Guests: Eugene Robinson, Chris Kofinis, Jonathan Turley, Richard Lewis
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The commander-in-chief test. Obama in Amman, Jordan with senators, Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel, glad that the consensus is building to support his plan to get us out of the quicksand of Iraq.
What breaking news tonight. Senator McCain says the surge led to the awakening by Sunnis in Iraq, except the awakening by Sunnis in Iraq came before the surge and before the 2006 midterms. A remarkable gaffe, or an easily caught lie-or just more GOP panic? McCain all but calls Senator Obama a traitor. Man yells at cloud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: McCain's other crisis reignites. Phil Gramm, gone but not forgotten-and maybe not even gone. Steve Forbes says Gramm's economic policies will remain John McCain's economic policy and that all Gramm did wrong was to call people "whiners."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE FORBES, MCCAIN SURROGATE: This was something, Phil Gramm said something you're not supposed to say these days.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Bush administration's criminal eavesdropping. They are going to get away with it. The Republican plan for preemptive pardons for administration functionaries which maybe unnecessary. An advisor says that a "President Obama" would not prosecute anything but the most egregious crimes. Jonathan Turley joins us.
Please sit well back from your television. Richard Lewis is also here with me.
And Worst Persons. Al Gore goes to the Netroots Nation Convention and Bill-O, "The Clown" says, "The fact that he went to this thing is the same as if he stepped into the Klan gathering. It's the same. No difference. None." Logically, to make that determination, I guess Billy must himself have been to a Klan gathering.
All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is this, a quiz show?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening from Los Angeles. This is Tuesday, July 22n, 105 days until the 2008 presidential election.
Senator John McCain is now staking his candidacy entirely on the surge in Iraq, entirely on his claim that he believed in the need for a surge of U.S. forces in Iraq even before President Bush did. Tonight, he has proven that he does not understand one of the fundamental facts about the surge. In an interview with the CBS evening news earlier today, the presumptive Republican nominee getting the basic timeline and history of the surge completely wrong.
We cannot play that portion of the interview for you because CBS curiously, to say the least, left it on the edit room floor. It aired Katie Couric's question, but in response it inserted part of McCain's answer to another question instead. How do we know this? We consulted a transcript of the entire original interview which was available on the CBS News Web site.
Reading from the interview as it actually transpired, Couric asking, quote, "Senator Obama says, while the increased number of U.S. troops contributed to increased security in Iraq, he also credits the Sunni awakening and the Shiite government going after militias, and says that there might have been improved security even without the surge. What's your response to that?"
McCain answering, quote, "I don't know how you respond to something that is such a false depiction of what actually happened. Colonel McFarland was contacted by one of the major Sunni sheiks. Because of the surge, we were able to go out and protect that sheik and others and it began the Anbar awakening, I mean, that's just a matter of history."
Senator McCain is either wrong or lying. The military commander he mentioned, General Sean McFarland, then a colonel, briefed the media on the Anbar awakening on September 29th, 2006, at least two months before rumors about the mere possibility of the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq. And it is Senator McCain, in portions of the interview CBS did choose to air, who insisted that Obama does not understand what is happening and what has happened in Iraq.
Back in the region today, his opponent now in Jordan managing to keep his facts straight, Senator Obama is saying from a windy hotel roof in Amman, that precisely because security in Iraq has improved, because of the surge and those other factors, the U.S. urgently needs to turn its attention to Afghanistan-what he contends is and always was the central front in the war on terror.
Even though he and General David Petraeus disagree on the candidate's 16-month timetable for withdrawal, Senator Obama is telling reporters that he and the general are not on the same page in getting American troops out of Iraq as safely as possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The focus of our conversation was not how precipitous my proposal was because, as he emphasized, he, too, would like to see our troops out, violence reduced, and Iraqi functioning and stable democratic government that is keeping terrorists out and is functioning as an ally for us in the region.
In his role as commander on the ground, not surprisingly, he wants to retain as much flexibility as possible in terms of accomplishing that goal. And what I emphasize to him was, you know, if I were in his shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But my job as a candidate for president and a potential commander-in-chief extends beyond Iraq.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, there's no confusion on this point. Senator Obama's job as commander-in-chief would be setting the policy for U.S. national security. General Petraeus' job would be carrying it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: What I've consistently said is that my job, should I'd be commander-in-chief, is to set a vision, a strategic vision of what's best for U.S. national security. I strongly believe that what is best for U.S. national security is to initiate a phased withdrawal and to set a timeframe that is very consistent with what the Iraqis are now saying and, I think, can be accomplished.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Obama rejecting the idea that by having a vision for U.S. national security that differs from the current administration's or from Senator McCain's, that that automatically means he is ignoring the advice from the military commanders on the ground, merely that his view needs to be broader than as theirs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The notion is that either I do exactly what my military commanders tell me to do or I'm ignoring their advice. No, I'm factoring in their advice, but placing it in this broader strategic framework that's required.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: At this hour, Senator Obama is already on the ground in Israel for the next leg of this trip. Earlier in Amman, the U.S. relationship with that country, the cause of Obama's first gaffe of the trip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Let me be absolutely clear. Israel is a strong friend of Israel's and will be a strong friend of Israel's under a McCain government administration; it will be a strong friend of Israel under an Obama administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Keep your friends closer. Senator John "Czechoslovakia" McCain at a town hall in New Hampshire today, catching himself, for once again citing the name of an "Iron Curtain" country that has not existed in 15 years. The fourth time apparently is the charm because how many times Senator McCain would take his new attack line out for a test drive.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I had the courage and the judgment to say that I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Just two hours later, Senator McCain would again escalate his rhetoric against his opponent. The context, earlier today, McCain surrogate and New Mexico congresswoman, Heather Wilson, claiming that McCain might withdraw from Iraq even sooner than Obama would and McCain when asked about it-not exactly denying it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I think that we can be home depending on conditions on the ground. The surge has succeeded. It is succeeding. We are winning the war. If we'd done what Senator Obama wanted, we'd have lost.
When we adopted the surge, we were losing the war in Iraq. And I stood up and said I would rather lose a campaign than lose a war. Apparently, Senator Obama, who doesn't understand what's happening in Iraq or fails to acknowledge the success in Iraq, would rather lose a war than lose a campaign.
We have succeeded. We will bring our troops home. We are bringing them home, by the way, as we stand down from the surge and we are succeeding and we're winning.
Senator Obama once said, "Well, if we have to, he'd go back." My friends, after we finish this, we'll never have to go back because we'll have won a victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: McCain also used the lose the campaign line in that CBS interview.
Let's turn now to our own Eugene Robinson, also, of course, associate editor and columnist of the "Washington Post."
Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: First, this would have to become news rather than being edited out by CBS which apparently didn't know or didn't care the story it had in front of it, but should the notion actually catch on that Senator McCain got the fundamental facts of the surge wrong, he put the chicken before the egg, or the cart before the horse, while he was attempting to bash his opponent for not understanding the fundamental facts about the surge. What happens if "Senator Surge" is caught in either a very big lie or a very big mistake?
ROBINSON: I guess, I hope what happens is that it becomes a teachable moment about the history of the surge and the Sunni awakening and Anbar Province. The facts are, as you stated them, Keith, that in September 2006, the awakening was already taking shape and it was nascent at that tape but it was already developing.
Look, the Sunnis, the sheiks or tribal leaders of Anbar province who decided they had had enough of al Qaeda, these guys, mostly foreigners who were a bunch of jerks. They decided and they didn't want them around anymore. They have served their useful purpose and they are the ones who decided to get rid of them. They were happy to have U.S. help, U.S. war chest (ph) in getting rid of these characters, but it was they're decision and it was their impetus and it came well before the surge was even a notion, much less before any of the surge troops actually got there.
OLBERMANN: The other big statement out of McCain-land today, which we heard at least four times, this false claim that Senator Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.
Try to establish the idea that there's only two choices here, either the U.S. comes home victorious, mission accomplished again, even though we've already declared mission accomplished or we come home as some sort of set of cowards? In saying this bluntly, has McCain crossed a line? This isn't questioning leadership on Obama's part, it isn't even he's accusing the patriotism, the standard stuff, he's accusing of an American senator of wanting to lose a war, which is about, I don't know, an inch, maybe an inch and a half away from accusing him of sedition.
ROBINSON: Well, you know, this is tough stuff. It's awful early to be bringing out, you know, a bottle of hard stuff like this. You would think that maybe, you know, on the eve of the election or something like if things look bad for McCain, you'd be hearing rhetoric like this.
But here's what I wonder though. I mean, is this just rhetoric, this dichotomy that gets set up, you know-we win or we lose in Iraq. Whereas what's really happening, of course, (A), more on occupation than a war, (B), a very complicated situation in which, you know, the kind of World War II concept of, you know, "we win or we lose."
Well, whatever happens, you know, we win some, we lose some. And it's going to be shades of gray no matter what happens. I certainly hope Senator McCain understands that reality and so I guess in that sense, I hope it's just rhetoric-whether appropriate or not-and not, you know, actually the way he sees things in Iraq because if, you know, if he's waiting for some sort of, you know, of handing over of swords to General MacArthur at the end of this, it ain't going to happen.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Don't get the Missouri out of mothballs for this.
Let me get back to the Sunni awakening-the Sunni awakening thing here. Besides his own anger recently and the stuff we've heard today, McCain has the tried-and-true, "the media is against me" bloody shirt waving and waving overtime. What happens to that?
And again, it could just be bad journalism. Somebody missed the fact that they had this story and they cut it out for time, but it's bad journalism at best. But when it proves that CBS edited out the only news that it had in its interview with him and the only news was controversial and it showed him in a bad light, this looks like they did him an incredible favor. What happens to "the media hates me" angle if the media didn't hate him?
ROBINSON: You know, I think we'll still hear more of the "media hates me" argument. Remember that football player who wore the jersey "he hate me" on the back?
ROBINSON: I mean, (INAUDIBLE) they hate me. This is what I'm thinking about. But, you know, if things are getting bad when you start attacking the media like that. Again, it's awfully early for that sort of thing. I would think that John McCain has a lot of work to do or his advisors have a lot of work to do, in terms of setting up, you know, a credible and professional politically campaign that gets its message across, you know, in a favorable light. And I'd worry about that before I worry about the media.
OLBERMANN: The late Rod Smart, "he hate me," from the XFL, analogized by Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and the "Washington Post." As always, Gene, thanks for joining us, have a good night.
ROBINSON: Good to talk to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As if John McCain wasn't in enough hot water for his claims about the Sunni's awakening, thanks to a surge that didn't happen until the following year, one small domestic detail tonight, too.
The advisor who called Americans "whiners" and insisted it was just a "mental recession" and was ousted from the McCain campaign last Friday, appears to be already back in the McCain campaign tonight.
Phil Gramm, how can we miss you if you won't go away?
OLBERMANN: Phil Gramm, unceremoniously ousted by the McCain campaign at the dusk glass on Friday. Now, an unpaid McCain advisor says, "Gramm's economic policies will still be part of McCain's platform and Gramm could even wind up in the cabinet.
Later: Not only like President Bush pardon his own torturers and eavesdroppers, but a legal advisor to Senator Obama is already suggesting his boss would not prosecute those people.
Amazingly, we still have more Worst Persons to come and the new Cuban missile crisis in the offing.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On Friday, the straight talk was that McCain economic adviser, Phil Gramm, was off the campaign after calling America "a nation of whiners." Only three days later, however, the straight talk is that Gramm's advice would continue to be critical; his relationship with McCain is strong as ever.
Our fourth story tonight: Gone but not forgotten, except he's not even gone. We know this from the McCain campaign itself, from McCain's surrogate, Steve Forbes, asked on CNBC yesterday whether McCain would ask Gramm to come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNBC/YESTERDAY)
STEVE FORBES, MCCAIN SURROGATE: Well, I think, in terms of advice, Phil Gramm will be critical, which is good, because on things like trade, he's absolutely right. I think McCain has a long friendship with Phil Gramm. So, this was something, Phil Gramm said something, you're not supposed to say these days. He paid a price for it, but in terms of the relationship, I think, it's strong as ever and the McCain, I think Phil Gramm's advice will be taken to heart.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Forbes and his orchestra there. It's not clear exactly what he meant when he referred to Gramm, "saying something you're not supposed to say these days," whether it was Gramm's remarks about "nation of whiners" or in the same interview on July 9th, Gramm's claim the America is suffering merely, quote, "a mental recession."
Forbes did not say, despite implying, that the McCain camp agrees with Gramm. He just doesn't want to say it aloud nor did Forbes specify which part of Gramm's advice McCain would take to heart should he win the White House, whether it would be continued deregulation of the mortgage industry, which even some Republicans blame in part for the mortgage crisis and its spread throughout the financial sector, or Gramm's opposition to regulating oil futures trading dominated in recent years by speculators who got into oil futures after Gramm helped deregulate that sector as well.
Let's turn now to Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis, a veteran campaigner himself as communications director for John Edwards.
Thanks for your time tonight, Chris.
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is Phil Gramm gone or not? Is he the "Ghost of Christmas Past"? What exactly is he?
KOFINIS: You know, I went home and Googled Phil Gramm and he resigned. Unfortunately, I'm not sure that the McCain campaign got the memo.
I mean, the reality here is, you know, the funny thing is the McCain campaign says he's gone, but he's still an advisor, apparently. He is still talking to John McCain apparently. And if John McCain happens to win the White House, he's going to be a senior advisor in some kind of economic function.
I mean, this is actually very serious contradiction because it goes to the heart of who John McCain is. That he seems and their campaign can't get their stories straight as to whether Phil Gramm is part of their campaign or not. It really is, I think, a fundamental, you know, insight to who John McCain is and how he's running as a candidate right now.
OLBERMANN: If Phil Gramm is seen as still having McCain's ear, does McCain not risk further tarnishing this supposed "straight talk" reputation without getting whatever benefit he might think he got from having Gramm officially around?
KOFINIS: Yes, I'm not sure you could tarnish it anywhere. John McCain has actually done a pretty good job of that. I mean, the "straight talk maverick independent" that people remember in 2000 just doesn't exist. Unfortunately, you know, he started tarnishing that line embracing the Bush economic policies and by basically ignoring what, you know, Phil Gramm said.
I mean, this is really telling statement. Calling America's, you know, families, the ones that are really suffering today under foreclosures crisis, rising gas prices, whiners-it really goes to the heart, I think, of what John McCain and how did they see, both Phil Gramm and him, how they see the American people and I think it really makes it difficult for him to justify how he's going to lead the country in any new direction.
OLBERMANN: What is the tension here, Chris, that McCain doesn't want to lose independents and swing votes who might not like being called a "nation of whiners," but he also doesn't want to lose the corporate backers who would get rich off the policies of Phil Gramm or is there something going on that we're not aware out here?
KOFINIS: I think it's a bit of both. I mean, he, clearly, I think, wants to kind of appease his corporate backers by still saying, "I'm kind of listening to him even though he's not part of my campaign theoretically." You know, the other part, you know, I hate to say it but it kind of makes you wonder whether he's willing to lose an election instead of losing an advisor.
The other par that I think is really telling and this goes, I think, to the heart of what is the malfunction with the McCain campaign-they seem to be operating almost in a time warp where they don't understand we operate in a 24/7 media cycle with bloggers ready to dissect every word, every statement, every action.
The notion that somehow you can ignore that, you know, that Phil Gramm is back, advising John McCain in any way and that somehow it's just going to fall on deaf ears, it just shows you a "beltway blindness" that doesn't, I think, reflect the reality of what candidates today are running in. They are running in a very complex, challenging, demanding media environment and if you're not up to that's, you're going to suffer the consequences.
OLBERMANN: Last point, this hint from Forbes that he might-that is Phil Gramm-might have some role to play under a President McCain? What on earth could that role be?
KOFINIS: Well, I mean, unfortunately, that role if John McCain wins the presidency, that would be probably a very senior economic role, possibly treasury secretary. And again, I think, this is where I think is very telling-there's a very clear, you know, theme between these two candidates. They see the world very similar. They see the American people as whiners. They see corporate American millionaires as winners. Unfortunately, that is the recipe for losing election. I don't understand it but that's John McCain's campaign.
OLBERMANN: Yes, we need a financial pirate as secretary of the treasury.
Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist, former Edwards campaign communications director-great thanks for your time tonight, sir
KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And look, it's the presidential campaign as seen by an Oregon farmer. Looks like Ronald Reagan versus Cher. "Why should they be in the cornfield, son, why should they be in the cornfield?"
And McCain, Obama, and the rest of the crowd as seen by our special guest tonight: Richard Lewis-coming up.
OLBERMANN: Bushed in a moment. First, to clarify something I said earlier. The football player known as "He hate me," I called him the late Rod Smart. I made that facetiously. The late lamented Rod Smart is very much alive. He was even in camp at the Oakland Raiders as late as 2006.
Forty-five years ago today, the unheralded actress, Joanna Going was born in Washington, D.C. If you want to see somebody stand out from a crowd, to such a degree that she reminds you that all the other performers are actors, watch her in "Nixon" or in "Wyatt Earp."
On that note, let's play Oddball.
And let's go up to chopper Oddball five where pictures out of Sherwood, Oregon, where a guy with a tractor had too much time on his hands. It's a corn maze featuring the likeliness of the two remaining major candidates. You call it a corn maze, we call it amaze maze.
On the left, John McCain, kind of looking like, well, like Grandpa Simpson, on the right, it's Barack Obama who looks a little bit more like Ronald Reagan. Plus the word, Obama, looks like "Cobama." This thing is like a big artist sketch, you can't just start in the middle. Anyway, the creator is hoping to get out to vote among Sherwood, Oregon's air-traveling populous which would consist mainly of Canadian geese. They can't vote anyway because they're Canadian.
In Brazenton, Florida, Snooty the manatee has turned 60 years young. Born during the Truman administration, Snooty gets his name for his finicky eating habits, although you don't really get to be 1,500 pounds by being a fussy eater, so I'm not sure how that works. Anyway, Snooty celebrated by doing a show for some kiddies at the aquarium. Sea cows in the wild are known to live to 60 years or a little bit more. Snooty is the oldest known manatee in captivity. So, not to be rude, but start cranking on that bucket list.
Finally to Antwerp in Belgium, where this guy is sticking it to the man. Patrick Janson, fed up with the rising cost of energy, decided to skip the traditional check and envelope way of paying his electric bill, and instead filled up two wheel barrows with Belgian pennies and rolled them over to the electric company. Oh, boy will those energy fat cats be steamed. It turned out not so much. Janson was met outside the power plant by a swarm of media and an electric company spokeswoman who shook his and kindly accepted the 475 pounds of pennies. Leaving Mr. Janson to say, can I at least get my wheel barrows back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Prosecution of the Bush administration for illegal eavesdropping on Americans. Wave good-bye to that idea. What might not be pardoned might not be prosecuted. And Bill-O the clown compares Al Gore and liberal bloggers to the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan. Worst persons ahead.
But first, the headlines breaking in the administration's 50 running scandals, Bushed. Number three, appeasement-gate. Once again, expect a ferocious response out of the administration after news that another western power is actually going to talk to the leadership of another rogue state. Syria is on the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism, yet this country will send its top diplomat for the Middle East to meet with Syrian officials, possibly in the western country's own capital.
Which is the latest appeaser to violate the Bush doctrine? Once again, it's us. The State Department says, yes, if Syrian officials come to D.C., Assistant Secretary of State David Welch will meet with them.
Number two, support the troops-gate. The latest official investigation on how the Army treats its wounded; soldiers battered physically or mentally can wait two months to a year before the Army either discharges them or returns them to their units. The Army says it gets the soldiers out of limbo in one to four months.
Number one, Cuban missile crisis-gate. You heard me. The Russian government has apparently leaked a story to a semi-official Russian newspaper that bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons might be sent to Cuba. Why would they do that? The Russian paper quotes a source who says that this is about American neo-con's dream about crazy Star Wars missile defense system, putting it into Eastern Europe. "While they are deploying the missile shield in Poland or the Czech Republic, our strategic bombers will already be landing in Cuba."
Terrific. If you weren't around in 1962, or if like me you were too young to appreciate just how close we all came to being blown to hell in a hand basket, now here is our second bite at the fatal apple. Probably Vladimir Putin is blowing smoke and rattling sabers here. All recent indications are he is just nuts enough to do this. We can re-create the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962, only this time it will be all our fault. And only this time we could have not a President Kennedy to carefully dance through the game of brinkmanship, but we could have at the helm President McCain. All that would be missing then would be Dr. Strangelove.
OLBERMANN: Why on Earth would President Bush go to the trouble of preemptively pardoning the criminals in his own administration for illegal torture and detention or illegal wiretapping against Americans, if Senator Obama's legal advisers say Obama's attorney general wouldn't prosecute those criminals anyway. In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, heads they win, tails we lose. Amid the fading hopes of holding the administration to account, Justice Department figures have President Bush at only 157 pardons and six commutations thus far. By comparison, over two terms, Reagan granted clemency 409 times, Clinton 459.
The "Boston Globe" reports that Bush is being inundated with requests for pardons, at this point mostly from names running the gamut from John Walker Lindh to disgraced Olympian Marion Jones. But one former Reagan DOJ official is pushing for preemptive action and tells the "New York Times" that would be to prevent long term investigations and protect people who proceed in, quote, good faith. Otherwise, she says, no one will ever take chances. Yes, that's kind of the idea here.
The White House response, "we are going to decline to comment on that question, since it is regarding internal matters." Just as disturbing perhaps, Obama legal adviser Cas Sunstein (ph) saying only the most egregious Bush administration crimes should or would be prosecuted. As reported in "The Nation," quote, "prosecuting government officials risks a cycle of criminalizing public service, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts, like the impeachment of President Clinton, or even the slight appearance of it."
We turn now to George Washington University law professor and constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley. John, good evening.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Bottom line here, between the Bush pardon possibility and what Cas Sunstein said, did we just see accountability go out the window for good?
TURLEY: Well, that would probably wrap it up. If he pardons people and the Obama administration refuses to prosecute people, that wouldn't leave much else. He could order pizzas late at night to his house or sabotage his MySpace page, but that would be it. The important thing is that there are very few obligations that a president has to do under the constitution, but one of them is not to violate the laws that he is supposed to enforce.
What really concerns me about Cas Sunstein's statement is I don't know what a non-egregious crime by a president or an administration might be. I think all crimes committed by the government, particularly the president, are egregious. But what bothers me most is this is consist, as you know, with Speaker Pelosi's position that she will not allow an impeachment of the president, no matter how strong the evidence. And it's part of this pattern that there are certain crimes that you simply won't prosecute.
I don't understand why some Democrats can't just simply accept a very straight forward proposition that we'll prosecute any crimes committed by this administration, an Obama administration, a McCain administration, because they're crimes. They're all egregious. And, so Cas Sunstein's statement has led many to lose a great deal of faith about the commitment to the future, because we have had eight years of moral relativism and the avoidance of legal process. And to start a major campaign with the suggestion that we're going to distinguish between egregious and non-egregious crimes promises more of the same.
OLBERMANN: Let's split this thing back into the two component parts. The John Dean argument against proactive pardoning by Bush was the same one that Richard Nixon used in not pardoning his own people before he resigned. If we do that, we are collectively and individually admitting guilt. Does that no longer count in the Bush thinking about this?
TURLEY: I don't think it does, Keith. I think this would be the ultimate and final show of contempt by this president for the rule of law. If you remember, this was the same group that said we are absolutely certain of the legality of these programs. When they started to lose in court, Congress, including the Democrats, gave them new legislation to stop judicial reviews.
So I don't think there is any question about illegality anymore. I think this president would find it consistent to say, I can tell people to commit crimes and then I can pardon them for it. What is troubling is that there appear to be Democrats on the other side who would welcome that.
OLBERMANN: The other component part, why would Obama through his legal adviser punt not just on accountability, but even on the just the threat of accountability through the election?
TURLEY: I think it really does show that the Democrats are trying really hard to assure some voters and certainly a lot of politicians that they're not going to reopen these issues and that the Bush crimes will remain buried for all time. And I do think that all of these people have signed on to such a morally relativistic approach that it would start a new administration on the same level that George Bush left it. That is a very sad thing.
A new administration should commit to at least one thing, and that is to uphold the constitution and the laws, regardless of who may be the violator.
OLBERMANN: Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, working on those late-night pizza orders. Thank you, John.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What's wrong with this picture? In its race to blame the Democrats for everything, even education, Fox misspelled-yes And I will introduce him and then we'll see what happens. Richard Lewis my special guest here in Burbank when COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: Richard Lewis is here. I will introduce him. There after, I will speak only in sentence fragments. That's ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world. As preface, I was praised in the media yesterday for not rising to some of Fox Noise's most recent fate. Let me correct that. We have a fixed news trifecta tonight.
The bronze to weekend host Brett Baier and his producers. As he said, the high price of gas may be costing your kids some of their education. We'll explain here. This graphic appeared on the screen. That's right. While trying to blame the Democrats for the price of gas, thus, by extension, blaming the Democrats for a negative impact on education, Fox misspelled the word education: E-D-U-C-T-A-I-O-N. Or possibly they meant to spell it that way and Democrats are responsible for the harmful effect of ions in the atmosphere.
Runner-up, Bill-O the clown, offers his website goers hilarious polls like, should Obama go on "The Factor?" The choices again are yes and no. Sometimes they aren't that funny though. "What is the most biased news outlet in America, "New York Times," MSNBC, the Associated Press, NPR?"
You left out a couple of options there, bub. Plus, I'm horrified to say that in the minds of the viewers of the Bill-O the clown show, such as those mind are, MSNBC is only the second most biased outlet.
But our winner, also Bill-O the clown, chastising former Vice President Gore for attending the Netroots Nation Conference over the weekend. "He shows up on Saturday at the most hateful-there's not, and I'm including the Nazis and the Klan here-there is not a more hateful group in the country than these Daily Kos people. Al Gore now is done. He's done, OK. He's not a man of respect. He doesn't have any judgment. The fact that he went to this thing was the same if he stepped into the Klan gathering. It's the same. No difference, none. He loses all credibility with me, all credibility."
Here's a buffoon who works for Fox News, which took a photograph of Jacques Steinberg of the "New York Times" and altered it to enlarge his nose and ears, actually copied the propaganda techniques of the 1930s, and he's comparing anybody else on the planet to the Nazis. Check out your bosses' offices, Bill, and your mirror. OK? Bill-O the clown, today's worst person in the world!
OLBERMANN: Senator John McCain said it himself, quote, "in a time of war, the commander in chief doesn't get a learning curve." Yet in our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, the senator received an incomplete on his essay about the war from a newspaper that had endorsed him for the Republican nomination. The "New York Times" rejected McCain's op-ed, his submission there in on Iraq, because it lacked certain details, such as a definition of victory in Iraq, even though the thing was about victory in Iraq.
Tonight, another news organization did him a huge favor. In his interview with CBS, McCain made an incredible gaffe. He claimed the awakening of the Sunnis Iraqis, the people in Anbar, was a result of the surge, even though the Sunnis started cooperating nearly half a year before the surge began. CBS was kind enough to edit McCain's mistake out of the interview that appeared on what is referred to, in apparent irony, as the "CBS Evening News" with Katie Couric.
All this serving as prologue for my guest tonight, Richard Lewis, whose memoir, "The Other Great Depression," will come out in audio book with new writings next month. Also a seventh season of the Emmy nominated "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is in the works. Richard's endless "Misery Loves Company" tour lands in Atlantic City, Sacramento, and Red Wing, Minnesota, over the next three days.
RICHARD LEWIS, COMEDIAN: I dated a woman there once, so every year I go back.
OLBERMANN: Why do you go back? A settlement deal?
LEWIS: No, just a casino. Listen, first of all, it's great to see you. I love this show. Listen, for those who are watching, to blog me and you hate me. Fine, I'm 61. I could care less. People either love me or hate me. I'm not in it for the love. I'm in it because I can't take it anymore. Listen, Keith, I'm having a nervous breakdown.
LEWIS: Yes. Here is the deal, I have this feeling-I tell this on stage and I perform year round.
LEWIS: I say, look, let's be reasonable. What McCain did today, what he said, that despicable comment to the guy he's running against.
OLBERMANN: He'd rather win the election than lose the war.
LEWIS: That's like the-that speaks volumes of his character. And I know his character, the POW. You can't be much greater for a country than that and our servicemen. But come on, we're now-it's 2008 -- what are we, 2008. Look, I was born a Jew, but I'm an observant Jew. I go, hey, look there is a Jew. I'm not that deeply religious. I love Jews. I love all religions. There are five gods. Is scientology a religion?
LEWIS: And then there is Allah and everybody. Until he is on Larry King, or you, I'll let you get the get.
OLBERMANN: Tonight, God joins us.
LEWIS: Still let people have a belief system. What was my point?
Please help me on this?
OLBERMANN: About McCain on calling Obama a name.
LEWIS: No, something else. I believe, if you have a belief system, believe in it. Believe in your god. If you're an atheist-people always tell me, my atheist friends, about 18 billion people have died because of religious wars. If you're an atheist, there were about six slap fights in gym class. So they always get me on that.
OLBERMANN: A dodge ball tournament.
LEWIS: The point is this, do you know who I respect? I have a lot of friends who would never have an abortion, but vote Democrat because they say, hey, look at these last eight years. All of your Bushed-I wish they were impeached, all these cats. That pissed me off. OK?
And number two, they say Katrina, and all this crap that's going down, and we want to Iraq. Come on. What's wrong with being a reasonable person? I think that Obama, who I'm voting for, is reasonable. If you go back and check all the stuff, all right, he made that Israeli-I think-
OLBERMANN: There is a great truth in that, Israel's greatest friend.
LEWIS: Listen, if you can't be a friend to yourself. Israel has very high self-esteem. That's why he meant that. That's his worst gaffe. He's not going to be saying that ugly stuff McCain said. So I want a reasonable guy. And number one, after eight years-I don't knock President Bush. I mentioned, we're both recovering coke addicts and alcoholics, and I root for the guy on that. That's it.
But the point is it would be nice to have a guy who is intelligent. Just because he is intelligent doesn't mean he-he can't be a guy to have a beer with. He can have a beer and watch the Super Bowl and still be smart.
OLBERMANN: Figure out how to pour it for you.
LEWIS: Right, exactly. But to have someone-I think 90 percent-that's my point; 90 percent of this country, other than fringe lunatics, left and right, are reasonable. It's time, after eight years of this-you ever see the signer for the hearing impaired when Bush was on? They pulled back on the C-Span and the woman did this-she was a lovely woman. She went like this. She went-she actually shot him like that movie.
OLBERMANN: No. No.
LEWIS: Straight talk express. And a lot of-come on, senator.
Straight talk this. It's like the peyote express. He has flip-flopped.
It's a joke. This whole thing is a joke on that side. It's lie after lie. And why-and this whole surge thing. And I mean how can you not put the surge, so, all right the last four months. Fine, but it's seven years. Bin Laden is still alive. He's 6'7. He's a tall, Islamic guy. With a turban, he's 7'1. Even if we got him, there's probably a bin Laden modeling school. Walk with books on your head.
OLBERMANN: We should have been able to see him from space is what we're saying.
LEWIS: If you can catch a senator in a tryst in a high rise with Google Earth search, you can catch this guy watching HBO on demand in a cave. And we should have gone to Pakistan and Afghanistan. You know, I e-mail a lot of soldiers. I love these guys. I send them stuff. And I say, please come home safe and sound. Some of the guys I know are from Afghanistan. And I-I don't-we don't talk politics. It's like these guys, Super Bowl Sunday.
OLBERMANN: You're out there.
LEWIS: They're the heroes. If they're 0-13 but playing the Super Bowl Giants, they're going to go out there and play their hearts out. So if Bush or anyone else says go to the wrong country, yes, they do it. It wasn't their fault. It wasn't their fault. And if we make that mistake again, I don't know what I am going to do. After eight years of this-how it happened-
You know what really bugged me? This spoke volumes. When President Bush-if it was a sexual problem, whatever it was, I don't know. I don't know. But when he did that I was unhappy. I worked my butt off for the DNC and for the Clintons for 10, 12 years and for all other senators. I went-whenever I would get here, go here, show up here, I would do it. I'm a Democrat. I don't like 50 million people without health insurance. I feel the poor are forgotten. The middle-class has been screwed. I'm sick of 100,000 rich white people mainly running this country. It's our country.
And if you believe in Jesus, if he is a prince of peace, fine. But he wore a robe and sandals not an American flag. That's what-unless he went to a hip shop on Melrose. You know what I mean? I hate this fear stuff. And they're fear mongering again.
OLBERMANN: I noticed.
LEWIS: Yes, of course you know this. It's not fair. It's not fair. You can believe in a god and you can still believe in separation of church and state.
OLBERMANN: Church and state.
LEWIS: Thank you. If we don't do that, we're in deep trouble. I pray to god that this country, the 90 percent-I'm talking to you independents, libertarians, atheists, Republicans, think about it. Vote for politics. Don't vote for religion or we are in the same boat as these other countries.
OLBERMANN: Exactly, the people we are supposed to be stopping. Now I have to stop you. Richard Lewis, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" starts its seventh great year. In a moment, "The Great Depression." It's a book, an audio book. You can get an implant. There's a Great Depression toothpaste coming up.
LEWIS: The book, Jack Kerouac, bless his soul, if he heard me read this book, he would have called; you need help. That's how dark this is.
OLBERMANN: Met you in Red Wing, Minnesota.
LEWIS: Great casino.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, friend.
LEWIS: I don't want "THE VERDICT" to get upset with me.
OLBERMANN: Look, it's already 10 second late. That's COUNTDOWN for this the 1,910th day since the declaration of mission accomplished.
LEWIS: Just be reasonable. It's our country. I would take to the streets, but I have a bad back.
OLBERMANN: 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.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2008 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC's copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.