Guest: Jonathan Turley, Russell Tice, Gwen Ifill
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Opening day: Republicans now obstructing the confirmation of the attorney general for a week, just because they can. The culprit, sexist Senator John Cornyn, who had already held up the confirmation of the secretary of state—Hillary Clinton today is confirmed—using an argument with no visible means of logical support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN, ® TEXAS: My concern is not whether our colleague, Senator Clinton, is qualified to be secretary of state or not—she is. And I tend to vote for her confirmation. But I also believe it‘s very important to flesh out some of the concerns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And very important for Cornyn to keep contributors to the partisan campaign fundraising group he chairs, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, from thinking they are throwing their money down a rat hole—when they are throwing their money down the rat hole.
The rat hole that is Gitmo—on hold. The reports are correct. The president is ordering a 120-day freeze on all prosecutions, and one of the heroes of the Gitmo-Hamdan case to become deputy solicitor general.
And, domestic spying—the truth is far worse than any of us ever suspected. The first post-inauguration whistleblower reveals the almost unimaginable scope of the Bush administration‘s wiretapping and surveillance of Americans, and confirms that at least one group of non-terrorist American citizens was targeted—a COUNTDOWN exclusive.
Worsts: Oath of office—doubting presidential legitimacy because the chief justice mangled the presidential oath.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I‘m not sure Barack Obama really is the president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
And, the end of an error: The Bush administration is over to far away song title you might have heard at an inaugural ball or 10 -- “At Last.”
OLBERMANN: All that and the shocking revelations of just how many Americans Mr. Bush spied on—now on COUNTDOWN.
(on camera): Good evening, from Washington. Out of an abundance of caution, White House counsel, Greg Craig, says at this hour that President Obama tonight, re-swore the oath of office in the Map Room at the White House. Is this going to be a daily thing?
Meantime in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: If in the office poll, you picked only one day until the Republicans started obstructing the new president from the urgent business of tackling the enormous problems facing this country, you win or constitutionally, you lose.
So much for bipartisan cooperation and Obama‘s appeal that it‘s time to move forward, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee today forcing the panel to delay a vote on sending Eric Holder‘s confirmation as attorney general to the floor of the Senate by a week. The ranking Republican on the committee, Arlen Specter, saying he wanted to cooperate with President Obama but, quote, “there was a unanimous view that there had been insufficient time to question Mr. Holder.”
What kinds of questions do Republicans want to ask? Questions about torture. Having already established the Mr. Holder‘s confirmation hearing that he believes waterboarding is torture, they now want to have reassurances that the Obama administration will not pursue any torture prosecutions.
Republican John Cornyn of Texas, saying this afternoon that he wants, quote, “some assurances that we are not going to be engaging in witch hunts.” Adding that he would place a Senate hold on the attorney general nominee if he has to in order to get his questions answered.
The chairman of the judiciary committee, Pat Leahy, is expressing disappointment this afternoon, to say the least.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAT LEAHY, (D) SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The request has been made by the Republicans to hold the nomination over for one week. I am extremely disappointed. But they have that right and this historic nomination is held over. We will stand in recess subject to the call of the chair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Also, breaking news tonight involving the Senate, perhaps the open Senate seat vacated today officially by Hillary Clinton, more on her later.
The “New York times” is reporting at this hour that her replacement will not be Caroline Kennedy. The paper is saying that Mrs. Kennedy today called Governor Paterson to ask that her name be withdrawn from consideration. That has a one source story and has not yet been confirmed.
Let‘s turn now to Eugene Robinson, columnist, associate editor of the “Washington Post.”
Good evening, again, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
Weren‘t we all supposed to get a day off after yesterday? I guess not.
OLBERMANN: This was your day off.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of that—going to the Holder nomination and this delay, why do Republican nominees like Mukasey and before him, Gonzales, why do they get to play a coy, evasive, if you want to use the unpleasant term before a Senate committee, yet, a Democrat like Holder does not, and all of the sudden, there is a one-week delay and we don‘t have an attorney general?
ROBINSON: Well, it is rather absurd. I mean, you are not going to get a guy who is going to be confirmed as the nation‘s chief prosecutor to make a definitive statement on what he will or will not prosecute, absent, you know, a case to look at or facts to look at. So, they are never going to get what they say they want.
This is about a demonstration, I think, of what the Senate can do and they have decided that Eric Holder‘s nomination designated pinata this time around. I can‘t make any other sense of it because in the end, I‘m confident he will be confirmed.
OLBERMANN: The Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, no less in authority than he because as a former attorney in the JAG Corps, you would think he would know this stuff pretty well. He said today that asking for a unilateral statement on this is, as you just suggested, unreasonable. How is it that he is—has his era of the perhaps bipartisan or at least reasonable Republican, is that already out the window and the John Cornyns of the world are in charge?
ROBINSON: Yes, that‘s an interesting way to look at it, Keith. If you think what is happening to the moderate Republicans in Congress in general whether they are disappearing. There aren‘t that many of them left.
And the Republicans who are left in both houses, with a few exceptions, tend to be on the very conservative side—the side that is perhaps becoming marginalized by the result of this election and by what‘s happening in the country right now.
OLBERMANN: Is it just a coincidence that Mr. Cornyn is in charge of fund-raising for Republican senatorial candidates and perhaps he is trying to make it look like that‘s a reasonable investment for your campaign dollar?
ROBINSON: I think it‘s not a coincidence. And I think it gives him a higher profile and perhaps is a bone to throw to the conservative base of the party. After all, you can‘t just let all the nominees sail through. You have to jump up and down and make a stink about somebody.
And again, it seems as if they decided the Holder nomination is the one, although, they did hold up Hillary Clinton for a day. So I think actually the office poll on how long it would take to obstruct should have been zero days.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that‘s right. Yes. It was negative one, in fact.
OLBERMANN: This other substantive headline. There are two, in fact, reports in New York from “The Times” and from “The Post” that Caroline Kennedy withdrew from consideration for the New York Senate seat. There are all sorts of rumors last week that Governor Paterson had made up his mind and however it was, Andrew Cuomo or somebody else, it would not be her. “The Times” story is saying she‘s withdrawn.
And again, we don‘t have confirmation of this, and there are some indications that it might not even be true that she‘s withdrawn or that she‘s out of the running, but their version was she withdrawn to concentrate on the health of her uncle, Senator Kennedy with whom she is particularly close.
Do we have, really, any idea which is true? Could both be true?
Could neither be true? Could this thing still be open to her?
ROBINSON: I think we don‘t really know what‘s true. I think we haven‘t really known what was true all along. After all, this is a decision that is left to one man—to David Paterson. He is known to march to his own drummer.
And I don‘t think anyone—all these reports that he was definitely leaning toward Caroline Kennedy, he was definitely leaning against her—I think those were people kind of trying to read the entrails. But basically, I‘m not sure we know.
I think, unless this report is definitively knocked down, that she has withdrawn within the next few hours, I‘ll have to assume it‘s true. And it has to be a pretty strong knockdown, I think, at this point, because it‘s been out there for a while now. And you don‘t let this sort of thing just kind of buzz around if it‘s not true.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, the New York Senate seat has been buzzing around for two weeks without any clear indication.
OLBERMANN: So, it could very well be undecided as of tomorrow.
ROBINSON: It will be.
OLBERMANN: Our own Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post”—I‘m sorry such a brief time after 14 ½ hours yesterday. I didn‘t mean to disturb you with just the four minutes. Thanks, Gene.
ROBINSON: Talk to you later, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And despite the delay on the attorney general, breaking news tonight, the “Associated Press” reporting that President Obama will sign an executive order tomorrow mandating a closure of Guantanamo Bay within the year. Two other orders detailing reviews on how to interrogate and prosecute prisoners are also expected shortly.
Already, at the direction of the president, the defense secretary, Mr. Gates, has verbally ordered military prosecutors to ask for 120-day suspension of all military commission cases at Gitmo. Much of this, of course, leaked out last night during the inaugural balls. This prompted judges to suspend two of the trials today, including the one of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
President Obama is also enlisting new help in how to deal with prosecuting the prisoners, appointing as deputy solicitor general—our frequent guest there—the attorney Neal Katyal, who, in 2006, succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court that the military commissions were illegal under military justice law and under the Geneva Conventions.
We are joined now by Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor with George Washington University.
Good to see you again, Jon.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Mandating closure of Gitmo within a year, what needs to happen now to make that happen within a year?
TURLEY: Well, there are going to be people that they have to deal with. These people are sitting there, they have cases that supposed to be heard, and many of them have not been charged. And so, this is quite a morass for the administration to deal with.
But what they are trying to do now is to what George Bush should have done at the outset which would have prevented this disaster, and that is to move these people into a real legal system. It‘s not as easy as it sounds. These people have been sort of without a country, without any rights, and now, they‘re going to have to be reintroduced into the system.
OLBERMANN: Goodness. It‘s starting from square one for the people who needed to be dealt with one way or the other, made innocent or guilty as the case might be. How hard is this process going be—how much more hard is this process going to be with no attorney general for a week because of the politics being played up there in that building over there?
TURLEY: You know, in most circumstances, the fact that you don‘t have an attorney general for a short time is not a big problem. The agency continues to work because you got careerists.
The Department of Justice is in a very different position because you have a layer of compromised careerists at the department. We saw that with Monica Goodling. We saw that, really, with the Gonzales administration of that agency, that you have a lot of careerists that were introduced for political purposes, a lot of people compromised by illegal programs.
So, you can‘t just simply say, “All right, we are going to just make this catwalk backwards.” You‘re going to need an attorney general there to say, “I want this done and I want to end any foolishness.”
OLBERMANN: I mentioned the Hamdan attorney, Neal Katyal as the deputy solicitor general. It turns out that David Iglesias, who may have been the most infamously fired of the infamously fired U.S. attorneys has been hired now in the Defense Department to prosecute Guantanamo cases.
Is there a double edge here because not only are you tapping in to a couple of great available legal minds or at least very good ones, but you‘re also saying those who were on the outside—these are now the people on the inside?
TURLEY: Yes. I think that this is an example where Obama is trying very hard to be inclusive and to bring these people in. But there shouldn‘t be any special prosecution systems for these people. They should be brought into the federal system, no specialized courts, because you don‘t need special evidence and special courts—because the whole point of rule of law is people are treated equally and you convict them when the evidence warrants it.
But the most important thing about closing Guantanamo Bay is Guantanamo Bay never really wasn‘t important, it‘s what happened there.
TURLEY: We didn‘t just bulldoze the Watergate. We looked at the crimes. And that‘s what we have to do here.
OLBERMANN: Last point—taking the oath of office, as I said. Are we going to do this every now? Was this necessary or is this just to shut up a certain group of paranoids out there?
TURLEY: Well, it probably wasn‘t necessary and that Joe Biden wasn‘t running to the court saying, “It‘s me, it‘s me.” The fact is that the chief justice did blow the oath. There is no charitable way to put it. You have to get the words in that order.
But I think he did the right thing, the cautionary thing. He‘s not the only one who‘d done it. Two other presidents took the oath twice.
TURLEY: And this will put all of those conspiracy theorists to have a nice night‘s sleep.
OLBERMANN: Well, they‘ll come up with something else.
Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, it‘s been a pleasure to see you in the last couple of days.
TURLEY: Thank you very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Thanks, Jon.
The president‘s first full day will be marked by much more even than the application of the breaks at Gitmo or a confirmation of a new secretary of state.
Tonight, a man who has, until recently, been an analyst at the National Security Agency will tell us not only that all of our previous estimates about how much domestic spying the Bush administration did were actually low, but also that at least one group of Americans, patriotic but not blindly loyal to a president or political party, was a target of that extraordinarily pervasive eavesdropping. It sounds like a cliche of TV news but sometimes, even cliches are true.
OLBERMANN: On day one in the office, the 44th president of the United States has changed Gitmo, the dress code for the room, salary structure, and the rules about lobbying the future ex-members of his administration. As of half an hour from now, he may have yet another new urgent issue with which to deal.
A National Security Agency whistleblower will join me here to lay out details of the Bush administration‘s warrantless wiretapping program, details that will make the most cynical viewer blanche in disbelief. Whatever you thought, whatever you knew, whatever you feared, it was all much worse.
His exclusive revelations—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Republican roadblocks to key cabinet positions be damned.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: President Obama is getting down to a packed schedule of trying to fix the country during his first full day in office.
The day began at 8:35 a.m. Eastern Time. The new president entering the Oval Office, spending 10 minutes alone, reading the note left to him by President Bush, the envelope marked “to number 44 from number 43.” Do your own jokes.
At 8:45, a meeting with his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, also rolling up his shirtsleeves, figuratively and literally, to make phone calls to four leaders in the Middle East. During the Bush administration, it had been a rule that no one entered the Oval Office without wearing a suit jacket. The president and his wife Michelle then departing the White House to the national cathedral to attend a national prayer service.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the president is still trying to fill out his cabinet. Treasury Secretary-designate Timothy Geithner, making short work of his confirmation hearing, an abject apology on that tax thing and 3 ½ hours and out. The finance committee to vote on the sending of his nomination to the full Senate tomorrow.
That full Senate voting to confirm Hillary Clinton to as secretary of state by the vote of 94-to-two. Republican senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and David Vitter of Louisiana, the two nays. Madam Secretary then sworn in at her Senate office after the vote. The four who did not vote at all—all Democrats or empty seats, Senator Kennedy having spent the night in the hospital after experiencing seizures at yesterday‘s inaugural luncheon; Senator Clinton not voting on her own confirmation; Minnesota, vacant seat because of the recount; and Colorado, vacant seat, Ken Salazar having been confirmed as interior secretary yesterday.
Back at the White House, the president making good on a promise he made last July that on his first day he would meet with his military leaders and give them a new mission to end the war in Iraq. Top White House staffers are also sworn in for their new posts, and congratulated by the boss. The president is announcing a pay freeze for any staff member making more than $100,000.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts and so should Washington. That‘s why I‘m instituting a pay freeze on the salaries of my senior White House staff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A great pleasure to be joined in surroundings no doubt familiar to her, by Gwen Ifill, the moderator of “Washington Week” and senior correspondent for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” and now, author of the new book “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.”
Gwen, welcome. Congratulations on the publication.
GWEN IFILL, AUTHOR, “THE BREAKTHROUGH”: Face-to-face with you, Keith, it‘s all worth it.
OLBERMANN: Oh, come on. Sure.
IFILL: All the pain that I went through to get this book done just for a chance to sit across from you.
OLBERMANN: You just have to call, that would have been (INAUDIBLE) than write a book.
IFILL: We‘ll talk later.
OLBERMANN: But, congratulations on it.
IFILL: Thank you.
OLBERAMNN: All right. This is an ambitious, accelerated start to a new administration. Should we be thinking less in terms of the traditional yardstick of the first 100 days and rapid this up to 10 or 50 or something?
IFILL: Years or days?
IFILL: Actually, Barack Obama would like you make it 10 or 15 years.
IFILL: He‘s clear on that speech yesterday, clear on everything he said—expectations should be low about what he can get done. He doesn‘t want to be judged too quickly. And I spent yesterday on the Mall talking to people, and I was struck—I know there was a lot of—struck on this on the Mall yesterday, a lot of tears, a lot of excitement.
IFILL: But a lot of people are saying, “Give him some time, give him sometime.” Republicans saying, “Give him some time.” Maybe not on the Mall yesterday, but around town saying this. So, yes, I think that people are withholding judgment for a long time.
OLBERMANN: And yet, he did come flying out of the gate with the Gitmo pronouncements and with these instructions, as he promised in the first day, to develop a mission to get out of Iraq. We know those are priorities. Obviously, secondary, tertiary to the economy, but else is on the list, do you think?
IFILL: Easier to make these promises than to actually carry them out. Just come out and say, “I‘m going to get us out of Guantanamo,” every legal experts know this is really complicated. “I‘m going to get us out of Iraq on 16 months,” everyone knows that to put all of that equipment on barges to get them out of Iraq and bring home—not so easy. Same thing with the economy.
That is a full plate. He doesn‘t really need anything else. But there are entitlements which need to be reformed. There‘s a tax structure which needs to be addressed. There are a lot of things on his plate, but right now, he‘s got to give the impression, at least, that he is stepping out there and he is taking charge.
OLBERMANN: And certainly, there is something to be said for, “I can‘t solve these problems today, tomorrow, next month,” but Guantanamo within a year, as you say, Iraq within 16 months, these freezes, goals—anything that seems to put a texture to the plan, a promise at least to get it done by a certain point would seem to be a pretty good strategy if you can‘t get it all done all at once.
IFILL: Well, especially when you just given an inaugural speech in which he said, “By the way, we‘re not going to get a lot of things done. Be patient with me.” Then you come out the next day and say, “Look at this.”
OLBERMANN: What did you make now that we are getting further details of the, apparently now, daily practice of the president being sworn in?
IFILL: Being re-sworn in office.
OLBERMANN: Because we are now getting a little of the color from the pool reporter who said, again, it was Justice Roberts. The president said, “We decided it was so much fun,” while sitting on the couch, “that we‘d wanted to do it again.” And they made small talk. And Roberts said, “Are you ready to take the oath?” And, you know, the president replied, “I am and we‘re going to do it very slowly.”
OLBERMANN: And they joked how the chief justice butchered it yesterday.
OLBERMANN: And it ended with all right, the president said, “The bad news for the pool,” pool reporter is, “there‘s 12 more inaugural balls.”
IFILL: You know, what the real telling deal about that was, Justice Roberts put back on his black robe to do this. And it wasn‘t just a casual “let‘s sit around the office and play oath again.” He actually went through the motions of looking like the chief justice.
I thought that was, I don‘t know, a remarkable deal. They said it was just an abundance of caution. But somebody somewhere in the legal firmament over at that White House thought it was more than just a casual thing to be redone.
OLBERMANN: That‘s a great observation.
OLBERMANN: You would think that we‘d have something like this cleared up after 44 presidents or at least after 43 and into a 44th.
Last point about the 44th, this touches I think on what you‘ve written in the book. A remarkable feeling, a sort of epic landmark, historical moment certainly yesterday, a day .
OLBERMANN: . a month, a year—how much is it? Is it historical and important, and at what point does he become just another president with just the same amount of criticism as the 43 who preceded him?
IFILL: I don‘t think he ever becomes just another president.
IFILL: He could be a spectacular failure; he could be a spectacular success. I don‘t think he‘d become just another president—because once you have been the first and you‘d actually broken down all of the barriers, or at least some of the barriers, you are always going to have that. The problem is—how many more firsts there have to be before all of the barriers truly fall down for everybody else. Right now, it looks like they are beginning to fall.
OLBERMANN: When that last moment you speak of will be a great one.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll see when it‘s achieved.
Gwen Ifill of the new book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” we wish you great luck with the book and thanks for coming in.
IFILL: Call or write.
OLBERMANN: OK, you‘re on.
OLBERMANN: And try as they might, Stanley and Dora and everybody in their neighborhood found their efforts at ironing somehow ineffective possibly because of the high humidity in the area.
And your kids act up on a fight, you give each a few mild taps that barely fit the description of the word “spanking,” and you wound up going to jail on terrorism charges—in this country. Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: In a moment, the premier of our new segment which may remind you of one of our old segments it‘s called Still Bushed.
First, on this date in 1884 was born Roger Nash Baldwin, an attorney and pacifist, who spent a year during World War I in jail as a conscientious objector, who, in 1917 led a part of the American Union against militarism and spun it off into a new organization which was eventually named the American Civil Liberties Union. Baldwin remained the ACLU‘s director until 1950.
Despite the bad rap it has always gotten from reactionaries, ACLU chief Baldwin was, after the Second World War, invited by the democratic governments of Germany and Austria to go there and help foster the development of civil liberties in their nations. And in 1947, he went to Japan to do the same thing at the personal invitation of its military governor, the notoriously conservative General Douglas MacArthur.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Chepstow, Wales, where one of these divers will be crowned the “Heloise (ph) of the high seas.” Yes, household chores fun again. Thanks to the aquatic art of underwater ironing, just add regulation scuba gear and the ability to withstand water temperatures of five degrees Fahrenheit. Those linens are headed for a good housekeeping seal of approval. Next up for these happy homemakers, all 84 of then, vacuuming in a volcano.
In Fort Lauderdale, what at first glance looks like yet another group of dumb criminals caught on tape, it is that that establishment that they broke in to specializes in surveillance equipment. That‘s right, cat burglars trying to rip off the spy store.
There were wide-screen TVs in there showing them, their crime being captured on video in real time. The store owner got a text message from his store, alerting him so he could watch the robbery on his blackberry. Police arrested three suspects soon after.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The dark side of the same technology. Domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, the NSA under former President Bush. A former NSA analyst is here to contend that it was much more pervasive, much more invasive than the most suspicious of us could ever have dreamed.
The song was must more than just a theme for the first couple‘s top ten dances. That‘s ahead, but first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.
Number three, vacation-gate. It‘s a final now. The “Washington Post” has calculated how much time off the 43rd president took; 149 visits to Camp David for a total of 487 days, 77 visits to Crawford for a total of 490 days, 11 visits to Kennebunkport for a total of 43 days.
Total, 1,020 days, more than a third of his entire presidency. I know what you‘re thinking, 34 percent of his days in office Mr. Bush took off. It seemed like so much more.
Number two, farewell-gate. No wave of last-minute pardons, but the administration may require some forgiveness itself for its closing out bash at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. Slate.com somehow got inside. It says the invitation e-mail read, “due to the historic nature of the venue, there are limitations on what can be done in terms of climate control. Do wear layers and coats.” In other words, there was no heat.
Karl Rove, Dana Perino, Alberto Gonzales, Condi Rice and all the gang were present. So was Mr. Bush. He said, this is objectively the finest group of people ever to serve our country. He added, we never shruck (sic). Then somebody helped out, shirked.
What do they all do now? I mean until the trials? Slate reports, quoting here, “one outgoing treasury employee had already landed a job as a manger at Abercrombie and Fitch.”
Number one, torture-gate. A gentleman named Manfred Nowak (ph) said on German television last night—he said, “judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation to prosecute members of the administration for war crimes.” That the U.S. had signed the U.N. Convention on torture, which reads, in part, “ that all means, particularly penal law, will be used to punish individual government figures who violate that convention.”
This Mr. Nowak specifically mentioned Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush. And so what? A German commentator demanding war crimes trials? Manfred Nowak is not a commentator. He is, in fact, an Austrian who works for the United Nations. He is, in fact, its investigator. There special title is Special Rapporteur on torture.
The UN says Mr. Nowak, unlike its human rights monitors, does not have to wait for domestic remedies, national prosecutions to run out before he can recommend that the UN intervene. In short, it may not matter whether or not the Obama administration chooses to prosecute torture from the Bush administration. The United Nations might be able to start something on its own.
OLBERMANN: It has taken less than 24 hours after the Bush presidency ended for a former analyst at the National Security Agency to come forward to reveal new allegations about how this nation was spied on by its own government, exclusively here on COUNTDOWN.
Our third story tonight, Russell Tice has already stood up for truth before this evening as one source for the revelation in 2005 by the “New York Times” that President Bush was eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants. Tonight, the next chapter for Mr. Tice, a chapter he feared to reveal while George Bush occupied the Oval Office, that under the collar of fighting terrorism, the Bush administration was also targeting specific groups of Americans for surveillance, non-terrorist Americans if you will.
Mr. Tice prepared to name one of those groups tonight. The NSA was already estimated to have collected millions of transmissions, e-mails and phone calls of average Americans simply by patching into the networks of cooperative telecommunications companies. You will recall the infamous room 641A at the AT&T Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, in which the whole of AT&T‘s portion of the Internet was duplicated inside a room accessible only to the NSA.
Mr. Tice, however, was also involved in another program and told us that he was first directed to focus on these specific groups in order to weed them out from legitimate surveillance targets, but ultimately concluded that the weeding out was actually an internal NSA cover story for a real goal, which was simply spying on those Americans.
Initially, Mr. Bush told the nation all his surveillance was legal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anytime you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires a—a wiretap requires a court order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: After the “New York Times” revealed that to be a lie, Mr. Bush claimed his surveillance circumvented the constitutionally required process of obtaining a court-ordered warrant only in cases of clear links to terrorism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.
Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now in his first public revelation of these charges is Russell Tice, former analyst with the National Security Agency. Thank you for your time, sir.
RUSSELL TICE, FORMER ANALYST, NSA: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with the review. We heard the remarks from Mr. Bush in 2005, that only Americans who would have been eavesdropped on without a warrant were those who were talking to terrorists overseas. Based on what you know, what you have seen firsthand and what you have encountered in your experience, how much of that statement was true?
TICE: Well, I don‘t know what our former president knew or didn‘t know. I‘m sort of down in the weeds. But the National Security Agency had access to all Americans‘ communications, faxes, phone calls, and their computer communications. And that doesn‘t—it didn‘t matter whether you were in Kansas, you know, in the middle of the country, and you never made a communication—foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.
OLBERMANN: To what degree is that likely to mean actual eavesdropping and actual inspection? In other words, if not actually read or monitored by the NSA, everything was collected by the NSA, recorded, archived? Do you have any idea to what degree the information was ever looked at, per se?
TICE: Well, it‘s actually, even for the NSA, it‘s impossible to literally collect all communications. Americans tend to be a chatty group. We have the best computers at the agency, but certainly not that good.
But what was done was a sort of an ability to look at the meta data, the signaling data for communications, and ferret that information to determine what communications would ultimately be collected. Basically, filtering out sort of like sweeping everything with that meta data, and then cutting down ultimately what you are going to look at and what is going to be collected, and in the long run have an analyst look at, you know, needles in a haystack for what might be of interest.
OLBERMANN: I mention that you say specific groups were targeted.
What group or groups can you tell us about?
TICE: Well, there‘s sort of two avenues to look at this. What I just mentioned was sort of the low-tech dragnet look at this. The things that I specifically were involved with were more on the high-tech side. And try to envision, you know, the dragnets are out there, collecting all the fish and then ferreting out what they may. And my technical angle was to try to harpoon fish from an airplane kind of thing. So it‘s two separate worlds.
But in the world that I was in, as to not harpoon the wrong people in some—in one of the operations that I was in, we looked at organizations just supposedly so that we would not target them. So that we knew where they were, so as not to have a problem with them.
Now, what I was finding out, though, is that the collection on those organizations was 24/7, and you know, 365 days a year, and it made no sense. And that‘s—I started to investigate that. That‘s about the time when they came after me, to fire me. But an organization that was collected on were U.S. news organizations and reporters and journalists.
OLBERMANN: To what purpose? I mean, is there a file somewhere full of every e-mail sent by all the reporters at the “New York Times?” Is there a recording somewhere of every conversation I had with my little nephew in upstate New York? Is it like that?
TICE: If it was involved in this specific avenue of collection, it would be everything. Yes. It would be everything.
OLBERMANN: Do you have a sense of why, as you discovered this? I mean, do you have a sense of what this was, if it was used, to what end?
TICE: I do not know. I do not know what was done with the collection. I‘m sure the information—the collection was digitized and put on databases somewhere. I don‘t know what was done with it from that point.
OLBERMANN: And this bait-and-switch sort of idea, that this—this is the discard pile, we are not going to look at the media, and then it becomes apparent to you that the discard pile is in fact the save pile. How did that become apparent to you?
TICE: Well, as I was going for support for this particular organization, it sort of was dropped to me that, you know, this is 24/7. Because I was saying, you know, I need collection at this time, at this point for, you know, for a window of time. And I would say, will we have the capability at this particular point? And positioning assets, and I was ultimately told we don‘t have to worry about that, because we‘ve got it covered all the time. And that‘s when it clicked in my head, this is not something that‘s being done on a onesy basis, onesy-twosie. This is something that‘s happening all the time.
OLBERMANN: In a broad sense, and I imagine this question could be asked a hundred times with much more specificity, but what other kinds of information are you aware of that was collected by the NSA on ordinary Americans?
TICE: On ordinary Americans? I don‘t know. The parameters that were set for how to filter that—now we are back to the low-tech side—were things like looking for parameters like if a terrorist normally would only make a phone call for one or two minutes, then you look for communications that are only one or two minutes long. Now, that also could be someone ordering a pizza and asking their significant other what sort of toppings that they wanted on their pizza. That is about a one- to two-minute phone call.
OLBERMANN: We mentioned this idea of bait-and-switch, of this is the discard, no, it‘s not; this is actually the target. Can you explain the maneuver, another sort of bait-and-switch that was worked with the congressional committees that would have had to be asking questions about stuff exactly like this?
TICE: Well, the agency would tailor some of their briefings to try to be deceptive for—whether it be, you know, a congressional committee or someone they really didn‘t want to know exactly what was going on. So there would be a lot of bells and whistles in a briefing, and quite often, you know, the meat of the briefing was deceptive.
One of the things that could be done was you could take something that was part of the Department of Defense, make it part of the intelligence community, and put a caveat to that, and make that whatever the intelligence community is doing for support will ultimately be given a different caveat. So when the defense committees on the Hill come calling, you say, you can‘t look at that because that‘s an intelligence program.
TICE: But when the intelligence program comes calling, you say you can‘t look at that because it is a Department of Defense program.
TICE: So you basically have a little shell game that you are playing back and forth.
OLBERMANN: It‘s brilliant in its simplicity. It‘s wonderful in its simplicity in a different context.
Last question here, what happens now? Can the Obama administration stop this? That is the first part. And, secondly, has anybody from the Obama administration been in touch with you about this?
TICE: No. Well, I‘ve been in touch with—basically, I volunteered for the Obama administration to act as a, you know, if they needed a consultant for intelligence. And this was last February. And they said they knew who I was, you know, my background with the agency, but they never really utilized me. I helped out as a volunteer yesterday in the inauguration, but certainly not in that capacity.
TICE: So, you know, I even said I would go on camera for them if they wanted a commercial, but they really didn‘t utilize that.
But I did send a letter to—I think it‘s Mr. Brennan—a handwritten letter, because I knew all my communications were tapped—my phones, my computer, and I have had the FBI on me sort of like flies on you know what. And so I made sure it was handwritten. And I‘m assuming that he gave the note to our current president, that I intended to say a little bit more than I had in the past.
OLBERMANN: And you have done that. I think, if it‘s all right with you, I think we are going to have to do another interview tomorrow.
OLBERMANN: There is much—there are only about twice as many questions left.
Russell Tice, former NSA intelligence analyst. It sounds corny, thank you for doing this for the country.
TICE: Well, you know, I raised my hand, just like the president, and my oath was to support and defend the Constitution, not a director of an agency, not a classification on a piece of paper, but ultimately the Constitution. And these things were against the law that were happening. So I was just doing my job, really.
OLBERMANN: Well, yes, but doing your job sometimes earns you the lapel pin, the flag pin. Thank you, sir.
TICE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: When Rachel Maddow joins you at the top of the hour, more on what Mr. Tice has just said. Plus, her special guest, Frank Rich, on the question of whether the new president can really alter the way Washington has operated so badly for so long.
Here, dancing away the final days of the administration, as the song at last is played and played and played.
Chris Wallace journalist; he is not sure Obama is actually president right now. The worst persons in the world ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Breaking news at this hour, and concerns the New York Senate seat. A Kennedy family source is telling NBC‘s David Gregory, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” that Caroline Kennedy has not withdrawn her name from consideration. Two sources have now hinted to NBC News that there is some indication that there may have been a miscommunication between Kennedy and Governor David Paterson‘s office, and the initial reports of her withdrawing are simply incorrect.
To repeat, a Kennedy family source telling NBC‘s David Gregory Caroline Kennedy has not withdrawn from the New York Senate candidacy or her willingness to serve as the appointed successor to now Secretary of State Clinton. COUNTDOWN continues after this.
OLBERMANN: At last, the Etta James song serving as the ever present anthem of the inaugural and also the exit music for the Bush administration. That‘s next, but time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Bill-O the clown; “the far left editor of ‘Newsday,‘ John Mancini, apparently has been fired by the paper‘s new owners. He printed an absurd column saying that the Factor promoted violence because one of my books was found in the home of an accused killer. Mancini deserved to be removed. He ruined a once fine newspaper. Enough is enough with this kind of kooky stuff.”
“Newsday” now reports that after a brief dispute with the new owners, Mr. Mancini has now returned to his job as editor of “Newsday.” It also hints that the dispute was about the paper‘s coverage of a scandal involving the basketball team also owned by the paper‘s new owners. AS usual with Bill-O‘s delusions, it had nothing to do with him, even though he is the center of the universe.
Our runner up, frontier airlines, its flight attendant, Amy Flemming, and the authorities who the carrier pushed to prosecute a passenger named Tamra Joe Freeman (ph). On flight, her two kids quarreled about the window shade. They managed to spill mom‘s drink on her. She swatted each of them on the thigh as punishment. The flight attendant came over and told her to stop spanking her kids. Ms. Freeman was not pleased. She swore. She threw what was left of a can of juice on the floor.
She was then arrested of a terrorist act, was the accusation, spent three months in jail, pleaded guilty, now has lost custody of her kids. A passenger nearby said, “it was a nasty loud exchange, but Ms. Freeman capitulated and offered no resistance.” Flight attendant is unrepentant;
“absolutely, she deserved a felony conviction.” Did she deserve to lose her children, Ms. Flemming? How are you sleeping at night, by the way?
Our winner, Chris Wallace of Fixed News. The fumbling over the oath of office yesterday, participated by Chief Justice Roberts, led to that do-over tonight. But Mr. Wallace said, quote, “I have to say, I‘m not sure that Barack Obama really is president of the United States, because the oath of office is said in the Constitution, and I wasn‘t at all convinced that even after he tried to amend it, that John Roberts ever got it out straight and that Barack Obama ever said the prescribed words.”
Even though by the Constitution the new president becomes the new president at noon on January 20th, whether he is swearing the oath at the hour or taking a bath. Honestly, Chris, what are you, 11 years old? Chris Wallace of Fox Noise, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: Though the speech was relatively brief at 18 minutes, the song was truly short, only four stanzas, which is critical if you have to dance to it ten times. But in our number one story, that love song, doubled as revelatory political commentary last night, because of two simple words, the title “At Last.”
Yes, there was dancing to the classic song made popular by Etta James in 1961, the year President Obama was born. By the first time the first couple rounded out the tenth and final ball, “At Last” no doubt had new meaning. But for the nation, eight years and then, in an instant, President Obama‘s predecessor had exited, at last.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I hear there are rumors on the Internets.
Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren‘t able to practice their love with woman all across this country.
As yesterday‘s positive report card shows, children do learn when standards are high.
I‘m ordering ribs.
We‘re Making progress on the ground.
Sure Barney, you and Ms. Beasley could be junior park ranger if you want to.
DR. PHIL MCGRAW, “DR PHIL”: Were you all spankers? Did you spank them?
BUSH: Not really.
LAURA BUSH, FMR. FIRST LADY: Not often.
BUSH: Not really, we were—
It seems like I was here yesterday. I was.
Need some wood?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: From Washington, that is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,083rd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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