updated 12/29/2008 5:00:11 PM ET 2008-12-29T22:00:11

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Eugene Robinson, Erin Billings, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Christian Finnegan

TAMRON HALL, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

After a week of questions, Obama‘s team report on the Blagojevich scandal is out.  The one surprise—the president-elect and members of his staff were actually interviewed separately late last week by the U.S.  attorney.  But as the Obama team has said repeatedly, they never took part in any attempt to turn Obama‘s Senate seat into a political game of “let‘s make a deal.”

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GREG CRAIG, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  No one in the Obama circle was aware of what was going on in the governor‘s office or in the governor‘s mind.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HALL:  Did people on the right scream fire before there was even any sign of smoke?  All this as U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, tells the group working on impeaching B-Rod to back off.  He doesn‘t want them to mess up his investigation.

Could “Governor Hang Loose” actually end up escaping impeachment?

And the remaining open Senate seat: Norm Coleman doesn‘t want a repeat of the Florida recount debacle as he hires a lawyer that represented Bush in the Florida recount debacle.  And the empire state, the catch with Caroline, sure, she‘ll discuss her private financial records if she gets appointed senator first.

The worst vice president ever: One in four Americans seemed to think so, while Cheney tries to justify the Bush administration‘s ever-expanding executive authority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS:  If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  In general proposition, I‘d say, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  And, yes, any excuse to show this.

Who knew that it would be good for the global economy?  The Turkish shoemaker who made these shoes can‘t keep up with the demand.

And, Joel McHale and Craig Ferguson profess their love for all things Keith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, TV HOST:  I love Olbermann.  You and Olbermann have some kind of man thing going on, haven‘t you?

JOEL MCHALE, COMEDIAN:  Yes.  No, we‘re dating.  And I.

FERGUSON:  Really?

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON:  See, I kind of (ph) thought Olbermann liked me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FERGUSON:  Keith, how are you doing?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HALL (on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Tamron Hall.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.  This is Tuesday, December 23rd and 28 days until the inauguration of President-elect Obama.

On the day he arrested the Illinois governor earlier this month,

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald declared that there was no evidence that the

president-elect was involved in the Blagojevich scheme to sell Obama‘s

opened Senate seat.  But since that apparently was not enough to keep folks

from trying to link Obama to the scandal—on our fifth story on the

COUNTDOWN: The Obama transition has released its own Blagojevich report

which reveals that last week, Fitzgerald interviewed Obama himself, chief

of staff-designate, Rahm Emanuel, and adviser, Valerie Jarrett.  But also

shows yet again, that the president-elect and his staff, were not—repeat

not, involved.

Mr. Emmanuel had one or two conversations with Governor Rod Blagojevich during which the Senate seat was not discussed.  The report also shows that Emanuel had four conversations the governor‘s chief of staff, John Harris, who was also arrested by Fitzgerald.  In those conversations, the pros and cons of various Senate candidates were discussed.

At one point, ABC News has reported Mr. Emanuel made the case that Jarrett, an Obama confidant, should get the job.  In return for pick Jarrett, Harris asked Emanuel, quote, “All we get is appreciation, right?”  Emanuel responded, “Right.”  There was no mention of this exchange in today‘s report, a discrepancy we asked the Obama team tonight to clarify for us—no response as of yet.

But from the wire tapes released by Mr. Fitzgerald, we already learned Governor Blagojevich‘s reaction when he found out that all the Obama transition was willing to offer was its appreciation.  At one point, Mr.  Blagojevich called President-elect Obama “a mother”—my mom is watching so I won‘t say the rest.  Quoting the governor further, “They‘re not willing to give me anything except appreciation, bleep them.”

And, though, today‘s report says no quid pro quo was discussed, just the possibility of Blagojevich serving, as he suggested to a union official, as a member of the Obama cabinet, did not pass the last test with Jarrett herself.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CRAIG:  The union official describes to her a conversation that he had with the governor, in which the governor raised with him the idea that the governor might be considered as a possible candidate to be the secretary of Health and Human Services.  Ms. Jarrett viewed that as a ridiculous proposition.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

HALL:  Well, a lot to talk about with our political analysts, Richard Wolffe, also, of course, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Hello there, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Tamron.

HALL:  So, in terms of big surprises out of this report, would it be fair to say the only unexpected thing was that Fitzgerald has interviewed the three principals here?

WOLFFE:  Well, there are a couple of interesting wrinkles in this.  But there‘s nothing that even faintly approaches the illegal.  There‘s nothing that seems to be inappropriate.  Yet, there‘s an interesting sort of voyeuristic angle of Fitzgerald talking to the senior officials and obviously, the president-elect as well.  But, what‘s at the heart of this was the suggestion that somehow, transition officials were involved in this illegal deal, and they clearly were not.  So, we‘re hunting around for scraps here.

HALL:  Well, speaking of scraps, Richard, a lot of people are wondering if the RNC and other critics out there who seem to be, really, honestly salivating for a scandal, maybe a chink in the armor of the Obama transition, if these folks jumped the gun here.

WOLFFE:  Well, they are looking for a number of things.  Obviously, they‘re trying to put the transition on the defensive and tarnish the president-elect in some way.  What they‘ll really have here is guilt by association.  But it didn‘t work so well for them through the election and they tried very hard.

The other aspect, the other root they have here is that some of these transcripts that could finally come out show a discrepancy to this official report that Greg Craig wrote up, the incoming White House counsel.  If there is a discrepancy, they have some way to go in terms of the truth-telling questions.  But right now, there‘s nowhere else to take this story.

HALL:  Well, but, Richard, assuming that ABC got the quote right, between Harris and Emanuel, why wouldn‘t, though, the gist of that exchange be somewhere in the report that we saw today especially when you hear that all they were getting was appreciation, a slap on the back?

WOLFFE: Well, if ABC‘s quote is correct, then the official report is wrong in at least three places just on Rahm Emanuel.  I mean, it‘s three places.  Greg Craig says that Rahm had no conversation about a deal either with the governor, his chief of staff or with the senior staff on the transition team.  So, it would be a flat contradiction of what‘s in this official account.  If it‘s true, then Rahm Emanuel is in a very difficult position, again, because of truth-telling not because of illegal conduct.

HALL:  But let‘s talk about that here.  You‘re going to have a trial eventually.  You will have tapes.  The question of information being contradicted is a very real thing if we‘re not hearing everything in this report.  So, wouldn‘t the Obama team really work hard to put everything on the table to make sure that when this trial does happen, that they‘re not now back in the hot seat?

WOLFFE:  Well, you‘re absolutely right.  They do not want any surprises out of this.  And the interesting piece out of this official report is the vagueness around the account of Rahm‘s conversations.  They don‘t know how many calls there were.  In two points, there were several calls and nobody can really remember.  That‘s troubling if you‘re really trying to nail down the facts here and when you know that there are tapes out there.

HALL:  Well, let me ask you.  Last week, President-elect Obama said that he found it a little frustrating that the report had not been released.  He‘s in Hawaii now, not frustrated but relaxing.  But beyond Fitzgerald‘s request to hold off on the report and the release of it, has the transition, in your opinion, made any mistakes in how they handle this story?

WOLFFE:  And he didn‘t look very frustrated in those beach photos.  But I do think—I do think they have some mistakes and they really needed to get out this information much earlier.  They say it was Fitzgerald who asked them to delay.

HALL:  Right.

WOLFFE:  I think they could have come up with a verbal accounting of this and not look as if they were trying to be so evasive.  I think a lot of that may have come from this uncertainty about Rahm Emanuel‘s conversation.  But in that sense, not dealing with it early, letting it dragged on, that has cost them something.

HALL:  Because some people wonder, Richard, if this could have been a two-day story as opposed to a week, and maybe more than that now.

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Really, when you look at what‘s in this report, you think it should have been dealt with earlier.  That‘s the problem with a transition where it‘s split between Chicago and D.C. people who are concerned about their own jobs.  This is the kind of story that they needed to deal with early.

As such, it‘s been an important lesson for I think all of those folks when they get into the White House because they‘re running this train.  There is no other campaign to define themselves against.  They have to deal with this kind of thing much quicker when they‘re in the White House.

HALL:  All right.  Very interesting.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—thank you very much and Happy Holidays, Richard.

WOLFFE:   And to you, Tamron.

HALL:  Well, as far as the investigation of the Illinois governor‘s activity concerning Barack Obama, Blagojevich—he got a break today from none other than the man who charged them in the first place.  The special investigative committee of the Illinois legislature, considering the impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich asked the federal prosecutors whether they could interview people connected to the scandal.  But the U.S.  attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald, put the kabbash on that request, saying it, quote, “could significantly compromise the ongoing criminal investigation.”

I‘m joined now by our own Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post.”

Thanks so much for making time for us tonight.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Tamron.

HALL:  Well, Eugene, so, if the impeachment committee essentially can‘t gather their own evidence against Blago, how do they move forward on it now?

ROBINSON:  Well, first of all, Tamron, you, of course, know Illinois politics quite well.  But the Illinois State Constitution is pretty vague on what constitutes grounds for impeachment, impeachable offenses.  It pretty much seems to let the legislature define what would be grounds to impeach the governor.  It gives them a lot of latitude at the very least.  And there he is—this affidavit on file, filed the day that Governor Blagojevich was arrested.

The details of this whole series of allegations and the conversations as quoted by Patrick Fitzgerald now—is that enough for the House, essentially to indict him?  Because that‘s what the Illinois House would do.  It might well be.  Is that enough for the Illinois Senate to convict him and remove him from office?  I‘m not sure it is.  I‘m not sure what the sort of legal grounds are for that.

HALL:  Right.

ROBINSON:  But they can continue to move ahead.  They just don‘t have access to the primary sources.

HALL:  But is moving a head the only goal here?  Obviously, they want to impeach him and they might or at least someone believes that they need the wire tapes or some kind of hard evidence in this.  And as you know I live in Chicago and it‘s a tough town.  You got to bring it in some cases and it sounds like if Blagojevich wants to bring it, the other side certainly has to counter.

ROBINSON:  Exactly.  If you know, Governor Blagojevich, I‘m not sure I‘m nominating him for membership in Mensa, but he‘s played this pretty smartly.  He‘s held on to his office because if he had resigned when this first came out and everybody was telling him to resign, but in fact, he‘d just be another schlub who was under indictment by the U.S. attorney.  He‘s still the governor of Illinois.

That fact in and of itself is a tremendous bargaining chip that he has.  It might be a get-out-of-jail card at some point.  So, I think he‘s going to hold on to it as long as he can.

HALL:  Which would be incredible—so, if Blagojevich isn‘t leaving, the legislature can‘t force him out, what happens?  I mean, do the people of Illinois sit essentially as hostages here?  I mean, they had a radio show the other day, Eugene, that offered people a chance to throw a shoe at a cardboard cutout of Blagojevich and people signed up, a lot of people signed up.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  I think you could throw shoes at him all you want but you can‘t get him out of office until you do so legally.  And, short of impeachment or conviction, which clearly wouldn‘t happen for a long time, I‘m not quite sure how they can pry him out.  So, he‘s going to be there for a while as he said.  I believe him.

HALL:  Excuse me, Eugene, but I got to ask you then—what happens to the Senate seat?  Beyond the people of Illinois and their concerns and them not getting any business done, according to Lisa Madigan, the attorney general, what happens to that Senate seat?

ROBINSON:  Well, that‘s a good question.  The Illinois—the legislature could, I believe, pass a law and try to essentially do it by special election.  I think they could do that legislatively.  That‘s a political lead, dicey issue, however.  The Democrats would like to hold on to that seat.  Who knows what would happen in a special election, especially with a Democratic governor under this sort of cloud.

So, they don‘t want to go to a special election if they can help it.  But as I‘ve heard them talking, they certainly don‘t want to have Blagojevich appoint Obama‘s successor.  So my guess is that nothing happens for a while until we see if impeachment is going to be on train and if they‘re going to be able to make it work.

HALL:  So, Gene, if that is the case, let‘s go through a soap opera, we‘ll have a “Dynasty” moment here.  What happens if Blagojevich is still in office when Obama takes the presidency?  Isn‘t that going to cost a huge problem for Obama and that you got this guy in charge of your home state and thus in charge of things like potential block grants for a stimulus package?  Isn‘t he the problem child then?

ROBINSON:  This is the pageant of democracy, Tamron.  You know, this is what you have to deal with.

I‘m not sure how the administration would deal with it if they wanted to somehow, circumvent Blagojevich.  I don‘t know if they could earmark the money somehow.  I don‘t think so.  He‘s the governor.  He‘s going to be the governor for a while.  We need to get used to it.

HALL:  Oh, boy.  All right, Eugene, thank you very much.  Eugene Robinson of MSNBC and “Washington Post”—thank you so much and Happy Holidays.

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you, too.

HALL:  Good to talk to you, too.

ROBINSON:  Merry Christmas.

HALL:  The Illinois Senate seat is not the only political drama out there.  The Minnesota recount is running out of ballots to count and recount but the legal battle continues with no end in sight.  And in New York, why is Caroline Kennedy keeping quiet about so many questions?  Could it derail her chances to replace Senator Clinton?  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  Still ahead: Al Franken leads in Minnesota Senate race but Senator Coleman says his count shows him ahead.  No love lost between Vice President Cheney and Vice President-elect Biden.  And the Iraqi shoe-thrower is facing trial on New Year‘s Eve.  And Keith causes a bit of a fight on late-night TV.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  It makes the 2000 recount actually look short.  Minnesota is still without a senator, and unlikely to have one until after Congress is back in session.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Decision 2008 is now Decision 2009.  While the State Supreme Court has yet to rule on charges of double-vote counting, there is still the feat of some 1,600 incorrectly rejected absentee ballots to decide.  The state canvassing board is meeting to decide that December 30th.  Then the board won‘t meet again until January 5th, one day before the 111th Congress convenes.

And right now, the recount has Democratic challenger Al Franken ahead by just 47 votes.  His campaign is asking the board to reconsider some 43 other ballots in his favor.  But, Republican Norm Coleman‘s campaign claim that errors in the recount mean that he actually is ahead by 29 votes.

For his part, Senator Coleman is not worried, telling a local TV station, quote, “I‘m not really agonizing about the outcome.  Life goes on regardless of what your job is.  I certainly love what I do.  If I can keep doing it, I‘ll be thrilled.  And if I‘m not, I‘m sure I‘ll do something else.”  Adding to that, when it comes to the recount, he said, quote, “I feel fairly confident.  The numbers look good to us.  Certainly, there‘s uncertainty.  I‘m not worried about it.  I‘ve done everything I can do.”

And to another Senate seat up for grabs, that of Hillary Clinton in New York, a little personal information is known about one of the top candidates for the job, Caroline Kennedy.  But when the “New York Times” asked for some basic info such as whether she has ever been charged with a crime, or what companies she‘s invested in, Mrs. Kennedy declined, saying via a spokesman, that she will not disclose any such information until after she becomes a senator.

As to the likelihood of that—well—a Quinnipiac Poll finding that most of those polled, 33 percent want Kennedy in that seat, 29 percent say Attorney General Cuomo, 24 percent prefer someone else.  And that uncertainty about Kennedy echoed by Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman, who said of her handlers, quote, “They are basically Sarah Palin-ized her,” or “They basically Sarah Palin-ized her,” adding that DNA in this business can take you just so far.  “You know, Rembrandt was a great artist.  His brother, Murray, on the other hand, Murray Rembrandt wouldn‘t paint a house.”

Well, we‘re joined now by Erin Billings, associate editor with “Roll Call.”

Thanks so much, Erin, for joining us tonight

ERIN BILLINGS, ROLL CALL:  Thanks, Tamron.

HALL:  So, let‘s start in Minnesota.  The secretary of state says that they are not bound by Washington timetables.  So, if that is the case, could this go on indefinitely?

BILLINGS:  I hope not.

(LAUGHTER)

HALL:  That makes a lot of us.

BILLINGS:  I think they‘re hoping on January 5th they‘re going to actually certify either Senator Coleman or Al Franken as the winner.  What happens from there is the real interesting part.  I mean, you know, certainly, we‘ve had—what—six weeks of drama over this?  We‘re going to—we‘re almost into two months of drama.

But, you know, the loser could petition the Senate and ask to have the Senate do its own recount.  They could challenge it in court.  They could contest the certification by the canvassing board.  So, there are some other steps here that could still be exercise by one of these candidates.

And we just don‘t know.  I know that the hope is that they could have some resolution by January, and there may be an exhaustion factor here.

HALL:  Oh, God.

BILLINGS:  I mean, there maybe a point where Senator Coleman or Mr.

Franken decide, all right, enough is enough, let‘s just.

HALL:  Do you think they‘ll get so tired and just both pass out?

BILLINGS:  I don‘t.  I just, you know, there‘s a slim hope, Tamron, a slim hope.

HALL:  Yes.  So, I guess, we can hope for something interesting like that even though there had been so many twists and turns.  But, Erin, what does a lack of a senator from Minnesota, not to mention the lack of one in Illinois and that whole issue of things going on there—what does that mean for the next Congress?  Does it seriously hurt the Democratic Party and the president-elect?

BILLINGS:  Well, you know, we are looking at starting the next Congress on January 6th and we‘re probably not going to have a fully-seated Senate.  I mean, as you mentioned, Illinois is not going to be resolved.  Minnesota is probably not going to be resolved.  And then we have the issue of Senator Biden‘s seat and we have Senator Salazar from Colorado who‘s just been nominated as the interior secretary and, of course, we have New York.

So, the Democrats are going to have a little bit of a lift.  The only

saving grace, probably, is that the president-elect, Barack Obama, doesn‘t

want to push a lot of controversial issues early on.  He wants to deal with

deal from the middle.  He wants some consensus issues to go forward. 

You know, the first real test, obviously, is going to be that monster stimulus package.

HALL:  Right.

BILLINGS:  But that, notwithstanding, I mean, most of the issues are going to be bipartisan.  So, they will probably be able to kind of work their way through it initially.  But certainly, Majority Leader Harry Reid doesn‘t want to start this Congress off and have to wait through the first few months, down two, three, four, five senators.

HALL:  Let me ask you—let‘s go to Caroline Kennedy.  You bring out the issues here in New York, specifically, though, with Caroline—why won‘t she release this basic information in the interest of her own future here?  You know what people are thinking.  Suspicions start to come about.  Eyebrows start to rise.  Why the refusal?  It makes it appear that she‘s hiding something.

BILLINGS:  Well, I mean, you know, certainly one could make that argument.  I mean, on the one hand, she doesn‘t have to.  She hadn‘t been tapped at the appointee or the designee.  She‘s only expressed interest in the seat.  She has, I guess, running for the appointment.  But there‘s no legal reason why she has to make this information available.  So, she probably is thinking and her allies are probably thinking, “Well, why subject myself to further scrutiny?”

You know, as you know, Tamron, she has been under the media spotlight something fierce since her name surfaced as the prospective successor to Hillary Clinton and, you know, so she.

HALL:  But quickly, Erin, I want—I hate to interrupt you but I want to ask you about this, though, Sarah Palin thing.  I mean, there may be a list of about five people out there right now a lot of folks don‘t want to be compared to in the world of politics.  Sarah Palin, like it or not, may be one of those people on the list.  And when you‘re in a situation as Caroline Kennedy is now being compared by somebody within her party, wouldn‘t that inspire you to give up some of this information and maybe come out and be more vocal?

BILLINGS:  Well, I mean, there certainly have been some similarities here.  I mean, people have said that Caroline Kennedy is acting like Sarah Palin, not responding to the media questions, not making herself available, you know, not being forthright about where she is, where she stands on things.  So, certainly, that is something that she is having to wrestle with.

But, as I said earlier, she doesn‘t have to.  There‘s no legal reason for her to do it and she already is being—you know, she is the new flavor for the media.  They‘re so excited to have, you know, someone else to pay attention to.  After two years of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, now they‘ve got Caroline Kennedy.  And she probably figures, “Hey, why should I subject myself to more scrutiny if I don‘t have to?”

HALL:  All right.  Erin Billings of “Roll Call,” nice to talk to you. 

Happy Holidays, Erin.

BILLINGS:  You, too.

HALL:  All right.

Recount got you on edge?  Holidays stressing you out?  COUNTDOWN‘s on your side.  Next with Oddball.

And, who‘s on Keith‘s side in the late night face-off between Joel McHale and Craig Ferguson?

That and much more: Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  Good evening.  I‘m Tamron Hall, in for Keith Olbermann.

And it seems particularly appropriate that 185 years ago today, a brand new poem was published for the first time unanimously in the “Detroit Sentinel” of New York.  The true author still remains a mystery.  It was attributed to Clement Clarke Moore.  The scholars now think that Major Henry Livingston actually penned it.  Regardless of who wrote it, it remains one of the most famous poems in the world and it begins, “It was a night before Christmas when all through the house not a creature was starring, not even a mouse.

And on that note—let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tokyo, Japan, with a solution to holiday stress.  Instead of throwing the Christmas china at your loved ones, why not throw it at a wall instead?  That‘s the idea behind Katsuya Hara‘s mobile venting place, a traveling booth where stressed-out customers can pay for $2 for a cup or $11 for a plate and then hurl the dinnerware as fast as possible against the wall.  Apparently, this is scientifically proven to reduce stress until you realize you spent all your Christmas shopping money breaking plates.

And finally to Indianapolis, Indiana, where the RCA Dome has stood as a proud symbol and home to the Indianapolis Colts for more than 24 years, an enduring symbol of perseverance, honor and the Hoosier way, a noble edifice, sure to stand proud for generations and generation to come. 

Never mind! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  Speaking of that, things are blowing up between the current vice president and his placement.  The war of words between the two playing on TV.  Cheney, Biden, match up.  

And a shoe throw down; the apology that wasn‘t and why the journalist behind bars is now a hero to shoe salesmen.  Those stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best new city ordinance passed this week by the City Council of Brighton, Michigan, giving cops the right to ticket and fine anyone who is, quote, annoying in public.  It looks like the entire cast of “The Hills” will be steering clear of the Wolverine State this holiday season. 

Number two, best surprise Christmas gift, Tina Cook of Instow North Devon (ph) -- that‘s in the U.K.—who woke up in the middle of the night last Friday complaining of a severe stomach pain.  Ten minutes after arriving at the hospital, Miss. Cook delivered her third child, a five pound eight ounce boy named Alfie.  Miss Cook said she never knew she was pregnant.  She didn‘t even feel a kick. 

And number one, best reason for a trip to the pet salon?  Back to the U.K., where we meet Pete, the purple squirrel, who has folks in his hometown of Southington in Hampshire wondering exactly how his coat has turned a regal shade of purple.  One theory suspects he‘s been chewing into old printer cartridges and inking up his fir while grooming.  Another theory suspects some type of genetic mutation.  The crack staff of COUNTDOWN pretty sure he‘s really into Prince.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  On January 12th, 1848, the new Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln gave a speech explaining his opposition to the Mexican-American war and his demand that the President Polk produce evidence of his claim that Mexico constituted a threat.  Lincoln said that Polk wanted, quote, to escape scrutiny by fixing the public gaze upon the exceeding brightness of military glory.  You see where I‘m going with this?

Our third story tonight, Vice President-Elect Biden taking on his predecessor for an unrepentant embrace of military glory.  Cheney this week, of course, admitting one of the perks that historically make presidents, rather than Congress, prone to wage war, it gives them power.  According to Cheney, absolute power. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  If the president, during war, decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal? 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Umm, in general proposition, I‘d say, yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  Last night, Mr. Biden addressed Cheney‘s unconstitutional claim in a detour he took after he was asked about President Bush. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT ELECT:  Well, I‘ve known him a long time.  It‘s presumptuous to feel sorry for another man.  But I feel somewhat—I feel somewhat badly for him.  I think the incidents in Iraq was unfortunate, that guy throwing the shoes.  It was just uncalled for.  It was—I think that President Bush, unlike Vice President Cheney, is, upon reflection, beginning to acknowledge some of the serious, if not mistakes, misjudgment that he made. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  In fact, while a new CNN poll finds that 64 percent of Americans consider Cheney a poor vice president, including 23 percent who would pick him as worst ever, Cheney suggested that he‘s had the Constitution on his side. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  There are bound to be debates and arguments from time to time, and wrestling back and forth about what kind of authority is appropriate in any specific circumstances.  But I think that what we‘ve done has been totally consistent with what the constitution provides for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  Well, as Think Progress quickly pointed out, at least one respected Constitutional expert disagrees, namely, the Supreme Court, ruling in June of ‘04 that Bush and Cheney could not simply snatch up any one they wanted without access to the courts, under cover of calling them a suspected terrorist.  And, in June of this year, knocking down the Bush-Cheney ad hoc system of military justice, as well, as unjust.  The warrantless wiretapping we first told you wasn‘t happening and then, we‘re told, was legal, was found to be unconstitutional in a 2006 federal district court ruling. 

Other than that, totally consistent with what the Constitution provides for. 

Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell, who also is a contributor of “Huffington Post.”  Thanks, Lawrence, for making time for us tonight. 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be with you, Tamron. 

HALL:  So the vice president also took a shot at Mr. Biden, saying it sounds as though Biden will have a less consequential role than he did.  Can you talk to us about how history will portray Cheney‘s role?  And also, on an emotional level, what, for anyone else, would have been a personal, perhaps reflective farewell on friendly turf, his apparent utter lack of regret or even a glimpse humanity.  He close 9/11 as a highlight of the presidency. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, he said 9/11 was the most important moment of the presidency.  And I agree with that.  I don‘t think there‘s any question about it.  This is the only vice president in history who, in his office in the White House, had to get on the phone and ask the president of the United States for the authority to shoot down civilian airliners, and the president gave him that authority.  This is the only vice president who had to be run, physically run out of his office because it wasn‘t safe.  They believe it maybe attacked that day.  And that day changed both of those men. 

There are people who have known Dick Cheney a long time, who, a couple of years later, would say they didn‘t know who he was anymore.  They didn‘t recognize the way he thought about things.  And in terms of regret, Tamron, it‘s pretty rare to find politicians regretting things they‘ve done in the past, from Dick Cheney to Ted Stevens or anybody else.  There‘s two kinds of people in the world, the people who have things go wrong and look back at and say, what did I do wrong, and the people who have things go wrong and immediately say, well, I did nothing wrong.  It wasn‘t my fault.  And that‘s kind of what we‘re dealing with in the Bush administration, is that we did nothing wrong. 

So the Supreme Court, as you pointed out, thinks differently, especially about the detainees.  This is what they said this year in that 2008 case that you mentioned.  The laws and Constitution are designed to survive and remain in force in extraordinary times.  That is in direct contradiction to what the vice president has been saying. 

HALL:  You named two categories of people there, Lawrence.  Could there be a third category of politicians who look for any excuse to justify, perhaps, pointing to Cheney‘s claim of a Constitutional endorsement for this administration‘s every act?  Could that fall in a category of people who look for manipulation of the law? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, yes, and not only that, but on, say, weapons of mass destruction, the Cheney shadow government—and by the way, what Biden is saying is simply I will not run a shadow government out of the vice president‘s office.  That is, indeed, what happened during this administration, especially in the ramp-up to Iraq.  The Cheney team was unsatisfied with regular intelligence channels.  And they kind of set up their own method of evaluating intelligence.  They read it wrong and they were absolutely certain there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 

Dick Cheney was absolutely certain we would be, as he put it, welcomed as liberators in Iraq.  He‘s yet to correct himself on that.  He is yet to say, I regret constructing a plan that was based on the notion we would be welcomed as liberators.  He has no regrets for that. 

HALL:  Lawrence, speaking of notions, for the people at home who have not read the Constitution, or who don‘t have it sitting right beside the bed as we speak, can you debunk the notion that the war is a presidential get out of laws free card? 

O‘DONNELL:  Anthony Kennedy did that in the Supreme Court‘s decision this year on the detainees.  He said, liberty and security can be reconciled.  And in our system, they are reconciled within the law.  That is the principal that the vice president doesn‘t seem to understand.  He seems to believe, firmly, that liberty and security cannot be reconciled in our system, that you must, at certain times and extraordinary times, choose one over the other, and he chooses security over our traditional liberties. 

But this Supreme Court decision this year has very specifically said, that is wrong.  Our Constitutional approach is exactly the opposite. 

HALL:  And you may have, with that, explained that third type of personality that may exist out there.  Lawrence O‘Donnell of MSNBC and the “Huffington Post,” thank you so much, Lawrence.  Good to see you.  . 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Tamron.

HALL:  Joe Biden says the shoe throwing incident in Iraq last week was uncalled for.  Someone who doesn‘t agree, the guy who threw the shoe.  He might actually be good for the economy, too, sparking a worldwide shoe buying frenzy. 

And meet the Fockers, that would be Friends Of Countdown.  Apparently, Craig Ferguson is jealous of Joel McHale and wants a little Focker action himself.  I said Focker.

And coming up at the top of the hour with Rachel Maddow, Reverend Rick Warrens‘s Youtube address railing against the outcry against him.  But his message against the media is not as tolerant as he‘d like to think. 

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

Number three, get me out of this-gate.  President-Elect Barack Obama is coming under new pressure to do something about if foundering U.S.  effort in Afghanistan.  2008 set a record for American fatalities there.  The Taliban making steady advances and obviously, Osama bin Laden in little danger of getting caught by Mr. Bush‘s government.  Who‘s putting the pressure on Obama to do something about all of this?  The Bush administration.  The “Chicago Tribune” reports that Pentagon and national security officials are giving Obama the findings of various strategy reviews in hopes he will make a quick effective change to salvage the war Mr. Bush downgraded so he could go to Iraq. 

Number two, Wall Street versus Main Street-gate.  The Associated Press asked 21 banks receiving more than a billion each in bailout funds what they‘re doing with that money.  None of them gave a specific response, not one!  We do know that tax payers are subsidizing corporate jets for the bosses at six of these banks.  AIG has seven, Citigroup four, JP Morgan four, Bank of America nine.  What this says about the Bush administration bailout?  Priceless. 

Mr. Bush is not forcing any of them to give up their planes, but his auto bailout would force union workers to make no more than those at non-union shops like Toyota, arguing that high union wages hurt the car makers.  Yesterday, we learned that Toyota has had its first operating loss ever, despite the fact that Toyota already paid its workers exactly what Toyota does. 

And number one, she doth protest too much-gate.  White House Press Secretary Dana Perino blasted back at the “New York Times” report on how Mr. Bush‘s administration helped create the global economic crisis.  Here response, without naming a single factual error, apparently revealed how the White House thinks everyone operates, hint, think WMD.  Quote, “this story amounted to finding selected quotes to support a story that reporters fully intend to right from the onset, while disregarding anything that didn‘t fit their point of view.” 

So does anyone but the Times blame the Bush administration?  Talking Points Memo reports the SEC is reviewing years worth of closed cases to see how many got screwed up.  Veterans of Mr. Bush‘s SEC tell TPM that his appointee tried to dismantle the agency, and de-emphasize enforcement, leaving one post vacant for two years, the post charged with ensuring the SEC could anticipate financial upheaval like this one. 

And now, here we‘re in the land of milk and honey.  Michael Milk, honey. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  You know him as the host of “The Soup” on the E Network.  That‘s the show featuring the best, worst and weirdest clips of what‘s on TV.  In our second story on the COUNTDOWN, viewers of this show also know Joel McHale as a frequent guest, often joining Keith as a frequent guest in the capacity of social commentator, weighing in on the news and issues of the day.  Now the latest appearance by Joel McHale last night on “The Late Late Show” with Craig Ferguson.  What does that have to do with Keith Olbermann?  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG FERGUSON, “THE LATE LATE SHOW”:  Did you do Olbermann‘s show when you were there?  You and Olbermann have some kind of man thing going on, haven‘t you? 

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  No.  We‘re dating. 

FERGUSON:  See, I rather thought Olbermann liked me and then you came on the scene and he hasn‘t spoken a word to me since. 

MCHALE:  Well, he doesn‘t really understand a thing you say.  You have this crazy accent.  You left a couple of phone messages and I‘m like, I don‘t even know what he‘s talking about.  You need like closed captioning.  No, he—he doesn‘t like foreigners.  No, he likes you very much. 

FERGUSON:  Is it because you‘re both very tall?  Is it some kind of tall club that I‘m too short to be around?  Is that what it is?

MCHALE:  There is a height requirement to be on his show. 

FERGUSON:  I‘m 6‘2.  It‘s tall in some cultures.  In Scotland, I‘m a giant among the people there.  They are little hobbits.  I‘m like ahh, bring me tributes. 

MCHALE:  If Olbermann and I went there, we could take the country over. 

FERGUSON:  You could try.  Yes.  That would be fun to watch. 

MCHALE:  Right. 

FERGUSON:  I‘ll pay.  I‘ll take you over in my little plane.  Does he come to see your stand-up comedy show. 

MCHALE:  Yes, he came to the stand-up show in New York and he began sending me pictures—he was taking pictures of me. 

FERGUSON:  Of you? 

MCHALE:  Yes.  While I was on stage, and he was sending me the pictures.  And I‘m like, he‘s not even paying attention to what I‘m saying. 

FERGUSON:  Keith, what the hell are you doing? 

MCHALE:  What‘s wrong? 

I just hope next time he‘s just so—he‘s laughing so hard he drops his phone, maybe. 

FERGUSON:  He would never do that.  There‘s as much chance of that as him dropping his wallet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HALL:  From the “Late Late Show” to the shoe heard around the world.  It turns out the apology we told you about, not so much.  Does the thrower have any regrets?  Maybe not the smartest thing to be talking about a week before he goes on trial.  Details at the top of the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HALL:  Not since Nancy Sinatra immortalized “these boots are made for walking” has footwear become such a part of popular culture.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the maker of the shoes that an Iraqi journalists hurled at President Bush has been forced to hire 100 extra staff in order to keep up with the demand.  Meanwhile, that Iraqi journalist, he‘s set to stand trial on New Year‘s Eve and faces up to 15 years in prison if he‘s convicted. 

Muntadar al Zaidi, charged with aggression against a foreign head of state during an official visit, has not apologized for what he did, and reportedly said, if he had the chance, he would do it again.  He also says he was forced to write that letter of apology released last week, this according to his brother, who visited him in jail on Sunday. 

As for the Istanbul shoe maker, Serc and Turk (ph) has gotten orders for more than 370,000 pairs of Baiden (ph) shoes, the very kind used in the infamous shoe throw.  Requests fort he shoes have come in from all over the world, including 19,000 orders from the U.S.  The particular type, one called Model 271, has simply been renamed the Bush Shoes.

Let‘s bring in comedian Christian Finnegan.  Good evening, Christian. 

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Hi, Tamron, nice to meet you. 

HALL:  Nice to meet you too.  So outside of what Sarah Jessica Parker did for Manolo Blahniks, have any pair of shoes in the history of man ever created a stir like this? 

FINNEGAN:  Listen, Tamron, I don‘t claim to be an expert on the subject or particularly passionate on the subject of feet.  For that, you would have to flip over to Dick Morris on Fox News.  But this is definitely the biggest shoe-related political incident since Khrushchev.  If you compare the two, you can see how great the free market system is, because this anonymous reporter guy throws a loafer at the president.  All of a sudden, these things are the new Uggs. 

What happened with Khrushchev?  Bangs his state issue, Soviet model footwear number nine at the UN.  What happens?  No PR campaign.  No mentions of page six?  It was only a matter of time before that system collapsed.  

HALL:  Christian, I‘ll give you a little insight into the mind of a woman.  We judge men by their shoes and their watch.  Watch and shoes.  And this brand of shoes selling faster than this man can make them.  Is this the ultimate stocking stuff to give maybe a boyfriend or husband? 

FINNEGAN:  My family‘s taking it one step further.  In my house, they‘ve actually replaced stockings entirely.  We actually nailed these shoes up to the mantle and stuffed them with candy.  On Christmas morning, we‘ll sing “Joy to the World,” and I‘ll huck one of them at my dad‘s head.    

HALL:  Sounds like an attractive design of a home there.  By the way, don‘t you think it‘s a pity that this is not happening in America, because we know that retailers could certainly use the business, the boost of the shoe there? 

FINNEGAN:  Wow, let‘s not give the big three automakers any ideas here. 

HALL:  No competition. 

FINNEGAN:  We‘ll get the CEO of Chrysler trying to run down the president in a PT Cruiser.  Anyone who tries to injure the president should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  I will say this, if you are determined to pelt a public official, do the patriotic thing and throw American.

HALL:  Throw American.  Speaking of American, we haven‘t heard from Vice President Cheney about this incident.  What do you think he thinks of someone throwing a shoe at President Bush? 

FINNEGAN:  I kind of think Cheney gets turned on by stuff like this.  You know what I mean?  If the vice president had his way, that guy‘s shoe would have had a severed foot in it.  Here‘s my theory: I think the vice president is kind of like the collective sadistic older brother to the world, like he tortures you, giving you nuggies and purple nurples, until you flip out and take a swing.  And then whatever happens from that point on, you asked for it. 

HALL:  Riddle me this, Batman, will this be one of President Bush‘s fonder memories?  Do you think he and Laura Bush will be at their Texas home in their rocking chairs, thinking, oh remember when? 

FINNEGAN:  Yes, the good old days.  I don‘t know.  I‘m sure he‘s happy it happened at the end of his term and not the beginning.  Think of it, we could have had eight years of the Secret Service walking around press conferences with sacks like taking people‘s shoes as if they were car keys at a frat party.  Say what you want about the president, he did dodge that shoe successfully.  You‘ve got to put that in the win column.  That side of the ledger is pretty empty, so you take what you can get. 

HALL:  Let me ask you, lastly, Christian, you know how parents in the ‘70s—I‘m a kid of the ‘70s—they used to bronze your baby shoe.  Is this worth bronzing and maybe putting up on the mantel? 

FINNEGAN:  I think so.  I think they took down that statue of Saddam in Baghdad.  Maybe there‘s room for a new statue there.  

HALL:  All right, comedian Christian Finnegan, it‘s a pleasure to talk to you.  You made my night.  Thank you very much.   

That will do it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Tamron Hall, in for the vacationing Keith Olbermann.  Have a great night, everyone.  Mom, where‘s my text message saying I did a good job?  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rachel Maddow.  You know it‘s bad when your mother sells you out.  Rachel, where is my mom.

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

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