updated 1/7/2009 3:13:02 PM ET 2009-01-07T20:13:02

Guests: Howard Fineman, Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Alter, Ezra Klein, Margaret Carlson>

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

The inside intelligence about the pick for central intelligence: Did the president-elect deliberately not tell senators Feinstein and Rockefeller about Leon Panetta because of their proximity to the Senate rubber-stamping of torture?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT:  I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta.  I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we‘ve had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And if you think Panetta might be a pinata, Surgeon General Sanjay Gupta?  Not Dr. Nancy Snyderman?  What about Rick Sanchez?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Ah!  It hurts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The best drama in the Senate since Congressman Preston Brooks beat Senator Charles Sumner with his cane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROLAND BURRIS, FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the state of Illinois.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But the Senate says, “Nah, not so much.  Mr. Burris gets not a seat but a lawsuit amid increasing suggestions that the law is on his side.”

Two weeks to O-Day.  Inauguration plans finalizing, 10 inaugural balls, and breaking news from Margaret Carlson about one last incredible insult from the president to the president-elect.

Bushed: Farewell to the chief.  The military says goodbye to the 43rd president with some advice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  Next time, pick up the shoe and throw it back.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Worsts: Governor Sarah accused now of getting her future son-in-law an apprenticeship for which he was academically ineligible.  There‘s got to be more story behind this photo.

And speaking of that imagery—Ann Coulter.  NBC News was, quote, “caught promoting a fraud.  It‘s biased, untrustworthy.  It lies, cuts corners, is run by girly men, and you can‘t trust anything you see on it.”

So, why did she whine and cry and stamp her feet until she got to go and sell her book on NBC?

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Yes, I do not have a lot of fans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, January 6th, 14 days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The vice president-elect, Joe Biden, today is calling the transition‘s team leak of the Panetta pick at CIA without having first informed senators Feinstein or Rockefeller, the top two Democrats on the intelligence committee, quote, “just a mistake.”  If the transition did not make the mistake of neglecting to inform Senator Wyden—the one, two, three—third ranking Democrat on that committee, raising the question in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN—of whether the president-elect deliberately did end run around Mrs. Feinstein and Mr. Rockefeller, two Democrats who have failed to curtail if not enabled the Bush administration policy on the torture of detainees, and the wiretapping of its own citizens.

The president-elect today is making those phone calls to Feinstein and Rockefeller, two Democrats who have indeed failed to curtail terrorism, rather—torture, after the fact the toothpaste already out of the tube.  A transition official is describing the conversations as, quote, “very good.”  Adding that, quote, “they share views about the future direction of intelligence and their desire to consult closely on these issues.”  The kind of close consultation the transition had with Ron Wyden in advance.

Senator Wyden‘s office is telling the folks at TalkingPointsMemo.com that the Oregon Democrat had been consulted on the choice, and as we mentioned, the incoming chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Mrs. Feinstein and the former chairman, Mr. Rockefeller, not briefed.  After word of the selection leaked, both senators are criticizing the choice of Mr. Panetta, the former White House chief of staff for President Clinton, a former congressman, member of the Iraq Study Group, claiming that he—the agency needs to be led by an experienced intelligence professional.

This afternoon after her phone calls with the president-elect and vice president-elect, Senator Feinstein is telling Talking Points Memo that she, quote, “understands the transition‘s thinking in choosing Panetta,” describing herself as very respectful for president‘s authority, “this is the man,” Obama, “has chosen.”

President-elect Obama, meanwhile, is hastening to point out, albeit jokingly, that he has not officially chosen anybody yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT:  I have not made a formal announcement about my intelligence team.  That may be him calling now.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Finding out where it‘s at.  I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta.  I think that he is one of the finest public servants this we‘ve had.  He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In a moment, Rachel Maddow on this.

First, time to call in our Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Even if the assessment of the deliberateness of this can‘t be definitively answered, is it not as significant, at least, the transition team consulted on this pick of Leon Panetta with the number three Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee instead of going to either the incoming-chairperson or the former chairman?

FINEMAN:  Sure, it‘s significant, because the Obama team was trying to take the mountain by stealth and that they wanted to try to clear the ground and prepare the way through people like Wyden before they tried to take on the former chairman and the chairman.  This is about torture policy, as you were saying, but it‘s also about control of the CIA, Keith.

Obama has a plan.  He wants to put Dennis Blair, the admiral, former admiral in as head or director of national intelligence and wants a skilled bureaucrat and savvy guy like Panetta to try to tame the CIA and make it responsive to the White House.

OLBERMANN:  The leak, the pick, the announcement, the non-announcement.  Do we know—was this deliberate or did it just get out somehow ahead of Obama‘s official announcement, or even official leaks?

FINEMAN:  Well, having talked to people in the Obama circle and to people on the Hill, the senators and staff, my sense of this is that it wasn‘t leaked by the Obama team, it was leaked by somebody on the Hill who wanted to try to stir up trouble, and try to get DiFi and Rockefeller‘s backs up about it, which, at least, initially they succeeded in doing.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, they got the backs up in both DiFi and Rockefeller.  Now, they‘ve called and at least publicly they suggest they have or at least Senator Feinstein suggests she has been assuaged.  Where is this nomination at the moment?  Is it just ruffled feathers that have been smoothed over or is there some controversy here?

FINEMAN:  No, well, I think there are two serious points here.  One is about torture policy and Dianne Feinstein tried to underscore today that her argument that she doesn‘t have a dispute on the substance of that policy with Obama or his people.  She put in a first day bill or will be on the first day that the Senate meets officially to say that she is against coercive interrogation and she wants to close Guantanamo and so forth.

But this is really partly about who controls intelligence.  There was a new director of national intelligence job created.  The thought is it hasn‘t been run very well.  Now, this guy, Dennis Blair, who I think is going to be named, is going to run it, and Panetta is going to be the kind of chief operating officer to make the thing run properly.  That‘s what the argument is really going to be about.

I think, in the end, Panetta will be confirmed in tandem with Dennis Blair.  My understanding is: Obama‘s going to nominate both of them at the same time.

OLBERMANN:  This level of asserting themselves out of the Democrats all of a sudden, why did we not see this level of standing up for your position no matter which one it was in this equation when a Republican was in the White House?

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s simple enough.  It was the election results, Keith.  It was the sweeping nature of the victory not only for Obama but for Democrats.  They‘re in town now.  The 111th Congress has begun, however tumultuously.  They‘re going to assert themselves and they‘re going to try to get up ahead of steam before January 20th.

This has been a fascinating period, though, Keith, where, you know, some administrative problems, the difficulties, the partisanship, is already showing even before what is supposed to be the non-partisan celebration of the country itself on January 20th.

OLBERMANN:  And the specific—last point, Howard, the specific criticism of Panetta as more of a political person, as an executive as opposed to an intelligence guy, is that something of a paper tiger here?  Because it seems that maybe 50 percent of past CIA directors have matched his resume pretty much line for line.

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And don‘t forget, as chief of staff under Bill Clinton, he saw the intelligence briefings every day, although some people have pointed out he didn‘t know what was going on with Monica Lewinsky so how good a spy could he be?  But, yes, he knew what was going on.  And he knows how to make the government work and how to make the government adhere to the policy of the president, which is going to be very much different from the one that George Bush has.  That‘s the point.

There have been plenty of political people in the job at the CIA, especially George H.W. Bush, who did a very good job, and what is also a very political agency.

OLBERMANN:  Well, congratulations, six days into the New Year and I heard that old familiar name once again.  And that was Lewinsky.

FINEMAN:  Oh, why not?

OLBERMANN:  Well, that‘s the record so far.  Six is the longest I‘ve ever gotten into a year since then.  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek” and the big show alumni association—as always, great thanks, Howard.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Back to the symbolism and the substance of wanting Leon Panetta at the CIA and telling some people about it and not others.  Rachel Maddow is kind enough to drop by a few minutes early tonight.

Good evening, Rach.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Feinstein voted to confirm the attorney general, Mr. Mukasey.  There were only six Democrats who did that.  She was one.  She voted to let the telecom giants off the hook.  She voted to modify FISA.  She co-sponsored the bill that extended the Patriot Act.

Are we beginning to, perhaps, understand some of the thinking that goes behind this construction that the Obama transition team might not have viewed her as an agent of change they could believe in?

MADDOW:  You know, if Senator Feinstein had been appointed by Barack Obama to an oversight role, if she had been brought on as part of this new team, she and Jay Rockefeller, say, brought to Washington as part of the new Obama team to represent change from the Bush administration and the debacles of their intelligence years, then their rejection of this potential appointment of Leon Panetta at CIA would be a problem.  It would be a real rebuke for Obama.

But, you know, instead because Senator Feinstein and Senator Rockefeller were there throughout the intelligence community failures and intelligence community‘s debacles and crimes of the Bush years.  And they were in, nominally at least, in oversight roles during those years, I think their criticism here is more of a badge of honor than it is a problem for Obama.

OLBERMANN:  As you know, there are two completely contradictory meanings to the word “oversight.”

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  What Senator Feinstein said when President Bush nominated the infamous Porter Goss to run central intelligence, not a particularly good pick from anybody‘s point of view, the quote was, “I believe the president should have the prerogative to appoint who he wants to be the DCI or for any other senior position, subject only to the requirement that the person be qualified for the job.”

I mean, if that is what Senator Feinstein believed then, does that not apply to this president and this pick, or might that construction, again, that belief, be part of what went wrong inside the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence throughout the length of the Bush administration?

MADDOW:  That may be the most—the most interesting question here.  I mean, just in terms of the contrast from the Bush years to the Obama years, and Senator Feinstein‘s interest.  I mean, I don‘t remember her going so far as to propose alternate candidates for the job the way she had sort of suggested with talking about keeping the number two guy at the CIA on board, if Panetta is chosen.  So, she‘s made these contrary suggestions for Obama‘s pick but she didn‘t do that for Bush.

But in the broader question about the politics of intelligence here, I mean, it may be that the politics around intelligence are a problem itself.  It may be that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence now is less of an overseer of the intelligence community than it is a junior partner.  If you‘re on that committee, you get secret closed-door information.  You don‘t talk to your staff about it.  You don‘t talk to your colleagues about it.

We know from the Bush administration experience that you get asked to sign off on stuff.  We don‘t even find out if you have signed off on stuff until after the fact.  There‘s incredible deniability of any action that you take because it‘s also secretive.

I think there‘s a case to be made that congressional oversight in intelligence has been co-opted.  There isn‘t any more congressional oversight.  And so, we should see the people who represented that change under the Bush administration as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

OLBERMANN:  So, ultimately was that leak and the selection and the:

we‘re telling Wyden, we‘re not telling either Feinstein or Rockefeller—was that a message to those who supported that system you just described and also a message specifically to Democrats who have collaborated, if you will, if that‘s not too strong of a word, with George Bush over the last eight years?

MADDOW:  The history of intelligence debacles and criminality under the Bush administration, whether it‘s warrantless wiretapping or torture or imprisoning people without charges and saying it‘s legal because it‘s happening in another country—the history of that has almost been written.  We await only of the exciting conclusion to this chapter, which is, will there be prosecutions?

And that history has been written.  And the people who were in nominal oversight roles, and didn‘t do their jobs, didn‘t blow the whistle, didn‘t rein in the intelligence community, and they‘re overseer and the people giving them direction from the White House during those awful years, they are on the wrong side of that history, and that‘s what this pick signifies.

And that‘s why, I think, Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller didn‘t get a heads up.  And that‘s why, I think, it doesn‘t matter that they don‘t want Leon Panetta in there.  They don‘t necessarily get a say here.

OLBERMANN:  And at the trial, it will all come down to what your definition of oversight is.  Rachel Maddow, who will have much more on the meaning of the Panetta pick when we see her again at the top of the hour.  Great thanks, as always, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  To say nothing of the continuing saga of possible Senator Burris of Illinois, conventional wisdom insisted there was no way the Senate would ever let him in.  But just as they actually did turn him away today, conventional wisdom so shifted that it was suggested that, legally, the Democrats have no choice but to seat him.  The breaking news of that suggestion has just come from a senior Democratic senator.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In a few short days, Roland Burris has gone from being the Senate-appointee from the “state of corruption” to a man whose right to serve has tonight been endorsed by a senior Senate Democrat.

And, an unexpected twist to that happy picture of the Obama family

staying in a Washington hotel, because the Bush administration said that

the traditional temporary residence of the incoming-president was booked

until the 15th.  It ain‘t.  Ugly details ahead

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The 111th Congress began its historic term today with a misreading of its own rules on who can be in the 111th Congress?  Our fourth story tonight: Breaking news in the lonely saga of the hypothetical Illinois Senator Roland Burris—support from Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Rules Committee.  Why is that?

Here‘s what happened today.  First, Burris, had to wait just to ask for his one job at the Senate today, to make way for the arrival of a guy who‘s temporarily getting two jobs there this month, incoming senator and soon to be vice president, Joe Biden.  After a 20-minute meeting with the secretary of the Senate, Burris was turn add way but had to wait again, this time for the, literally, outgoing president of the Senate, Vice President Dick Cheney.

When Burris got outside, literally and figuratively, he explained why he was turned away from joining and fighting 111th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURRIS:  Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the state of Illinois.  I presented by credentials to the secretary of the Senate, and advised that my credentials were not in order and I would not be accepted and I would not be seated and I will not be permitted on the floor.

And, therefore, I am not seeking to have any type of confrontation.  I will now consult with my attorneys, and we will determine what our next step will be.  Thank you all very much and God bless each and every one of you.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Specifically, the secretary of the Senate said that Burris‘ certificate of appointment lacked the state seal and the signature of the Illinois secretary of state.  And, therefore, does not conform with Senate rule two, except that—no, rule two requires the secretary of the Senate to enter in her records the signing secretary of state‘s name but it only recommends that the appointee actually gets that signature, “if they see fit,” it reads.  And, in fact, Illinois law does not give the secretary of state there the option of signing.  That secretary is legally required to.

Burris is set for talks with Senate Leader Harry Reid tomorrow and the “New York Times” says Democrats expect this to end up with the rules committee, whose chair, Dianne Feinstein tonight says Burris should be seated.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats also decided not to seek Senator-apparent Al Franken of Minnesota after the Republican governor there refused to certify his victory.  Today‘s lawsuit by former Senator Norm Coleman challenging that victory, triggers state law, barring certification of any election with pending legal challenges.

On Capitol Hill today, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s handle Franken before we get to Burris.  The state law seems clear.  He didn‘t get certified until the lawsuits are resolved.  It would make sense that the Senate would not seat him.

ALTER:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  It seems too simple.  I‘m missing something, aren‘t I?

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER:  Yes, just to get the mood on Capitol Hill today, you would think that there would have been two confrontations but Al Franken decided not to come to Washington today.  I think it was under some consideration.  But he realized that, actually, there‘s about a week according to Minnesota state law for some of this to get resolved.

Of course, the high court of Minnesota has sided with Franken every step of the way.  It is a bipartisan court.  But it‘s expected not to reverse itself.  And so, there is every indication that Franken will be—will be seated.  This thing is not going to turn around in Minnesota.

OLBERMANN:  All right, to Illinois.  Rod Blagojevich has been convicted of no crime.  He‘s still the governor, hasn‘t been impeached.  He is empowered by state law and by the U.S. Constitution to fill a Senate vacancy.  Wacky or not, and even if the choice is wacky or not, and continually introducing himself to everybody—is there any other interpretation than that, legally, Burris is in the right here?

ALTER:  Well, if you talk to people in Harry Reid‘s office and in the Senate, you would say, yes, there is another interpretation that has to do with the Senate‘s interpretation, not only of its rules but also of its customs.  You know, in the Senate, everything is not so cut and dry and legalistic.  A lot of it has to do with traditions.  And they indicate that in the past they‘ve required the John Hancock of the secretary of state of all 50 states, on a piece of paper, before somebody is seated.

Now, whether that turns out to be fully accurate or not, and when people look more closely at it, who knows?  But they‘re in a pickle here.  And it‘s a pretty amusing one for those of us who remember Roland Burris going back to the 1970s when I first met him in Chicago, and he was Casper Milquetoast of Illinois politics.  And here he is in one of the most dramatic, you know, showdowns in recent Washington history.

I was with a cameraman out there today, Keith, and he said that this was the biggest “cluster F” since Monica Lewinsky.  You know, this was a big dramatic deal today when they had that little standoff outside the Capitol.

OLBERMANN:  Or, as I suggested, the greatest excitement in the Senate since the caning of Senator Sumner.

ALTER:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  But the overall point here, no matter what Harry Reid thinks or whatever their interpretation in the Senate, at what point do they have to cut their losses because this begins to look ridiculous?

ALTER:  Well, I think we‘re well into ridiculous.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

ALTER:  We‘re not at the beginning of it.

They‘re having this meeting tomorrow morning.  There are the outlines of a deal.  I have no indication as to whether this will take place.  But there are a lot of rumors about it, that in exchange for agreeing not to seek a full term in 2010, that Roland Burris would agree—would be seated, but that he would not run for election and that Dick Durbin, who will be in this meeting tomorrow morning, would essentially broker that deal.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see.  Every other deal has gone south.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC on the Milquetoast beat.  Great thanks, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Coultergeist dropped to the warm hole that is logic.  If she says you can‘t trust anything you see on NBC, why is she so desperate to get on NBC?  And if you think the position she‘s in is a little embarrassing—this is next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment.  And if Ann Coulter is right and you can‘t believe anything you see on NBC, why is she so desperate to go on NBC?

First, this date in 1412, is one of several given as the birthday of Jeanne d‘Arc, we call her Joan of Arc.  I‘m not saying this didn‘t happen, but she said that starting when she was a peasant girl of 12, saints Catherine and Margaret and the archangel Michael began to talk too her from heaven about how she had to save France by driving out the English.  By the time she was 17, she talked her way into the confidence of the French king and was given the military command, and within about a week, she had relieved the besieged French garrison at Orleans.  And then the British caught her and she was 19, and we all know how that turned out.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin on the ski slopes in Vail, Colorado.  Do you see anything unusual here?  Like a man hanging upside down partially naked from the lift?  Something tells me he did not start out upside down and pant-less, but back on New Year‘s Day, this unidentified gentleman and his son got into a chair lift and after some kind of malfunction, the man slipped out of his chair and out of his pants and became suspended by his right ski.

Luckily, someone saw the bottomless dangler and stopped the lift.  The man was rescued after about 15 minutes.  While he may have shown off his birthday suit and lost his snow suit, he sure did gain a great lawsuit.

To the Washman Auto Spa in Portland, Oregon, where you get a brushless rinse, a deluxe wax and if you try to rob the place, they‘ll power-wash your face for you.  That‘s attendant Chris Truax pounding the would-be robber with soapy water squirting at 2,000 pounds per square inch.  Mr.  Truax guessed the creep was bluffing when he said he had a gun, so he lured him over near the power-washer and let loose.  The thug is still on the lam.  He‘s considered armed and dangerous but exceptionally clean.  Unfortunately for his heroics, Mr. Truax was then arrested on an old warrant on a DUI charge. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s fire well from the military; he gets all emotional.  Probably was thinking about giving up golf to honor the troops he sent to their deaths. 

And as the plans for the inauguration come together, word of a final diss from the 43rd president to the 44th

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best prediction you can probably ignore,  Professor Antonio Velasquez Alba—sorry, Vazaquez Alba, sorry—the grand warlock of Mexico, who predicts the US will pull troops its troops out of Iraq this year and use them instead to invade Mexico.  Among the warlock‘s predictions last year, oil prices would be stable and Britney Spears would drop dead. 

Number two, best neat trick, Tangornika Woods of Rochester, Michigan. 

She gave birth to twins last week.  Terrance was born at 11:51 p.m.  December 31st, 2008.  Tarik was born at 12:07 a.m. January 1st, 2009.  Yes, twins, a year apart. 

Number one, best childish, desperate, self-hating whiner, Ann Coulter.  never has anybody who respected a news organization less wanted, need, begged for the attention of that news organization more.  After in her latest republishing of her one idea with another new title, portraying NBC as a purveyor of lies which has been, quote, “caught promoting a fraud,” she not only pleaded to appear on evil NBC first, before Fox, before Fox News, before right wing radio.  She not only pleaded to launch the book‘s publicity tour on NBC, but she proved so emotionally fragile that when that NBC appearance was canceled, she concocted a phony martyrdom story that she had, quote, “been banned for life from NBC.” 

Incredibly, even as she was spreading that lie, Ms. Coulter was also behind the scenes supplicating herself, crying, bleating, screeching, begging, even, old, unreliable, non-journalistic, untrustworthy, immoral, hypocritical NBC to please, please, please let her come on to promote her book, which is, in part, about why how evil, unreliable, non-journalistic, untrustworthy, immoral and hypocritical NBC is. 

The question, of course, is what kind of ethics, what kind of standards, what kind of self-respect would somebody have to have to go to such lengths to appear on a network that one considers the embodiment of falsehood and deception?  The answer, you‘d have to no have no ethics and no standards and no self-respect.  For if you think that NBC is full of virtual pimps of dishonesty, if you‘re going on NBC, Ann, what does that mean you think you are?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He‘s a real doctor, and he plays one on TV.  Our third story of the COUNTDOWN, President-Elect Obama‘s apparent choice for surgeon general.  No, no Dr. Phil.  Not Doogie Howser.  Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.  All right, let it out.  Your first thought possibly something like this, isn‘t this like making Judge Judy the attorney general? 

Gupta served as a White House Fellow in 1997, where he advised and crafted policy for then First Lady Hillary Clinton.  He is a skilled neuro-surgeon, who while reporting for CNN from Iraq, performed five different brain surgeries, including one on a two-year-old child.  And he has spent seven years in the communications business, which is presumably why sources have told the “Washington Post‘s” Howard Kurtz that Obama believes Dr.  Gupta would be the most high-profile surgeon general ever. 

Hopefully better known than this guy.  Can you name him?  That is the current acting surgeon general, Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson.  Duh. 

I‘m joined now by Ezra Klein, associate editor at the “American Prospect Magazine.”  Great thanks for your time, sir. 

EZRA KLEIN, “THE AMERICAN PROSPECT”:  How are you doing? 

OLBERMANN:  As TV as he is, and I‘m speaking from personal experience, he is transparently TV.  Is he among the most qualified candidates for this job? 

KLEIN:  He is.  If you think about surgeon general, on the one hand, he should be a doctor and he is.  He‘s a neuro-surgeon.  And he still—one thing important about him, he still publishes.  He still practices.  He‘s a practicing neuro-surgeon, as far as I know.  But the other thing is, the surgeon general position is a position of education now.  It‘s a position, since really the cigarettes—since you began having the surgeon general weigh in on every smoking decision anybody makes, it‘s become a position of national public health. 

And he‘s more trained for that than any other physician in the country.  I don‘t think you could find anyone else who has both the degree he has and the amount of media experience he has.  One thing you didn‘t mention in the intro here is that he has also been given health policy responsibilities.  He will be part of the health reform effort. 

I think that‘s important, too.  Part of what he‘s going to be doing there is selling the administration‘s health care plan.  Again on that, he has enormous experience communicating medical and health policy, for that matter, concepts to the public.  so for what this position is, which is sort of a medical communications position, he‘s sort of uniquely qualified. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned the smoking and surgeon general Dr. Terry, I believe it was.  But is it instructive that maybe the most visually memorable of the recent attorneys—attorneys general—the recent surgeons general, C. Edward Koop from the Reagan administration.  He‘s 92 years old and he‘s still on television now, selling Life Alert bracelets.  Do you suggest this is a medical public relations, publicity promotion job.  Gupta, in it, is that sort of the national evolution of the way this job is going or should have been going? 

KLEIN:  Very much.  C. Everett Koop, he wears one himself. But with Gupta right—C. Everett Koop sort of accidentally fell into that job.  He became known in a way because he was a recognizable figure.  Gupta is the professionalization of that function of the job.  Unlike Koop, who happened to be the sort of guy who obtained notoriety, by virtue of being a sort of interesting individual, Obama and his people clearly sat down, tried to figure out what the surgeon general is now, decided it is a position where what we want is a PR guy, the sort of person who could be memorable years down the line for having helped us sell our health care plan, or having helped attack the obesity crisis. 

Pick someone with that skill set.  No longer is it just a very well-known and even politically connected doctor, but again a media professional.  This is the first time I think that any president has reimagined the surgeon general that way, has codified what has been the sort of natural evolution of the position over the last couple of decades. 

OLBERMANN:  You touched on this, Howard Kurtz‘s sources said that Dr.  Gupta would, quote, “have an expanded role in providing health policy advice.”  Any idea at this early stage of what that means exactly? 

KLEIN:  It‘s hard to say, but if he‘s providing advice, he is almost certainly going to be providing advocacy.  So what you‘re going to have in Gupta is a guy who was the most credible, in the mind of the viewer, media doctor around in quite some time, who has enormous public recognition, and who will be out there as a medical profession, arguing for Obama‘s health care plan. 

And I want to know that it‘s not the only time Obama did this, right?  When he picked Tom Daschle for health czar or for HHS, he also made him colloquially health czar.  He made him head of the White House Office of Health Policy Reform.  What you are seeing is a very concerted to not remake the mistakes of Clinton.  In 1994, people feel they did a very bad job selling to Congress.  Who did they get to sell to Congress?  A former majority leader this time. 

And they felt they had a very bad media strategy.  People thought it was going to take away their doctor.  They weren‘t able to explain it clearly.  Who did they get to explain it clearly to the public?  The best known, essentially TV oriented doctor in the country.  So this is a very thought through pick.  And I think it really has to be viewed with the lens of health care reform on it.  And they‘re really making an effort, step by step, to make sure they do not repeat any of those mistakes.  They may make their own, but they‘re not going to make Bill Clinton‘s. 

OLBERMANN:  Just as long as they don‘t set some sort of precedent and

take an entire cabinet full of television people.  It might be a disaster -

no, it would be a disaster.  Ezra Klein of the “American prospect, great thanks, sir. 

KLEIN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Two weeks to the inauguration.  The polite time for what President Bush has done to the president-elect is ungracious.  The impolite turn is petty.  Margaret Carlson with a stunner. 

Worsts, what did she do now?  Tried to fix it so her future son-in-law could get an apprenticeship for which he was academically ineligible? 

And coming up when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the mechanics of a Roland Burris in the Senate.  Is he denied committee seats?  Do the other senators shoot spit balls at him?  Are your worst high school fears reenacted at his expense? 

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

Number three, rape of the environment-gate.  Mr. Bush‘s last minutes effort to pillage nature now so bad that even the president‘s co-conspirators in this are backing slowly away from them.  Just last week, the undersecretary of agriculture said a sweetheart deal to let the Plum Company Timber Company develop vacation homes inside U.S. parkland was full steam ahead.  The company, Plum Creek, has now, quote, decided not to go forward with the scheme that would have allowed it to build tracks of houses within the mountain forests of Montana. 

Number two, that‘s all you got-gate?  Fred Barnes of Fixed News and the “Weekly Standard” writing that he had a private lunch with Mr. Bush on Friday and asked him what he felt his biggest domestic policy accomplishment had been in office.  Mr. Barnes writes, quote, topping his list with his unsuccessful drive in 2005 to reform Social Security.  Bush showed his effort showed it‘s politically safe to campaign on changing Social Security, and then actually seek to change it. 

That should make you shudder.  Mr. Bush‘s greatest domestic accomplishment, that he tried to privatize Social Security, setting aside for the moment the fact Mr. Bush seems not to have noticed that he failed; with the collapse of the housing, mortgage, banking and auto industries, and Wall Street, what would have happened to all of those privatized Social Security accounts if he had succeeded? 

And number one, farewell to the chief-gate.  At Fort Myers in Virginia today, Mr. Bush got the presidential military send off with some laughs, some tears and some lies. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The decisions I made as your commander in chief have not always been popular, but the cause you have served has always been just and right.  The missions you have carried out have always been necessary.  This morning, I want all of you and your families to hear your commander in chief loud and clear: we appreciate you.  We love you.  And we honor your service. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But not enough to not lie to the country into a war which you guys had to fight. 

As to the laughs, messages from the front line soldiers were read to the president, including this bit of Army satire. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, nice to see that our president is still quick on his feet after eight years in office.  Next time, pick up the shoe and throw it back. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Boy, you know what, next time you can do what Vice President Cheney would do, and just re-enact the logic used in going into Iraq in the first place: use the thrown shoe as an excuse to invade Iran.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The story about the president-elect having to stay in a hotel rather than Blair house may be exactly that, a story to cover what turns out to be an insult from the out-going commander in chief to his successor.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘S number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze tonight to Tom McCluskey, vice president of James Dobson‘s lobbying outfit Family Research Council, protesting the nomination of Thomas Perelli by the president-elect to become the number three man at the Justice Department.  Why?  Because Perelli was one of the lawyers who represented Michael Schiavo as he tried to end the Gothic nightmare induced by the far right, as he struggled to have a court order enforced to remove the breathing tube from his wife, Terri, whose brain function has ceased. 

The careers of Senate Majority Bill Frist and his House counter-part Tom Delay crashed in large part because they took this private tragedy into Congress and exploited it politically, even as 70 percent of this country told them to stop their cynical manipulation of this beleaguered family.  Now these Dobsonian theocrats are protesting an appointment at the Justice Department because the man was on the morally and legally correct side of the debate. 

The runner up tonight, comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Look, we‘re all used to the hypocrisy, like how he attacked anybody who dared to suggest that George Bush‘s election might have been fraudulent, but now says, “we did not elect Al Franken.  He stole the race.  They‘re stealing the race up there blind in front of everybody‘s nose.  They‘re counting absentee ballots.” 

But the bald-faced lying about sourcing in this is something new and special.  Comedian added, “the Wall Street Journal” has a story on this.  They are counting votes twice.  “The Wall Street Journal” does not have a story on this.  It‘s rabid, fire breathing, lunatic fringe editorial page wrote a screed about it.  Limbaugh is not the only commentator on radio or TV who has deliberately represented a partisan “Wall Street Journal” editorial as a, quote, news story.  But he‘s the foremost of them. 

But our winner, Governor Sarah Palin.  The father of her grandson, Levi Johnston, has now quit his job in the oil fields of Alaska‘s North Slope after a newspaper columnist pointed out to get the electrical apprenticeship Johnston had, applicants were supposed to have had a high school diploma.  Levi Johnston, of course, dropped out.  The columnist wondered if the governor might have used her influence to get the rules bent for her supposed future son-in-law.  Maybe it was her husband, who works on that same oil field. 

They deny it, which I‘m willing to believe, even though Levi Johnston‘s response to this scandal was to quit his job, which is an indicator of innocence.  Sure it is.  I‘m believing this because it doesn‘t matter, because the governor is the bottomless pit of political scandals, the all you can eat buffet of political scandals, the endless wedge of Velveeta of public scandals.  Governor Sarah Palin, today‘s worst, and by worst, I mean the gift that keeps on giving and I would be lost without her, person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The president-elect has not complained about what might be a flat-out insult from the out-going administration of President Bush.  More on that with the reporter that broke this story and this sorry tale connected to it, Margaret Carlson, presently.  Two weeks from today, in our number one story, an inauguration guaranteed to be momentous, with the imprint of history, and tailored to set a new tone from a new president, proceeded by a train procession, a public concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and a day of community service. 

Then the inauguration, and that night the inaugural balls.  The Presidential Inaugural Committee today formally announcing a first-ever youth ball, with reduced ticket prices, a neighborhood ball, which will welcome D.C. residents, and the military ball, which will be broadcast for the first time worldwide.  A total of ten festivals.  Most non-security costs of the inauguration funded privately.  The Inaugural Committee having raised more than 24 million dollars towards a goal of 40 to 45 million. 

Meantime, House Speaker Pelosi has confessed her own grandchildren are going to be skipping her own swearing in favor of Obama‘s.  But the spit in the punch bowl, the Bush administration‘s claim that Blair House was unavailable to the Obamas until January 15th due to prior bookings.  Let‘s turn now to Bloomberg News political columnist and the Washington editor of “The Week Magazine,” Margaret Carlson.  Good evening, Margaret. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So the Obamas are in a hotel for now, admittedly a lovely hotel, for another nine days because the Bush administration says Blair house is unavailable.  As I have been hinting, you have information that suggests that‘s not entirely correct? 

CARLSON:  Well, I reported, but also the “Washington Post” reported on December 11th and 12th that there were no foreign dignitaries booked into Blair House during that period of time.  It turns out that a former prime minister of Australia is going to be staying there overnight soon.  However, not only is he a former, but I have a feeling they asked him to come and stay, so that there might be some plausible reason for not letting the Obamas stay there. 

Blair House is—looks small, but it‘s actually 119 rooms with 35 bathrooms.  Howard wouldn‘t even have to share a sink with the Obamas. 

There‘s a dry cleaning, a florist, a beauty salon.  There‘s everything

there.  It‘s a little town.  But most importantly, it‘s secure.  By staying

having to stay at the Hay-Adams, not only do the Obamas have to move twice, which nobody likes to do, but the security cost to taxpayers is enormous, because the area a block away from the White House is totally cordoned off with barriers and police cars and buses to keep it locked up. 

And downtown is already completely jammed, because so much of it is cordoned off.  It would have been a small thing for the Bushes to say yes.  They still have control over Blair House, and they decided to say no. 

OLBERMANN:  As one caveat here, given how unpopular John Howard is in Australia at the moment, it‘s possible that he‘s coming here to seek political asylum.  So he might need the whole place. 

CARLSON:  And that no hotel would take him. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  But—what startles me, and what has startled me with so much of this administration, how could the Bush administration possibly think that all of this wouldn‘t get out? 

CARLSON:  Well, it doesn‘t matter that much anymore, when we‘re being left with our retirement funds, you know, losing 50 percent of their value and we‘re mired in two wars, one of which was unnecessary.  Saying there‘s no room at the inn to the Obamas, you know, is just a feather next to all of that. 

OLBERMANN:  To turn to the brighter subject here, the inaugural ball, ten of them here, a common modern facet of the day‘s events.  But is there a risk given what you just described here, that it‘s a poor match with the present circumstances in the country? 

CARLSON:  Well, given the circumstances, the inaugural committee is trying to tamp down some of the excesses of balls past, so that there‘s—

I think the best ball they‘re doing is the Commander in Chief‘s Ball, which is open for free—most of the balls cost money to go to—to all enlisted military and any wounded veterans who can—who can make it.  And Obama will be going to that one, of course.  And that will be shown, you know, in bases all around the place.  It will be beamed out of Washington. 

Then there‘s the Neighborhood Ball, which is at the D.C. Convention Center.  And that I think of as MeetUp.org, where you‘re supposed to be having balls on your own street corners and church basements and high schools at the same time the Neighborhood Ball is going on in the convention.  And they‘re going to try to beam that into different places. 

And then young people get a cut-rate ball.  Instead of the usual 150 dollars, they are 75 dollars.  And they haven‘t released whose going to perform, but one of the problems with these balls, Keith, is—I went to the two Clinton balls as a reporter.  It‘s like a birthday party where the guest of honor doesn‘t show up or he shows up for a second.  So you‘re just standing around.  But the entertainment is supposed to be very, very good, so that the absence of Obama for more than a few minutes won‘t be so noticeable. 

OLBERMANN:  Plus, if you‘re having one of those Neighborhood Balls, apparently John Howard is available as a special guest if you need it. 

CARLSON:  Right, fresh from Blair House. 

OLBERMANN:  Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News and “The Week Magazine,” thank you for that and thank you for this, as always. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,068th 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.

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