Guests: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Ron Suskind, John Dean
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Bush administration knew before the war Iraq had no WMD. Iraq‘s own head of intelligence told them so. So they bought him off and invaded anyway. And ordered the CIA to forge and backdate its documents linking Saddam Hussein and 9/11 plotter, Muhammad Atta.
Just two of the extraordinary charges revealed today in Pulitzer Prize winner‘s Ron Suskind‘s “The Way of the World.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, “THE WAY OF THE WORLD”: It was the dark day for the CIA. It was the kind of thing where they said, “Look, this is not our charge. We‘re not here to carry forward the political mandate.”
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Ron Suskind in a cable exclusive, tonight here on
Suskind says the lies about the war in Iraq alone were collectively worse than Watergate. So we will ask the author of “Worse than Watergate,” John Dean.
The meltdown at Sturgis, South Dakota. John McCain makes a celebrity pit stop in front of 50,000 bikers and channels his inner “Grandpa Simpson.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is there anybody that‘s tired of paying $4 -- a buck, $4 a gallon for gasoline.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Watcha, watcha. And McCain promises to get out of Iraq by winning a win.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: We‘ll win it the right way, and that‘s by winning it.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It‘s like these guys take pride in being ignorant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And more from Sturgis, where McCain also volunteers his wife for the biker Miss Buffalo Chip Beauty Pageant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I told her with a little luck, she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This is what contestants have to do to become Miss Buffalo Chip. And breaking news, the response ad to the McCain celebrity attack ad from Paris Hilton?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARIS HILTON, CELEBRITY: But then that wrinkly white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I‘m running for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, the debates might be more interesting.
All that and Ron Suskind‘s first cable interview: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(on camera): Good evening. This is Tuesday, August 5th, 91 days until the 2008 presidential election.
If you scoff at the thought that the American government might actually try to create a forged document to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks and thus an excuse to invade Iraq, some snippets of history to consider as we begin our fifth story, our cable exclusive interview with the author reporting this in his new book, Ron Suskind.
Fake government documents created by the Soviets were used against President Reagan, and President Carter, and President Eisenhower, and Nelson Rockefeller, and Secretary of Defense Weinberger and the police commissioner of New York City, and the U.S. ambassador of the United Nations.
The French faked their own government documents in the Dreyfus case, and forged Napoleon‘s signature to use against President Madison. There were the SISMI (ph) documents, the Tanaka memorandum, and most pertinent to our purposes here, the Italian Niger Yellow cake uranium forgery.
Ron Suskind in a moment. First, the details of what he has written in “The Way of the World” published today. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, writing that before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, President Bush already knew that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, something that did not stop him from ordering the invasion anyway.
Suskind speaking on the record with U.S. intelligence officials, who told him that in early 2003, in secret meetings with British intelligence, Saddam‘s own intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush, revealed that Iraq, in fact, did not have weapons of mass destruction, information that was passed on to the CIA.
When that information was then passed on to Mr. Bush—author Suskind says—the president became frustrated and said of Habbush, quote, “Why don‘t they ask him to give us something we can use to help us make our case?”
Habbush then held weekly meetings with British intelligence, telling them that Saddam had no WMD stockpiles and no active nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs.
When all this was shared with CIA Director George Tenet, he said, quote, “They‘re not going to like this downtown,” downtown being the White House. It sounds like a police drama.
“The White House then buried the Habbush Report. They instructed the British that they were no longer interested in keeping the channel open.
Rob Richer, the CIA‘s Near East Division head, telling Suskind again on the record, quote, “Bush wanted to go to war in Iraq from the very first few days he was in office. Nothing was going to stop that.”
Now, for the smoking gun about the smoking gun that was never a smoking gun. CIA division head, Richer, is telling Suskind that not only did the order to forge a fake letter come from the White House, but the assignment had been written on creamy White House stationary.
“The White House had concocted a fake letter from Habbush to Saddam, backdated to July 1, 2001. It said that 9/11 ring leader , Mohammed Atta had actually trained for his mission in Iraq—thus showing finally that there was an operational link between Saddam and al Qaeda, something the Vice President‘s Office had been pressing CIA to prove since 9/11 as a justification to invade Iraq. There is no link.”
Another CIA official, John Maguire who oversaw the Iraq operations group also is confirming the existence of the forged letter to author Suskind, but Mr. Richer backtracking for both of them tonight in a statement to MSNBC, quote, “I never received direction from George Tenet or anyone else in my chain of command to fabricate a document from Habbush as outlined in Mr. Suskind‘s book.
Further, today, (5 August 2008) I talked with John Maguire, who has given me the permission to state the following on his behalf, ‘I never receive any instruction from then Chief/NE Rob Richer or any other officer in my chain of command instructing me to fabricate such a letter. Further, I have no knowledge to the origins of the letter and as to how it circulated in Iraq.”
The letter, whatever its origins, was passed in Baghdad to Con Coughlin, a reporter for the “Sunday Telegraph” of London who wrote it about in the front page of his newspaper on December 14th, 2003, the same day that Saddam Hussein was discovered in his hiding hole in Iraq. That day, Mr. Coughlin describing the significance of his find to Tom Brokaw on “MEET THE PRESS.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, DECEMBER 14, 2003)
CON COUGHLIN, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: It‘s an intelligence document written by the then head of Iraqi intelligence, Habbush to Saddam. It‘s dated the 1st of July, 2001. And it‘s basically a memo saying that Mohammed Atta has successfully completed a training course at the house of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, who, of course, was killed by Saddam a couple of months later.
Now, this is the first, really, concrete proof that al Qaeda was working with Saddam. It‘s a very explosive development, Tom.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Not true, but explosive.
As we mentioned Ron Suskind, the author of “The Way of the World: The Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism”—welcome.
RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, “THE WAY OF THE WORLD”: Nice to be here.
OLBERMANN: The CIA officials—Maguire and Richer, they spoke with you at length on the record about the existence of this letter. They were detailed down to the stationery and the tone of voice in Mr. Tenet‘s voice. Why do you believe they‘re backtracking now?
SUSKIND: Well, it‘s interesting, because Maguire and Richer and I, have been talking obviously over the last couple of days. Rob got a book early, the night before, so he could read it before the morning that the book was released. He was fine with it this morning. He was fine with it at midday.
Now, reporters actually called him. He said to me, “I‘ll tell them no comment because it‘s in the book, but Ron Suskind is a fine journalist. That will be my comment.” He said, “It‘s fine, Rob.”
You know, I‘m sympathetic in a way to all these guys. They‘re under acute pressure. They‘re individuals. They‘ve got to feed their families. They really survive off the government, both of them, they‘re contractors and whatnot.
Maguire, interestingly, from that statement, John and I have been exchanging e-mails from—he‘s in Iraq now where he‘s doing some consulting—and he sends very inspirational notes. You know, he‘s—go get ‘em, go get ‘em. Interestingly, it seems like he doesn‘t have a book yet because it‘s hard to get one in Baghdad.
SUSKIND: Rob is, seems casting some of his comments to him over the phone in some way because what he says there obviously in his statement, that‘s not said in the book. It never says that Maguire was in the chain of command. It says in fact that Rob talked to John Maguire about it but Maguire was going back to Baghdad, so his successor handled it.
So, you know, what you‘re getting is, you know, guys who I think did the right thing. I think people will agree that historically they may still stand up—and Maguire, I think, will still stand up in daylight. He‘s a guy who said something to me that journalists I think might, you know, take into consideration.
He said to me at one point in the last of couple weeks. He said, “You know, I understand now why the First and Second Amendment are the way they are. See, the First Amendment is the most important amendment, and if they take that one way, then you should start loading your weapons.” I mean, the kind of thing that might turn journalists around the world into NRA members, ain‘t it?
You know, these guys, though, are feeling now great pressure. And, you know, what you realize in this process is that there is a limit to what a journalist can do even with taped interviews, people talking for hours at a time, when they can be brought into a moment of crisis by the government saying, “You‘ll never work again, you‘ll never earn a living.” That‘s the kind of thing that mostly happens in terms of what congressional hearings do testimony under subpoena with threat of perjury.
OLBERMANN: Well—and that‘s what we need. But in the interview, I presume the Maguire and Richer interviews are on tape, is that right?
SUSKIND: You bet, yes. And there‘s a lot of them. They‘re very detailed. The book is full of really nuanced renderings by both men, not only of what occur but how they felt. You know, how people reacted in the book. Context, what people were thinking as to what this all meant.
OLBERMANN: How did this man Habbush go from the man who basically said, “There‘s no there there, there‘s no WMD here, look, I‘m telling you, there‘s WMD there,” repeatedly, to being the man who‘s name appears on a forged document that sets up this aided-along, self-fulfilling prophecy? You know, not only, it‘s not a question of WMD anymore, it‘s Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. How did he go from one extreme in the story to the other end?
SUSKIND: It‘s interesting because Habbush pops up in early 2003. And that point, the book shows clearly that the case for WMD was a rickety structure ready to fall. Habbush arrives at that point. January, he starts his meetings. Richer helps set it up with the British intelligence guy, Michael Shipster from the region. It goes on every week, every other week through the month.
And it‘s interesting to see the havoc it creates inside of the administration, at the upper-most levels, because there are two sides here there‘s the operational side, guys like John Maguire or Rob Richer for that matter, who say, “We can use him. He might be able to take out Saddam Hussein. We have a window into Saddam‘s inner circle. We can send him disinformation. Maybe we can get Habbush to go in and take out Saddam.” “We can walk to Baghdad,” Maguire says, rather than fight our way.”
On the other side, you have the explosive issue of the information Habbush is giving to undercut the case. There are really separate things. And the agendas start to collide.
So, in February, when Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, flies over to deliver the final report to George Tenet, that‘s when Tenet reads it and says to Richer, “They‘re not going like this downtown.”
OLBERMANN: Which you couldn‘t make it up there in a million years.
SUSKIND: You know, where is the screenplay?
And at that moment, the side worried about how this will look for the case for war essentially wins out. And that‘s obviously the White House team.
The president, the vice president, and Condi Rice are briefed about this. At that point, the channel gets cut off with Habbush. And folks at CIA including Maguire like—lives could be at risk because you‘re worried about this guy undercutting your case. That doesn‘t make sense. This war rages through the administration.
But Habbush, of course, has his deal. He met, it was understood that there would be a resettlement, and off we go where Habbush becomes, in a way, the most explosive single entity—you know, certainly in terms of the U.S. government for years now. Five years they kept him in hiding.
You know, it‘s interesting, Keith, all the way through this period, he‘s resettled when we invade. And then, as we move forward—it‘s fascinating to watch the reactions of everybody—because as it becomes clear to the world that some of the suspicions before the war that there were no WMD is now obvious.
SUSKIND: And, you know, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame popped up that summer. As Maguire says, “Everyone was terrified that Habbush would pop up on the screen.” That‘s his quote. At that moment, they dotted the “I‘s” and crossed the “T‘s” on his financial arrangement of his resettlement. And they agreed to pay him $5 million.
Now, by almost any reckoning, considering what he provided and that we didn‘t use him for anything else going forward, that would be considered hush money in almost any parlance. Now, what‘s fascinating is at that point, you see this great kind of disconnect going on in the government. Rice and Cheney were happy we had him, but in some way, he‘s the last man they want to talk to.
OLBERMANN: Of course.
SUSKIND: The operational guys who are handling Iraq are saying, “He‘s a gold mine, go talk to him. He used to be the police chief of Iraq, he‘s their intelligence chief. He can help us understand the country so we don‘t get into trouble.” No, no, he‘s not touched all through the summer of 2003 until fall.
Interestingly, then the White House figures out, “Well, we might have something he can be useful for.” That‘s when they come up with the “Habbush letter” concept. And that‘s when they deliver it to CIA.
OLBERMANN: And that‘s when he actually earns his $5 million for something he had nothing to do with.
SUSKIND: Well, you know, it‘s hard to see what that kind of earning really amounts to, but clearly that was the idea.
OLBERMANN: Let me get your reaction to the reaction of the White House and Mr. Tenet.
George Tenet said, quote, “There was no such order from the White House to me nor to the best of my knowledge, was anyone from CIA ever involved in any such effort. It is well established that at my direction, CIA resisted efforts on the part of some in the administration to paint a picture of Iraq and al Qaeda connections that went beyond the evidence. The notion that I would suddenly reverse our stance and have created and planted false evidence that was contrary to our own beliefs is ridiculous.”
Meanwhile, Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary working at the White House, told Politico.com, “The allegation that the White House directed anyone to forge a document from Habbush to Saddam is just absurd. Ron Suskind makes a living from gutter journalism”—which is I presume the category in which you won the Pulitzer Prize. “He is about selling books and making wild allegations that no one can verify including the numerous bipartisan commissions that have reported on prewar intelligence.”
They‘re coming at you kind of forcefully. What‘s your response to that forcefulness and these comments?
SUSKIND: Well, the fact is, a lot of this is expected. I‘m one person who is standing at this point with the sources behind me, those who are holding firm, and, obviously, they‘re under acute pressure—to say this is an action that has constitutional implications along with, you know, the possibility of impeachment proceedings. All this in an odd way, you know, character assassination is what they do when they have nothing else to say.
OLBERMANN: Ask Scott McClellan.
SUSKIND: We‘ve seen a lot of this and in some way, this is, I think, a kind of homage to how they‘re reacting to what they‘re actually saying.
OLBERMANN: It‘s almost a verification. It‘s the last confirmation for the sources in the book, I would imagine.
SUSKIND: Right. I remember when I was a kid, the Nixon‘s enemies list, they used to stick that up on the wall as a point of pride.
OLBERMANN: That‘s it. If you got a picture on it, it was even bigger. I‘m sure there‘s a very big picture of you at the White House tonight and it has appropriate numbers at each rung.
Ron Suskind, the book is called “The Way of the World”—great thanks for coming in tonight.
SUSKIND: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Best of luck with this.
He said it that it‘s worse than Watergate. John Dean, of course, wrote a book of that title about the entirety of the Bush administration as of 2004 -- his assessment of Ron Suskind‘s revelations and the accuracy of describing only the Iraq part of the Bush presidency in those terms.
John McCain at Sturgis, promises to win the war the right way by winning.
Plus, breaking news—Paris Hilton‘s attack ad against McCain.
OLBERMANN: John Dean was satisfied in 2003 that the malfeasance of the Bush administration had already been worse than Watergate. His assessment now on the wake of Ron Suskind‘s remarkable reporting whether just the Bush deceptions about Iraq constitute something worst than Watergate.
And John McCain‘s celebrity guest appearance at that the Sturgis biker festival goes bad. He offers up his wife for the biker beauty pageant which involves nudity and bananas. And he goes on a rant that ends with the petty (ph) observation that he will win the war in Iraq by winning it. Oh, boy.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It is akin perhaps to Mr. Bush‘s trip to Vietnam where he said the lesson of the American experience there was don‘t quit.
The lesson that Vice President Cheney learned from the Nixon White House, according to Ron Suskind‘s book “The Way of the World,” that Cheney viewed Watergate as a failure, not because of the break-in or the cover-up, or the attempt to subvert the Constitution, but because the president had been over-briefed and therefore lacked adequate deniability. So Cheney tried to establish deniability for his president.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The book‘s assertions would obviously destroy deniability for the president and would constitute criminal wrongdoing worse than Watergate.
As noted by Mr. Suskind in his book, “Under a 1991 amendment to statutes that created CIA and that govern its actions. There is a passage that reads no covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media.”
Suskind adding, “The operation created by the White House and passed to the CIA pertains to the White House‘s knowingly misusing an arm of the government, the sort of thing generally taken up in impeachment proceedings.”
Let‘s turn now to Nixon White House counsel John Dean, author, of course, of “Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush” and a columnist for FindLaw.com.
John, always a pleasure. Thanks for your time tonight.
JOHN W. DEAN, FMR. NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Before we broaden out, that CIA statute that he cited, is Suskind right, is the violation of that, (A), did it happen; (B), is that by itself an impeachable offense?
DEAN: Well, I think, if indeed it did happen, there are some real problems. I don‘t think people are looking at it too narrowly or Suskind is when I read his book. What happens when you tie that with a criminal conspiracy statute, 18 USC 371, which nailed countless people in Watergate for misusing the agencies and departments of government—that‘s where they‘ve got a problem.
That‘s where Nixon had a problem for telling the CIA to block the FBI for part of the Watergate investigation. Yes, it was obstruction but it was also defrauding the government. This is their real problem with that statute. This may be why some of these people are having second thoughts about being on the record with Ron.
OLBERMANN: Well, once again, as we know, history repeats itself. Suskind has tapes. And the tie between Watergate and this is—is deniability, plausible deniability or the lack thereof. In your opinion, if this book is accurate, if the allegations are correct here, are the links clear enough about the president on the specific issue of knowing criminality?
DEAN: Well, what I‘ve read so far, no. It looks like Cheney has been very effective in setting up his deniability and always being the failsafe for Bush. And as they start waterboarding the vice president, which isn‘t too likely, he is the man that the trail ends right there, as it did with Scooter Libby, for example.
OLBERMANN: The big picture question. As I‘ve been saying, you saw enough in Bush in malfeasance by the end of 2003 to have titled that book “Worse than Watergate.” Suskind says in his that just the Iraq part is worse than Watergate. Do you concur with his assessment?
DEAN: Well, I do and I base mine largely on the excessive secrecy which he has only added more detail and information about and the consequences of that secrecy. And, of course, in Watergate, nobody died as a result of Nixon‘s so-called abuses of power nor was anybody tortured. So, we‘re playing in a whole different field and on a different level. So, I think he is right, it is worse.
OLBERMANN: The devil‘s advocate question in this one, John, is—the Bush administration ends in six months, presumably—why is simply, you know, getting the shovel, the historical shovel out and covering this up with as much clean and sanctified dirt as we can not enough? Why is forgetting this man and his presidency not enough?
DEAN: Keith, I think it‘s more than a devil‘s advocate question. It really is the central question in the 2008 campaign. If we have another Republican administration, we‘re going to see more of the same that this sort of material that‘s revealed by Suskind.
Those people have been well-implanted—as we learned from the testimony on the record and the inspector general‘s report of what‘s happening in the Department of Justice—this is really true throughout the government. These people are there, that mentality is there. And if there isn‘t a serious change of parties controlling the top of the government, we‘re going to see much more of this.
OLBERMANN: John Dean, the author of “Worse than Watergate” and “Broken Government,” giving his assessment of Ron Suskind‘s reporting tonight, an extraordinary thing as it is. Great thanks, as always, John.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: McCain‘s dismissal of Barack Obama as a Paris Hilton kind of celebrity. Whoever first said politics makes strange bedfellows had this exact moment in mind. Paris Hilton, tonight, with a response ad.
And Bill-O slams Obama for the big oil windfall profits tax idea and instead suggests a big oil windfall profits charitable donation idea. Good thinking. Worst Persons is ahead.
OLBERMANN: Bushed, in a moment. And we are losing Arabic translators so fast, the Army is offering them $150,000 to stay while kicking 300 of them out.
First: A special breaking news political edition of Oddball. The first full-pledge response ad to the McCain commercial dismissing Barack Obama as a Paris Hilton-style celebrity—it comes from Paris Hilton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NARRATOR: He‘s the oldest celebrity in the world. Like super-old. Old enough to remember when dancing was a sin and beer was served in a bucket. But is he ready to lead?
PARIS HILTON, CELEBRITY: Hey, America, I‘m Paris Hilton and I‘m a celebrity, too. Only I‘m not from the olden days and I‘m not promising change like that other guy. I‘m just hot.
But then that wrinkly white-haired guy used me in his campaign ad, which I guess means I‘m running for president. So thanks for the endorsement white-haired dude.
And I want America to know I‘m, like, totally ready to lead. And now, I want to present my energy policy for America, just as soon as I finish reading this article on where I can probably (ph) get the best tan.
Oh, Maui, love that.
OK, so here‘s my energy policy. Barack wants to focus on new technologies to cut foreign oil dependency and McCain wants offshore drilling—well, why don‘t we do a hybrid of both candidates‘ ideas? We can do limited offshore drilling, with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars. That way the off shore drilling carries us until the new technologies kick in, which would then create new jobs and energy independence. Energy crisis solved.
I‘ll see you at the debates, bitches. Now if you‘ll excuse me, I have to go pick out a vice president. I‘m thinking Brianna. I‘ll see you at the White House. And I might paint it pink. I hope that‘s cool with you guys. Bye.
I‘m Paris Hilton and I approved this message. I think it‘s totally hot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But has she been properly vetted? This message was paid for by the committee to elect Nicole Richie.
COUNTDOWN to November; John McCain, raw and unedited. If you were worried before, wait until you hear his rant to the bikers at Sturgis. As if it were not bad enough by itself, he also volunteered his wife for the bikers beauty pageant, which usually features partial nudity and simulated sex acts.
But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s other 50 running scandals, Bushed.
Number three, then why are you going-gate. President Bush‘s staff organizing his trip to China for the Olympics first tried to arrange a visit for him to an underground church in a private home. The Chinese said no. Then they proposed having him meet with Chinese activists, including pastors and lawyers, as symbolic support for their human rights causes. The Chinese didn‘t even say anything. They just ordered those people to leave Beijing during the president‘s visit.
Then he postulated he might give a speech like Reagan‘s at the Berlin Wall, but he gave up on that one quickly. So why is he going? Well, President Bush gets to see Kobe Bryant and the U.S. basketball team play.
Number two, they video taped it? That could mean there‘s videotape-gate. A little known level of the hell that is Gitmo is that it had a guest torturer program. Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Russia, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and China all interrogated detainees at Gitmo. Some of the detainees said they were threatened with abuse, torture and even death. Now the “Washington Post” using Freedom of Information requests has unearthed cables between the State Department and those foreign governments warning that the visits of their emissaries and interrogators to Gitmo would be recorded on videotape. Any foreign abuse of detainees is either on video or somebody destroyed the evidence.
Number one, don‘t ask, don‘t tell, don‘t translate-gate. The “Christian Science Monitor” reporting that the dearth of Arabic and other Middle Eastern language translators is so severe that the Army is offering a bonus to those who stay in the service or sign up to join it of up to 150,000 dollars. But it still won‘t repeal, or even just happen not to apply the moronic don‘t ask, don‘t tell policy, which has resulted in the firing of more than 300 gay Arabic translators who might ultimately cost 45 million dollars to replace just in bonuses.
George Bush has told us for seven years that Iraq is the front line in the war on terror. John McCain has screamed it at us for seven months and talked about needing to keep an American presence there for anywhere from a month to a millennium. But we‘re kicking out Arabic translators who want to stay, while we‘re offering 150,000 dollars to the ones who want to leave. The only possible conclusion is never mind whatever phobias or latent tendencies they may be fighting internally, never mind the prejudices in which they wallow in their personal lives, this is inarguably true: the U.S. military, the presidential administration and our nation as a whole are officially more afraid of American gays than of Middle East terrorists. That is insane!
OLBERMANN: Nothing like having one word sum up the entire day on the campaign trail. For John McCain, the word was meltdown. Yes, the vernacular kind, but the literal kind, too. Our third story tonight, John McCain goes nuclear at the famed biker festival in Sturgis, South Dakota. Senator McCain launched an attack about energy independence, at least originally. And then kind of got lost in some of the more complicated sentences.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Is there anybody that‘s tired of paying four dollars a—buck—four dollars a gallon for gasoline? Is there anybody that‘s sick and tired of it? Is there anybody that wants to become energy independent? Well, I‘m telling you right now, we‘re sending 700 billion over a year, and your Congress just went on vacation for five weeks. Tell them to come back and get to work. Tell them to get to work.
When I‘m president of the United States, I‘m not going to let them go on vacation. They‘re going to become energy independent and we‘re not going to pay four dollars a gallon for gas because we‘re going to drill offshore and we‘re going to drill now. And we‘re going to drill here and we‘re going to drill now.
My opponent doesn‘t want to drill. He doesn‘t want nuclear power. He wants you to inflate your tires. My friends, we need a commander in chief we need a commander in chief who will end the war in Iraq. But we‘ll win it the right way, and that‘s by winning it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You let me know when you come up with that wrong way of winning a war by winning it. While we explained to the senator last night that the Bush administration and Nascar both insist tire inflation really does save huge quantities of gas, Senator Obama responded to McCain on his own today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It‘s like these guys take pride in being ignorant. You know, they think it‘s funny that they‘re making fun of something that is actually true. They need to do their home work because this is serious business. Instead of running ads about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, they should go talk to some energy experts and actually make a difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: McCain, meanwhile, highlighted part of his energy plan, subsidies for more nuclear plants. Touring a nuclear plant today, the first presidential candidate in recent memory to do so, most apparently considering them to be politically radioactive. McCain‘s showpiece for safe nuclear energy, the Enrico Fermi Two plant, half an hour from Detroit, half an hour from Ann Arbor, half an hour from Toledo, where a Nuclear Regulatory Commission alert occurred in 2005 after a leak caused a plant shutdown and cancellation of nearby after school activities. This following 2001‘s, quote, catastrophic bearing failure of the emergency diesel generator there, and the 1999 security violation at Fermi, where someone got a loaded handgun inside.
So why not tour Enrico Fermi Plant One? They shut that down in 1972 and enough liquid sodium still remains that just this May, it started a fire there, which the NRC had to check for radioactivity. That and, of course, Enrico Fermi One is best known for its actual partial meltdown from 1966, chronicled in a best seller called “We Almost Lost Detroit.” With that happy memory, let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek Magazine.” Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with McCain‘s choice of photo op spaces today. If your advance man really has to bring a Geiger counter with him, is that telling you that this may not be as good an idea as it seemed on paper.
FINEMAN: It‘s a great idea if you are John McCain, you can take those rads, you know. You know, you take a little radiation for the cause. I mean, this is all a culture war, Keith. This is not about energy policy. This is about cultural symbols. And what John McCain is saying, whether it‘s in Sturgis or he‘s telling all those bikers to drill, and who knows what they took that to mean, or running around in a nuclear plant, John McCain is saying, I‘m a guy; I‘m a soldier; this is war; I‘m not afraid of danger. This is what I want to do. That‘s what this photo op is all about.
OLBERMANN: But each time—it seems like each one of these photo ops come with enough of a problem that a thousand people who might be sitting on a fence somewhere go, hey, wait a minute. And this one would be McCain wants 45 more nuclear plants, but he‘s against nuclear waste being trucked through his state, even though everything‘s perfectly safe. And the Navy just last week announced this leak on the nuclear sub. Is this not another one of these things where running on a nuclear plant in every backyard might have a downside, even if you‘re winning the cultural war or perceive you are?
FINEMAN: Well, it might, although the polling is pretty close on this, Keith. Because of four dollar a gallon gasoline, that‘s freaked a lot of American people out. They realize that the future of transportation is electricity, not petroleum. And they‘re smart enough to understand that electricity probably means more nuclear power. The “Washington Post” reported the other day that Virginia wants to build—Virginia Electric companies want to build another nuclear power plant. The Post took note of the fact that there was surprising little opposition to it. Virginia is a swing state.
In some swing states like Virginia, Indiana, Montana, to name three, I think aggressive energy production measures are probably popular. In a state like New Hampshire, which has a coastline to protect, it‘s a closer question. So the McCain people have looked at the polling here. They‘re making a bet. Listen, they‘ve got to go with what they‘ve got. And this is what they‘re trying to do, both on the numbers and the energy numbers and the culture war.
OLBERMANN: Sturgis. We‘re going to talk later about the other highlights from the biker rally, the even stranger stuff about the Mrs. and the biker beauty contest. But what did you see in that clip that we just played? Was it an off day? Was it a tired candidate caught up in a strange kind of event? Or whatever it was, does this pose a political problem?
FINEMAN: What I saw, Keith, quite honestly, is I was a reporter who was saying, god, I wish I was at that event. Because that was McCain unbuttoned, unhinged, unplugged, call it what you will. You know, he was talking to the heart of the heart of his constituency. What you got to imagine here is do the cultural switch. Imagine John McCain at a poetry slam at the 92nd Street Y. Would he fit there? Imagine Barack Obama at this crowd, would he fit there? And I think all presidential candidates need to be able to speak to the whole country. That was McCain in his element. He can‘t win with just those people. But, you know, that‘s his peeps. That‘s the best he can do.
OLBERMANN: But the only problem is, when you take that tape out of the context of where it was used, you use the first nine seconds and it‘s the best ad Obama could have running now. Because it doesn‘t sound like he‘s making any sense whatsoever.
FINEMAN: Except for the Paris Hilton ad, which was hot.
OLBERMANN: Well, yes. Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, our resident Paris Hilton political expert.
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Howard. We‘ll have you back in the week to further analyze that tape.
FINEMAN: I would like to, thank you.
OLBERMANN: There was more merriment at the biker festival. John McCain volunteered his wife to compete in the biker beauty pageant, the one in which there is a talent competition that includes bananas.
Bill-O the clown‘s big surprise, he asked big oil to donate several hundred million dollars to offset high gas and oil prices, and they had the nerve to say no. Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Miss Buffalo Chip; John McCain offers up his wife as a competitor for the Miss Buffalo Chip contest in front of 50,000 bikers. The senator may not know there‘s a no longer wearing a swimsuit competition. Or maybe he does. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to the crack security team at Brisbane Airport in Australia. It was a luggage handler who was about to put this specific bag on a plane who finally noticed that it had a word written across the bag. The word was bomb. Qantas check-in, bag screening, airport security, nobody else noticed. But even the bag handler‘s bosses then screwed up. The managers then started to drag the bag towards a busier section of the airport, leading to some alarm on the part of the passengers who saw that word, which none of the security folks had seen.
Our silver medallist tonight, John McCain. His campaign has attacked Obama for 400,000 dollars from big oil contributors. McCain has gotten 1.3 million. And just in, on June 10th, ten executives or family members connected to the Hess Oil Company made contributions to the McCain Victory 2008 fund totaling 285,000 bucks. Interesting timing June 10, because the following week, June 16, McCain flip-flopped and went from opposing more offshore drilling to supporting it. Coincidence, no doubt.
But our winner Bill-O the clown for sheer lunk-headedness. This is one of his all-time greatest moments. Of Obama‘s proposal for a tax on the oil industry‘s unconscionable profits to pay for a 1,000 dollar energy rebate to each American family, he says, “how exactly would that work? Would that be constitutional selecting a single industry for advance taxation? That‘s not going to get done for a variety of reasons. Also, giving the folks another rebate is a bad idea. The government must get out of the giveaway business.”
So Bill-O. Has a plan; “here is my proposal I‘m asking the five major American oil companies, Chevron, Occidental, Conoco Phillips, Exxon/Mobil and Hess, to donate two percent of their profits from the last four quarters to a fund that would help struggling Americans pay their heating bills.”
Obama is nuts for saying we need to get big oil to foot the bill for an energy rebate of about 1,000 bucks per American family. Bill O‘s a genius for saying we need to get big oil to foot the bill for an energy rebate of about 1,000 bucks per American family. And how did the Exxons and the Chevrons respond? “We contacted the five big oil corporations and to say the response to my idea was lukewarm is to be kind. Not much enthusiasm so far.”
Imagine Bill-O‘s surprise. He‘s told us previously he has people at all the big oil companies, that when he asked Americans to use less gas, they came through big time for him. He probably thought that in the board room at Exxon/Mobil they were saying, what are we going to do? Bill O‘Reilly just asked us to give up two percent of our profits. I can‘t breathe, I can‘t breathe. We can‘t let Bill down. We need to donate 150 million dollars, or he won‘t like us anymore! Stan, how much you got on you? Stan!
Bill “the loofah has left the tracks” O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person -
Stan, Stan! -- in the world!
OLBERMANN: In the COUNTDOWN to November, a very different kind of election for which a McCain is a leading contender. As the women of wrestling were throwing each other down in the main amphitheater at an event called Wringing, Wet and Wild, America‘s presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his wife were gearing up for a tribute to the Vets speech at the Wolfman Jack Memorial Stage, and Mrs. McCain‘s unexpected nomination as a contestant in the bikers beauty pageant. Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, as we showed you earlier, John and Cindy among the special celebrity guests at the 68th annual Sturgis, South Dakota Biker Rally, along with Kid Rock and Kelly Pickler of “American Idol” and “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,” I doubt it, fame.
But at Sturgis all this prefaced to the Miss Buffalo Chip Beauty Pageant and contestant Cindy M.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: I was looking at the Sturgis schedule and noticed that you have a beauty pageant and so I encouraged Cindy to compete. I told her with a little luck she could be the only woman ever to serve as both the first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Unclear if the senator understood the full parameters of the Miss Buffalo Chip competition, as these video highlights from last year suggest. And these are the clean ones. Consider this the talent competition, which usually does involve bananas. He‘s John McCain, and he approve this massage.
Let‘s turn now to MSNBC‘s own Rachel Maddow, also host on Air America Radio. Rachel, I‘m sorry.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That‘s all right. I can take it.
OLBERMANN: There seem to be two options here and two options here only. He didn‘t know he was offering his wife up for something that makes a wet t-shirt contest look like the national spelling bee, or he did know that he was offering up his wife up for something that makes a wet t-shirt contest look like the national spelling bee.
MADDOW: Which is worse? The single most damning feature of this clip for me, watching this, is that he is reading this off that music stand. I mean, these are prepared remarks, which means he thought in advance about nominating his visibly horrified wife to take part in a biker beauty pageant. If he thought about this in advance and wrote it down, are there other things that he rejected as too tasteless or gross and that this one made it through? It blows the mind.
OLBERMANN: I‘m actually going to disagree with you for first time. Somebody thought of it in advance and handed it to him. Is it not pretty clear from most of Mr. McCain‘s public speaking that he‘s not seen the script until he gets to the stage?
MADDOW: There is that sense. But this is not the first time that he‘s brought Cindy McCain in kind of a gross way in some of his comments. Remember when he just recently brought up, you know, how recently he had stopped beating her. Obviously, he meant that as a reference to a great classical political line. But he brought it up apropos of nothing. And everybody thought, wow, you just talked about beating your wife. He brings her up.
OLBERMANN: The bigger picture. When did the Sturgis Biker Rally of Sturgis, South Dakota become a public policy debate venue? Does this visit by Senator McCain qualify as, dare I use this word, a celebrity guest appearance?
MADDOW: He did open up for Kid Rock, which probably means that this gives him a run for his money in the cameo in “Wedding Crashers” or maybe when he played the creepy overbearing husband guy on “Saturday Night Live.” I mean, consider the other major stop, though, on this political campaign. Other than—these pictures are very distracting. Other than Sturgis, the other thing he did is he went to the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Reactor, which was the inspiration both for the movie “China Syndrome” and for the Gil Scott Harren (ph) song “We Almost Lost Detroit.” So it‘s been good stage craft all around for Senator McCain.
OLBERMANN: Also, maybe a somewhat serious point contained in all this malarkey; on stage at Sturgis, he referred to the—preferring the roar of the 50,000 Harleys to 200,000 Germans cheering in Berlin. But in doing that, did he not underscore the fact that those 200,000 Germans in Berlin actually showed up to hear Barack Obama speak, but the 50,000 bikers on the roar of their Harleys, they had shown up at Sturgis not to see John McCain, but to see Kid Rock, Kelly Pickler and a bunch of female wrestlers and other women not wearing tops?
MADDOW: This is a critical and basic difference between the John McCain campaign for president and the Barack Obama campaign. Barack Obama creates large crowds when he gives speeches. John McCain‘s campaign has just figured out to find out where there‘s going to be a large crowd for another reason and to hope to slip their candidate in between other acts.
OLBERMANN: What I want to know is, in light of tonight‘s events, if perhaps there is an overture being made at this moment from the McCain camp toward Paris Hilton, about perhaps getting her some sort of role in the campaign. She seems to be a pretty good campaigner.
MADDOW: I would guess she would say no at this point.
OLBERMANN: She has a more comprehensive energy program than McCain does. Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC, great thanks, as always, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,924th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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