updated 12/17/2008 3:53:59 PM ET 2008-12-17T20:53:59

Guests: Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Bobby Ghosh, John Harwood>

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

The really big shoe: First, deal awkwardly (ph) -- those are the moves of an ex-cheerleader.  Secondly, in ducking, I think he dislodged something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  One of the major theaters against al Qaeda turns out to have been Iraq.  This is where al Qaeda said they were going to take their stand.  This is where al Qaeda was hoping to take.

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS:  But not until after the U.S. invaded.

BUSH:  Yes, that‘s right.

RADDATZ:  So.

BUSH:  So what?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, that makes it unanimous.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 19)

RADDATZ:  Two-thirds of Americans say it‘s not worth fighting.  And they are looking at the value gains versus the cost of American lives certainly, and Iraqi lives.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES:  So?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, this is now the “so or so-what” administration?

In the Middle East, Muntadar al-Zaidi, the shoe-flinger praised, lionized, arrested, dismissed by the target of his anger and his shoes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  So, what if the guy threw his shoe at me?  This just doesn‘t represent the Iraqi people but that‘s what happens in free society.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The not-so free society of Rod Blagojevich—the gBay scandal.  The Obama internal investigation confirms the previous stories but the release of the full report held for another week at the request of the prosecutors?

Where does Blagojevich fit in the all-time list of American political financial corruption, compare say, to this guy, who walked out of the Abscam sting with $25,000 in his pocket while asking his bribers, “Does it show?”

Worsts: Billo versus FOX in the war on Christmas.  What is that green insignia in the corner?  FOX says it‘s a holiday logo.

And, “Barney Cam VII”—the way they sent it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We‘re sprinting to the finish, not napping to the finish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And Barney Scam VII—the way we‘d like to see it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We‘re sprinting to the finish, not napping to the finish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and the fall out from the other shoe dropping:

Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who throws a shoe?  Honestly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Monday, December 15th, 36 days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The official White House transcript of that joint news conference by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki in Baghdad reads nothing more than “audience interruption.”  Also that it happens just after the president had said, “That although the war is not yet over, it is decidedly on its way to being won.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Mr. Bush‘s final trip to Iraq, perhaps his entire legacy in that country, likely to be remembered for that audience interruption, an Iraqi correspondent from a Baghdad TV network throwing first one of his shoes, then the other at the president‘s head.  The Iraqi television journalism: left shoe and right shoe—fair and balanced.

Nearly six years after the Bush administration predicted, American troops will be greeted in Iraq with flowers and candy, the commander-in-chief welcomed instead with flying footwear hurled by that Iraqi journalist, shouting in Arabic as he tossed the first shoe, quote, “This is a gift from Iraqis, this is the farewell kiss, you dog.”  When the second shoe went airborne, Prime Minister Maliki trying to block it as it approached the podium, the reporter then is yelling, “This is from the widows, the orphans, and those who were killed in Iraq.”

The man who lunged the singular protest against the American president, twice, 28-year-old Muntadar al-Zaidi, a correspondent for al-Baghdadia, an Iraqi-owned cable news channel based in Egypt.  Our correspondent, Richard Engel, is reporting that Mr. Zaidi is well known in Baghdad with the reputation for reporting on civilian casualties, that he has been kidnapped by gunmen and detained by U.S. troops.  Colleagues saying he has grown to hate U.S. soldiers.

Immediately, after the shoe-throwing incident, the president, going for laughs as well as “the parent of a toddler” approach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  If you want the facts, it‘s a size 10 shoe that he threw.  So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Despite being later informed by ABC‘s Martha Raddatz that throwing a shoe being exposed to the soul of ones shoe, is also considered a terrific insult in the Arab world.  Despite protest today in Baghdad‘s Shiite slum, Sadr City, where burned American flags and called for Mr.  Zaidi‘s release, Mr. Bush telling Ms. Raddatz that the shoe-throwing incident barely registered with him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC NEWS)

BUSH:  I thought it was interesting.  I thought it was weird.  I thought it was unusual to have a guy throw a shoe at you.  But, I don‘t—

I‘m not insulted.  I don‘t hold it against the government.  I don‘t think the Iraqi press corps as a whole is terrible.  And so, the guy wanted to get on TV and he did.  I don‘t know what his beef is.  But whatever it is, I‘m sure, you know, somebody will hear it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to “Time” world editor, Bobby Ghosh, also, the former Baghdad bureau chief for the magazine.

Thanks for coming in tonight.

BOBBY GHOSH, TIME MAGAZINE:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A top aide to the Iraqi prime minister told Richard Engel of our department there, that Mr. Maliki is furious about this incident that he‘d like to see this man behind bars for seven to eight years.  Is that in the realm of possibility, (A), given the political climate in Iraq at the moment, and (B), given the fact that it was a pair of thrown shoes and not a lethal weapon of any kind?

GHOSH:  Well, I think it‘s very unlikely.  Nouri Maliki is not Saddam Hussein.  He is a politician.  He has an election coming up in just over a month.  And Mr. Zaidi is now, as you said in that report, very popular in the streets.  So, I think, after a judicious few weeks, they‘ll make a magnanimous gesture and let him go with a warning and perhaps a ban from future press conferences.

OLBERMANN:  What he shouted to say nothing of his aim makes it pretty clear to anybody who would look at this that the target was Bush, not Maliki.  What would have happen, what would this incident have been like if he, in fact, thrown the shoe or both shoes at Maliki and not Bush?

GHOSH:  Well, I think he‘s had plenty of opportunities.  Muntadar has been in a lot of press conferences including one that I was a couple of weeks ago with Prime Minister Maliki.  Had he thrown his shoes then, I think he would have gotten a similar treatment but less global attention.  I think he would have been taken away, given a beating, put in jail for a little while, and then quietly released.

OLBERMANN:  Is the reaction in public, the protests—are these likely to be one day events or this is sort of an opening up of a can of worms that‘s been present for quite a time?

GHOSH:  Well, he seems to have set off a new fashion trend in protest.  We had a report today from Najaf.  An American patrol parting through the holy city for the Shiites was belted with stones by passersby.  So, this may be something that Americans experience in other parts of Iraq at least for a little while.

OLBERMANN:  Is it—rank it on the cultural scale, where is being hit

by stones relative to being hit by one shoe?

GHOSH:  I think the shoe is much lower.  I think it‘s, you know, it‘s much worse—the western equivalent might be being pelted with rotten eggs.  It‘s actually a graver insult than that.  The sole of one‘s foot is on the ground with mud.  So, you‘re being compared to mud, to dirt.

OLBERMANN:  What President Bush said immediately before this incident, “The war is not yet over, it is decidedly on its way to being won.”  Did that, do you think, precipitate this or is this report from ABC correct that it was so premeditated that he handed his cameraman a note that read, “It‘s glorious to die a martyr”?

GHOSH:  I suspect it was probably premeditated.  He - you go through several layers of security.  They take away, and sometimes, even your dictaphones.  The only weapons he had were his shoes.  I think he went in knowing that he was going to do it, was looking for the moment.  I doubt very much that he was even paying very much attention to what the president was saying.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Now, everybody is going to go, it‘s going to be like airports here, we‘re all going to have to take our shoes off before press conferences.

But, do you think we buried something in here because in that immediate, afterwards with that interview with ABC and Martha Raddatz, he said something rather extraordinary to her.  He essentially admitted that there was no al Qaeda in Iraq operation until the United States got there.  Is that really—should that have been the headline from Iraq in the last few days?

GHOSH:  I think it should have.  I think the shoe has overtaken what would have been, on another day, a much bigger headline.  If the president is admitting that the American presence essentially brought al Qaeda to Iraq.  That is a huge and very telling admission.

OLBERMANN:  But, of course, with 40 days or less to go on his administration, his answer, “So what,” is unfortunately very applicable, I suppose.

GHOSH:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  Bobby Ghosh of “Time” magazine, great thanks for coming in and for your insight, sir.

GHOSH:  Anytime.

OLBERMANN:  For more on how this affects the so-called “Bush legacy project” or what we are now calling “the Bush legacy projectile,” time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The symbolism of this in Iraq is one thing, but even ignoring what it means there, the entire Bush presidency now has another visual symbol.  Which one wins out in history, the mission accomplished banner or this thing yesterday?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think the thing yesterday is far more symbolic of what the reality on the ground is, Keith.  Talking to neutral observers, people who very much wanted us to succeed and be smart in that region of the country after the attacks on 9/11, I was speaking just a few minutes ago with a very shrewd, very knowledgeable Pakistani diplomat here in the United States, who knows this country inside out as he knows his own country, knows that whole region, says this slap-stick event, this sad “slapstick event,” as he called it, was all too symbolic as a kind of last murmur of eight years of failure in the region.

That‘s his view.  And this is a guy who is very, very dispassionate in his view of things.  So, this matters more in the long run.

OLBERMANN:  The president sort of studied in difference to that cultural meaning that I just referenced there and Bobby Ghosh was talking about.  Are we supposed to believe that he believes this was just one bad apple out of an otherwise grateful Iraqi population to just happen to throw whatever was handy?

FINEMAN:  Well, of course, the key to George Bush is that he doesn‘t really care.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  . what you believe or what I believe or what most of the rest of the world believes about what his—the level of sophisticated knowledge he does or doesn‘t have.  This is a guy capable of self-denial, but more than that, a studied indifference to the opinions of the rest of the world.  I think he has to know—but talking to a friend of his this afternoon, I couldn‘t get a straight answer out of that person.  Then I‘d really know, but the point is, George Bush doesn‘t care.  He doesn‘t care what our view of his level of knowledge is.

OLBERMANN:  And this is, maybe, when we talk about what this is symbolic of, maybe that‘s what it is symbolic of, this event—that this larger problem has been between the Bush administration and the Arab world, you could even argue, the entire world all along—a willful ignorance of the culture.  We are not going to bother to understand what fill in the blank means to you.

FINEMAN:  Well, to look at it through George Bush‘s eyes and give him his theory, it‘s something that he honestly believes in, because he‘s arguing our brand of democracy is so fundamental to human life, is so essential to the human condition, that local cultural differences don‘t matter as much as our basic commitment to freedom as we know it and understand it here in America.  That‘s been his theory from the beginning.  That was the theory that justified his response to 9/11.

And that is the theory that‘s soliciting the throwing of shoes and the continued unsettled state of world opinion about the United States, in particular, George Bush‘s leadership.  As slapstick as this was, as trivial as it was in a way, it‘s all too symbolic of what the rest of the world has come to view as George Bush‘s legacy in the world.

OLBERMANN:  And the legacy project, this obvious attempt in the last month, two months to improve his reputation as history begins to write his story, how is that going, exactly?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s not going well.  He‘s gone around to give a series of interviews to television stations and networks, and print outlets.  They‘ve not gone well because he doesn‘t have that great of a story to tell.  The key thing that he has to say, he doesn‘t really want to sell too hard, which is that this country hasn‘t been attacked since 9/11.  That really is what his legacy is going to be if he‘s going to claim it on the minutes after January 20th, 2009.

But, really, for the most part, he doesn‘t have a whole lot to brag about, and the key line from that Martha Raddatz interview and that ABC interview the other day, where he said, “So what,” as you pointed out, “so what” to the notion that we created the theater that al Qaeda was responding to in Iraq—that phrase, “so what,” really, really sums up to a lot of people what the legacy has been.  And when you‘re looking at foreign policy, there‘s nobody going to be able to claim this as much of a victory.

OLBERMANN:  Well, I actually disagree with you on one point.  I think we are leaving out one thing we can give the president credit for, his reflexes, currently it still worked.  That was a very adept and a joint maneuver getting away.  I would have been hit right the forehead by that shoe.

FINEMAN:  Yes, and Maliki gets some credit for some blocking moves.

OLBERMANN:  An attempt to block.  Both athletic men, if not necessarily leaders.

Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—as always, great thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As to the legacy of the transition time of the president-elect, it is perhaps—through no fault of his—seemingly teetering of becoming one of not being very quick to the draw.  The Obama internal review of contacts with Governor Blagojevich over the Illinois Senate absolves the president-elect, but prosecutors have requested that the Obama team not release that full investigation until next week, when Obama will be in Hawaii, on vacation, on Christmas week.

Meaning, the story will just hang there for another week and then be resolved during a holiday break.  Great.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Obama postscript to the Blagojevich scandal will drag on for another week and not be released until a veritable takeout to thrash fortnight.  Where does the cash-and-carry governor rank among America‘s all-time greatest political crooks?  Can he compete with the man who embezzled 20 percent of the entire budget of the Veterans Department?

Breaking news out of the Minnesota Senate vote.

And in Worsts: Billo threatens all those who say “Happy Holidays” and not “Merry Christmas.”  So, will he threaten the network that has adopted a green symbol that calls not a Christmas logo, but a holiday logo?  The network is FOX News.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  President-elect Obama‘s internal review of contacts with Governor Blagojevich is complete but it will not be released until next Monday—that what has now been confirmed as the request of the prosecutors.

So, our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: What might have been dispensed with today will now linger.  But with the new poll finding that Obama‘s approval rating has thus far been unaffected, the Republican National Committee might want to reconsider its effort of guilt-by-association.

The president-elect announcing his administration‘s energy and climate posts today, reiterating in an answer to questions about the investigation, what the transition had said in its statement today that its new internal review now complete, confirms that Obama had no contacts with Governor Blagojevich or his staff, and that Obama‘s staff was not involved in any inappropriate discussions with the governor or his staff about Obama‘s Senate seat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT:  We are prepared to release the findings of the review that had been done, which are thorough and comprehensive.  The U.S. attorney‘s office asks us to hold off releasing those for a week.  So, I would ask for your patience, because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The request for a delay of that report‘s release confirmed by the office of U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, so that, it may, quote, “conduct certain interviews.”  One more week then for those details including perhaps what was reported this weekend by the “Chicago Tribune,” that Obama‘s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had contact with the governor‘s administration, some of it reportedly captured on court-approved wiretaps.  Mr. Emanuel reportedly delivered a list of candidates considered acceptable for Obama‘s Senate seat to the governor‘s administration but there is no suggestion of any deal-making.

Meantime, a new poll suggesting that 51 percent of respondents think Obama has done enough to explain contacts between his team and the governor; 34 percent believing that he has not done enough, but 64 percent still approving of the way he is handling the transition period.  Yet, attempts by the RNC to stir the pot continue, including a Web ad released over the weekend claiming that Obama had failed to answer basic questions about the scandal even though his former rival for the presidency disagrees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”/ABC)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  I think that the Obama campaign should and will give all information necessary.  You know, in all due respect to the Republican National Committee and anybody—right now, I think we should try to be working constructively together.  I don‘t know all the details of the relationship between President-elect Obama‘s campaign or his people and the governor of Illinois, but I have some confidence that all the information will come out.  It always does, it seems to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Back in Illinois, the legislature tonight voting to begin the impeachment inquiry into the governor‘s conduct while Blagojevich himself went to work again today with his spokesman saying the governor had not ruled out signing a bill calling for a special election to fill that Senate seat rather than an auction.  The governor told reporters tonight that, quote, “I can‘t wait to talk to you guys.  There will be an appropriate time and place.”

While you insert your own joke there, we‘ll turn to our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist of the “Washington Post.”

Gene, good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Delaying the release of the president-elect‘s internal review here, obviously, it‘s valid.  We have that from Mr. Fitzgerald.  But do you think the Obama camp is thrilled at having to sit on this one more week or relieved that they‘ve sort of gotten this stamp of approval from the prosecutors?

ROBINSON:  No.  I think they can‘t be happy at having to basically not say anything for another week, or not just kind of put out this entire list of contacts, whatever they were.  There‘s absolutely no reason why the president-elect would not talk to the governor of Illinois, or at least staff-to-staff about filling the Senate seat.  That‘s the most natural thing in the world.  And we have heard now and from everyone, including Patrick Fitzgerald that there was no deal-making between the Obama camp and the Blagojevich camp.  So, presumably, they can put the whole thing to rest by just coming out with this list.  So, it must be frustrating not to be able to get, have done with it and stop having to talk about all the time.

OLBERMANN:  That polling suggests that the public is largely giving the president-elect a lot of the benefit of the doubt on handling this.  Are these perceptions fragile and is the report that comes out over what is essentially a Christmas Break going to be enough to put the whole thing to rest?

ROBINSON:  I don‘t think anything anyone has heard thus far would make them fragile.  They can become fragile, if there were some hint or some indication of anything untoward, something other than the fact that both were public officials in the same state, which is essentially the situation now.  Then, certain fragility could come into play.  I don‘t think it‘s there yet.  I do think there is a certain frustration inside the Obama camp and, frankly, outside as well that they can‘t just have done with it and move on.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  I think the obvious superficial answer to why the Republicans aren‘t moving on is, just as I suggested, obvious.  But are they making—given what McCain said yesterday—they‘re making a mistake trying to beat this horse?

ROBINSON:  I—you know, I do think it‘s a mistake, but I don‘t think it‘s having a whole lot of impact, to tell you the truth.  I don‘t think a lot of people are really paying attention.  I think there is a cohort out there that might be prepared to believe this indicates something untoward and sleazy about Barack Obama.  Those people didn‘t vote for him and they aren‘t likely to support him.  I think others do have an open mind and are willing to, you know, accept what he says at face value, you know, absent any indications to the contrary.

OLBERMANN:  And back at the ranch.  How is the—how is the governor‘s governorship going to end and when, for God‘s sake?

ROBINSON:  Oh, to quote an old ad that I‘m sure you remember, “Only his hairdresser knows for sure.”

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  We don‘t—maybe it‘s confided in that favorite hairbrush of his.  But we don‘t know.  I—one has to assume that he will resign at some point, but he‘s not ready to resign yet.  It will take awhile to impeach him at that route they go.  So, it could be awhile.

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t make me laugh when I got this cough still.

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I‘m sorry, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC—nevertheless, great thanks as always, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, this is still Governor Blagojevich‘s scandal and nobody else‘s.  Where exactly does it place among the all-time rooster of American political financial corruption, compare it, say, to that Abscam guy who stuffed $25,000 into his coat pockets and then asked, “Does it show?”

And seventh annual “Barney Cam” video is out from the White House, well, the seventh annual official video.  This does not count the snuff film from last month when Barney swallowed whole the reporter from “Reuters.”

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1921, Alan Freed was born.  He became a radio announcer in Ohio at the ‘40s sportscast, hosted a classical music show, “Whatever They Ask.”  Then in 1949, he was assigned emcee of show of rhythm and blues records, and by making that accessible to white listeners and using a different term to describe the style, and then holding live events.

And finally moving to New York, he basically created, now, the term he used was “rock and roll” and the live events were the first rock concerts.  Unfortunately, he was also involved in first allegations of bribery to get certain records broadcast on his shows, or as they now call it in Illinois politics, “pay-for-play.”

Let‘s play Oddball.

Who do they bribe to get this on TV every year?  To the nation‘s capital, where today, the White House A.V. Club delivered it final Barney Cam effort.  Yes, in the past, the formula has been simple.  President Bush farms some work out to a dog, the dog screws up.  Bush yells at the dog, and then something else happened, usually involving a shoe being thrown.  Happy Holidays.

Of course, the only quality Barney film came last month when he mauled a reporter from “Reuters.”  I don‘t think we need to show you that tape again.  But here it is, anyway.

With that out of the way, keep your shoes on America, it‘s “Barney Cam

VII.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. BUSH:  It‘s really great to have the whole family together like this. 

L. BUSH:  It really is special. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  In fact, Willard, I think these are the memories we‘re going to cherish most about our time in the White House. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, that, Willard, and when Barney decorates the whole house for the holidays. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Barney, what do you have in store this year? 

G. BUSH:  Celebrate America?  That‘s a great way to spend our last holiday here in the White House. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And as we return to the summer Olympic games, it‘s all up to this final vault by Barney. 

He sticks the landing. 

Barney and Ms. Beasley with their second synchronized dive.  And it‘s a flawless performance. 

G. BUSH:  Barney, you better wake up, fellow.  There‘s a lot of work to do around here.  We‘re sprinting to the finish, not napping to the finish. 

MICHAEL PHELPS, OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST:  Hey, Barney.  I‘m glad the decorations are finally coming together and you‘re using my favorite color, gold. 

L. BUSH:  President Bush and I thank you for the wonderful privilege of being able to serve America these last eight years.  And we wish you a very happy holiday. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You know, when Michael Phelps is the best actor in your piece, you‘re screwed. 

She has still said nothing on the record, but everybody else, up to and including Al Sharpton, has.  Caroline Kennedy wants that New York Senate seat. 

And did B-Rod make the final cut.  Our top 12 all-time financially corrupt American politicians.  Who is number one?  And how much was he willing to pay to get there?  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The future face of the U.S. Senate and the faces in that Senate our third story tonight.  We‘ll get to the Caroline Kennedy news.  But first, late breaking news from Colorado.  Multiple reports Democratic Senator Ken Salazar will be nominated by the president-elect to serve as Secretary of the Interior, leaving a Democratic governor there to choose Salazar‘s replacement. 

From Minnesota today, the dramatic and familiar sounding headline, the Republican has today asked that the counting of absentee ballots be stopped, and where tomorrow the canvassing board begins reviewing ballot changes by the two candidates.  Republican incumbent Norm Coleman today claiming that as many as 200 votes may have been counted twice.  Al Franken now trailing Coleman by 192 votes in the recount, and counting on his ballot challenges to shift that margin to his advantage. 

In New York today, NBC News has confirmed that Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the late president, the one surviving member of that White House family, wants to have that Senate seat to take the first steps at the age of 51 into the world of political service.  The Senate seat that will be vacated early next year with the expected confirmation of current Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.  Kennedy a veteran of institutions both non-profit and Kennedy-related, made her first presidential endorsement since her uncle Teddy ran in 1980 this year when she endorsed Barack Obama, a move that did not endear her to the New York supporters of Senator Clinton, some of whom are now New York Governor David Patterson not to pick Kennedy for the post, which, in any way this turns out, will require a special election in 2010 and then a regular election in 2012. 

With us to sort all this out, CNBC‘s White House correspondent John Harwood, who is also a political reporter for the “New York Times.”  Good to see you, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  New York first.  The anti-Kennedy argument is two parts.  In terms of service, no previous political office.  B, in terms of politics, no endorsements between 1980 and 2008.  What is the upside besides her name? 

HARWOOD:  Well, I think the name is the upside.  We‘re talking about the—as you said, the sole surviving member of the immediate family of the greatest Democratic icon of the Baby Boom generation.  In some ways, the fact she was out of the spotlight, no endorsements for 28 years, only adds to the allure once she finally steps out and gets onto the stage. 

OLBERMANN:  What is the deciding factor in whether or not she gets it?  That you would be getting another Kennedy into the big leagues on behalf of the Democratic party, and presumably a capable senator.  She wouldn‘t be putting herself out there if she didn‘t think she could do it and people wouldn‘t be supporting her if they didn‘t think she could.  Or is it that she helped Obama get elected to pull off the upset back in the primaries, particularly, and this is—she has earned something like this, if not this necessarily? 

HARWOOD:  I think they‘re linked.  It‘s not just that she earned it.  She did provide a crucial boost to Barack Obama when he was locked in that tough race with Hillary Clinton.  But you‘re also talking about somebody who is entirely in sync.  The message that she provided, that he inspired me like nobody inspired me, like the way my dad inspired people; that was central to the message of Barack Obama.  It was an idealistic campaign.  David Axelrod told me after the campaign what we tried to do was rekindle that spark of idealism that was killed in the 1960s, and Caroline Kennedy embodies that promise.  She obviously meant it by her willingness to step out right now. 

OLBERMANN:  In Minnesota, Senator Coleman asking a court to stop part of a recount; apart from how familiar that may sound from 2000, is this a demarcation point?  Has the purely electoral point or part of this election now ended, and we‘re into the purely litigation part of this election? 

HARWOOD:  Not totally.  We‘ve still got a few more days of the electoral part, because the canvassing board is going to continue that count through the end of the week.  The secretary of state is hoping that‘s wrapped up by the 19th of December.  Then we‘re going to see where this count is exactly.  Precedents suggest that the U.S. Senate is likely, even if there are legal challenges after that point, to seat whoever is ahead in that count at the end of this week. 

OLBERMANN:  So this is no longer necessarily a battle of attrition? 

This is a battle—I guess maybe it is a battle of attrition.   

HARWOOD: It‘s been a battle of attrition for quite a long time now. 

We‘re now talking about having gone past the Bush v. Gore point from 2000.  But we‘re talking about a race where Al Franken is down by 192 votes.  His people think he might be ahead by single digits once all these ballots are counted.  It‘s so close.  Everybody is going to contest as much as they think they can get something out of it.  And then it is going to falls in the U.S. Senate‘s lap.  Like I say, I think whoever is ahead in that count when the secretary of state gets ready to complete the count is likely to be the next senator. 

OLBERMANN:  Colorado, Salazar to Interior?  Is that what you‘re hearing?  What happens next regarding the Senate in Colorado? 

HARWOOD:  Well, you‘ve got Bill Ritter, Democratic governor out there, who can make that pick.  Democrats will not lose a seat.  Surprises me a little, because Ken Salazar is someone who was talked about as a potential vice president choice for Barack Obama, somebody who could be a power in the Senate.  This hardly forecloses an electoral future for him.  But interesting that he would choose to cut short his Senate career to take this job. 

OLBERMANN:  He really has, Obama, done a good job of talking people into his cabinet.  It is impressive.  John Harwood of cNBC and the “New York Times,” always a pleasure to see you, sir.  Thank you, kindly.  

Governor Blagojevich is one thing.  But in the list of the top 12 most financially corrupt American politicians, is he in the same league as the Lincoln cabinet member so corrupt that he was once praised with this sentence, quote, “I do not believe he would steal a red hot stove?” 

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, Harry Shearer joins her to talk about how well the Bush victory tour is going. 

In worsts, Glenn Beck does not understand one constitutional issue as well as Joe the Plumber does?  COUNTDOWN continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Where does Governor Blagojevich fit in the annals of American political financial corruption.  We started our COUNTDOWN of the top 25 last week.  The Monty Hall of governors did not place in the back half.  We‘ll see if he‘s in the top dirty dozen next. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story tonight, the worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Fixed News.  The network changed the color of its on-screen logo to green, just like we did and CNN.  Asked by the website TV Newswer if they did it for the same environmental reasons, a Fox spokesman said, “no, it‘s a, quote, holiday logo.”  There you go, Bill-O.  Even your own employers call it a holiday logo.  Even your own employers won‘t buy into this there‘s a war on Christmas psychosis.  Let‘s hear you call them secular progressives and demand that people come and protest at their offices. 

Our runner up, Donald Rumsfeld‘s former special assistant, Larry DiRita.  This is part of the continuing effort to rewrite history, in this case the history of the most famous pre-war criticism of the war in Iraq from the Pentagon by General Eric Shinseki, Obama‘s choice to run the Veteran‘s Department.  DiRita has an op-ed in today‘s “Washington Post” insisting that Shinseki‘s opposition and the administration‘s revenge against him was, quote, “one of the most enduring myths of the Bush presidency.” 

DiRita has decided because Shinseki only testified to the Senate that peace in a post-Saddam Iraq could only be maintained by several hundred thousand American troops he was not an opponent or critic of the war, and the Pentagon and the Bush administration did not retaliate against him.  Right after Shinseki‘s testimony, then Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki wildly off the mark.  A month later, another Pentagon official said his testimony was BS from a Clintonite.  A week after that, another Pentagon source said Shinseki was “in total eclipse, turned into a lame duck, castrated.” 

But our winner, Glenn Beck of Fox Noise.  To mix Jeff Foxworthy analogies, when you get beaten up intellectually by Joe the Plumber, you may not be smarter than a fifth grader.  Wurzelbacher on Beck‘s radio show protesting, quote, Hillary Clinton, the whole deal with her as far as becoming secretary of state, it‘s kind of against—it‘s not kind of—it‘s against the Constitution right now where it stands.  But they‘re talking about getting around it. 

Now, who can argue with that?  Gabby Johnson is right.  J.T. Plumber was talking about the technical violation.  Clinton was in the Senate when the secretary of state‘s salary was increased.  Thus technically she‘s not eligible to become secretary of state.  This, though, was apparently news to Mr. Beck, who, desperate, scrambling, trying to keep his head above water, replied, quote, “I will tell you this, in talking to one of my guys who is deep into the Constitution, he is saying that she can‘t have two offices.  That‘s the problem.  She can‘t occupy the two offices and then two different branches.  But it‘s kind of iffy on that. It‘s not really clear.  If she gets rid of her office, then it should be fine.  But she couldn‘t be a senator and secretary of state.  That‘s the real problem there.”

No, it‘s not.  Nobody ever suggested she was going to hold both offices at once.  What, Beck, do you get your news from graffiti or the cover of a matchbox?  You are less well informed than Joe the Plumber.  Glenn, the sun rises in the west, rises in the east, Beck, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The wonder what is Rod Blagojevich.  I wondered where he fit in this nation‘s vast, teeming history of financially corrupt politicians and thus cooked up a list of the top 25.  In the first half, Dick Nixon placed 20th.  Two governors in Illinois, who were not Rod Blagojevich, made it, George Ryan at 23rd and Otto Kerner at 13th.  To say nothing of the hair of former Ohio Congressman James Traficant at 19th

Tonight, our number one story, we resume, somewhat delayed—sorry—our list to see if Governor sale of the century fits in.  We pick it up at number 12, former House Speaker Jim Wright; the venerable Texas politico was a master at evading the rules about how much a Congressman could make on the side.  He was accused of forcing supporters to give his wife a no-show job, of doubling his fees for speeches by insisting that groups also make bulk purchases of his book, “Reflections of a Public Man.” 

Placing 11th, a reminder that you really should be nice to those on the way up because you‘ll meet them on the way down, Congressman Jay Parnell Thomas, who persecuted Hollywood writers as head of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the ‘40s.  He was sent to the pen after it turned out that for eight years he padded his Congressional payroll with at least five fictional employees, 20,000 dollars of whose salaries he kept for his own self.  Congressman Thomas wound up in the federal penitentiary at Danbury, Connecticut, a couple of cells down from two of the very same Hollywood writers he had branded as communists. 

Our tenth all-time money-grabbing great, Congressman Andrew Jackson May of Kentucky.  During the Second World War, ordinance officers throughout the Army were barraged with phone calls from this Congressman May, who insisted that they should award Army contracts to the Garson Brothers, two business men from New York.  The Garsons, of course, were paying Congressman May.  It wasn‘t just the money involved.  It turned out the Garsons were no good at making military materials.  Their mortar shells tended to detonate at the wrong time.  They killed at least 38 American soldiers. 

At number nine on the list, Simon Cameron, President Lincoln‘s first secretary of war.  He was the Pete Best of the Lincoln administration, the fifth member of the “Team of Rivals,” the one Lincoln fired for corruption after not ten months in office.  Lincoln supposedly asked the famed Congressman Thadeus Stevens about Cameron‘s honesty and Stevens replied, “I don‘t believe he would steal a red hot stove.”  Cameron demanded a retraction, so Steven said he might have been wrong about that.  As the secretary of war as the Civil War broke out, Cameron invested heavily in the Northern Central Pennsylvania Railroad, because it had the only tracks going from Harrisburg to Baltimore.  Soon, Cameron, the secretary of war, was shipping U.S. men and supplies on the railroad owned by Cameron the investor. 

Eighth is the infamous Albert Fall, the secretary of interior in the Harding administration and center piece of what was, before Watergate, the consensus choice for worst political scandal in U.S. history, Teapot Dome.  Fall was not, as legend has it, the man for whom the term fall guy was coined, but you got a lot of coin.  Naval oil reserves at Tea Pot Dome in Wyoming were transferred by President Harding to Fall‘s Department of the Interior.  Fall promptly leased them out to oil barrens Harry Sinclair and Edward Doheny.  They made millions; Fall got first in interest-free loan of 100,000 dollars, then another payoff.  This was at the time when Babe Ruth only made about 80,000 a year. 

Our seventh most financially corrupt is one of the most overshadowed figures of American political greed, Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon‘s vice president.  Between 1967, when he failed to report 29,500 dollars worth of bribes while governor of Maryland, and 1973, when he resigned as the VP to escape jail time in a plea deal, Agnew took at least 100 grand, almost all of it in cash and much of it in paper bags.  The last few of which were handed to Agnew as he sat behind his desk in the White House. 

For pure take-home money, even in the context of the famous FBI sting in the ‘80s that laid him low, number six, Congressman Richard Kelly, Republican of Florida, was hardly the greatest offender.  In fact, he got the shortest sentence of any of those convicted.  But the less than ingenious way in which he took his payoffs in the Abscam scandal, combined with the advance of technology, puts him near the top of our list.  Kelly was convicted after prosecutors produced at his trial grainy videotape, this, of him taking 25,000 dollars in cash from FBI agents supposedly dressed up as Middle Eastern businessmen and stuffing the money, as you see, into the various pockets of his coat.  The Congressman then turned to one of the agents and asked, does it show? 

And now to the top five.  If you put up an online petition to urge President Bush to pardon you, and in three years you only get 13 people to sign it, you have really earned a spot in our corruption hall of fame.  California Congressman Randy Duke Cunningham managed to take so much in illicit cash and merchandise and services that after pleading guilty, he was still required to pay 1,800,000 dollars in restitution.  He got a home in Rancho Santa Fe, cash untold, limousines rides, hotel rooms, and, talking about stuffing it into your pants, prostitutes. 

Fourth on our Blagojevich list, yet another American vice president. 

Schuyler Colfax was the presumed successor to President Ulysses S. Grant.  But then the Credit Mobilier scandal broke, and even the ethically laissez faire Grant dropped Colfax from his reelection ticket.  Colfax had supposedly done a masterful good job concealing his role in the most massive swindle of the 19th century, the building of inter-continental railroad lines for the Union Pacific.  Seventy two million dollars was spent; 72 million dollars in 1872.  But Credit Mobilier had built only 53 million dollars worth of rail lines.  The scandal was so big it rocked the U.S. economy.  They got Vice President Colfax on one check for just 1,200 bucks, and that was the end. 

So to third place on the Blagojevich list and it goes to Rod Blagojevich.  This is mostly based on degree of difficulty.  To think, in any year since the invention of the first recording device in 1877, to think that you could actually get away with selling a Senate seat and nobody would ever find out, just think what he could have done with a little more time and a little less wire-tapping. 

But who could possibly top B. Rod?  Well, the runner-up for the all time most financially corrupt American politician is, at number two, probably the most cold-heartedly venal of all of our politicians, Charles Forbes, President Harding‘s choice to head up the then brand new Veterans Bureau in 1921.  In his three years on that job, the total budget for the bureau was 1,300,000,000 dollars.  He embezzled close to 250 million of it.  Forbes sold supplies for the vets and kept the money.  He took huge kickbacks during the building of VA hospitals.  And maybe worst of all, he managed to make himself a colonel in the Army, an especially galling outcome considering he had deserted from the Army in 1912. 

And so to the top of the list, and to paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, to the Napoleon of political crime, none other than the almost mythical William Marcy Boss Tweed.  His graft, it was on the scale of the gods.  All who came before him are comparative trivia.  Those who have followed frustrated wannabes, unable to emulate the greatest of the great.  A simple New York alderman who rose to control the city‘s political machine and the government itself.  He is perhaps best judged by this fact: in two and two thirds years, while all the city‘s construction work and 1,000 employees were under his control, from 1868 into 1870, the debt of the city of New York rose from 36 million dollars to 136 million dollars.  And in that span, there had been almost nothing actually built in the city. 

The living monument to his blinding felonious brilliance is the Tweed Courthouse, which is still standing.  Even in the 1870s, the three million dollars it actually cost to build was a phenomenon of largess.  But the city did not pay three million for it.  Your cost, 13 million.  When finally arrested in October, 1872, Boss Tweed was held on bail of eight million dollars, the 2008 equivalent of bail of 137 million.  And because, sadly, he lived long before wire-taps or careless boasting, we will never know exactly how much he stole. 

But academic research estimates it could have been as much as 250 million dollars, about 3.2 billion today.  Eat your heart out, Rod Blagojevich.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,046th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is

granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not

reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or

internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall

user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may

infringe upon MSNBC and ASC LLC‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or

interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of

litigation.>

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,