Parsley‘s comments because there are actually Muslim-Americans out there and these comments are so deeply offensive, maybe McCain doesn‘t care about Muslim voters.  I suspect, actually, he‘s a pretty decent guy who doesn‘t share these views, but you‘ve got to be president of all the citizens of the United States.

So, you know, very least, requires some kind of statement in many ways like President Bush‘s made, that Muslims are good Americans, too.

OLBERMANN:  And the—maybe overlooked in all of this, that view from the other end of the telescope—these voters who actually believe in the things that Hagee and Parsley have seen or deluded themselves into thinking they have seen, or whatever you want to describe them as—has McCain lost them in this process and if so, where do they go?  Bob Barr?

WOLFFE:  You know, I don‘t know about the small subset of people who share these views, but there is a bigger problem which actually drew McCain to Hagee in the first place, which is that Christians, evangelical voters, social conservatives, had long held these doubts and suspicions about McCain.  They are also broadly disillusioned with even President Bush‘s performance.  And those people are going to be drawing the conclusion from all of this that he‘s kind of fickle about reaching out to them.

So, he‘s going to have to show that he still wants those people to vote because they were such a critical part of Bush‘s reelection in 2004.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, also, of course, “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent.  As always, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In biblical terms, McCain failed to serve either God or Mammon today.  The “Washington Post” front-paging a long simmering problem that McCain himself has made worse—the fact that his campaign is staffed, run and kept solvent by lobbyists, who have every reason to craft McCain policy in favor of the companies and sometimes, the country‘s whose patronage they owed their livelihood.

Specifically, the “Post” flushing out some half-dozen terrorists, dictators, and oppressive regimes, who have enriched the bank accounts of top McCain advisor, longtime lobbyist, Charlie Black, including Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines and a high-profile attempt to make over the Angolan terrorist guerilla, Jonas Savimbi back in the ‘80s.

Black saying, in his defense, that he stopped cashing their checks whenever the White House formerly declared them bad guys.

These days, Mr. Black is well-known for making lobbying calls on behalf of his current clients until his supposed retirement from lobbying in March, literally from onboard McCain‘s “Straight Talk Express” and reportedly participating in this weekend‘s gathering at McCain‘s ranch to meet with potential vice presidential candidates.

We‘ll turn now to Chuck Todd, political director of both MSNBC and NBC News.

Chuck, good evening.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC POLTICAL DIRECTOR:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Alluded to McCain making his problem worse here, first by staffing up with lobbyists and not cleaning house after he won the nomination—only doing so now in this drawn out, seemingly one by one process that if they planned that this way couldn‘t guarantee continuing coverage of this any better than the way it‘s going on.  What is—what is going on here with McCain and the lobbyists?  Why is it like this medieval (ph) torture to himself?

TODD:  Well, a lot of Republicans I‘ve talked to would like to know what‘s going on.  This feels like one of those.  He literally, you‘re seeing—you heard the expression, cutting off your nose to spite your face—we‘re seeing it play out in this whole sort of lobbyist debacle.

On one hand, he‘s being very noble about what he‘s trying to do, on the other hand, it is difficult in Washington, D.C., I mean, look, Barack Obama‘s going to find this out when he tries to appoint a government that somehow if he becomes president and put people in that have never done any lobbying, he‘s going to find a lot of academics that he has to tap and not many professional people that he can go to.

So, it is very difficult in this town in Washington, D.C., to find people that don‘t have a connection to lobbying, and sometimes, in this case, that don‘t have a current connection to some lobbying clients.

OLBERMANN:  Well, now, when those -

TODD:  Clients that they‘re lobbying for.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  But when the lobbying, the people for whom they have lobbied comes out, it always seems to be this incredible list of people who were, you know, deposed by Democratic revolutions, or in jail somewhere, or are infamous in their own nations.  McCain advisors have a record of just dealing with shady countries and characters for clients, or is it just like that Sweden does not need lobbyists?

TODD:  Well, I think it‘s more - I mean, look—the fact is, you hire a lobbyist a lot of times because you need somebody else to make a better case for you.  You know, you don‘t necessarily—if you‘ve got an easy case to make, you sometimes don‘t need a lobbyist to do these things for you here in Washington.  So, that‘s part of the issue.

But, you know, the other thing is, it‘s sort of - it‘s just very difficult what he‘s trying to do because like I said, a lot of folks connected, both in Republican politics and Democratic politics, to things that are not going to be very popular causes.  It just happens whether it‘s somebody representing somebody who did some nasty things to American government or U.S. military installations, or it‘s somebody who represented a government who was trying to win favors with the U.S. who wasn‘t very popular with the U.S. government.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, Jonas Savimbi, for goodness sakes.

What does McCain do about this without wholesale housecleaning of what are still dozens of lobbyists in there, as you point out, a president is going to need some people with some experience—does he clean out the bad guys and keep the good guys?  Are there any good guys?  What does he do?

TODD:  Well, this is the problem.  You know, the fact is, Charlie Black himself, I think a couple weeks ago said—you know what, people, voters usually don‘t care about these issues.  The fact is, he‘s right.  And that‘s what makes him making such a stand on this, McCain himself making a stand on this, only putting his own staff at peril because Charlie Black has a lot of bread crumbs for a reporter to follow.  Rick Davis, the campaign manager, has a lot of lobbyist bread crumbs for reporters to follow.

So, they‘re only asking for more scrutiny at a time when that‘s the last thing he needs.  He‘s carrying around a lot of the Republican baggage.  So, he caused himself more problems.  I think part of this goes to McCain himself.  He hates this idea that he won‘t be seen as the more reformed-minded candidate.  He hates this idea that Obama is trying to steal the reformist message from him.

McCain‘s been the reform guy in Washington and he wants to keep that mantle and this idea of Obama taking it away from him, I think gets under his skin a little bit and they, you know—so they went out and they have a very aggressive policy.  But now, all it‘s done is invited scrutiny of their staff at a time when he needs to be ramping up and worried about the general election.

OLBERMANN:  You quoted Charlie Black‘s famous observation that nobody cares about this outside the beltway—is that a permanent truth or as this drags out, is it possible that some people among the undecideds or just in the electorate at large will begin to care?

TODD:  Well, they‘ll begin to care if it‘s somehow goes against

McCain‘s image, right?  I mean, that‘s when this stuff—when does any of

this stuff rise up to matter if it somehow goes up against—you know,

people will say Reverend Wright doesn‘t matter to them, but if it, somehow,

counters the image of Barack Obama or the Charlie Black stuff isn‘t going

to matter but if it somehow counters the image of John McCain as a reformer

I mean, look, I‘ve talked to a lot of Republicans who have been nervous about the people, that there are too many people around him that have done lobbying and lobbying for guys that are, whether it‘s good guys or bad guys or guys in the gray area, that are just inviting scrutiny to McCain that he doesn‘t need.

He doesn‘t need to carry on—he doesn‘t need to acquire his own baggage.  It‘s tough enough to run as a Republican in 2008 this year.  Don‘t make it harder on yourself and this lobbyist policy, it‘s made it harder on himself.  I mean, you‘ve got the “Washington Post,” that didn‘t take very much work to put that story together about Charlie Black.

OLBERMANN:  Also, don‘t say gray area.  That will be—they‘ll call you about ages and if you say that.

Chuck Todd, political director for NBC News and MSNBC—sorry, didn‘t mean to make your day longer.  Thank you, Chuck.

TODD:  Exactly.  You‘re just going to make more phone calls.  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Seventy-five senators voted yes on the new G.I. Bill.  John McCain couldn‘t even be bothered to show up.  Senator Clinton is trying to show up; Senator Obama in Florida; and boss, Karl C. Rove, subpoenaed.  If he doesn‘t show up, can Congress get him indicted for it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A vote to protect and reward our troops as they serve and afterwards.  Twenty-four Republican senators, even Joe Lieberman, joined the Democrats in voting yes.  John McCain—can‘t tear himself away from a fund-raiser to even show up, but he can find the time to blast Senator Obama for supporting the new G.I. Bill.

The startling poll number: the only demographic group is still supporting Senator Clinton‘s candidacy.

Bushed: One of the swiftboaters is now hired by the Republican National Committee.

And in Worsts: Fired because he criticized Bill O‘Reilly.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Choice today for Senator John McCain hadn‘t been a very simple one.  He could return to his day job on Capitol Hill in order to support the troops by supporting a G.I. bill that would guarantee full college scholarships for those who serve in the military for three years, or he could travel to Silicon Valley to attend a $25,000 a couple luncheon to support his own campaign‘s bottom line.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  Senator “I-support-the-troops” today, supporting himself instead of the troops, but still managing to play political opportunism with one of his opponents who actually showed up for the vote.

Mr. McCain missing the vote on the G.I. Bill this afternoon, as well as the Petraeus-Odierno confirmation hearings in order to attend two high-roller fundraisers in California, not that he would have voted for the measure anyway, the Arizona Republican opposing this G.I. Bill, as does the Pentagon, because both believe the full tuition benefit is too expensive and that offering it after only three years of service would encourage service members to leave the military after just one enlistment.

Senator Clinton voting yes for the amendment, also putting in time at the promotion confirmation hearings for General Petraeus and Odierno over at Armed Services, a committee on which she and Senator McCain both sit.  Senator Obama, also voting yes, criticizing McCain for his opposition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I respect Senator John McCain‘s service to our country.  He is one of those heroes of which I speak.  But I can‘t understand why he would line up behind the president in his opposition to this G.I. Bill.  There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.

I‘m proud that so many Democrats and Republicans have come together to support this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  How many Democrats and Republicans coming together -- 75, versus only 22 against—what would be a veto-proof majority.

Senator McCain firing back against Obama‘s criticism, “Unlike Senator Obama, my admiration, respect and deep gratitude for America‘s veterans is something more than a convenient campaign pledge.  I will not accept from Senator Obama who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did.”

That, in a written statement, is coming from the front lines of McCain‘s California fundraisers.

Today, not without sparring between the Democratic candidates over what should happen to the Florida delegates.

After his vote, Senator Obama heading to Florida to speak at a synagogue at Boca Raton, suggesting to the “St. Petersburg Times” that the delegation be seated at half strength.  “In all these races if I didn‘t campaign at all, and this had just been a referendum on name recognition, Senator Clinton would be the nominee.  It‘s pretty hard to make an argument that somehow you winning what is essentially a name recognition contest in Florida was a good measure of electoral strength there.”

Senator Clinton is calling that comment disingenuous.

Time now to call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLTIICAL ANALYST:  Hello, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Florida first—yesterday, Senator Clinton explained something that I don‘t think you knew or neither did I, that this was her version of the underground railway.  And her campaign has organized these bus loads of supporters to go to the meeting next week of the DNC rules committee in Washington a week from Saturday.  If this had been such a civil rights issue for her, why did she sign the pledge not to campaign in Florida?  Why was she earlier willing to disenfranchise the same Florida voters?

MILBANK:  Well, Keith, it‘s sort of the Robert Mugabe theory of elections.  If you like the result, then, you support it.  But we all know that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and everybody else had a higher priority back then and that was not to alienate New Hampshire and Iowa.  So, voting rights are one thing, but first in the nation status in the primary is much more of a sacred right.  So, there was a calculation made by her and everybody else and it just happened to have turned out that way.

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve seen these latest Gallup Poll numbers, he‘s up nationally by 11 points, which is a little down from earlier in the week, but more importantly, the only demographic group in which she is still ahead of him is women over the age of 50.  Nothing against them, but if that was somehow true of Senator Obama, wouldn‘t Senator Clinton be screaming—you can‘t elect somebody who only has the support of women over 50, I‘m more electable?

MILBANK:  No doubt.  But certainly, the women over 50 group which happens to include my mother, I know from personal experience is quite vociferous in this matter, and the fact is that the poll notwithstanding, she has pointed out something of a gaping hole in the lower income, the white voters in the heartland.  There‘s something real that exists here beyond that.  So, if it‘s not just this poll that she‘s hanging her hat on for the next two weeks.

OLBERMANN:  It would seem that all of Senator Clinton‘s campaigning in Florida leads to the conclusion that she‘s trying to get her supporters and anybody else she can, to believe that she is being robbed the way Al Gore was robbed in the same place and perhaps by the same people, and yet, today, her communications director flatly denied there is any intent here to make Obama‘s nomination seem invalid.  Taking him at his word, what then is her intent in Florida?

MILBANK:  It does sound interesting with the bus loads of supporters that you mentioned, it‘s almost like sort of the storming of the election offices in Miami-Dade in 2000 and her timing is excellent because HBO is coming out with a Kevin Spacey recount this weekend.  So, people will be talking about it.

I think, honestly, in her mind, it‘s not about discrediting his nomination.  She still thinks there‘s some way that this can be hers and that‘s why she wants to be able to make this sort of a popular vote claim even if it‘s specious.  So, it does happen to have that side effect of tingeing his nomination, should she not succeed.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of tingeing, last point here, the G.I. Bill vote today, how is it that Senator Obama is being pummeled periodically every few weeks or so, and probably not fairly because they all do this in the Illinois legislature, for his present votes there, and Senator McCain will probably, at some point, get away for not having shown up, let alone not having supported the new G.I. bill when ¾ of the Senate did?

MILBANK:  You know, Keith, this is going to be an important dynamic going forward.  You have the Democrats in charge of the Senate.  They‘re going to try to embarrass McCain vote after vote, bring up something very popular, force him to choose between the larger electorate that he needs to win and the conservative supporters that he can‘t afford to lose, who will object to the large price tags of these pieces of legislation.

So, for him, you might want to - you might expect him to schedule some more fundraisers and other convenient things to be out of town for as the Democrats keep serving these things up.

OLBERMANN:  And this is also a Bush-separating or Bush-associating moment for him and he did not choose separation.

Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post” and what we‘re looking at, an analyst here on COUNTDOWN.  My regards to your mom—thanks to your time tonight, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And you heard of the Nintendo Wii.  This is not what it this is.  It‘s a combination toilet and hands-free video game.  That would have been a perfect name for it.  It‘s gone.

And General Petraeus, shilling for the White House—last September, turns out Pentagon documents indicate he began massaging the media on the White House behalf in 2005.  That‘s ahead in Worst.

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

Number three: Poison-gate.  The Republicans constantly pushing back against environmental restriction, against restrictions on pesticide use, on rules letting you know what‘s in the food you are eating.  One of the most reliable and important sets of government statistics was the National Pesticide Tracking Survey, telling farmers and consumers what chemicals were being used on what crops and where.  So, the pesticide tracking survey has just been eliminated.

The National Agricultural Statistic Service said its budget of $160 million a year just is not enough to pay for the pesticide survey which costs $8 million a year.

Number two: Swift boat-gate.  You say the swift boaters had nothing to do with Bush administration—then the following career path of one Tim Griffin would just have to be a crazy coincidence.  Griffin did research on John Kerry for the swift boat liars in 2004.  “We make the bullets,” he said and then he became a White House aide to Karl Rove, then when Rove triggered the U.S. attorney scandal and fired all of them who would not prosecute Democrats on trumped up electoral charges, guess who got appointed U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas—Jim Griffin.

Today, the TPM Web site reports Tim Griffin has now been hired to research Barack Obama by the Republican National Committee.  So, there you are—swift boats, Karl Rove, the U.S. attorney scandal, and whatever they try on Obama in one straight lie.

And number one: The phony war on terror-gate.  If you‘ve ever thought the administration has done everything about terrorism except what needs to be done, here is your confirmation.  An FBI agent named Bassem Youssef breaking ranks, saying he doesn‘t care if he gets fired, telling the House Judiciary Committee that counterterrorism agents and especially, managers, at bureau headquarters do not know the fundamentals.

Agent Youssef says—they don‘t have even a basic knowledge of Middle Eastern cultures.  Agent Youssef says—they don‘t have a clue about the languages.  Agent Youssef agent says—they don‘t bother to try to figure out the terrorists‘ ideology.  Agent Youssef says—they don‘t know the difference between ridiculous schemes and bona fide possible threat in the Middle East.  And Agent Youssef says—most of the supervisors have been hired and appointed with little or no experience in counterterrorism, just traditional cops and robbers stuff.

You mean, the Bush administration has defined terrorism primarily as a law enforcement issues? And why does that sound so familiar? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Best persons in a moment and the Larry Craig bobble leg doll.  First, without the developments of this date, 116 years ago, May 22nd, 1892, one of our most durable and annoying cliches would never have existed.  Dr. Washington Sheffield of New London, Connecticut, started selling a new product, Dr. Sheffield‘s Cream Denifrists.  His innovations was based on tubes of paint his son had seen artists using in Paris.  The first tubed toothpaste and this is the 116th anniversary of the first time anybody ever tried to get the toothpaste back into the tube. 

On that note, let‘s play Oddball. 

And we begin in Belgium, with a new interactive video game called “A Place To Pee,” not to be confused with Nintendo Wii.  The video game/toilet is hailed as the ultimate urinating experience.  It allows men to control skiers down a mountain or destroy space invaders without using their hands.  The stall features twin potties so you can compete against your friends, if you have any. 

The creators tested the game at this music festival, where gamers could load up on suds and take a chance at the high score.  Apparently, the game was a profound hit.  If you don‘t believe me, ask this guy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought I had peed before but since I used this, but since I used this cabinet, I realized I have never peed before.  This is the most incredible thing of my life. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What a proud moment for you and your family.  Is that Joel McHale doing a bit? 

To the waters off Japan and footage of a flying fish soaring above the water for an unbelievable 45 seconds in a row.  That tape was shot by a film crew on a ferry boat.  Experts believe it‘s a record for a flight.  We‘re not exactly sure why the fish does this or why they call it a fish.  It looks like a bat to me.  All we do know is that because of all the publicity, the fish has already been contacted by the famous fish throwing Muppet, Lou Zeland, who asked him to join his act. 

Karl Rove subpoenaed, what if he don‘t show up?  Could there actually be a contempt of Congress citation?  Contempt of Ellen?  One of those painful candidate goes on the talk show moments turns icy.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best reason to discontinue vanity postage stamps, “The German Deutsche Post,” which printed a private order of 20 stamps depicting a former German government official alongside a bouquet of flowers.  It was Rudolph Hess, the former deputy to Hitler.  They say they will try to be more vigilant about who they make stamps of next time. 

Number two, best re-imagining of the bobble head doll.  On Sunday, Minor League Baseball‘s St. Paul Saints will give fans a bobble foot doll in the image of Idaho Senator Larry Craig.  We think that‘s him behind that image there.  Only the foot is visible behind the tiny bathroom stall in which the bobble figure sits.  The foot moves. 

And number one, best test ever, the GCSE music examination taken last week by 12,000 British high school students.  On the back of the test was printed the answers.  However, the answers were contained within the copyright notice and the examination board insist that it appears none of the 12,000 students even noticed them. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Joe Wilson‘s dream of watching Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs is gone, but a new dream has been born tonight.  What about a turd-blossom perp walk out the front door of Fixed News down the street.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the House Judiciary Committee today issuing a subpoena ordering the former presidential adviser to face questions about the White House‘s role in the firing of those nine U.S. attorneys, as well as the dubious prosecution of former governor Don Siegelman of Alabama, a Democrat. 

Last week, just off the House floor, a reporter for Politico.com, having overheard Judiciary Chair John Conyers when he said we‘re closing in on Rove.  Someone‘s got to kick his bleep.  Asked a few minutes later for a more official explanation, Congressman Conyers elaborating, saying that if Rove does not appear before his committee, quote, “we‘ll do what any self-respecting committee would do.  We‘d hold him in contempt.  Either that or go and have him arrested.” 

Let‘s turn now to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.  John, good evening. 

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Until last week, Karl Rove‘s lawyer, Robert Luskin, said, I do not understand why the committee is threatening a subpoena to Mr.  Rove.  Are the legal complexities here really that hard to understand? 

TURLEY:  I‘ll take a stab in the dark.  It probably has something to do with the fact that his client won‘t answer proper questions from a Congressional Committee with oversight responsibilities.  But that‘s just a shot in the dark.  The other possibility would be that his client is in flagrant open contempt of Congress by not showing up if he does refuse the subpoena. 

OLBERMANN:  The term bleep kicking, obviously that‘s a legal term.  But let‘s just assume that he does not intend to show up.  He‘s already said he‘s not going to go voluntarily.  They‘ve ignored subpoenas left and right for the length of this administration.  Does John Conyers have some sort of mechanism to have boss Rove arrested or would he have to involve the Justice Department, presuming there‘s still a Justice Department? 

TURLEY:  Well, the traditional way is for him to refer the matter after a vote of his colleagues to the Justice Department.  But Attorney General Mukasey has already said that he‘s not going to allow his prosecutors to present these cases to a Grand Jury for an indictment.  It‘s an extraordinary act because Congress does have what‘s called inherent authority or inherent contempt authority.  When this Republic was founded, Congress would, indeed, actually arrest people, drag them into the House or Senate, try them and order them incarcerated. 

They gave up that power with a basic understanding that the Justice Department would serve as their lawyers.  But Mukasey is saying he won‘t allow a Grand Jury or a court to see the basis of this contempt.  So, some have suggested that Congress should say, deal‘s off.  We‘ll go back to using inherent contempt if you‘re going to rig the system, if you‘re not going to let a Grand Jury see the evidence. 

OLBERMANN:  If he doesn‘t show up on July 10th, when this is answerable, and he has not—he‘s not cooperated with the committee, is there a statute of limitations on the contempt of Congress?  Could this be something that could be dealt with by the next attorney general on the 21st of January in 2009? 

TURLEY:  The way this is usually handled is that the contempt of Congress extends through that Congress.  And then when the new Congress comes in, they can reissue the subpoena.  What the White House is counting on here is not the constitution but the calendar.  You know, the White House has engaged in a wild extension of executive privilege.  I don‘t know anyone who believes that the president can deny the participation of all these individuals before Congress. 

Congress clearly has the right to ask these questions.  So, they‘re not going to win in court.  They‘re just hoping to outlast Congress. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve invoked them not by name.  The names are Harriet Myers, John Bolton, possibly Karl Rove, not even bothering to show up to claim executive privilege.  This is now almost institutionalized.  What does Congress do about this, short of literally rearming the Sergeant at Arms? 

TURLEY:  That‘s the problem, Keith, is that the president has once again forced a constitutional crisis.  He‘s basically telling Congress that even if I did politicize the Justice Department, even if there‘s crimes here, I can tell people not to give you evidence.  And we have now this length of this long list of people that are refusing to testify upon orders of the president. 

Congress has to do something about that.  If it‘s not going to become a virtual governmental unit, it has to do something when people look at the Congress straight in the eye and say, I just don‘t give a darn whether you‘re subpoenaing me or not.  I‘m not going to show up.  So it‘s a direct challenge to the Legislative Branch. 

I must say that John Conyers is not the guy to mess with.  I think his first statement was probably closer to his intent.  And I think we‘re all going to watch to see whether Chairman Conyers is going to go to the mat.  But in that fight I have to bet on John Conyers. 

OLBERMANN:  One correction, and then one last question.  I said John Bolton, of course it was Josh Bolton, the chief of staff.  Conceivably, is the attorney general in contempt of Congress for saying that?  Is Mr.  Mukasey somehow citable? 

TURLEY:  Well, I think Mukasey has proven to be a perfect nightmare.  And the question is, once again to the Democrats who saved him, Senator Schumer and Feinstein, when they protected him from answering the torture question, I think that this is a terrible legacy they have brought.  He is positively fighting Congress tooth and nail, getting any information at all on this, torture and other subjects. 

OLBERMANN:  Unlike his predecessor, he appears to have actually gone to law school.  Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, as always, John, thanks for your time. 

TURLEY:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, we know what Bill-O acted like when he hosted “Inside Edition.”  His rival host at that time on “Hard Copy” has been fired by his Boston TV station for criticizing Bill-O.  Worst persons, we‘ll do it live, ahead. 

An unlikely venue for Senator McCain to get his butt kicked.  Ellen Channels her inner Edward R. Murrow ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They‘ve already gone after “Newsweek,” the “New York Times” and this newscast, so no doubt the McCain campaign will shortly be threatening the latest journalists to ask him questions he deemed too tough, Ellen DeGeneres.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Comcast Cable.  You remember them, pulling us off the basic tier in Portland, Oregon.  As political as it might have seemed, it looked like a pure business deal from here.  Until today, when Comcast‘s Boston outlet fired veteran news man Barry Nolan (ph) after a two-week suspension.  Nolan‘s crime?  He publicly protested the Boston area Emmy awards crowd for giving its annual governor‘s trophy to Bill O‘Reilly. 

Tonight‘s runner-up, General David Petraeus.  It turns out his role as a press flack for President Bush began long before his embarrassing testimony to Congress last September.  Pentagon documents say that hoping to soften up the military panelists scheduled for “Meet The Press” on August 28, 2005, Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita had a deputy assistant secretary of defense contact Petraeus in Iraq and ask him to start shilling.  Petraeus promptly got on the phone to each of the military analysts and gave them supposedly insider accounts of how well things were going in Iraq. 

But our winner, Iran-contra star Ollie North, still posing as an expert on something on Fixed News.  North and Sean Hannity were merely smearing a translator at Gitmo, the one who was falsely accused of helping detainees, against whom all charges were dismissed.  The man had said some of the detainees told them they had seen desecration of the Koran.  North promptly chimed in about alleged terrorists, quote, who we all know have made up lots of stories. 

Consider this, North depends on the idea that the detainees at Gitmo make up stories about Koran desecration or about being abused.  But he can‘t seem to understand the prospect that those same detainees could just as easily make up apocryphal terrorist plots or absurd confessions.  Oliver North, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

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OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek” had accepted pro-Obama framing.  COUNTDOWN had been too critical.  The “New York Times” had been, well, the “New York Times.”  John McCain‘s campaign may still be living in some sort of dream land, in which its candidate gets only the kind of coverage he likes.  We‘ll find out shortly if somebody fires a broadside against or threatens to limit the access of noted take no prisoners investigative reporter Ellen DeGeneres. 

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, your standard talk show host asks the soft questions appearance morphed into a lie detector test when Ms. DeGeneres brought up what she termed the elephant in the room to John McCain, gay marriage.  Miss DeGeneres explained that she had already planned on having a summer ceremony with her partner, the actress Portia de Rossi of “Arrested Development” fame, but that now, with the recent ruling from California‘s Supreme Court, that union would be in all respects legal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, “ELLEN”:  I‘m, obviously, excited and to me this is only fair and only natural and what are your thoughts? 

MCCAIN:  Well, my thoughts are that I think that people should be able to enter into legal agreements.  I just believe in the unique status of marriage between man and woman. 

DEGENERES:  We are all the same people, all of us.  You‘re no different than I am.  Our love is the same.  It feels, when someone says you can have a contract and you‘ll still have insurance and get all that, it sounds to me like saying you can sit there, but you just can‘t sit there. 

MCCAIN:  We just have a disagreement.  And I, along with many, many others wish you every happiness. 

DEGENERES:  Thank you.  So you‘ll walk me down the aisle?  Is that what you said? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That cordial yet pointed exchange was buffeted by lighter segments with the senator, who is now reportedly afraid he will be asked about Reverend Rod Parsley or the 50 lobbyists on his campaign by Tyra Banks.   

At this point, let‘s turn to MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, also host of her program week nights on Air America.  Good evening. 

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to the substance of this.  But the whole hip to be square posture did not work for the senator. 

MADDOW:  Yes, his supposed political asset that he‘s a straight-

talking guy that will say anything to anyone, anywhere, no matter the

political costs, well, today what it meant is that he told Ellen DeGeneres

he was so bold to say that even though she‘s gay, she should be allowed to sign her name like an adult.  I think people should be allowed to enter legal agreements.  Next thing, he‘ll say gay people should be allowed to drive and keep pets. 

Ultimately, he‘s asserting the radical, bold political bold political straight talking notion that gay people should be allowed to hire lawyers to compensate for the fact that they are discriminated against in the law.  Awesome. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  The position in this country, it‘s simply, I think, bluntly stated, that people are coming around to the idea that gay marriage is a civil rights issue.  Get over it.  Plus the main rational against it, the sanctity of the male/female marriage, 50 percent of which still ends in divorce.  What exactly is the sanctity of the male/female marriage?  Why shouldn‘t everybody get a chance to screw up their lives forever? 

MADDOW:  What‘s the relationship of a sanctity of a heterosexual marriage to the sanctity or not of a gay marriage?  I live in Massachusetts.  What we experience with gay marriage there is that all of the anti-gay marriage stuff sort of dissolved and sort of had the air knocked out of it after gay people were allowed to get married.  Nothing happened to straight people.  Straight people‘s lives didn‘t change.  The sky didn‘t fall. 

OLBERMANN:  No meteors. 

MADDOW:  No meteors.  Divorce didn‘t go up or down.  Kids were still kids.  Adults were still adults.  Pets were still pets.  It was all fine.  And it took the wind out of the argument against it. 

OLBERMANN:  Big picture and we are crunched for time, but McCain has basically been playing a one-on-one basketball game by himself in this campaign.  No opponent yet.  He‘s complaining about the refs.  He‘s tried to ban some of the reporters covering the game.  He‘s fired one of the lead cheerleaders, Pastor Hagee, and maybe one of the other ones is going to have to go.  And he‘s losing.  How do you do that? 

MADDOW:  He‘s losing because he‘s running an incredibly bad campaign because he can, because he doesn‘t have an opponent.  He can afford to.  He‘s testing to see how far he can push the press back in case they ever decide to stop giving him a free ride.  He‘s testing them. 

OLBERMANN:  Led by Ellen DeGeneres, now aren‘t we indicating we will not give him a free ride? 

MADDOW:  There‘s Tyra, too. 

OLBERMANN:  I know.  Tyra, Ellen DeGeneres, me, we‘re the push-back points. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  You‘re the leader. 

OLBERMANN:  And he‘s testing.  So far he‘s F, F, F, F.  He‘s going to continue this pattern? 

MADDOW:  He‘s been get ago free ride for so long.  He‘s so unused to getting hard questions on anything.  He gets one or two.  They are pushing back to see how far they can go. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, don‘t push too hard.  You know how we react here.  Our own Rachel Maddow, host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America, great thanks.  Keep dodging those meteors.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,848th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  Seriously, what‘s it to you?  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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