updated 2/4/2009 10:15:16 AM ET 2009-02-04T15:15:16

Guest Host: David Shuster,

Guest: Howard Fineman, Craig Crawford, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Turley, Michael Ian Black High: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Spec: Politics; Government

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

The taxman taketh: President Obama loses his pick to help push through health care reform.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  I don‘t think Washington wins.  I mean—look, the fact of the matter is Tom Daschle pulled out today.  And I‘m here on television saying I screwed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But are tax decisions just a tip of the iceberg that sank the Tom Daschle nomination?  And if that‘s not bad enough, another Obama nominee quit over tax issues today as well.  Are the temporary distractions going to leave permanent damage on the president‘s message of change?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Is changing the way Washington works going to be more than a two-week job?  Yes, it is, and thankfully, we‘ve got four years to try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Selling the stimulus: The president sits down with all the networks to put the spotlight back on the economy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Is everything in this bill going to be providing immediate, direct relief?  I hope that the overwhelming bulk of it will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Going after Rove: Word that the former president‘s adviser is cooperating with the Department of Justice investigation.  So, if he can answer questions there but not Congress, what does that do to all of the claims of executive privilege?

And the grand old privilege that is listening to Joe the Plumber. 

First, he picks the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE WURZELBACHER, TV REPORTER:  I‘m sure they are taking a quick shower.  I know I would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now, he‘s fixing the Republican Party.  His new job: Joe the Adviser.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WURZELBACHER:  I think it‘s asinine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER (on camera):  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster. 

Keith Olbermann has the night off.

When Senator Tom Daschle read the newspaper this morning, he said he knew it was over and he told our own Andrea Mitchell in a brief and emotional telephone conversation, quote, “I read the ‘New York Times,‘ I can‘t pass health care if it‘s too much of a distraction so I called the president this morning.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Daschle withdrew his nomination as President Obama‘s secretary of Health and Human Services, and he wasn‘t the only member of the administration today that quit today over tax problems.  It‘s one step forward, two steps back for the president in an increasingly difficult business of filling his cabinet.

President Obama in a statement said that he accepts Daschle‘s decision with sadness and regret.  Now, said the president, we must move forward.

Mr. Obama will also have to move forward without Nancy Killefer, nominated to be the government‘s first chief performance officer.  She withdrew today because of a much smaller problem involving payroll taxes on household help.

For Senator Daschle, however, it looks like his indiscretions were not confined to merely that car and driver on which he failed to pay $128,000 in taxes, but what seemed to have even greater relevance to his once future job at HHS with his work on behalf of the health care industry.  “TPM Muckraker” reports that on his financial disclosure reform, Daschle reported getting paid $390,000 for giving speeches to groups that included America‘s Health Insurance Plans, a trade organization representing health care.

He also received another $100,000 from health-related companies under federal regulation, including more than $5,000 -- an exact figure wasn‘t reported—for giving policy advice to the insurance company, United Health.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said this afternoon that changing the ways of Washington would be more than a two-week job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBBS:  The president understands that changing the way Washington works is not a one or two or even a 15-day project, but it‘s something that encompasses work that he does and has to do each and every day as the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Meanwhile, the “New York Times” reports that Senator Daschle still needs to pay Medicare taxes on the income equivalent to the car and driver.  Yes, you apparently need to do that.

And that rich Democratic supporter who gave Daschle the car and driver as well as $1 million a year paycheck, well, his name is Leo Hindery, and “Politico” reports that Senator Daschle backed him for a job in the Obama administration.  Two Democratic sources tell “Politico” that Mr. Hindery had been mentioned as a possible commerce secretary or U.S. trade representative at Daschle‘s suggestion.

The commerce job finally went to someone else today for a second time.  As expected, President Obama nominated Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

This afternoon in the Oval Office, the president told Brian Williams that the loss of two appointments today left him angry and frustrated, and resolved to do better.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It made me angry and disappointed and, you know, it‘s something I have to take responsibility for.  I appointed these folks.  I think that they are outstanding people.  I think, Tom Daschle, as an example, could have led this health care effort, a difficult effort, better than just about anybody.

But as he acknowledged, this was a mistake.  But I don‘t think it was intentional on his part but it was a serious mistake.  He owned up to it, and ultimately made a decision that we couldn‘t afford the distraction, and I‘ve got to own up to my mistake, which is that—you know, ultimately, it‘s important for this administration to send a message that there aren‘t two sets of rules, you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.

And so, I‘m frustrated with myself, with our team.  But ultimately, you know, my job is to get this thing back on track because what we need to focus on is a deteriorating  economy and getting people back to work.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  How do you prevent the lesson from being that no matter how lofty the goals of the new guy coming in, Washington wins in the end?

OBAMA:  Well, no, I don‘t think Washington wins.  I mean—look, that fact of matter is, Tom Daschle pulled out today.  And I‘m here on television saying I screwed up, and that‘s part of the era of responsibility is never making mistakes, it‘s owning up to them and try to make sure you don‘t repeat them.  And that‘s what we intend to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Finally, let‘s bring in Chris Cillizza, “Washington Post‘s” White House reporter and author of the blog, “The Fix,” on WashingtonPost.com.

And, Chris, great to see you.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  David, thanks for having me.

SHUSTER:  Sure.

Two weeks to the day after the inauguration, and is this where the Obama White House thought it would be?

CILLIZZA:  No.  Look, when they line up all of these interviews with network anchors including the clip you just played with Brian Williams, it was to help sell Barack Obama‘s economic stimulus plan to the country and to the Senate that is debating it this week.  It was not to answer questions about Tom Daschle, about Nancy Killefer, about Barack Obama and his team‘s judgment generally about problems potentially with the vetting process.  This all gets them in that classic political phrase, “off-message.”  That‘s not what they want to be doing.

This is—remember, this is the first 100 days.  This is only the second full week Barack Obama has been president.  I think they wanted an event or events like this to happen way down the road.  They wanted to make sure they are selling Obama‘s agenda every single day.  And today, at least, they are not doing it.

SHUSTER:  Is what Senator Daschle told Andrea Mitchell correct and spin-free that it was entirely his decision to go?

CILLIZZA:  You know, David, this is one of those when I say—it‘s impossible to really know unless you are either Tom Daschle, Barack Obama or maybe Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.  I think that Tom Daschle as a consummate politician, this is a guy who wasn‘t just in the Senate but was the leader of the Democrats in the Senate for a number of years, he understood that this was going to be a very complicated and brutal confirmation process.

Could he have made it through?  That‘s a hypothetical.  We probably won‘t know the answer to.  He might have but he would have been badly battered.  Health care reform would not have been something he would have been able to take up right away.  And I think he looked at the writing on the wall, he looked at his private life, which is frankly pretty good, and he said, “You know what, I‘m going to opt for the private life.”

SHUSTER:  Do we, Chris, who‘s next in line for the Health and Human Services job?  And what will the job—will the job description change somewhat given that whoever is next will not likely have the same text of legislative experience as Daschle had?

CILLIZZA:  On the second one first, yes.  I think, no matter who it is, the process is going to be set back because you‘re going to have the nominations and then the hearings and then a vote, et cetera, et cetera.  That‘s going to take time.  And that person is not going to be the former Senate majority leader.  There‘s only one of those, Tom Daschle.  He‘s not going to be it.

The names that I hear, there are a lot of allies of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean—he is a physician, former head of the Democratic National Committee—who would like to see him considered.  I‘m not sure that he is the warmest of relationship with the Obama White House but there‘s going to be a push there.

Other names that are in the mix that I‘ve heard, Bill Bradley, Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, even former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber.  So, there‘s a lot of names out there.  This White House keeps its cards very close to its chest.  So, that‘s part of the rumor mill.  I don‘t want to suggest that that‘s coming from them because it‘s not.

SHUSTER:  Put it all in this in there and some context for us.  The Obama administration clearly wants to pass comprehensive health care reform in the months of head.  The time schedule, of course, is still up to debate, but how big a setback is the loss of Daschle in that effort?

CILLIZZA:  It‘s significant.  There‘s absolutely no question.  No one thought that even if Tom Daschle had been confirmed on a 100-to-zero vote in the Senate, that the attempt to reform health care and cover everyone was going to be easy.  It‘s not.

Hillary Clinton certainly can tell you about that experience.  But Tom Daschle—and Barack Obama said this even tonight, he still believed that Tom Daschle was the perfect guy for the job, because of his connections, because of his smarts when it comes to the issue, knowing his way around the issue.  Whoever he picks, I‘m sure will be a competent person but they are not going to have that profile that Tom Daschle had.  It‘s a significant setback for a major piece of the Obama legislative agenda.

SHUSTER:  And, Chris, what do you make of the line or the statement, the admission President Obama made where he said, “I screwed up”?  I mean, it‘s a great way of taking responsibility.  It‘s also something that‘s very unusual when it comes out of the mouth of the president.

CILLIZZA:  It is, David.  And I always return to the historical lesson which is that the last—the next president tries not to repeat the errors of the last president.  If most people thought George Bush was unwilling to stay that he made mistakes, Barack Obama, I think, is going to go—the pendulum is going to swing the other way and say essentially that, “Look, yes, I did screw this up, I screwed things up,” as you heard in that clip with Brian Williams.  It‘s not the error; it‘s how you fix it and how you go on.

That is going to be the imperative of the Obama administration and it‘s clear to draw a sharp contrast with the unapologetic or seemingly unapologetic approach George Bush took to some of the mistakes he made in the office.

SHUSTER:  Chris Cillizza of the “Washington Post”—Chris, thanks for sticking around tonight.  We appreciate it.

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely, David.  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  For more on what happened and what happens now, let‘s turn to our own political analyst, Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

And, Howard, thank you for sticking around as well.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Of course.

SHUSTER:  Tom Daschle told NBC News that he couldn‘t pass health care if he became too much of a distraction.  So, if Daschle can‘t and won‘t be passing health care legislation, the question becomes: Who can?

FINEMAN:  Well, I‘m tempted to say, in addition of all the names that Chris just mentioned, health care is a Clinton family responsibility.  Now, Hillary‘s busy.  She got State.  Had other things happened differently, she might have been nominated for HHS if she‘d been willing to take it and pursue her national health care dreams.  Maybe Bill Clinton would take on the assignment.

All of that is to underscore the fact that health care as get through the crisis phase of the economy here, health care is the big, long-term issue domestically for the United States.  It‘s going to take somebody who was a majority leader or maybe even a president to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.  If Bill Clinton has the time, he‘d be great.

SHUSTER:  I‘m not going to let you mention Bill Clinton without a follow-up here, Howard.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Are you hearing that from anybody on Capitol Hill or do you think it‘s realistic?  Is there anybody pushing for that?

FINEMAN:  No.  My point is that—

SHUSTER:  OK.

FINEMAN:  My point is that Daschle—those shoes are big ones to fill because of the fact that he was majority leader, because he understands how Washington works, because he remains universally respected.  He would have been the perfect guy to try to figure out that tortuous complex of getting health care reform passed on the Hill.  He‘s going to be hard to replace.

SHUSTER:  Two picks taken down by taxes in just one day.  Should we not wonder how many more might be out there?  I mean, how seemingly small an error would it now take to be out of the process here?

FINEMAN:  Well, the whole city is on thin ice.  It‘s a big lake with thin ice.  Because President Obama has laid down a new rule, they are.  Robert Gibbs was right.  These are the toughest ethics rules have been promulgated by a new presidency.  Obama promised a new era and that changes the rules of the game here.

And, I think, especially with all that‘s happened in the last week or two, anybody else coming along for a sub-cabinet position, for a deputy job, the vetting is going to be more intense.  And as Obama himself said, he was upset not only with himself but his team.  And I‘m sure the word has gone down to the team.  Let‘s look even more carefully than we already are.

SHUSTER:  Howard, how much a political capital has President Obama spent on this?  I mean, even if Daschle will no longer be a distraction, will there still be consequences as far as President Obama is concerned?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t think so.  Not long term.  Look, he didn‘t spend that much capital.  And it‘s true, he doesn‘t—even Barack Obama does not have limitless political capital, even though he‘s the most popular new president in modern times.

But I think the key thing here is what Chris Cillizza was saying.  Barack Obama, in all of the interviews he did today, manned up.  He said, “I screwed up, we screwed up.  We can‘t have a double standard.  This was a double standard.  I won‘t put up with it, my bad.”

And I think that that was not only important but impressive.  And if the American people were watching tonight, they, right now at any rate, tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.  And I think he protected himself politically very well by his performances across the networks tonight.

SHUSTER:  Howard, did you get a sense of what specifically he was apologizing for?  I mean, was it yesterday when he was asked, does he stand by Daschle, and he said, “Absolutely.”  Was he apologizing for that?  Was he apologizing for the vetting process not being perhaps as clear as he would like or the initial pick anyway?  What—did you get a sense as to where he was going?

FINEMAN:  Well, I actually—I just think it‘s bigger than that.  I mean, Barack Obama is a big thinker and a deep planner.  He planned his campaign brilliantly.  He didn‘t have the time and it was a hectic campaign down to the wire.  I don‘t think anybody could have planned an administration deep enough, broad enough, and enough detail to take on especially the crises we are facing across the board.

And I think, to some extent, there‘s an off-the-shelf quality here where Obama did not have the time to look for experts around the country who he could have brought in, who weren‘t as steeped in Washington or maybe as soiled by Washington, if you will, to help him in this crisis situation.  He hasn‘t had a lot of time.  He‘s gotten along with politicians.

He‘s gotten along with a lot of experience Washington hands who had the virtue of being able to get up and running quickly but who turned out to have a lot of history behind him, as this true of everybody in Washington than people who might have been fresh from the outside.

If he‘s rethinking things, that, above all, maybe what he‘s regretting now.  But I don‘t know what he could have done about it because he hasn‘t had a lot of time.

SHUSTER:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—Howard, thank you.

FINEMAN:  Thank you very much.

SHUSTER:  When it comes to the economic crisis, President Obama says he wakes up every morning thinking how to help ordinary Americans survive and thrive.  Is that also the priority of Congress when it comes to the stimulus bill?

Plus, why is Karl Rove suddenly cooperating with the Department of Justice investigation?

And more proof the GOP is in a troubled state.  It‘s now turning to Joe the Plumber for advice.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Will Senate Republicans block the stimulus bill?  GOP Leader Mitch McConnell says he‘s in a strong position, thanks to wavering Democrats.

Rush Limbaugh says with a straight face that George W. Bush was not a partisan president.

And, Joe the Plumber is still talking at the request of the GOP.  Why is anyone still listening?

All that and Still Bushed—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  President Barack Obama is determined to sell the stimulus plan and sell it and sell it and sell it.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The president granted interviews with five news anchors today—and behind the scenes, he is basically telling Democrats to do what it takes to get the stimulus package passed.  The president hopes that a west wing meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership yesterday, two sources telling the “Washington Post” that the president was blunt and urged Democrats to drop portions of the bill in order to gain bipartisan support.

And today, even with the distraction of some failed nominations, the president tried to reset the conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There‘s no magic bullet.  We dug a deep hole for ourselves, and because of, I think, some bad decisions that were made, we have the worst economy since the Great Depression.  Now, the recovery package that we put together has, not only immediate relief to families, if they‘ve lost their job, they‘re going to get extended unemployment insurance.  They get to keep their health insurance.

We‘re going to make sure that states don‘t have to lay off teachers, and that they can train teachers for the math and science that is so important for our children.  We‘re also investing in critical infrastructure, green jobs, making sure that we‘re weatherizing 2 million homes, making certain that we‘re laying an electric grid that can save energy over the long-term and wean ourselves off Middle Eastern oil.

And so, there are a range of investments that not only provide jobs immediately but are also designed to lay the groundwork for long-term economic success.  Is everything in this bill going to be providing immediate, direct relief?  I hope that the overwhelming bulk of it will.  Of all of the things that some opponents of the package have talked about, if you tally all those up, they amount to less than 1 percent of the entire package.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The president also emphasized again that the stimulus package is only one part of his plan to revive the economy.  And tomorrow, the president will propose a limit on executive compensation for companies receiving TARP money.  CNBC is now reporting that limit will be $580,000 per year for those executives.

Meanwhile, as the Senate debated the stimulus plan today and began offering amendments, like one giving a tax break to buyers of new cars proposed by Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, passing 71 to 26, there were other Democrats which expressed concern with the package in its current form, like senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.  But they are offering solutions to draw in their modern Republican colleagues.

The Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, today, declined to say whether a filibuster was an option, but he did say that, quote, “considerable Democratic unrest over the bill leaves him in a strong position.”  And the Republicans had to be enticed to attend a conservative working group meeting to plan weekly strategy.  An e-mail reading, quote, “In case you weren‘t planning to attend CWG tomorrow morning, you might want to reconsider because Joe the Plumber will be joining us.”

Finally, the president has received strong support from the nation‘s governors.  Nineteen Democratic and Republican governors, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Governor Charlie Crist of Florida signed a letter supporting the stimulus bill and urging Congress to reach a prompt resolution.

Let‘s bring in the columnist for CQPolitics.com and MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford.

And, Craig, great to see you.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to see you.  It‘s an honor to be on with the hardest working man in television.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Craig.

Let‘s begin with the stimulus proponent in chief.  Is the president still going to get what he wants, a stimulus package by the Presidents Day recess?

CRAWFORD:  Well, if they can get it out of the Senate by the end of this week, which is the plan, and that gives them another week to haggle with the House—between the Senate and House to get something out.

But I think they need more theme, David.  You know, sort of like the pudding that Winston Churchill didn‘t like.  It needs more things that people can really grasp and get excited about.  And, you know, the way Franklin Roosevelt built the great Grand Cooley Dam and inspired Woody Guthrie to write a song about it.  I don‘t see Bruce Springsteen writing any songs about the computerized medical records.

SHUSTER:  To that end, this proposal he‘s going to unleash tomorrow according to CNBC, $500,000 limit on executive compensation for executives who receive TARP money.  How does that fit in?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think, at least, he‘s setting it higher than his own salary.  So that‘s kind of generous.  But I—these are the kinds of things that people grasp and understand.  And politically, to sell them, that‘s the sort of thing he needs to talk about.  You know, things that are around the water cooler people get.

SHUSTER:  Are Senate Republicans, Craig, positioning themselves for a filibuster of this thing or will it get through but simply with a lot of different amendments?

CRAWFORD:  I think unless it‘s changed a bit, maybe a lot, so that it‘s more popular with the public, the Republicans could have the political leverage to filibuster it.  The opinion polls, we saw a Gallup poll out just recently, showing support dropping for this package.  If Obama can‘t turn that around, yes, I think Republicans would be more than happy to filibuster it and play the heroes.

SHUSTER:  And as we pointed out, there are some real differences over certain substantive issues, obviously like whether a portion of the bill should address the mortgage crisis of homeowners.  And Obama—Budget Director Peter Orszag made clear to senators today that the president plans to go after that problem separately.  But, isn‘t that just one example of something that could get this package bogged down?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, and I think part of President Obama‘s problem is—on the one hand, it‘s sort of contradictory.  On the one hand, he‘s pushing the panic button on the economy to get the political will out there in the country, to get something through Congress.  But on the other hand, he‘s trying to take his time to figure out what are the right things to do.  So, those contradictory paths are, I think, one reason we are seeing some confusion.

But, I think, at the end of the day, what Obama needs to do is what I heard he did back in the fall, last fall in the campaign when this economic crisis first erupted, he supposedly said to advisers, “Tell me what the right thing to do is and I‘ll figure out how to sell it.”  That‘s how presidents ought to do things.

SHUSTER:  Craig, one thing that was noted today, the president, as far as process, has not been openly telegraphing every detail regarding the compromises he‘s willing to make on this bill.  He has been keeping to these meetings with congressional Democrats.  Is that a wise and smart strategy?

CRAWFORD:  I actually think it is.  Obama is a very careful man.  And, one of the things I‘ve noticed, going back to the campaign, is—he tries to keep his options open and he‘s pretty good at that.  And that‘s a smart strategy.

As Calvin Coolidge once said, “Presidential words should be sparingly used and not used indiscriminately so they carry more weight.”  The same thing with the president making decisions like this.  I think, at the end of the day, he‘ll have to come down on some specifics, but it‘s probably wise to wait as long as he can.

SHUSTER:  MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford, also of CQPolitics.com—and, Craig, thanks as always.

CRAWFORD:  Good to see you.

SHUSTER:  Politics is not for the faint of heart, the presser that turned a prime minister into a paramedic in Oddball.

Speaking of fainting, that might have been your reaction when you saw this porn clip pop up during the Super Bowl.  Wait until you hear about the apology from the cable provider.  That‘s ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  There‘s no way around doing one of these “this date in history” spots without acknowledging that on this date in 1959 musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson were killed when their airplane crashed into an Iowa cornfield. 

However, also on this date 200 years ago in 1809, the territory of Illinois was established.  Nine years later, Illinois became a state and its legislature immediately began conspiring against future Governor Rod Blagojevich. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.” We begin in Budapest, Hungary, where it‘s cold and flu season, which didn‘t stop Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany from holding a press conference alongside his spokesperson, Bernadette Budai.  As the presser dragged on, you can see Budai apparently feeling sick, trying to leave the room and then bumping into the prime minister on her way out. 

The prime minister managed to grab her before she hit the deck, hoisted his spokesperson up bodyguard style, and carried her away from the cameras.  Budai is reportedly fine and recovering from her flu.  The prime minister is being hailed as a hero and is thankful he didn‘t pick as a spokesman a big fat guy. 

To New York‘s Staten Island where yesterday “Chuck the Groundhog” took a bite out of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  You can see Bloomberg trying to coax the animal out of his little house with a corn cob.  Chuck apparently didn‘t like the teasing and took a chunk out of the mayor‘s hand.  The mayor‘s finger was bloodied up a little but he was fine. 

By the way, the groundhog did not see his shadow in New York, meaning a short winter, at least for the Big Apple.  Also, Chuck does not have rabies, meaning the mayor can avoid all of those shots. 

Finally, to Wickford, Rhode Island, where yesterday “Willie the Lobster” was released back into the ocean.  Willie weighed 20 pounds and was believed to be 65 years old.  He avoided being drawn and buttered after his captors raised $1,000 for charity. 

And if you‘ve never seen the sight of a lobster going back to his natural environment, get your tissue ready, folks. 

(VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Are you guys sure that thing was still alive? 

So Karl Rove tells Congress he has got executive privilege, so forget about your questions.  But the DOJ comes calling and now he‘s cooperating.  Is someone afraid of prison? 

And the latest sign yet the GOP has lost its way.  The headliner giving advice to the Congressional Republicans on the economy, “Joe the Plumber.” We wish we were kidding. 

These stories ahead.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World.” Number three, best apology for airing porn during a Super Bowl to Comcast Cable.  If you live in Tucson, Arizona, and saw the 30-second clip of full frontal male nudity that was mistakenly aired during the fourth quarter of Sunday‘s Super Bowl, good news! 

Comcast Cable is offering a $10 credit to subscribers who were impacted.  Sounds chintzy, but then again, I saw Janet Jackson‘s nipple and all I got was a lousy halftime show.  So be happy. 

Number two, best multitasking to an unidentified 20-year-old man in Cleveland, Ohio.  The man made a 911 call to police reporting that he was being watched by two men with guns, and then he hung up. 

The dispatcher called the man back but was subsequently put on hold by the man.  The dispatcher overheard the man selling heroin before he could tear himself away and return to the 911 operator.  It‘s all on tape and the guy was later arrested. 

And number one, best smuggling live animals in your pants.  A 23-year-old Australian man returning from Melbourne from Dubai was detained by authorities who asked him to take off his pants, where they found two pigeons wrapped in padded envelopes and held to each of the man‘s legs with a pair of tights. 

They also found two eggs, some seeds, and an undeclared eggplant on this man‘s person.  But the real story, if we take the picture full, is that the man apparently—is that the man who apparently killed a bear and attempted to sneak its fur into the country by wearing it all over his legs? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  For years he has refused to cooperate with any investigation in the political firing of nine U.S. attorney generals.  But tonight in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, Karl Rove has capitulated, just as a new era begins at the Justice Department.  And 12 minutes past 10:00 this morning, Eric Holder became the nation‘s first African-American attorney general, promising foremost to rid the DOJ of  Bush-era partisanship. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  There shall be no place for political favoritism, no reason to be timid in enforcing the laws that protect our rights, our environment and our principles as long as I have the opportunity to lead this great department.  This may be a break from the immediate past, but it is consistent with the long history of the Department of Justice. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As to that immediate past, Karl Rove has now agreed to cooperate with a federal criminal investigation into the U.S. attorney scandal, headed up by acting Connecticut U.S. Attorney Nora Dannehy.  That probe, instigated in part because of Rove‘s and other White House officials‘ refusal to cooperate in two earlier DOJ investigations. 

Rove‘s lawyer blaming Bush lawyers for his client‘s previous reticence, quote: “ It was not his, Karl‘s call.  It was not up to us to decide.” Joining me now is constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley. 

And, Jonathan, thanks for your time tonight.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  Jonathan, why is Karl Rove cooperating now?  I mean, what‘s the difference between this DOJ investigation and the other DOJ investigations that he refused to cooperate with? 

TURLEY:  Well, you know, Karl Rove and President Bush himself is in a rather difficult position because they‘ve refused to give information in some cases to the courts.  They are continually refusing to give information to Congress.  And now they would be refusing to give information to the executive branch. 

That would be the ultimate dead-hand control of ex-President Bush over the new administration.  And it would make it look like they were at war with the entire government.  They obviously can‘t do that. 

And so I think that they are realizing that this floating ice that they are standing on is getting smaller and smaller. 

SHUSTER:  So if he can cooperate now with the DOJ investigation, doesn‘t he also then have to cooperate with the congressional investigations? 

TURLEY:  I think what they‘re going to argue is that they really can‘t continue to maintain the rather untenable position.  That they are going to invoke executive privilege to protect the executive branch against information from the executive. 

I mean, it just—it‘s rather bizarre.  And I think that they have realized that they can‘t maintain that view.  President Obama is not likely to support the sweeping claims of his predecessor.  And they have to do something to improve their situation, which is getting worse by the day. 

If the Congress goes forward and issues another contempt sanction, Karl Rove may be looking at a real chance of indictment.  They might let it go to the grand jury.  And the thought of his being thrown in the superior court or more likely to the federal district court in this case, in front of a D.C. jury, really, I think will concentrate the mind. 

SHUSTER:  Now that Karl Rove has reportedly agreed to start talking at least to the Justice Department, will that put more pressure on others who have refused to cooperate, for example, like Harriet Miers, former White House counsel? 

TURLEY:  Oh, I think it will.  I mean, you don‘t want to be the last sailor protecting Captain Queeg‘s strawberries.  I mean, you—and that‘s sort of what this is getting to look like.  That people are beginning to realize that there‘s nothing abstract anymore about all of this. 

They are looking at a real chance of contempt.  You have got John Conyers, who seems to feel that he has got now a clean shot at these witnesses and he‘s not going away.  You have a president who‘s not likely to support the executive privilege claims of his predecessor. 

That leaves these people as designated defendants.  And I‘m not too sure they want to be the last one without a chair. 

SHUSTER:  And, Jonathan, what sort of time frame would we be talking about, for example, with Karl Rove, if he puts up some sort of legal hurdle, and says, you know, because of the following legal issues, how long does it take to get that resolved? 

TURLEY:  Well, I think that the House Judiciary could move very quickly on their contempt issue.  And it could be back in front of a potential grand jury within weeks if they really wanted it to. 

As for the executive branch, of course, Karl Rove is going to cooperate.  To not cooperate would be facially ridiculous.  He would be saying, I need to keep protecting executive privilege from the executive branch. 

No one is going to find that one rather understandable.  And I think that you see the first effort to change their position, but this won‘t be the last. 

SHUSTER:  Finally, Attorney General Eric Holder, he‘s promising to take politics out of the Justice Department, and yet there are so many people that work there now, were placed there by the Bush administration because of partisan preferences.  And, of course, they‘re still there. 

So does the attorney general need to re-evaluate some of the members of his own department? 

TURLEY:  You know, David, I think that it‘s not in Eric Holder‘s character and I think that appropriately they are not going to start to pull all of these people and harass them or suggest we‘re going to fire them. 

But that doesn‘t mean that it‘s going to be an easy time for them.  It‘s going to be like being part of a rather disfavored class, like the year that produced really bad pinot noirs.  You‘re in the class of Justice attorneys selected by Monica Goodling.  You know, that‘s not a great resume-booster. 

But I think that Holder is going to protect those people and say, look, I‘m not going to start to pursue all of these individuals because they‘re in the class of Monica Goodling. 

SHUSTER:  Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. 

Jonathan, thanks, as always, we appreciate it.

TURLEY:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Fresh from solving the crisis in the Middle East, “Joe the Plumber” takes the lead on Republican economic policy . 

For apparently the first time, the Pentagon has released a total figure for fatalities in Iraq from invasion through the surge, not U.S.  fatalities, Iraqi civilians. 

And when Rachel Maddow joins me at the top of the hour, Obama is going to limit executive salaries for bailed-out companies.  Rachel talks to the man who advocated that all along, Senator Bernie Sanders.  All of that ahead.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  “Joe the Plumber” campaigned for John McCain, and McCain is still a senator.  “Joe the Plumber” goes to the Middle East to solve the peace crisis, and there‘s still no peace.  So with a track record like that, who reaches out to him for help?  The Republican Party.  Comedian Michael Ian Black picks apart that move next. 

But first, because they may be gone but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, our number two story tonight, still “Bushed.” Number three, legacy-gate. 

Bush water terrier Rush Limbaugh this week tried to rewrite the history books before they come out.  Limbaugh said Bush, quote, “ had a reverence for the office, that‘s why he didn‘t get partisan, he thought it was irreverent to turn the office of the presidency into partisan strategic battle place.” 

Real historians may go with Republican Congressman Jerry Moran‘s account, as reported in The Wichita Eagle.  Moran, quote: “Bush kind of lectured, it was about, are you with me or against me, in the days of President Bush.”  Now Moran is seeing, quote, “a different level from Obama to find some level of common ground.” 

Number two, “how we know there are evil-doers”-gate:  Two weeks ago a federal judge ordered the release of a 21-year-old Gitmo detainee, 14 when he was captured.  Why?  The judge didn‘t trust the government‘s informant.  Today The Washington Post reveals who that informant is.  Yasim Mohammed Basardo (ph) was a Taliban fighter and drug dealer and now a Gitmo detainee. 

According to a secret military report, Basardo was already considered not credible in 2004 because he gave info on at least 60 other detainees.  Much of that info, like tips that other detainees attended al Qaeda training camps, the government knew was false because those trainees weren‘t even in Afghanistan at the time. 

Did the government know Basardo had reason to lie?  They should have.  They rewarded him for it with a video game player, CD player, coffee, chewing tobacco, a trucking magazine and McDonald‘s apple pies.  Not loving it. 

And number one, the damage done-gate, 4,200 American service members have been killed in America‘s war to neutralize a fictional Iraqi threat, liberate Iraq, and establish an Iraqi democracy palatable to the United States.  Those lives were a price this country‘s government and most of its citizens chose to pay to accomplish its aims in Iraq. 

Iraq, of course, did not choose the sacrifice it has made to swap the tyranny of Saddam for the tyranny of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing.  And the American government has never issued an authoritative estimate of what price Iraq has paid, until now. 

We already knew about the 4 million-plus Iraqis displaced from their homes, 2 million from the country itself.  We already knew that women traded fear of Saddam for fear of honor killings.  Now in a report from the Pentagon‘s inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, the U.S. military has offered what appears to be its first official estimate of Iraqi fatalities from the invasion through the surge. 

The number of Iraqi civilians who had to die for the Bush/Cheney choice: 95,236.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN and tonight, great news for Republican lawmakers left out in the wilderness after the pass two elections that have swept the Democratic Party back in power.  Backup is on the way and his name is Joe.  Actually, it isn‘t Joe.  He calls himself Joe.  Anyway, Michael Ian Black will be here in a moment.

First, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, AKA, “Joe the Plumber,” was on Capitol Hill this morning for a political strategy session about economic stimulus with the Conservative Working Group, which, according to politico.com is an organization of conservative Capitol Hill staffers who meet regularly to chart GOP strategy for the week. 

So next week they‘re on their own.  It‘s not clear what economic expertise Wurzelbacher has.  You may recall that Mr. “The Plumber” who was actually an unlicensed plumber, challenged Barack Obama‘s proposed tax plan during the campaign, even though he had some tax issues of his own. 

He then rocketed to stardom and helped the McCain campaign finish second in a two-man race for the presidency.  He then helped American learn about their transition to digital television as the pitch man for some tech Web site. 

And most recently, “Joe the Plumber” returned from Israel where he was a war correspondent for a conservative Web site, and where he helped broker a fragile cease-fire. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Joining us now is Michael Ian Black, comedian and author of the new children‘s book “Chicken Cheeks.”

Michael, thanks for being here. 

MICHAEL IAN BLACK, COMEDIAN:  Thanks for having me. 

SHUSTER:  Are we witnessing a renaissance in the Republican Party led by “Joe the Plumber” and some of us are just not seeing it? 

BLACK:  Well, it‘s hard to say, because you know that expression, it‘s always darkest before the dawn?  So I‘m unclear whether the GOP is in its darkest period or its dawn period.  I‘m not sure which part he fits into. 

You have got your GOP leaders being essentially “Joe the Plumber,” Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh.  Darkest or dawn?  Unclear. 

SHUSTER:  This is how one senator‘s aide tried to attract people to the meeting “Joe the Plumber” attended this morning.  Quote: “In case you weren‘t planning to attend CWG tomorrow morning, you might want to reconsider because ‘Joe the Plumber‘ will be joining us.” 

No mention of food or snacks.  But on a Tuesday at 9:00 a.m., is that enough to get you out of bed? 

BLACK:  Absolutely, yes.  I mean, not necessarily to hear him talk about economics, but if I have got a leaky toilet, right?  If I‘ve got a humidifier that needs some attention, I‘m out of bed like spring, buddy. 

SHUSTER:  Well, Joe is certainly quite the Renaissance man.  He has now tackled all of the tough issues, economic stimulus, the Middle East, the transition from analog to digital television.  What do you suppose is next for him? 

BLACK:  Well, my understanding is that we need a secretary of health and human services.  I‘m just saying.  If he could only do for health care what he has done for every other project that he has tackled, nothing good will happen. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Turning to another political celebrity, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich finally ended his two-day media blackout this morning to go on the “TODAY” show and suggested that top Illinois senators are interesting in paying him to stay on as a ghost governor who would then step aside after two years.  First off.

BLACK:  Now wait a second, did he say top Illinois senators?  Because my understanding is there‘s only two. 

SHUSTER:  Well, first off, “ghost governor,” there has got to be a script there.  And second, is this guy for real? 

BLACK:  Well, the Interesting thing about that is my understanding is that he was saying somebody would pay him to basically sit around and not do much.  And my understanding is that pretty much what politicians do anyway.  It seems like he‘s eminently qualified for that position. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Michael, are there any links between the great comedic minds and dirty, dirty politicians that Illinois tends to turns out? 

BLACK:  Well, you know, I‘m from Illinois.  I was born in Chicago.  And while I won‘t say that I‘m a great comedic mind, I will say that it‘s unclear whether Blagojevich is either a dirty politician or perhaps a great comedic mind himself, a little of both. 

SHUSTER:  Well, I‘m curious what you say in your new book—children‘s book “Chicken Cheeks.”  Are there any lessons about the economic crisis or crooked politicians or the switch from analog to digital TV? 

BLACK:  Well, this is a book about animal tushies, so take from that what you will.  I would say that there‘s lessons to be gleaned on every front. 

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Comedian Michael Ian Black, Michael, great to see you, and thanks, as always, for your time.  We appreciate it. 

BLACK:  Thank you. 

SHUSTER:  That is it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for joining us.  I‘m David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.  You can catch me weeknights at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE,” a great show, we hope you‘ll join us some time at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 p.m.  Pacific. 

But our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”

Rachel, it‘s an honor to be part of the neighborhood, a greater honor to introduce you.  Nice to see you.

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

END   

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