updated 1/14/2009 3:29:51 PM ET 2009-01-14T20:29:51

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson, Chris Hayes

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

Hit job: The confirmation hearings are for Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, obstructionist Republicans want to talk about Bill Clinton.

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SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, ® INDIANA:  The core of the problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state.

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OLBERMANN:  When they let the nominee talk about her job and her vision, she proposes mixing political, legal and culture tools into the post-Bush version of real American powers with real American values.

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SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), SECRETARY OF STATE DESIGNATE:  With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of our foreign policy.

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OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, school‘s out forever: The final Bush cabinet meeting.

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PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  This administration has had a good, solid record, and I‘m very proud of it.

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OLBERMANN:  A good, solid record of job placement.  Seventeen of 24 former members took positions with 40 companies, which lobbied the agencies those cabinet officials used to head.

The vice president defends—Gitmo.

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VICE PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY, UNITED STATES:  Guantanamo is sort of a symbol, I guess, to the left in this country and maybe to some of our critics overseas.  But the fact is, it‘s a very well-run facility.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hey, maybe you can retire there—Dick.

Gonzo-gate is back.  His acting director of the civil rights division, Bradley Schlozman, testified to Congress that on personnel decisions he never considered politics or ideology.  While in his office, he called liberal career Justice Department lawyers treacherous, disloyal, not on the team and pinkos.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Nobody has a right to lie under oath.

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OLBERMANN:  Worsts: Billo the Clown defends torture by showing .

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OLBERMANN:  . a clip from “24.”

And, Sarah Palin gives her 1,000th post election interview, complains to “Esquire” about “bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie,” insists “the comment about, you can see Russia from Alaska?  You can!”—reveals the McCain campaign muzzled her.

Governor, how can we miss you if you won‘t go away?

All of that more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

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BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Whoa!

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OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, January 13th, seven days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today calling Senator Hillary Clinton, quote, “the epitome of a big leaguer,” making reference to working with her when she is secretary of state, adding that “her qualifications for the post are remarkable.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Since her fitness for the job is not and never was the question, congressional Republicans today, instead, drudging up their most memorable accomplishment of the 1990s, pointlessly beating up on her husband.  Call it the impeachment of President Clinton part two, the charitable works edition.

At her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, Senator Clinton, overshadowed by the former president, Senator Richard Lugar is taking the lead in raising questions about potential conflicts of interest, due to Mr.  Clinton‘s global fundraisings for his charitable foundations.  Mr. Lugar of the opinion that Mr. Clinton‘s charities should stop taking all foreign donations while she is secretary of state.

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LUGAR:  The bottom line is that even well-intentioned, foreign donations carry risks for United States foreign policy.  This was bound to be a dilemma from the moment that the president-elect asked you to become secretary of state.

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OLBERMANN:  But a deal for addressing the dilemma long since reached under the plan worked out in late November by Clinton officials and the Obama transition team.  The Clinton foundation will be allowed to accept new contributions from foreign governments if they are cleared with ethics officials at the State Department, and possibly, the White House counsel.

Republicans believing that will not be enough, that all foreign individual donations must be disclosed, as well as large domestic donations.  Senator Clinton is saying the guidelines in place are sufficient and were reached in good faith.

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CLINTON:  All contributors will be disclosed, and all contributors to the Clinton Global Initiative are disclosed in public.  I think that the way that this has been hammered out is probably as close as we can get to doing something that is so unprecedented, that there is no formula for it and we‘ve tried to do the very best we could.

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OLBERMANN:  More remarkable, perhaps, the substance of Mrs. Clinton‘s answers on foreign policy.  Long over her days of clashing with Obama as she did during the debates over his willingness to engage with Iran, this will be Barack Obama‘s State Department, and if it‘s engagement he wants, engagement he shall get.

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CLINTON:  We are not taking any option off the table at all, but we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude toward engagement that might bear fruit.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton also telling the other senators that getting out of Iraq would be a top priority.

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CLINTON:  Our larger interests will be best served by safely and responsibly withdrawing our troops from Iraq, supporting a transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their sovereign nation, rebuilding our overtaxed military, and reaching out to other nations to help stabilize the region and employ a broader arsenal of tools to fight terrorism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to check in with our own Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Lugar also said today that the issue with the Clinton foundation and the global initiative, he called that a unique problem and he said it should not be a barrier to Senator Clinton getting the job as secretary of state.  So, what was the point of all of that?

ALTER:  Well, I think he wanted to lay down a marker and insists that the Clintons engage in full disclosure, and Mrs. Clinton suggested that she would do so.  But they wanted it on the record.  He did blindside them some because, as you indicated, this deal had already been cut.

And I also think that there wasn‘t enough attention given to the costs of getting rid of the Clinton Global Initiative.  This organization pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into AIDS relief, poverty relief, all kinds of really good causes around the world.  And I don‘t think we want to, you know, sacrifice it over some attenuated idea of conflict of interest.

OLBERMANN:  On this night last year, we were discussing the results of the primary in New Hampshire.  Is it remarkable now to hear Mrs. Clinton being an agent, being the top diplomat, and perhaps, to this point, the top salesperson of Obama‘s foreign policy ideals?

ALTER:  Yes, it‘s quite a turn of events, but, you know, she‘s clearly on the team.  And, I thought it was fascinating that they unveiled this notion today of “smart power.”  Her appearance reinforced that new slogan for American foreign policy, because it‘s a very smart appearance.

She‘s got a very sophisticated understanding of the world‘s challenges and the policy that they are intending to implement is one that uses all of the tools in the toolbox, not just military, not just conventional diplomatic tools, but the whole array of options that the United States has for advancing its interests in the world.

So, we‘re going to have a more sophisticated foreign policy and they now have a name for it, which I think we‘ll be—we‘ll be talking about for years to come.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of tools, President Bush has insisted yesterday that the U.S. is still viewed very highly in the world.  Despite that, as secretary of state, one would assume Mrs. Clinton will have a long to-do list.

ALTER:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Did she give an indication as to what sort of stamina would be required?  How long her initial week will actually last?  Is it four years‘ worth in one week?

ALTER:  Well, you know, you got to hand it to the Clintons on the stamina point.  She will be shuttling all over the world.  Presumably, she‘s going to have to go to the Middle East rather soon.

Her plate is very full.  You know, Gaza, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan is arguably the most dangerous country in the world, and obviously, Iraq and Afghanistan.  So, she‘s going to have her hands full.

As she said today, it‘s all hands on deck.  The question is, whether one of those hands might be her husband, who could lend his expertise in solving some of these global problems.

OLBERMANN:  While we‘re talking about the cabinet, the treasury nominee, Mr. Geithner is in trouble tonight.  He hired a housekeeper whose immigration status seems to have expired and he initially failed to pay self-employed payroll taxes for himself, obviously, and then did so after a proverbial conversation with the IRS.

Is this another Zoe Baird situation where somebody is just going to go out the window?  Or do they seem to have been honest mistakes?  And maybe more importantly, is there sort of a bipartisan feeling that this guy is too valuable to even let ordinary rules apply to him?

ALTER:  Well, first of all, it does seem to be an honest mistake.  It would really be a shame of something like this sunk the nomination for anything less than, you know, misleading behavior on Geithner‘s part, which hasn‘t shown up yet.

We are in very serious times, Keith.  They are quite different in 1993 when Zoe Baird‘s nomination was sunk for attorney general over this kind of nanny problem.  Geithner is, by all accounts, the only person in Washington who fully understands TARP.  You know, $700 billion.  We cannot afford at this point, unless there‘s gross malfeasance, to take him out of the picture.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—as always, Jon, great thanks.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of great thanks, small favors at President Bush‘s final news conference at the White House.  For instance, while not exactly humble, at least, Mr. Bush yesterday did not seem to feel he and his administration were deserving of gratitude for their, quote, “service” to the country.  But that was yesterday. 

This morning, in the cabinet room, another last stop on the Bush White House circuit, the president kicking off his final cabinet meeting—I mean, really, even here at COUNTDOWN,” counting down has never been this much fun.  The warm, fuzzy, is soon giving way to incredulity, the inducement of which is Mr. Bush‘s greatest skill when he claimed that Americans have been lucky enough to have the Bush administration serving on their behalf.

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BUSH:  Everybody around this table here could have taken the easy road and stayed home and worried about their own comforts, but instead, they answered the call to service.  And our country is lucky to have folks like this step up and serve.  We also reviewed our record and this administration has had a good, solid record, and I‘m very proud of it.  I tell people I leave town with a great sense of accomplishment, and my head held high.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, some would argue that it‘s held high, albeit possibly, high in the area where the sun don‘t shine.

We leave the interstitial moment between that imagery and Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

(LAUGHTER)

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Thank you for the interstitial moment.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome.

Does the White House want to have one of those software-blocking programs that parents use, only they‘ve tooled it up so that it restricts access to any criticism of the president?  I mean, where exactly did they review the administration‘s record?  “Highlights” magazine?

FINEMAN:  Well, that was a pretty perfunctory statement even by the president‘s standards.  But much more, I think, emblematic meeting than this cabinet meeting, Keith, was one they had in the east room a couple weekends ago where they had what one aide told me was the “last supper,” it was 150 top people who served in the Bush administration on the staff.  They all got together in that beautiful east room and had a wonderful dinner with a slideshow and lots of jokes by the president.

People who went into that thing worried about what the mood was going to be like.  They shouldn‘t have been worried because they should have known their man.  George Bush was going to enjoy that.  He was going to have that party, and the rest of the world be damned.

OLBERMANN:  Who was the guy who did the slideshow bit years ago, the comedian Jackie Vernon, like, “Here we are in the Grand Canyon, here we are falling in the Grand Canyon.”

FINEMAN:  That was a great slide show.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  The cabinet meeting, the final news conference yesterday, the last dinner that you referred to, the last supper, presumably the Thursday‘s farewell address and the tone of these things, whose opinion is it meant to sway?  Because—and you mentioned a perfunctory nature of that statement that Mr. Bush made, a part from whether or not it‘s very convincing, there‘s just does not seem to have been any evidence presented to back any of these sweeping conclusions?

I mean, honestly, I think I spend more time researching The Worst Persons in the World every night.

FINEMAN:  Well, this actually had less to do with spinning the historians I think, than making George W. Bush feel good.  That‘s my sense of it from talking to Dan Bartlett.  I talked to him earlier today.  He‘s the former White House communications director and very close friend of the president‘s.

And he said, “Look, George Bush is the kind of guy whose personality would not allow him to crawl off the stage.”  That‘s the term that Dan used, and I think that‘s kind of a window into concerns about how George Bush feels about himself while he‘s leaving.

So, forget the idea of spinning the historians.  He wants to walk out of town with what he thinks is a demonstration of his head held high and he‘s proud.  But I think he obviously has doubts about it given just how, as I say perfunctory, his statements were at that cabinet meeting today.

OLBERMANN:  One thing about the cabinet meeting also, there was this unusual sidebar, this group Citizens for Responsibility in Ethics in Washington with some data.  Let me quote it exactly, “Seventeen of 24 former Bush cabinet members have taken positions with at least 119 companies including 65 firms that lobby the government, and 40 that lobby the agencies they headed.”

How does that jive with the president‘s claim that the cabinet members did not look out for their own comforts?

FINEMAN:  Well, obviously, it doesn‘t jive at all.  Now, look, revolving doors here are here all the time.  The new Obama administration is going to be up to its eyeballs in people with lots of corporate background.

But that‘s not the point here.  George Bush tried to make this sound like an example of self-sacrifice, which up to a point, maybe it is.  But the sort of self-congratulatory, moral tone that he took here on his way out the door is just not going to wash with most of the American people.

They remember Halliburton.  They remember what happened in Iraq.  They remember the fact that after the war in Iraq, no other foreign companies from other countries were allowed to bid on business in Iraq for the first two or three years.  Who did that benefit?  Obviously, corporate interests around by George Bush, led by Halliburton, among others.

OLBERMANN:  Back, finally, to the farewell address.  Is it something big?  Is he going to, you know, warn against the military industrial complex or warn against trading Sammy Sosa for Harold Baines in your historical fantasy baseball league or what?

FINEMAN:  Well, he already blew the Sammy Sosa one.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

FINEMAN:  But I think not—as far as I‘ve heard, he‘s not calling upon the old world masters who were there in the early days when he gave those stirring speeches, the Mike Gersons of the world, even strategists like Karl Rove.  I don‘t expect it to be any more stirring or dramatic really than either his last press conference or his last cabinet meeting have been.  It‘s about him walking out from his point of view with his head held high.  He‘s not trying to make history anymore.  He‘s just trying to get out of town with some dignity.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—great thanks, sir.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s secretary attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, said his farewells two Augusts ago.  But his scandals linger behind him.  One of his deputies, the Justice Department says tonight, wrote a racist e-mail to a colleague.  The colleague regularly called some career attorneys in the department treacherous and pinkos even while testifying to Congress that he never left politics influence his personnel decisions.  Gonzo-gate reignites, bigger and worse than ever.

While Dick Cheney insists Gitmo should stay open because—it‘s very clean.

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OLBERMANN:  The president, the president-elect, people who have read the Constitution, the world at large, are all wrong about Gitmo, so says the vice president.  Mr. Cheney‘s rationale? Gosh, the place is, quote, “very well run.”  Thanks, Dick.

Later, Gonzo-gate is back with—complete with political purging and racist e-mails.

And in Worsts, defending torture by showing a clip from the neo-con‘s soft porn series “24.”  It‘s Billo.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He‘s never made a secret of his affection for a place most commonly associated with indefinite detention and torture.  Now tonight, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Dick Cheney using his last days in office to evaluate the place as you would for a tour guide: First rate.  Very well run.  Everything but four G.D. stars in the Michelin book.

Barely a day after the incoming Obama administration made clear its plan to start closing Guantanamo Bay, upon ascending to the presidency, the outgoing vice president criticized the move, telling Bill Bennett that it‘s a, quote, “bad decision” but that Gitmo is good.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Guantanamo is sort of a symbol, I guess, to the left in this country and maybe to some of our critics overseas.  But the fact is it‘s a very well-run facility.  The Red Cross is all there all the time checking on it.  Reporters are free to go down, members of the Congress and so forth, to look at it and see what kind of facility it is.  And the fact is, it‘s first rate.

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OLBERMANN:  Such a first rate facility that right now a full 10 percent of the 250 detainees still stuck there are getting fed through tubes because they are on a hunger strike.  As to who those remaining detainees are .

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHENEY:  They are unlawful combatants, terrorists, and by definition, their objective is to achieve their political goals by killing as many civilians as possible.  They don‘t abide by the laws of war.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Glad you‘re able to convict them.

Joining me now, the Washington editor of “The Nation,” Chris Hayes.

Chris, good evening.

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I have to say, I think Mr. Cheney has actually stopped trying.  He‘s handing us material like, “they don‘t abide by the laws of war” when, of course, he isn‘t abiding by the actual laws of war, the ones we like to call the Geneva Conventions.  Didn‘t he, in essence, say that he and Mr. Bush should be joining those war law-breakers in Gitmo?

HAYES:  Well, that‘s what so vicious about the entire logic that has guided this from the beginning.  It‘s that—if there are people who act unlawfully, the law no longer applies, which is on its face absurd, right?  I mean, the whole point of the law is to create a framework to deal with people that violate it.  And you don‘t say, well, because they are murders, we‘re going to kick down people‘s doors and shoot them, right?

So this really kind of mixed manifest what‘s been so absurd and outrageous from the very beginning, and so tangled and perverse about the way that they conceive of lawfulness on the war on terror.

OLBERMANN:  The mixed message part of this, even President Bush said he would like to close Gitmo.  He would like to do it.  Obviously, he doesn‘t have any time left to do it.  Why is that decision good for him but would be a bad one from Obama from the Cheney frame of reference?

HAYES:  Well, I think that from all of the reporting that‘s emerged about the administration—I mean, Cheney is the most extreme in the positions he takes on these issues.  And strangely, bizarrely, Dick Cheney, I think, views Guantanamo as one of his legacy items and wants to see it preserved.

OLBERMANN:  The crux of the Cheney argument because Gitmo is a fine

facility the Red Cross visits, it‘s open to reporters, it should stay open

the besides the point quality to this statement .

HAYES:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  I felt compelled to look up the exact quote from the head of the Reading Railroad during the coal strike in 1902/1903.  His name was George F. Baer.  He was asked by the commission that was arbitrating the strike about the suffering of miners who were injured or killed in the mines.  And Mr. Baer said, “These men don‘t suffer.  Why, hell, half of them don‘t even speak English.”

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  You know, George F. Baer, meet Dick Cheney.  We have the cleanest, nicest torture facility in American history.

HAYES:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Why should we close it?

HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, it‘s absurd to talk about what the conditions are like or the fact that, you know, maybe it‘s clean or they get food when the whole point is people are being held there without any right to challenge the fact they are being held.  That‘s the issue.  I mean, in the early days, the issue had a lot to do with the facility itself, which was a total mess, completely jerry-rigged, thrown together, absolute terrible conditions.

Four years later on, it‘s been made more permanent but that still doesn‘t change the fact that people shouldn‘t be there.  And I still say that I found it incredibly offensive that he referred to it as a symbol.  The fact of the matter is, there were actual people who were actually kidnapped and actually held and actually tortured away from their actual family members.  So, there‘s nothing symbolic about what has happened and the people in Guantanamo.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  There are actual -- 25 actual food tubes being placed right now.

HAYES:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And the last point on this, though, Chris, I have to mention.  Mr. Cheney said that he is planning on writing a book, and he said that he‘s got, quote, “a few scores to settle.”  Well, what kind of scores, with whom, and how can they possibly measure up to the number of people who think they have scores to settle with him?

HAYES:  Well, at this point, the scores he has to settle are capacious, given the fact that he‘s one of the least popular figures at home and abroad.  My hope is that that book will be introduced into evidence in the ultimate war crimes tribunal that he should be dragged before.

OLBERMANN:  From your mouth to The Hague‘s ears.

HAYES:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Hayes of “The Nation”—great thanks, Chris.

HAYES:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Now, to be fair to Mr. Cheney, not all of the torture is conducted at his request.  Some of it, like of these gentlemen in Japan, it‘s voluntary—and stupid.

Like Sean Hannity, who lets Ted Nugent use the B-word to describe Hillary Clinton on his show, and then complains about rappers using the B-word in music.

The Mannity and the other Worst Persons is ahead.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment.  And isn‘t this where the firehouse used to be?

First—and I‘m doing this tonight because his other friends are going to pile on him enough on the actual day—but 40 years ago tomorrow, the Dodgers‘ fan, creative automobile driver and actor Jason Bateman was born, known eternally to a grateful nation as the star, of course, of the never to be forgotten, “Teen Wolf Too”—which oddly enough was also his film autobiography.  Happy Birthday in advance, Commissioner Bateman.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Tokyo for the endless struggle of man versus temperature.  Man today has forgotten his undies, to say nothing of his parka.  This is described as an effort to cleanse both mind and body by disrobing and then immersing oneself in frigid water to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

And yes, they‘ve done it.  The yelling indicates that they‘ve achieved the enlightenment.  And what‘s the first insight achieved?  Do not throw ice-cold water on yourself in winter!

To Chicago, where preparations are under way for next week‘s inaugural festivities, including the creation there of a 500-pound cheesecake to be served at the commander-in-chief ball.  Paging Dr. Gupta.  The same bakers also supposedly planned a giant hollowed-out bundt cake from which Roland Burris was going to leap, but at the last minute, the order was canceled. 

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OLBERMANN:  Gonzo-Gate is back, with one of his junior people at Justice found to have sent racist e-mails, and another found to have lied to Congress about putting politic ahead of competence. 

Speaking of, Governor Palin and another interview, claiming on the record that the McCain people tried to shut her up.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best Papal pronouncement.  Pope Benedict has declared holy war against people who falsely claim that the Virgin Mary is appearing to them.  He has issued guidelines for church officials on how to distinguish between real visions and demonic ones.  He does not specifically mention people who claim they found the image on the virgin toast or on popsicles, but the implication is clear, eBayers. 

Number two, best bad fire fighters, the 250-member crew of the main firehouse in Sayka (ph), Germany.  It let one of the biggest buildings or the town‘s biggest buildings burn to the ground.  The financial loss estimated at 4,400,000 dollars.  It‘s not clear if it was faulty wiring or if the firemen might have triggered the blaze themselves during a training exercise.  Either way, it‘s their fault, because much of the financial loss consisted of the destruction of all six of the city‘s fire engines, because the building that burned to the cinder was their own fire house.   

Number one, best dumb criminals, five unidentified teenagers now under arrest in the New York City suburb or White Plains.  They robbed and beat a 50-year-old man on day, stealing his briefcase from him.  The next day, they called him taunt him.  It did not dawn on the morons that their phone call could be traced.

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OLBERMANN:  We knew already that President Bush had corrupted even the U.S. Justice Department, that his political appointees appointed their own political appointees to fill even jobs that are not allowed to be political, with political appointees.  And we knew that the appointees of Mr. Bush‘s appointees broke the law in doing so by applying a political litmus test to job applicants, in violation of the law those appointees were sworn to enforce. 

Tonight, though, in our third story, we now have the smoking guns, plus a little racism thrown in for bad measure, in a stunning report from the Justice Department itself.  It‘s primary finding that the hiring in the Civil Rights Division was done legally, except when it was done by this man, Bradley Schlozman, who routinely overwrote the traditional hiring process and in cases when he could discern political leanings hired 63 Republicans or conservatives and two Democrats or liberal. 

As the report hit today, the chairman of the Senate Justice Committee, to whom Schlozman denied under oath ever using a political litmus test, explained why Schlozman‘s crimes are so grave and why they transcend any power struggle with Congress. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  If somebody can break the law in our law enforcement agency, the Department of Justice, what does that say to the rest of Americans?  His actions, in fact, undermine the very mission of the Department of Civil Rights Division, which is charged with enforcing federal law prohibiting discrimination.  A strong and independent Civil Rights Division has long been crucial to the enforcement of our precious civil rights laws.  Experienced and committed career attorneys have always been the heart and soul of that division. 

In the past, the people worked there, Mr. President, no matter how much time you spent with them, you wouldn‘t know if they were Republicans or Democrats.  All you would know is these are among the brightest and best lawyers in the country, dedicated to serving the United States of America and upholding our law.  The result and, of course, the intent of this political makeover in the Civil Rights Division has been a dismal—a dismal civil rights enforcement record. 

When you have somebody who‘s part of the Justice Department lie under oath, and do it in a way to cover up, subverting the laws that protect all of us—the civil rights laws protect all of us.  It protects all of us, white, black, brown, no matter what our race, our creed.  It protects all of us.  And what has marked this country since the time I was a young lawyer in the ‘60s has been our adherence to the civil rights laws.  You can‘t go back to a time when they were enforced for some and not others. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In a statement, Schlozman said the report could not be trusted, in part because it was incomplete, after he had refused to answer questions, and because one of the attorneys conducting the review was hired by Schlozman himself.  Of course, who could trust anybody hired by that Schlozman guy? 

The Bush Justice Department is, surprise, surprised, not prosecuting Mr. Schlozman for his violation of, yes, civil rights laws or for lying to Congress.  But now, at least, we have Schlozman‘s own words.  Quote, “I can assure you that (applicant) is a good American.  We made up a four member vast right-ring conspiracy at my former law firm.”

“Is this guy conservative?”  Answer, “I don‘t know.  I don‘t think so.  I‘m not sure.”  Schlozman, “then he probably won‘t be hired.”  “Just spoke with applicant to verify his political leanings and it is clear he is a member of the team.”  “I have an interview at one with some lefty who we will never hire, but I‘m extending a courtesy interview as a favor.”

“Just between you and me, we hired another member of the team yesterday, and still another ideological comrade will be starting in one month.  So we are making progress.”

“How does applicant view the world, if you know what I mean?  And for god‘s sake, don‘t forward this email.”

Oops.  And when his boss forwarded a job candidate, Schlozman had only one question, in an e-mail, just one word, “Conservative?” 

And then there was the racism, to emphasize the racism at the top of the Bush Justice‘s Department Civil Rights Division.  Speaking of a lawyer who graduated Magna Cum Laude from a top law school, receiving positive performance appraisals at Justice four years straight, Schlozman called her, quote, “an idiot who was an affirmative action thing” and, quote, “wrote in Ebonics.”  Civil Rights Division. 

Schlozman also forwarded an e-mail from John Tanner, chief of the Voting Rights Section, which Mr. Tanner said he wanted his coffee “Mary Frances Berry style, black and bitter.”  Mary Frances Berry was, at that time, in her 11th year chairing the US Commission on Civil Rights.  Schlozman forwarded the e-mail to the DOJ‘s principle deputy assistant attorney general, saying, “y‘all will appreciate this,” the Civil Rights Division.

But not all of the division.  The brunt of Schlozman‘s impact came in the Voting Rights Section.  Why voting rights?  Because there he and his comrades could do things like uphold a Georgia law that discriminated against black voters and prosecute fewer violations of minority voting rights in favor of alleged voter fraud that helped justify purging voter rolls.  Despite the allegations being so bogus, some U.S. attorneys lost their jobs for refusing to prosecute them. 

Here‘s Bradley Schlozman on the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division, quote, “I, too, get to work with mold spores, but here in Civil Rights, we call them voting section attorneys.  My tentative plans are to gerrymander all of these crazy libs right out of the selection.  Perhaps the voting division will name an award for me or something.  How about the Brad Schlozman award for most effectively breaking the will of liberal partisan bureaucrats?  I would be happy to come back for the awards ceremony.” 

Accepting on Mr. Schlozman‘s behalf will be Barack Obama‘s attorney general designate, Eric Holder, former head of the Civil Rights Division. 

Remember Sarah Palin‘s denials that anybody in the McCain camp ever tried to muzzle her?  These denials have now been refuted by Sarah Palin.  Another interview? 

Bill-O defending torture by running a clip from “24.”  Seriously.  Is there a grown-up home that I can talk to?  Worst persons coming up. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, in the wake of the Hillary Clinton confirmation hearings, her special guest is Senator Barbara Boxer of California. 

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

Number three, seat-filler gate, proving it‘s never too late to do something stupid.  The “Washington Post” reports that when attendance for his final news conference yesterday turned out to be underwhelming, a White House press aide had to round up White House interns to fill the empty seats in the press room.  The last two rows were entirely empty.  There are only seven rows in the whole room. 

Number two, they were not as smart as we thought-gate.  Condoleezza Rice telling interviewers she was counting the hours until next Tuesday, pointing out that Iraq had just showed a huge sign of becoming an inclusive state, a religious polyglot, because it had just declared, quote, Christmas a national holiday.  Certainly Dr. Rice has an interesting point.  A nation making official holidays out of the holidays of many different religions.  Unlike, say, a nation that has only made official holidays out of the holidays of Christian religions, a nation like, well, ours. 

Number one, re-writing history-gate.  The desperate push continues.  Now it‘s RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, sending out an email appeal to donate money to the party in honor to Mr. Bush‘s farewell.  “For the last eight years,” Duncan begins, “President Bush has led our country with firm determination and a steady hand in the face of numerous challenges and crises.  He restored honor and integrity to the White House and protected America from another terrorist attack.” 

Just in passing, honor and integrity?  Can you give me one example?  And Mr. Duncan, when you say another terrorist attack, you seem to be implying that somehow 9/11 and the Anthrax letters occurred under a different presidency.  Or maybe its that only from a certainty onwards, like after the first terrorist attack, a president is responsible for what happens on his watch.  So Mr. Bush is not at all to blame for 9/11.  But if anything happens in the next four years, that will all be Mr. Obama‘s fault, because the previous president was the one who was genuinely surprised and nobody after him should be. 

Of course, there‘s a flaw there, too, since Mr. Bush actually came into office after the first Islamic terror attack on this country at the World Trade Center in 1993.  So any way you look at it, Mr. Bush did not protect America, quote, from another terrorist attack. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You can‘t stop Sarah Palin.  You can only hope to contain her.  Sorry, Dan.  Now she says you can, too, see Russia from Alaska and she again throws the McCain campaign under the snow machine.  That‘s next.  First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Lou Dobbs, who twice last night described a meeting between the president-elect and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and twice said, they didn‘t talk about NAFTA, and implied there was something dubious about this, because so much was made on the campaign trail.  Yes, White House Press Secretary to be Robert Gibbs said that when he met with President Calderon, Obama, quote, expressed his continuing commitment to upgrading NAFTA, to strengthen labor and environmental provisions, proposed the creation of a consultant group to work on a host of issues important to the United States and Mexico, including NAFTA. 

So to—to Dobbs, Obama and Calderon talking about upgrading NAFTA and Obama and Calderon discussing a consultative group to work on issues including NAFTA.  To Dobbs, that means Obama and Calderon did not talk about NAFTA. 

Our runner-up, the manatee, trying to steal the censor the black folk issue from Bill-O.  “You know what?  I don‘t like the lyrics that refer to women as B‘s and hoes.  We have had many discussions about this. 

But sadly, no discussion about a man Hannity calls his friend, musician Ted Nugent, who was shown on Hannity‘s program in August of 2007 calling Hillary Clinton a, quote, “worthless bitch,” unquote.  It is a cleared and stridently adhered to moral compass like that one that enabled Hannity, on the farewell night of “HANNITY AND COLMES,” to lose in the ratings to Rachel by 20 percent. 

But our winner, Bill-O the Clown.  “Unresolved problem segment tonight, the controversy of a coerced interrogation of captured terror suspects.  According to a Pew poll, 48 percent of Americans say tough interrogation methods are justified.  About 58 percent say they are not.  Now, last night on the program ‘24‘ rough treatment of captured terrorists took center stage.” 

Then he showed a clip from “24.”  Bill, I‘m supposed to take you seriously when your first evidence to support your argument on a vital issue of our time is clip from one of the ludicrous TV shows of all time?  Oh, wait, it just hit me.  Billy doesn‘t know Jack Bauer isn‘t real.  I‘m sorry.  Bill-O the clown, who thinks “24” is some sort of Fox documentary, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Honestly, at this point, Governor Sarah “just call me victim” Palin should be on tour, or at least on with Dr. Phil.  This interview was with “Esquire Magazine.”  And in our number one story, she hits her usual targets, bloggers and people who think you can‘t see Russia from Alaska.  But this time she also attacks with a stunning lack of moderation the McCain campaign, with absolutely no sense that she is nourishing that caricature of herself, that the rest of us can only throw crumbs at.

Quoting, “you have to let it go, even hard news sources, credible news sources, the comment about you can see Russia from Alaska.  You can.  You can see Russia from Alaska.  Something like that, a factual statement that was taken out of context and mocked, what you have to do is let that go.” 

No sense of irony that this was only taken in the first place because she actually cited it as evidence of her own foreign policy credentials.  Nobody‘s doubting that you can see Russia from Alaska.  They are only doubting the brain power of anybody who thinks this has anything to do with international knowledge. 

On the McCain campaign, quoting, “if I were giving advice to myself back on the day my candidacy was announced, I would say tell the campaign that you‘ll be calling some of the shots.  Don‘t just assume that they know you well enough to make all of your decisions for ya.” 

Governor Palin also rails against not only against “bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie to annoy me,” but also the “Anchorage Daily News” for continuing to pursue rumors, in an effort to knock them down, in fact, about her son Trig‘s maternity.  Apropos of this, also in “Esquire Magazine,” interviewers of Governor Palin defended by an unlikely source.  “I did not think that either the Charlie Gibson or the Katie Couric interviews were unfair.  In fact, if anything, Katie Couric was extraordinarily gentle, even helpful.”  So says former Republican presidential candidate, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. 

Let‘s turn now to “Washington Post” columnist and associate editor and MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.  Good evening, Eugene. 

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

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the jab at the McCain campaign.  What happened to all those denials, pre and post election, that there was any friction between the governor and the McCain people? 

ROBINSON:  That‘s what happens.  Presidential candidates and vice presidential candidates who lose, there‘s always friction between those two camps.  You should see the impressions of John Kerry that the Edwards people do, or the impression of Edwards that the Kerry people do.  But this time it‘s kind of weird.  It kind of illustrates the real mismatch between John McCain and Sarah Palin.  What an odd pairing this was.  Clearly reports of no friction were just a load of baloney. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a way, from this interview or any other ones, to tell whether the governor thinks that if they had left her alone, as she describes it, she thinks she would have gotten McCain more vote or fewer votes?  Or is she now seeing this exclusively through the prism of whatever her own plans are for 2012? 

ROBINSON:  I think there was a moment during the campaign when she genuinely thought that if they just left her alone, she would get more votes and she might yet pull this out of the fire for them.  I think that moment lasted a few days and was over long before the voting.  I think from that point on, it really became about Sarah Palin and about her future.  She had captivated a following nationwide.  And she wanted to figure out how to sustain that, and how to capitalize on it, and where it could take her.  And I think she‘s still trying to figure that out. 

OLBERMANN:  Throughout all of these interviews, the one with the right wing guy last week and this in “Esquire,” is the superb sense of victim-hood.  She was defeated by bloggers.  She was defeated by Katie Couric.  She was defeated by the media.  There‘s two parts to that.  What happened to the Republican credo, the Sarah Palin wild west credo of personal responsibility?  And also, how could she lose to bloggers? 

ROBINSON:  Really.  I mean, look, if a blogger is saying nasty things about you qualifies you as a victim, then sign me up for victim Hall of Fame.  I‘m sure you‘re there, too. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, yes. 

ROBINSON:  That doesn‘t really get it these days.  That really strikes the false note in the kind of Sarah Palin persona that she tried so hard to project at first, the lipstick on a pit bull, kind of moose-shooting and field dressing mama from Alaska, who could, you know, toss through elbows with the guys and didn‘t take any stuff from nobody.  And all of a sudden, she‘s saying, oh, woe is me.  They were beastly to me.  It doesn‘t seem—it doesn‘t seem—I was going to say it doesn‘t seem genuine.  But it doesn‘t seem genuine, if you grant the point that the image she was initially trying to project was indeed genuine. 

OLBERMANN:  About the blogs and her son.  “The Anchorage Daily News” was apparently asking around in hopes of finally putting a lie to that story, whereupon the governor‘s office e-mailed the editor, demanding to know why the paper was still asking these questions.  And the governor has now twice in the last week reintroduced her son and blogs into interviews.  At what point does the responsibility for perpetuating this story, indeed for using the governor‘s own son, at what point does that responsibility shift from bloggers to governors? 

ROBINSON:  I really think it shifted back in August, to tell you the truth, because no responsible, serious, semi-responsible, semi-credible news organizations have pursued this story since it was demonstrated to be not a story.  So again, it‘s part of what we were talking about a minute ago, this I am a victim kind of storyline that she seems determined to weave into the—into the rich Sarah Palin tapestry that we‘re following, and wondering where it‘s going to lead.  I think, it doesn‘t—it doesn‘t strike me as the way she wants to go, but she wants to continue to play it this way, so I guess we will be hearing about this for the next, at least, what, three and a half years. 

OLBERMANN:  Boy, I hope so.  By the way, that rich tapestry you described, can you see that from Kiev.  When she holds it up, you can see it. 

ROBINSON:  Oh, right. 

OLBERMANN:  Eugene Robinson from the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, great thanks.  As always, great column tonight. 

ROBINSON:  Good to talk to you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,075th 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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