updated 12/12/2008 10:54:12 AM ET 2008-12-12T15:54:12

COUNTDOWN

December 11, 2008

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

Guests: Daniel Gross, Mark Matthews

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

On the record and on cameras, the president-elect wants the "Governor Corrupt" to resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Obama does not unilaterally say none of his people ever talked to the governor about that open Senate seat but he does guarantee they never talked about buying or selling it.

Buying or selling out the auto bailout. Democrats, yes. Bush administration, yes. Senate Republicans who have foreign carmakers factories in their home states-no.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER, ® TENNESSEE: It's like so many things we do around here. It's like a three-hump the camel. I mean, you couldn't make it almost more ineffective and more complicated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Well, you could, but then it would be a Ford Edsel.

NASA going rogue? The guys with all the shuttles and the rockets and stuff in a standoff with the Obama transition team? Houston, we have a problem.

Bests: Life imitates art. John McCain is really selling stuff off just like on "SNL." Worsts: The Billo-Dick Morris conspiracy theory that Obama will fire prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald because Fitzgerald is getting too close to Obama, except neither of them can get close to Fitzgerald's real name.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK MORRIS, POLITICAL ANALYST: Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick, Fitzpatrick, and Fitzpatrick.

BILL O'REILLY, TV HOST: Fitzpatrick.

MORRIS: Fitzpatrick. He's the guy.

O'REILLY: It's Fitzgerald. I'm sorry, Fitzgerald.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: And Rod Blagojevich's place in the history of financial corruption in American politics. Is he more corrupt than the guy who hired his mistress as a congressional secretary, less corrupt than the guy with $90,000 in his freezer?

About even with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, I'm not a crook.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Tonight: COUNTDOWN's top 25 all time most financially corrupt American politicians-and no, governor, it's too late to bribe your way up the list.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MORRIS: Fitzpatrick.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening. This is Thursday, December 11th, 39 days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The Governor Rod Blagojevich scandal in Illinois has now grown so massive that even President George W. Bush has sat up and taken notice. In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The White House today is saying that the president thinks the Blagojevich situation, is quote, "very serious" and fact that the charges that he is facing are astounding. No comment on whether or not Mr. Bush will accept the evident favorite for a name for this scandal "gBay."

Another day, another lack of resignation from the governor. The Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan, who yesterday threatened to go to the state's Supreme Court and have the governor declared unfit to serve if he does not resign soon, today saying she wants a signal from state lawmakers on how quickly they plan to move on impeachment proceeds, and she got one. The lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, today, is calling on the Illinois House to begin impeachment hearings next week if Mr. Blagojevich does not step aside before then-something he also asked the governor to do, but not it would seem to ask him personally.

Mr. Quinn is saying today that he and the governor have not really spoken to each other in more than a year. There's also the question of that Senate replacement for President-elect Obama. Illinois state lawmakers are planning a special session Monday to consider stripping the governor of his power to fill the open seat.

And the president-elect dealing with the transition or at least trying

sorry, Senator Daschle, like Vice President Gore before you, word of your nomination today as the Obama administration's health and human services secretary becoming public service road-kill to the Blagojevich corruption scandal. Better look at your confirmation hearing and you know what that whole health care reform thing.

During this morning's news conference, the president-elect twice declaring himself appalled, as well as disappointed by the revelations earlier this week about Governor Blagojevich, adding that he had never spoken with the governor about who should succeed him as junior senator from Illinois.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I had no contact with the governor's office. I did not speak to the governor about these issues. That I know for certain. What I want to do is to gather all the facts about any staff contacts that may have taken place between the transition office and the governor's office, and we'll have those in the next few days and we'll present them. But what I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat. That I'm absolutely certain of.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Not exactly the same as saying his people never talked to the governor about filling the Senate seat at all, just that they were not willing to barter for it. When asked how Governor Blagojevich might have gotten the impression that the Obama transition office was not willing to wheel-and-deal, the president-elect not really answering that question either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I can't presume to know what was in the mind of the governor during this process, so I won't even speculate on that. All I can do is-read what was in the transcripts, like the rest of you have read it, and shake my head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: But unlike, say, the company that owns the "Chicago Tribune," which was subpoenaed today for documents as part of this Blagojevich investigation, President-elect Obama is seeming this morning to ride a very narrow path when he was asked if investigators have talked to him or anybody working for or with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have not been contacted by any federal officials. And we have not been interviewed by them, as is reflected in the U.S. attorney's report, we were not, I think, perceived by the governor's office as amenable to any deal-making. And, you know, I won't quote back some of the things that were said about me.

So, this is a family program, I know. So-you know, so beyond that, I'm not really certain where the investigation is going forward. I'll leave Mr. Fitzgerald to address those issues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: As for that Blagojevich resignation that the president-elect called for yesterday, still calling for it today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And part of the reason that I got into politics, ran for the state Senate, ran for the United States Senate, and ultimately ran for the presidency, is because we have to reclaim a tradition of public service that is about people and their lives and their hopes and their dreams. And it isn't about what's in it for me, and I think the public trust has been violated.

So, let me be absolutely clear. I do not think that the governor at this point can effectively serve the people of Illinois. The legislature is going down to Springfield to make a determination as to how to resolve this issue. I think they are going to come to the same conclusion. I hope that the governor himself comes to the conclusion that he can no longer effectively serve, and that he does resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Richard, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN: Was the president-elect really threading that needle as much as it sounded in that one answer: I haven't been contacted, but we haven't been interviewed?

WOLFFE: Well, I don't think that one answer was the area he was threading the needle, but you are right to pick up on the edginess, caginess about these responses. And a lot of it does boil down to the difference between "I" and "we."

Just in that particular response, I think it's fairly clear that they have not been a target for questioning or suspicion by Fitzgerald's office. And so, the question moves beyond the immediate task he had before him today, which was to express his outrage and to show that he was a different kind of politician from Illinois. He did all of those things.

The question is the "we," how do you define the "we" around the president-elect? Is it just his staff, as he's suggesting, or are there other people, emissaries, contacts, who were acting on behalf of the president-elect's office? That's where you get into a gray area and that's why I think he was being so cautious, because there were people acting on his behalf who may not have been directly answerable or responsible to him.

OLBERMANN: Yes, Blagojevich's scandal is Obama's opportunity in there for transparency. I mean, when they finish gathering their internal facts, as he said they would be doing, is somebody from the Obama team going to come out and say-look, such and such person in our satellite area or in our staff did talk to the governor's chief of staff-or whoever would be on the other side, because logic suggests that if the governor started swearing at Obama on those wiretaps because Obama didn't want to make a deal, somebody on Obama's staff either told them we don't want to make a deal or the governor-and I suppose this is a possibility-the governor just hallucinated that part of it?

WOLFFE: Well, everyone is scratching their heads about what was in his mind and he could be hallucinating, given the way he was talking. But I think it is important to point out that the message was clearly sent and understood that he wasn't going to do a deal in terms of the president-elect to the governor.

It is important for them to be in a full accounting, a full record from the president-elect's office. We talked about it yesterday, and it was good to hear the president-elect say this today, but a full account may if it's just defined by the staff, the people directly in that transition office-may not be the full story, and that's where it gets difficult.

OLBERMANN: And the president-elect had first issued the statement yesterday calling on the governor to resign, but he did not repeat that in his opening statement at the news conference today. Somebody asked him, "Why didn't you just repeat it in your opening statement today?" So, he said it again? Now, is there shelf life on this part of it, or is Obama now expected to call on Blagojevich to resign at every news conference forever and possibly to stop passersby on the street to tell them that Blagojevich should resign?

WOLFFE: I don't think he can repeat it enough basically because he's repairing the damage of that first little sort of press avail with former Vice President Al Gore there. The question here, again, is separating himself in terms of conduct from everything that's gone on in Illinois. He does not want this narrative to bed down that he has come from a corrupt place and that, therefore, he's tainted by it.

Because the first whiff of corruption that comes from the Obama administration, and that story will develop at some point, is going to be linked back to these kinds of events, and people will roll their eyes and say, "Oh, yes, he's from Illinois." That's what they have got to break right here and now to make sure that story doesn't hold.

OLBERMANN: Is breaking that, is some of breaking that geography? I mean, here's another Obama news conference dominated by news that had nothing to do with the topic of the news conference. Is there a point at which the transition team picks up and moves out of Chicago in the immediate future, say, tomorrow or the end of the week?

WOLFFE: Yes. At some point, the rewards of being in his old family home are outweighed by the dangers of being too isolated in Chicago and all the taint that there is from this particular story. Look-his kids are going to be starting school in early January in Washington. The family decamps at that point. I would suspect that there's a lot of political upside for him to base his transition briefings from there in January.

OLBERMANN: And, lastly, back at the ranch here, a governor and a lieutenant governor who haven't really spoken, whatever that means, in more than a year. If you don't live in Illinois, that's pretty weird. If you're in Illinois it makes sense?

WOLFFE: You know, I've spoken to a lot of Illinois politicians over the last few days who claim that the governor was speaking to nobody. He hated everybody. They hated him. So apparently, that's what passes for politics in Illinois.

OLBERMANN: And they said he was isolated. That would be isolated. Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" magazine and MSNBC, of course-as always, great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Sure, the governor is one of the most financially corrupt politicians in American history, but which one-our list of a top 25.

The auto bailout also known as "American media and people held hostage," the Bush and Obama administrations and congressional Democrats in agreement, Republican senators, many from states with non-union foreign carmaker factories, insisting they will kill this.

And the apocryphal war on Christmas, startling research that the delusion there really is one was first posited by an anti-immigrant who believed it threatened the nation's, quote, "ethnic core." And then, the anti-Semite and white power boys stepped in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Bailing out on the auto bailout: Republican senators are ready to blow the whole thing up, just a coincidence that those senators are largely from states filled with factories of foreign carmakers and they want to emasculate the UAW.

A NASA administrator, reportedly, is refusing to deal with the Obama transition team, demanding instead to speak to the president-elect personally.

And, COUNTDOWN's list of the top 25, all-time, most financially corrupt politicians in American history. Governor, you still got a few s minutes if you want to try to move up.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: On the same day that the number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits hit a level not seen in a quarter century, today, we had a glimpse of why the Republican Party is willing to kill the domestic auto industry even if, or perhaps because, it will add hundreds of thousands of union members to the unemployment lines.

Our fourth story tonight: After the House last night passed the $14 billion or $15 billion auto bailout bill with stronger support than expected, Senate Republicans announced their intention to kill the thing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who helped the $700 billion bank bailout, today broke with the White House even after Mr. Bush won several concessions on the Democratic auto bailout. McConnell instead throwing his support behind a new rival Republican plan-a plan from Tennessee Senator Bob Corker that focuses largely on even more concessions from workers, the UAW-apparently playing on the myth that the Big Three automakers are hurting because their workers are vastly overpaid compared to foreign automakers here in the States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORKER: They have to agree to have a contract in place that puts them on parity-on parity-with companies like Toyota and Nissan and Volkswagen and other companies here in our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: For the record, Corker's home state is also home to a new Volkswagen plant, and it's the U.S. headquarters of Nissan. Kentucky, Mr. McConnell's state, is home to Toyota's biggest plant in the world outside Japan.

And for UAW workers to achieve parity with the Toyota workers in Kentucky, the UAW workers would need a raise. In 2006, most UAW workers got no bonuses and averaged $27 an hour. Counting their bonuses, non-union Toyota workers in Kentucky made $30 an hour. Nissan workers in Tennessee made $26 an hour, not including their bonuses.

So, why drive union wages lower? Corker's plan would help the companies in his state fight off UAW attempts to unionize, because the union would no longer offer competitive wages. That helps foreign automakers at the expense of American automakers.

Helping foreign automakers not only helps their states, it also helps their future campaigns. Take Senator Richard Shelby, ranking Republican on the banking committee, Shelby not only also has significant foreign automakers in his state, Alabama, but also, just like McConnell and Corker, has fought off Democratic candidates who enjoyed significant financial support, according to the "Detroit Free Press," from the United Auto Workers.

Joining us tonight, Daniel Gross, senior editor of "Newsweek" magazine, writing on this issue for Monday's edition.

Mr. Gross, thanks for your time tonight.

DANIEL GROSS, SENIOR EDITOR, NEWSWEEK: Good to be here. Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Is the auto bailout dead and, thus, are G.M. and Chrysler dead?

GROSS: I don't think it's quite dead. It's certainly on life support.

Bob Corker, who you spotlighted there, has floated a proposal basically saying, as part of this, he wants to micromanage how the union is going to get paid, how the autoworkers are going to get paid, and said, if you're willing-the union-to take a big haircut on your wages, and if the debtors, the people to whom G.M. owes money, are willing to take a big haircut on their debt by March 30th, then we'll think about giving you this small bit of aid.

OLBERMANN: But why this obsession with union haircuts? Where are the cuts in executive wages, not the bonuses, just the wages? Where were the caps on banking wages for workers or executives in that bailout?

GROSS: Well, we didn't have any there. And I think there is the sort of obsession with the senators who are largely from the south with unions. It could be because they conflate it with the union from Civil War days, but we just know that Richard Shelby, senator of Alabama, Corker, McConnell, they do not like big labor.

They are seeing this crisis almost as a way to kind of kill off the UAW. If they can basically negotiate through this bill and say to them, "You're no longer going to be the guarantor of your members' wages," it does an awful lot to weaken them, not just with the Big Three, but anywhere else they want to organize.

OLBERMANN: Leaving the senators' motives aside and just putting that in the realm of speculation, what are the predictable results for the union workers if senators, Shelby and Corker, were to have their way?

GROSS: Look, there's a doomsday scenario here. If you remember from the Cold War, "mutually assured destruction," it's crossed the wires this evening that G.M. has already hired bankruptcy counsel. So, a filing of Chapter 11 is not out of picture. If they don't get aid the next three to four weeks, they said that could be a possibility.

The challenge is, when you go into bankruptcy, you need what's called debtor-in-possession financing, a bank to lend you money so you can keep the lights on, keep the stores open. In ordinary times, a store can get that. In extraordinary times like this, where the store is G.M. that needs many billions, that market is sort of shut off.

So, the big fear is, there would be liquidation. They would have to sort of shut down hundreds of thousands of people out of work just in time for Christmas.

OLBERMANN: So, what then happens? I mean, as you pointed out, G.M. bringing in this team to look at the legal ramifications of bankruptcy protection, is Bush, in the interim, going to dip into the overall bailout for the money to prevent that? Or is he willing to risk adding the death of the icon G.M. to his legacy? Or are there other outcomes to it?

GROSS: I'm sorry. Did you say Bush?

OLBERMANN: I'm sorry, yes.

GROSS: Is he still there?

OLBERMANN: Yes. He's still, yes, he hasn't (INAUDIBLE).

GROSS: I think the person to look to is Henry Paulson, the treasury secretary. I don't think he wants it on his, you know, going out the door that not only did the financial system explode but the post-war industrial system exploded. So, there's money with that bailout fund, things that he could potentially do. They don't want to do it, but there is maneuverability there.

OLBERMANN: The Bush bailout, contrary to rumors, has not yet taken place officially. Daniel Gross of "Newsweek"-great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

GROSS: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: As ever, just when you think our politicians are the worst in the world, somebody somewhere else does worse. A prime ministerial flub in England, Gordon Brown briefly claims he saved the world, and that happens.

And, we'll see if Billo's world changes after research suggesting that the whole war on Christmas talking point originated with a group of anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic white power guys. Worst Person is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Best in a moment. And John McCain wants to sell you a BlackBerry.

First, on this date in 1953, was born the great American television character actress Bess Armstrong, who has been on the tube just about non-stop since 1977, in everything from "The Love Boat" to "Tales from the Crypt" to "Boston Legal" and a particularly strong turn in the 1981 film "The Four Seasons." So, Happy Birthday, Bess Armstrong.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin inside Britain's House of Commons, producers of one of the great of TV shows in the English language, prime minister's question time, shown here on C-SPAN, which this week, briefly merged with Britain's top bloopers and practical jokes. Take it away, Prime Minister Gordon "Superman" Brown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIME MINISTER GORDON BROWN, GREAT BRITAIN: The first point of recapitalization was to save banks that would otherwise have collapsed. And we not only saved the world-saved the banks.

(JEERS AND LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Saved the banks and led the way.

(JEERS AND LAUGHTER)

BROWN: We not only saved the banks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: That slapping thing with the two hands going down under their thighs, that went on for six days without interruption, and then the lugubrious prime minister briefly smiled quietly to himself and they all went home.

To Greece, where some Greek "super league" soccer action and an overdressed streaker has made his way on to the pitch. Security gives chase but before they get their hands on the punk that happens. One of the boys in blue stuck out his leg and ended the spectacle.

What-could you have imagine this, soccer players trip streaker with their feet. The crazed fan got a free ride in the paddywagon and for his bravery in the line of duty, the soccer player who tripped the thug was ejected from the game, the red card was for violent conduct. What's worse is that the player was suspended another game for having a pony tail and going bald at the same time.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Finally, to the Tianjin (ph), South Korea, where these brave penguins have volunteered for active duty in this year's war on Christmas. Generalissimo O'Reilly will be pleased in a publicity stunt at an amusement park and while we know penguins don't mind the snow, this fellow probably could have used the medium suit instead of a large. Any event, the kiddies still went gaga and then in a grand finale Sarah Palin showed up and pardoned one of the birds.

What exactly would we do if the head of NASA refused to cooperate with the president-elect? It's not that bad, but he is refusing to cooperate with Obama's transition team.

And his crookedness is enough to make 21st century's America jaw drop, but where, if all, does Rod Blagojevich place in the all-time list of financially corrupt American politicos? These stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN's Top Three Best Persons in the World.

Number three: Best known criminals. Four teens in Joliet, Illinois, called for pizza delivery, threatened the delivery man with a baseball bat, took his pizzas, his sodas, and $200 from him. And then, the four of them walked down the block to somebody else's house, just after a snow storm. Police were able to find them by following their footprints in the snow.

Number two: Best life imitating art. After his appearance on "Saturday Night Live" selling apocryphal merchandise on an imaginary version of QVC, John McCain's campaign is in fact selling its office supplies. He claims prices are 36 percent of brand new, Dell laptops for as low as $417, a BlackBerry for $30, a 55-cup steel coffee urn, $77. No prices had been listed yet for Sarah Palin's wardrobe.

The number one: Best sports team. The Chicago Blackhawks, an e-mail to the Web site Deadspin tells of the players' plans to take three days off during a long road trip between their games in Toronto and California and fly back to Chicago to see family. This was around Thanksgiving. But then, the father of Blackhawks' general manager, Dale Tallon, died and Tallon stayed behind to attend the funeral in rural Ontario.

So, the players after the game in Toronto voted unanimously to skip the flight home, to charter two busses at their own expense, and to travel two hours to be with their boss during his great sadness at his father's funeral.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMAN: The peaceful transition of power, even from one party to another, even after this most political intolerant of administrations, it's our pride and joy as a nation, unless you work for NASA.

Our third story tonight, half hilarious, half terrifying over fears that one of the space agency's pet projects might be cancelled. A NASA administrator now reportedly resisting review that have project by the president-elect's transition team and bad-mouthing its members. According to a report by "The Orlando Sentinel" whose co-author will join us presently. NASA administrator Mike Griffin has gone so far as to ask the heads of company working for NASA to either support the constellation manned moon program or keep quiet about it. And Griffin has demanded to speak directly with the president-elect.

The friction with the Obama team reportedly became obvious at a recent book party. A long heated conversation between Mr. Griffin and members of Obama's space transition team including its head Laurie Garver who is herself a former NASA associate administrator. Witnesses overhead Miss Garver saying "Mike I don't understand what the problem is, we are just trying to look under the hood." With Griffin responding, "If you are looking under the hood then you were calling me a liar because it means you don't trust what I say is under the hood."

NASA officially denies any tension though Miss Garver has reportedly confirmed to friends such unpleasant exchanges.

As promised, here's the Washington Correspondent of "The Orlando Sentinel" and co-author of its report in this, Mark Matthews. Thanks for your time tonight, Mark.

MARK MATTHEWS, "THE ORLANDO SENTINEL" CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: How bad do you think the discord is between the Obama space transition team and Mr. Griffin of NASA?

MATTHEWS: Well, as you said, there's a very public fight between Laurie Garver and Mike Griffin last week and in which Garver asked whether or not Mike trusted her and this came out as no. And what Mike - what the real problem right now comes down to Mike Griffin. He's - a lot of the lower level NASA employees are hearing and supporting the transition but right now there's a lot of resistance coming from up top.

OLBERMANN: Obviously this wouldn't be the first time that NASA in its history has scrambled to save an over budget but presumably worthwhile project. Why not try cooperation? Why this element of right down to the head-butting and I want to talk to your boss, I want to talk to the president-elect right now?

MATTHEWS: Well, for most of NASA, there is a lot of cooperation going on from a lot of science programs. The key problem, as you said before, is the constellation program which NASA hopes somehow can bring American astronauts back to the moon by 2020. Right now Mike Griffin feels that this is the right way to go, but there have been a number of technical and financial problems that have cropped up around the program.

OLBERMANN: So I gathered from reading your account of this, you know, that it's not like the Obama administration has put a red mark through this entire constellation program, that one of the other things their considering doing is accelerating it and making it work even if it costs more money within the NASA budget. Why is the reaction from Griffin- is this something to do with the fact that-with the change in governments he might be replaced? Is it fear for his own tenure?

MATTHEWS: Well, for Mike-Mike is a very intelligent guy, cares very much about NASA. I mean, he has seven degrees and when folks come with him with questions, he's able to answer these because he has a very strong background in engineering. The thing is right now he is very committed to the constellation program. He views this as NASA's best chance to leave low earth orbit and the best chance for the U.S. to go back to the moon and go to Mars. This has led him-the defense of the constellation program has led him right now to assemble his allies to try to defend it and push back from people who are trying to destroy it.

OLBERMANN: Is that necessarily the opinion in the Obama administration or are they as Miss Garver suggests the fact-finding stage still?

MATTHEWS: Well, they're still in the fact-finding stage but right now in some documents obtained by our paper we found that a number of the questions that Laurie Garver and her team have about a the constellation program and during the campaign Obama pledged more support for NASA and more support for their mission to go beyond low earth orbit, but he has been somewhat vague about whether or not constellation is the right way to go, so we may have to wait until January 20th to see which way he goes on this. Whether he decides to go with this current architecture or tries to look at some of the alternatives.

OLBERMANN: Do you think, are you able to tell from this, whether or not there is likely to get this desire of his fulfilled and actually talk to the president-elect about the constellation program or anything else in NASA?

MATTHEWS: I'm not sure we'll see. Mike Griffin has said that he would be willing to stay on as NASA administrator if certain requirements are met, including keeping the constellation program as the desired program for NASA to keep doing manned space flight. Whether or not that continues, we'll see, and whether or not Mike continues as administrator we'll find out in the next few weeks, if not maybe next year.

OLBERMANN: We've heard so much in the last couple of weeks about what the Obama Administration is not going to be able to do out of its playbook, out of its campaign list because of the extraordinary change in the economy in the last three months. Has there been a suggestion that a lot of the NASA projects might be sacrificed to make up for the economic downturn?

MATTHEWS: Well, we'll see. During the campaign, in fact very early in the campaign, Obama talked about taking money from NASA to pay for education reforms. Later on, he pledged to put another $2 billion more towards all of NASA and from this point we've seen no indication that he would do otherwise, but there are a lot of problems with NASA budgeting. Another former NASA official recently wrote in the "New York Times" that NASA has to do a better job of keeping its contracts in control, that over the space of five years NASA's science project has essentially had $5 billion in cost overruns. And you are probably going to see this Obama team really start to look at whether or not NASA is doing the right way in terms of budgets.

OLBERMANN: Or we'll hear about a NASA bailout on top of everything else. Mark Matthews, Washington correspondent at the "Orlando Sentinel." Great, thanks for this story and for your time on it.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Gretchen Carlson says she's very tolerant but she doesn't have to be tolerant of people who don't want to celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Wait until she finds out who first dreamed up the nonsense that is the phony war on Christmas.

"I am not a crook," Richard Nixon said. Of course he was only referring to Watergate. Before the checkers speech. Yeah, he was a crook. Where he and Governor Blagojevich fit in COUNTDOWN'S all time list of the top 25 most financially corrupt politicians in American history.

Speaking of the Gov, when Rachel Maddow joins you at the top of the hour, a special guest, the Illinois state rep now drawing up impeachment papers against Rod Blagojevich.

But first because they're not going away soon enough, the headlines breaking in the administration's 50 running scandals Bushed.

Number three award gate. Mr. Bush has handed out 24 more presidential citizens medals created nearly 40 years ago to honor Americans who have performed exemplary deeds of service for the nation. Muhammad Ali got one. So did Bob Dole and Archibald Cox and Chuck Colson from Watergate, Richard Nixon's special counsel, a primary figure at the committee to re-elect the president. The guy who hired Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy to break into the office of Daniel Ellsberg psychiatrist. Then wanted to bomb the Brookings Institution, then planned out the Watergate break-in, then became the first Nixon Administration figure to go to prison. That Chuck Colson.

It's OK because he later found religion. And as a minister he advised Governor George W. Bush, coordinated political moves with James Dobson and Pat Robertson, signed a cleric's letter supporting the invasion of Iraq and spoke out in favor of Prop 8. To paraphrase Woody Allen, I didn't know they gave out awards for that kind of person, just earplugs.

Number two, homeland security gate. You will remember the regional head in Boston, the woman charged with keeping illegal immigrants from coming into the country through the port there was arrested for having hired three illegal immigrants as housekeepers there. Now it's Secretary, Michael Chertoff. The company that cleaned his house in Maryland was just fined for using illegal immigrants to clean his house in Maryland. This is not the Boston situation. Chertoff did not hire these people himself. It's worse. Each of the cleaning companies' employees was screened each time they went into Chertoff's home by homeland security agents, specifically those cowboys from I.C.E. and each time they missed a bunch of illegal immigrants.

Number one endangered species gate. Just this afternoon the administration eliminated mandatory independent scientific reviews, environmental impact studies, of new constructions of dams, highways, other projects on at-risk plants and animals. Mr. Bush's robots will also now deny federal agencies the right to evaluate a project's contribution to increase global warming and its effect in that way on an endangered species. The president signed off on this even though the new president will start overturning this stuff in just 39 days.

Got to ask you something and it's going to sound like a joke but I'm serious. In those quiet moments when you contemplate this extraordinary administration. Without anger, without bitterness, just for the kind of centered awe, do you ever wonder if Mr. Bush's goal was to become president so he could spend eight years doing as much damage to this country as time and his own energies would allow?

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OLBERMANN: One American political crook palmed postage stamps and turned them into cash. Another saved money by making his congressional employees do chores on his farm. A third was caught taking bribes when the briber tried to deduct the bribes from her tax returns.

The top 25 most financially corrupt politicians in our history and where Governor Rod Blagojevich fits in.

First the worst that even Bill O. the clown might drop the war on Christmas nonsense when he learns that it all started with anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic white power types. That's next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: America's top 25 all-time most financially corrupt politicians and where Rod Blagojevich fits in, if he even makes the cut. Our countdown hall of fame is list is next but first, time for number two story. Tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Commission Steve Rule of Canyon County, Idaho. A member of his family sent him an e-mail on his county account which he forwarded 26 times. It shows a photo of Michelle Obama on election night dressed in black and red next to a photo of a black widow spider and the caption is the female has a very wide back side, is black and has a red hour-glass shaped marking on her belly. You can find this spider under closets, wood piles, under beds and soon the White House. Shock of shocks, the commissioner is a republican. He issued a semi-none apology. Apology "apparently it offended some people and I'm sorry."

Our runners up tonight, Bill O. and Dick Morris. Viewers would not laugh quite so loudly about their delusions of a conspiracy among Obama, Blagojevich, Rahm Emanuel and for all we know Reverend Jeremiah Wright. A conspiracy that Morris thinks means Obama will fire prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Bill O. And Dick would not look that paranoid if they could only get Fitzgerald's name right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK MORRIS, AUTHOR: But Obama must not fire Fitzpatrick because if he does the question will remain is he covering up Fitzpatrick indicted Rezko, like you said. After the U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick and Fitzpatrick is on that trail.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And Fitzpatrick gets fired.

MORRIS: And remember that Fitzpatrick.

O'REILLY: .Everything.

MORRIS:. And remember that Fitzpatrick has perfect non-political credentials. He's the guy.

O'REILLY: It's Fitzgerald, I'm sorry.

MORRIS: Fitzgerald.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: But our winners Bill O. and another shared honor with his factious fixed news colleagues Gretchen Carlson about that imaginary war on Christmas. A co-host reminds her "We've got to be tolerant; you've got to be tolerant of all people." Carlson says, "I am tolerant. I'm all for free speeches and free rights just not on December 25th."

Meantime, Bill O. has reached new levels of this delusion. "What's going to be next is in our secular progressive society, they are going to try and revoke the federal holiday, you wait and see." No, you wait and see.

Max Blumenthal, on the blog "The Daily Beast" traces the history of this bull crap about a war on Christmas and unfortunately it ties Bill O. and Gretchen Carlson and Chris Butters and John Gibson and "The Wall Street Journal" and all the others, directly back to anti-Semites and white power crazies.

Blumenthal's research says this first appeared in a 1995 book called "Alien Nation" in which an anti-immigrant writer, named Peter Brimelow said the use of happy holidays was a symbol of quote weird aliens with dubious habits who had begun to erode America's white Christian, quote, ethnic core. This even though Brimelow is himself an immigrant to this nation from England. Four years later Brimelow founded Vdare.com. A website used by white supremacist publisher Jarred Taylor and Professor Kevin McDonald who believes Jews are genetically inferior to gentiles.

Brimelow held his first competition to find the most egregious attack in the so-called war on Christmas in 2001 and the winning entry that year concluded that whole thing was the fault of the Jews. And now the cause of these racist and anti-Semites has been picked up by Bill O'Reilly and Gretchen Carlson and FOX News. Today's worst persons in the world.

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OLBERMANN: Just how corrupt is Rod Blagojevich? Trying to place him in the long annals of the financial scandals of American history is like trying to rank the world's greatest pieces of art. How the world's greatest pieces of forged art.

However in, our number one story I decided to take a shot. So now we begin COUNTDOWN'S list of the 25 most financially corrupt politicians in this nation's long and bribed-filled history. The headline here is American politics has in large part has been animated by the spirit of Zero Mostel, as he expressed it in the original version of "The Producers." Oh, I want that money!

We begin with number 25, Arkansas Congressman Tommy Robinson. Kind of symbol of one of the widest but shallowest scandals in American history. 1992's rubber gate. The official bank for the House of Representatives used to give congressmen overdraft protection and then some. The bank had no computers, just pencils and accounting ledgers. So in the late '80s and early '90s just a few congressmen were to have found overdrawn their accounts, only about 450. Congressman Robinson was among 21 criticized by the House Ethics Committee for having had the most checks overdrawn for the longest period of time. He had 996 of them overdrawn for 16 months.

Number 24 is senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Although he could move up as we begin to find out more about all that he did or had others do for him. Like the quarter of a million in remodeling to his house done for him by the VECO Corporation and other oil field service and contracting companies.

Twenty third on our list of the most financially corrupt American politicians, the governor of Illinois, the one prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald-no, not him, the guy before him. Governor George Ryan, the third of Blagojevich's six elected predecessors who have already gone to the big house. His crime-a scheme to award trucking licenses to people who didn't really know how to drive trucks, in exchange for bribes.

At number 22, the 1970's chairman of the House Administration Committee, Wayne Hays of Ohio. His job was obscure, but his colleagues in Congress feared him, because if he didn't like you, he could literally shut off the air conditioning in your office. So nobody said boo when Hays used Administration Committee funds to hire one Elizabeth Ray to be his staff secretary. The scandal only broke when she went to the "Washington Post" and complained, quote, "I was good enough to be his mistress for two years but not good enough to be invited to his wedding."

Number 21 on our Blagojevich list, another Illinois democrat, Dan Rostenkowski. His transgressions were bush league compared to the governor's, but they did show that same kind of panoramic versatility. He was accused of putting fake employees on his payroll, using congressional funds to buy gifts like chairs and ashtrays for his friends, and most bizarrely getting several thousand dollars worth of stamps from the congressional post office and trading them in for cash.

Number 20 would complain that he's even on this list. Richard Nixon's primary rationalization for Watergate was that he never took a dime from anybody during it. Not so in 1952. Two months after being nominated for vice president, the "New York Post" broke the story that campaign donors were buying influence from Nixon by providing him with a secret slush fund for his personal expenses. Nixon, on the verge of being kicked off the ticket, turned the allegation that he had taken $18,000 in bribes into a televised speech focused on the sob story that his kids had received a little cocker spaniel, which his daughter Trisha, the youngest, had named Checkers. The rest is corruption history.

If the abuses of number 19, recent Ohio Congressman James Traficant had begun and ended with his hair, he might still have made our top 25, but he actually went to jail for filing false tax returns, racketeering, taking bribes and forcing his congressional aides to perform chores on his farm and his house boat. Should have had one of them cut his hair.

18th on the all-time list of American financial political corruption, the dapper mayor of New York in the '30s, Jimmy Walker. Walker's New York was so rancid that innocent people were often pulled off the street and accused of crimes they had not committed, with an array of professional witnesses ready to stand by there and testify that they did. An investigation found that at least 51 guiltless women went to jail when they would not or could not bribe their way out of the extortion scheme. Walker was so guilty, he not only resigned as mayor, he resigned and took the first boat to Europe.

Our number 17 is an obscure figure from the most consistently financial corrupt presidential administration ever. Orville Babcock, the personal secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant. He was the linchpin in the whisky ring of 1875 in which Republican politicians, including many connected to Grant, siphoned off millions of dollars in federal taxes on liquor sold in St. Louis and Chicago and Milwaukee and Cincinnati and New Orleans and Peoria, Illinois.

At 16, another corrupt member of the Grant administration. William Belknap, Grant's secretary of war. At a time when trading outposts in the Wild West were incredibly lucrative, Belknap decided they should be incredibly lucrative for him, too, so he sold them to the men appointed as official U.S. post traders. Belknap was such a crook that to this date, he remains the only cabinet member in history to be impeached by Congress.

Coming in at 15th on the Blagojevich list, Dusty Foggo. A little more than two months ago Foggo made a plea deal to get out from under a mountain of charges as one of the inside men for the infamous California Congressman Duke Cunningham. Inside for Foggo was at the CIA, where he was executive director. He admitted to one count; taking a bribe to steer an agency contract to a lifelong friend.

At number 14, not necessarily the most financially corrupt of all the congressmen in our long history, but he scores this highly because of the colorful details factor. The just forcibly retired gentleman from Louisiana, Mr. Bill Jefferson, who officially only took $100,000 while hidden FBI cameras rolled, but he took it in $100 bills. That would be 1,000 hundred dollar bills. Nine hundred of them would be found wrapped neatly in aluminum foiled stuffed inside frozen food containers and packed away in the freezer of his home.

And we complete the first 13 of our 25 most financially corrupt American politicians, the Blagojevich list, with yet another governor of Illinois. Otto Kerner had already resigned to take a federal judgeship when Marge Lindheimer Everette filed her 1969 income tax returns. On them she had entered a series of deductions; stock in the company she managed, which owned the Arlington Park and Washington Park racetracks. She had given the stock to Illinois Governor Kerner so he would build two exits off a new expressway near the racetrack, and she believed she had earned the deduction because bribery, she said, was an ordinary and necessary business expense in Illinois.

So Governor Blagojevich is not in the back half of the top 25. Is he in the top 12? We'll finish the list, which includes a guy who took cash bribes at the White House, and another who managed to embezzle 20 percent of an entire federal bureau's budget, tomorrow. That's COUNTDOWN for tonight, this the 2,042nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with "The Rachel Maddow Show" and I'm suspecting there's a little bit more about the Governor of Illinois in your program tonight.

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

END

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