updated 3/5/2009 12:19:51 PM ET 2009-03-05T17:19:51

Guests: Howard Fineman, Jonathan Alter, Jonathan Turley, Sheldon Whitehouse

High: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Spec: Politics; Economy; Government

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

Now, Boss Limbaugh is not the leader of the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® VIRGINIA:  It is not about Rush Limbaugh.  It‘s not about hoping that they fail.  No one wants this country or the economy to fail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Except, Republican Senator Vitter of Louisiana says, “I hope, he,” Obama, “fails in advancing leftist policy.  I think what Limbaugh was saying was largely what I am saying.”

For Boss Limbaugh—it‘s always about Boss Limbaugh, as he challenges the president to a debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  If these guys are so impressed with themselves, and if they are so sure of their correctness, why doesn‘t President Obama come on my show?

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  There‘s a lot of popcorn going around for folks who are watching this and enjoying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Popcorn, did somebody say popcorn?

Breaking news: Compromised reach.  Karl Rove and Harriet Miers will testify to House Judiciary, sort of.

The John Yoo memos day three: The legal opinions that authorized President Bush to start his own mini-military dictatorship.

Now, primary evidence for the proposed truth commission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) WISCONSIN:  I think a truth commission, as the chairman has proposed, is the best way to get the comprehensive story out to the American people and the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  On the commission and the memos, our guest, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

The abuse of 911 emergency lines: It‘s a crisis, of course, that does not mean it is also funny.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  OK, what‘s going on there?

CALLER:  I ordered chicken nuggets and they don‘t have chicken nuggets.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  McNuggets, did somebody say McNuggets?

With his role in politics reaching critical mass, we ask—using his own words—who is Boss Limbaugh?

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to mainstream society.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Y-M-C-A.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening from New York.

The congressional leadership of the GOP may attempt to deny it—but in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: If Boss Limbaugh has not elevated himself to the leadership of the Republican Party and if Republican lawmakers are not referring to him as such, why in the world did Limbaugh today challenge President Obama, the actual leader of the Democratic Party, to a debate?  And, oh, by the way, Mr. Obama also happens to be the actual leader of the United States of America.

More bowing to Limbaugh by Republicans, now failing at message discipline, in response to the question whether they like Limbaugh and want President Obama to fail.  Voting yes, Republican David Vitter of Louisiana now admitting that he believes Limbaugh is right.  Quoting him, “I hope Obama fails in advancing leftist policy that I strongly disagree with.  I think what Limbaugh was saying was largely what I am saying.”

Meanwhile, the Republican leadership of the House is still trying to walk the tightrope by instead attacking the White House for having created the diversion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR:  It‘s not about hoping that they fail.  No one wants this country or the economy to fail.  It is about trying to fight for the policies that will actually produce results.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER:  This is nothing more than a distraction created by the administration to take people‘s attention away from the fact that they are trying to raise taxes and grow the size of government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But boy, you helped them.

The White House today is going public in declaring Boss Limbaugh the new leader of the GOP, if not its boogey man.  Democratic insiders are saying as much to “Politico.”  Obama campaign manager, David Plouffe, who knows a thing or two about winning, is declaring it a losing strategy in a “Washington Post” op-ed.

Boss Limbaugh is all but bottoming out in direct response to the Democratic article, seeming to believe it reasonable and logical that he, a radio talk show host, should get to debate the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Now that your handlers are praising themselves for promoting me as the head of a political party, they think that‘s a great thing, then it should be a no-brainer for you to further advance this strategy by debating me on the issues and on the merits, and wipe me out once and for all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Be careful for what you wish.

But wait, there‘s more.  Boss Limbaugh is also alleging that the White House has him and three others in the crosshairs of a Nixonian enemies list, quote, “Your flunkies are demanding this debate.  Your flunkies are targeting a private citizen with an enemies list that so far has three or four names on it.  Mine, Sick Rantelli, Jim Cramer at CNBC, and let‘s not forget, Joe the Plumber.”

I‘m sorry.  I always do that.  Rick Santelli.

RNC chairman and erstwhile Limbaugh foil, Michael Steele, is saying, perhaps the wisest thing he ever has, this morning on “The Today Show,” when he described the entire Boss Limbaugh spectacle as worthy of popcorn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEELE:  My goal is to stay focused on trying to get us in a direction where we can win and have something important to say to the American people.  This is a great sideshow distraction.  You know, there‘s a lot of popcorn going around for folks who are watching this and enjoying it, but I‘ve got to stay focused on trying to put a message out there that‘s going to move us forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A lot of popcorn.

Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Would anybody less than someone who perceives himself to be the leader of the Republican Party challenge the president of the United States to a debate?

FINEMAN:  Well, I know Rush Limbaugh.  I‘ve written about him a lot.  I‘ve even interviewed him in his office.  I‘ve even gazed at the golden microphone.

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  But, why limit it?  Why limit it?  And therefore, Keith, I

say, why limit it to the Republican Party?  You know, he thinks he‘s a

leader of a movement.  He thinks he‘s a leader of the planet.  I mean, this

Rush Limbaugh knows no bounds in his—in his regard for his own power, both actual and potential.

That‘s what makes him great at what he does.  That‘s what makes him poison for the Republican Party.

OLBERMANN:  Well, to that point, we know Limbaugh‘s motivation here.  He makes—he makes money and he enjoys himself doing this.  But certainly, he must realize, at some point, that each day that this goes on, it must necessarily undermine the very party and the very movement and many of the actual politicians that he claims to support, does he not?

FINEMAN:  No.  He does not.  He does not.  Again, I don‘t want to oversell this, but I‘ve covered the guy for a long time.  I‘ve known him for 20 years.

He thinks he‘s helping.  He thinks that he doesn‘t have any ultimate loyalty to the Republican Party.  He thinks of himself and he says repeatedly, and I believe him, that he‘s a movement guy.

The movement is all about him.  Because ultimately, he thinks he‘s the only person who can, certainly in today‘s circumstances, properly articulate the conservative agenda which he thinks should be the Republican agenda.  And it‘s because the Republican Party is so bereft of leaders and ideas right now, or at least new ideas, or at least forcefully expressed ideas, or at least engaging leaders, or at least people with some guts who can engage Barack Obama that Rush Limbaugh is left alone on the playing field.

And he‘s perfectly willing to deal with that situation.  As a matter of fact, I think Rush likes it.  Obviously, he loves it.  And, no, he doesn‘t think he‘s hurting the Republican Party.  He wants to save it by his lights.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, I was giving him more credit than that.  The Republican leader, Mr. Boehner, and the whip, Mr. Cantor, were trying to create some distance between the party and Limbaugh today.  Can we declare that effort a failure, at least for this news cycle?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think so.  I think so.  I think—I think, merely listening to Rush and watching him, listening to him communicate, and he‘s brilliant at doing it on his terms, and then watching, you know, Boehner and Cantor and company, you see why Rush Limbaugh is where he is.

And it‘s also a function of the fact that the Republican Party‘s ratings, Keith, their standing with the American public is right down there in the Madoff, that sort of Bernie Madoff level.  Nobody is listening to them.  Nobody is paying attention to them.

Barack Obama‘s numbers are stronger than when he started.  The fact that he has lifted the country‘s sense of confidence from like 15 percent or 16 percent of the American people, saying the country is going in the right direction, to 41 percent or 42 percent in only a few weeks, that‘s Herculean by the standards of politics.

Nobody is listening to the traditional Republican leaders.  Nobody is really listening to the conservative leaders we used to know.  That leaves Rush Limbaugh and that‘s why we‘re in a situation we‘re in and there‘s nothing that the Republican leaders in the Hill can do about it right now.

OLBERMANN:  What about the Democratic leaders?  I mean, in contrast to David Plouffe and Rahm Emanuel and many others that—the press secretary, Mr. Gibbs, said from the podium today, it maybe counterproductive to continue this engagement.  What do they say in this and how much of a shelf life does it have from the Democratic point of view?

FINEMAN:  Well, I do think there‘s a limit to it.  But, I think, they‘re nuts to do it, frankly.  Barack Obama bestrides the world.  Why get down in it with Rush Limbaugh.  I think it‘s—I think it‘s a function of the combative wing, the political campaign wing of the Democratic Party and its leaders and people like James Carville and Paul Begala, who talk every day to Rahm Emanuel, the chief-of-staff.  Rahm is behaving like campaign guy not only like a chief-of-staff guy.

You don‘t have to drive the Republican numbers down any further than they already are.  They‘re already in the basement.  So, I think, Gibbs and other adults around there, they are trying to reassert themselves.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, the Harlem Globetrotters need the Washington Generals.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  Yes, I guess.

OLBERMANN:  And thank you, by the way, for this image of the new RNC chair, Bernie Madoff.

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

(LAUGHTER)

FINEMAN:  OK.  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The thesis of Limbaugh‘s revised central argument, that he wants President Obama‘s economic policies to fail but not the country nor the economy itself, Limbaugh espousing a belief in things such as free market capitalism and a little-to-no government regulation and pure taxes for the rich—like him.

All week long, Boss Limbaugh and the right-wing are now claiming that the stock market began to decline and decline solely because Barack Obama was nominated for president last year, attempting to conflate the start of its decline with the calendar, even though that doesn‘t match, and, of course, the Democratic National Convention in Denver, even though that doesn‘t match.

Rupert Murdoch‘s “Wall Street Journal” is advancing a new line of attack, with its editorial that Obama has already had plenty of time to fix the economy and has failed to do so—six weeks to the day after he assumed office and two weeks after he signed the stimulus plan into law.

Let‘s turn now to our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A free market economy with little government regulation and a far heavier tax burden on the poor and the middle class than on the rich—would that not describe the conditions that sort of got us into this, you know, economic crisis in the first place?  I mean, is Limbaugh not advocating economic policies that have already proven fatal or at least a failure?

ALTER:  Yes, we‘ve seen this movie before, which is why I actually disagree with my colleague, Howard Fineman, a little bit.  I think it‘s smart for the White House to take this idea that Limbaugh wants Obama to fail and imprint it on the brains of every American, so that we know exactly where they are coming from.  They want new approaches and new ideas to fail, and they want to go back to old ideas which have already proven to be failures.

Look, this recovery that took place after 2001 was the first recovery in American history where the middle-class slipped behind, median house hold income for Americans fell by $2,000 even as the economy was growing.  So, that‘s before the latest crisis.  This system of unfettered free market cowboy capitalism has failed.  It has objectively failed.

And so, the idea of going back to it is objectively stupid.

OLBERMANN:  But the idea—but, of course, the idea that everything is “The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral,” that‘s not correct, Jon.  This was all caused by the Obama nomination.

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  This lovely idea here, which they pulled out of some orifice somewhere, it‘s reminiscent of the previous attempts to rewrite history that pertain to, you know, FDR did not solve the Great Depression or ameliorate it, he created it.  I mean, it‘s on that level, isn‘t it?

ALTER:  Yes.  Well, they argued that and I was researching my book about FDR, I found all these Republicans who said that the only reason, you know, the depression happened is because people were worried about Roosevelt when he was nominated and then elected.  Of course, that ignored the fact that the depression had started three years earlier.  You know, and the reason that we went from 5 percent unemployment to 25 percent unemployment, triple what we have now, in 1933, is because Herbert Hoover and his people applied the exact same old-time ideas, failed ideas, to the economy, and they drove the economy into the toilet.

So, if we want to go back to what Rush Limbaugh and so many Republicans are suggesting, what we‘ll do is turn our steep recession into a “Second Great Depression.”  I‘m not sure that‘s exactly what the doctor ordered right now.

I was fascinated, Keith, by Senator McConnell, saying the other week that, of course, the New Deal failed.  We didn‘t get out of the depression until World War II.  Big government spending failed.  That was McConnell‘s Republican message.

What does he think got us out of the depression at the onset of World War II?  Tax cuts?  No.  It was big government spending on defense.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

ALTER:  It‘s the only way government spending, whether it‘s on domestic or defense, is the only way ever to either prevent a recession becoming a depression or to get out of a depression should we have one.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned President Hoover.  I have to defend him.  He was a great man.  He built the Hoover Dam at his own expense.  So, that got us out of the depression, too.

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER:  And he organized the broadcasting industry.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.

ALTER:  You wouldn‘t be here if it wasn‘t for Herbert.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s true.

Last thing, I guessed about this last night, so now, it‘s your turn to guess about this.  Is this whole thing predicated on Republican fears that the stimulus plan is actually going to work and maybe work well, and that just now, they‘re trying to preemptively keep just a couple of points of credit away from Obama and the Democrats if and when this does work?

ALTER:  Yes.  I think that is—that is part of their idea.  They are trying to lay the ground—you know, the groundwork for coming up with other arguments should things not go according to plan, the plan being failure.  Remember, the Republicans now are looking like the “party of jell-o.”  Because if they can‘t stand up to Rush Limbaugh, you know, how are they going to stand up to the Taliban or something else?

So, the basic idea here is that they‘re scraping the bottom of the barrel, and they need a new message and, certainly, a new messenger.

OLBERMANN:  The party of jell-o.  I have to say this again on behalf of all of us who are overweight, never get yourself recorded bouncing up and down like that.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t have to worry about it.  Our own Jonathan Alter, thin man from “Newsweek”—great thanks for joining us.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If you thought you correctly gauged the corruption of this nation over the last eight years, you, as Al Jolson famously said, “Ain‘t seen nothing yet.”  The breaking news on the testimony now scheduled of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to the House Judiciary Committee, sort of.

And as the initial shock recedes, the reality hits on about what those John Yoo memos are really saying about the Bush administration.  Senator Whitehouse discusses with us what the truth commission might look like and if there will be prosecutions from it.  An international human rights lawyer puts it thusly, “We may not have realized it at that time, but in the period from late 2001 to January 19th, 2009, this country was a dictatorship.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The breaking news: A compromise on the testimony of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to the House Judiciary Committee.  Is it too much of a compromise?  Jonathan Turley joins us next.

On the day we first what a truth commission might look like, Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island on the Yoo memos and the contention that this nation was literally a dictatorship for the last eight years.

And remembering Boss Limbaugh.  No, he‘s not retiring.  We just thought it was time to remember all those tinfoil, half-lunatic fringe things he said over the years, since he‘s in charge now.

COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s the good news in the breaking news, and yes, the very thought of it has made the left giddy at times: Karl Rove is going to testify to Congress, under the threat of perjury, about the firings of seven U.S. attorneys, along with former White House counsel Harriet Miers.  Here is the bad news in the breaking news, and yes, it may kill your short lived joy buzz.  It will not be on camera.

Our number four story tonight: The breaking news, a deal at last between the House Judiciary Committee and the former Bush administration.  The terms: Rove will testify to the committee not under oath but under penalty of perjury, and with a transcript of his deposition, the committee reserving the right to call him publicly.  The same conditions applying to Ms. Miers, along with Rove, implicated as involved in the still unexplained firings of seven U.S. attorneys, some of whom reported bucking political pressure to carry out prosecutions for political purposes.

The goal of this testimony: Chairman John Conyers vowing to determine who fired the attorneys and why; specifically, whether they were fired improperly as a political perversion of justice.

Let‘s turn now to Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University.

Thanks for your time tonight, Jon.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In a statement this evening, the White House said the president is pleased with this deal.  Are there reasons he should not be pleased with this deal?

TURLEY:  Oh, I can understand that.  I think that he does not, frankly, want to fight this fight.  He hasn‘t viewed it as something that‘s very important to him.  He‘s focused on the economy.

We‘ve seen that he‘s not really keen on fighting issues on pure principle.  And really, a lot of this is.  Whether he would be forced to testify without privilege was going to put Obama in a direct fight with George Bush.  I don‘t think Obama wanted to see that happen.  I don‘t think George Bush did either.  And so, they both wanted a compromise and they seem to have gotten it.

OLBERMANN:  Why would Mr. Conyers give in on things like testifying in public and under oath?  I mean, even if he is getting something in return, does not the very existence of a deal with these people undercut the fundamental idea that Congress has the right to this testimony?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, I know John Conyers fairly well.  And, he‘s not somebody who will go quietly into the night.  I think that he views this as legitimately a good deal.

It is not uncommon to have depositions that precede public testimony.  There will be a transcript here and it will be subject to criminal penalties.  But most importantly, they are going to get a bunch of documents.  And that‘s going to really expand what they have in terms of their foundation.

So, I think that Conyers doesn‘t think he‘s giving up much in all of this.

OLBERMANN:  But on the subject matter itself, which is the U.S.  attorneys‘ firings, the deal says Rove and Miers are going to significantly limit their invocation of executive privilege.  Given that—given the time that they have had before they have to say anything, given everything involved in this, what reason should we have to expect any meaningful revelation from Rove or Miers or the fact that, you know, when pressed about revealing something we want to know about, the likelihood that they are not going to say, “Oh, that, I‘m sorry, that‘s executive privilege”?

TURLEY:  I think that your anticipation is correct.  We‘re not going to have that Perry Mason moment where Harriet Miers screams up and says, it‘s me, it‘s me.  I did it to the Justice Department.

(LAUGHTER)

TURLEY:  And Rove says that he was her accomplice.  It would make good TV but these are not those types of people.  And I think you are going to find them saying the favorite phrase in Washington, to the best of my recollection, I have no recollection.  And either probably going to find that both these are going to be rather limited acts of testimony.

I assume that the agreement that they reached was that they would not talk about conversations they had with the president, but I do believe it‘s incumbent upon Conyers and others to reveal what was the agreement here.  Because, I think there is a legitimate fear of many that this is just another kabuki dance, that the White House doesn‘t want this fight, it‘s well known.  Congress has already committed to the fight.

And whether we just saw another sort of Washington kabuki, where they‘re going to come in and they know exactly what they are going to be asked, and Congress knows basically what they are going to say and then they‘re going to call it a day.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, definition of terms here.  I only took one law class and it was 32 years ago and it was mostly about the FCC.  But, legally .

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  . aren‘t the statements, “You are not under oath but you are under threat of perjury,” aren‘t they mutually exclusive?

TURLEY:  Well, you would think so.  But actually, it‘s a crime to lie to federal investigators and to lie to congressional investigators.  Now, Rove, it‘s rather odd, because, you know, Rove took five times to get it right in his last grand jury appearances with Scooter Libby.  My clients usually get one.

(LAUGHTER)

TURLEY:  And so, I think that your earlier point is correct that here‘s a guy who took two trips to a grand jury—I‘m sorry, five trips to a grand jury to get his testimony right, has now refused to testify without any basis before Congress and has been given a compromise.  I mean, most lawyers would love this type of client.  He seems to be made of Teflon.

OLBERMANN:  But all of his columns are always accurate.

Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley—thank you, Jon.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Telephoning 911 because you‘re not happy with your “happy meal” order.  It is a terrible epidemic.  But as you‘ll hear next, it is also a hilarious one.

As is the far-right‘s latest whacko claim about the stimulus, not Bobby Jindal‘s delusion about a train running from Disneyland to Vegas, no, now it‘s a train running from Disneyland to the Moonlight Bunny Ranch.

Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment, and your engagement ring is in your drink.  What do you mean you finished your drink?

First, on this date in 1894, was born another of the 20th century‘s most underrated character actor, look for him in “The Philadelphia Story,” witness for the prosecution, the man in the gray flannel suit, even the Egyptian, and you will believe him utterly.  And you may remember that this was the birthday of Henry Daniell.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin with the Oddball imbroglio of the week, Latreasa Goodman of Fort Pierce, Florida, has a crisis of epic proportions on her hands.  Her first line of defense, local emergency dispatch.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  911, do you need police, fire and ambulance?

LATREASA GOODMAN, CALLER:  Police.

911 OPERATOR:  Where?

GOODMAN:  To the McDonald‘s on Delaware.

911 OPERATOR:  What‘s going on there?

GOODMAN:  I ordered a 10-piece chicken nugget with a small fry and she said they don‘t have any chicken nuggets.  And so, I told her I wanted a McDouble and small fry.  And she told me I would have to pick anything else off the menu because she can‘t refund me the difference back out of the meal.  And I told her to just give me all my money back, and she‘s telling me she can‘t give me money back either.

911 OPERATOR:  All right, I‘ll send an officer.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  McDouble or nothing, Ms. Goodman now takes a page out of the Joe McCain playbook, she calls back.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  What‘s going on there?

GOODMAN:  I just ordered some food.  The manager just took my money and won‘t give me my money back and trying to make me get something off that menu that I don‘t want.  I ordered chicken nuggets and they don‘t have chicken nuggets.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The mcfreakies (ph) reaches its denouement with a third call regarding the aforementioned McNuggets.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  OK, what‘s going on?

GOODMAN:  I‘m at the McDonald‘s and I ordered a 10-piece chicken nugget and a small fry, and she took my money and gave me the change back, and then she came back to the counter and said they didn‘t have any chicken nuggets.  Would I like anything else.  She is trying to force me to eat something off the menu that I don‘t want. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  She should have just said there was a Hamburgler in the neighborhood.  Ft. Pierce police have cited Ms. Goodman with misuse of 911.  McDonald‘s says it will now offer her a full refund and complimentary chicken nuggets.  Case closed. 

And coming soon to “Law & Order” fast food unit.  Dong, dong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Yoo memos and the truth commission, summarized thusly, quote, “in the period from late 2001 to January 19th, 2009, this country was a dictatorship.”  We‘ll ask Senator White house about that quote, those memos, this commission. 

And as he blows off his big bazzoo louder than ever, a good time to recap all the un-American things boss Limbaugh has said over the years. 

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

Number three, best news master degree, Liverpool Hope University in England, offering a 12 week course, ending with a dissertation that‘s entitled “The Beatles, Popular Music and Society.”  Cost about five grand.  As Eric Idle‘s Beatles send-up group the Rattles sang, “all you need is cash.” 

Number two, best dumb criminals.  An armed six man gang has broken into a women‘s reproductive health office in Indonesia.  They got away with 1,000 dollars in cash, a supply of birth control pills and several thousand condoms.  Police warn the suspect should be considered armed and dangerous to the ladies. 

Number one, best poorly thought out marriage proposal, Reed Harris of San Juan College at Farmington, New Mexico, decided to put the engagement ring deep into the Wendy‘s Frosty of his hoped for fiance Kaitlin Whipple (ph).  But Reed is apparently the impatient kind.  He thus challenged Kaitlin to a race, who could devour their Frosty first.  Kaitlin won, finishing it whole in just seconds.  Friday this was.  She only got the ring Monday.  She had, of course, eaten it!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A parallel regime secretly tucked inside a Bush administration that is already known to have abrogated our rights, a regime fully prepared to suspend the first, fourth and fifth amendments to the Constitution, at least, including rights of free speech, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, rights of due process. 

In our third story of the COUNTDOWN, that is the stark portrait emerging after the release of nine Bush era legal memos.  As the Senate Judiciary met today to decide if the nation, essentially, has the guts to investigate all this.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of that Judiciary Committee will join us presently. 

Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy today in a hearing on what a truth commission might look like, asked how we got to the point of an administration saying it is OK to break the law.  Six witnesses testified, four in favor of a commission, including Thomas Pickering, former ambassador to the United Nations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS PICKERING, FMR. AMBASSADOR TO THE UN:  It is not enough to say America is discounting the policies and practices of the recent past.  We must as a country take stock of where we have been and determine what was and is not acceptable, what should not have been done and what we will never do again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One of the witnesses against the independent inquiry, veering towards an apology, David Rivkin, former Justice Department for lawyer for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, now of the Counsel on Foreign Relations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID RIVKIN, COUNSEL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  I fundamentally disagree with the narrative that has been portrayed here of the Bush administration‘s alleged misdeeds.  Yes, mistakes were made.  Yes, some bad things happened.  But compared with the historical baseline of past wars, the conduct of the United States in the last eight years has been exemplary. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The main bone of contention will be whether to grant blanket immunity to former Bush administration figures who might testify to a truth commission.  One thing is for certain, legal scholars may characterize those once secret memos for what they were.  From “Harper‘s” columnist and international human rights lawyer Scott Horton, “we may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001 to January 19th, 2009, this country was a dictatorship.  The Constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended.” 

Joining me now, as promised, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.  Great thanks for your time tonight, senator.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND:  I‘m delighted to be with you, Keith.  Thank you for the invitation. 

OLBERMANN:  The memos in a moment.  First, the truth commission, is this going to happen and what is the next step to getting there if it is? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I‘m not sure it is going to happen.  I hope it does.  Whether or not that particular truth commission happens, between executive oversight, criminal prosecutions, Congressional oversight and your work of the fourth estate, this must and will get out.  But I very much hope a truth commission is a part of that. 

OLBERMANN:  As for what it might or would look like, so many of your colleagues, Senator Feingold said this yesterday, do not support blanket immunity.  Should any compromise on this include any immunity?  Is it touch and go?  Should there be some sort of calibration on this in order to get to the truth? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think there needs to be very careful coordination between the commission and Department of Justice on immunity.  No truth commission should grant immunity unless they clear it with the Department of Justice.  What you don‘t want to do is step in the way of a potential prosecution and interrupt it by giving people immunity improperly.  They should have the power to grant immunity, but it should be restricted and required to be coordinated with the prosecute of power of the Department of Justice. 

OLBERMANN:  Now about the John Yoo memos.  Let me reread that quote from this international human rights lawyer, Scott Horton.  “We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period of late 2001 to January 2009, this country was a dictatorship.  The Constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended.”  Senator, do you agree with Mr. Horton? 

WHITEHOUSE:  It was bad.  I‘ve been drilling into OLC for some time now.  I have described it as Dick Cheney‘s little shop of legal horrors.  This recent disclosure only makes it worse.  The difference between America, a country of laws, and some tin pot dictatorship, where everybody does what the generalissimo tells them, is institutions like the Office of Legal Council, which are supposed to do their duty, which are supposed to follow the law, which are supposed to be driven by principles higher then the urgencies of the moment. 

For them to have rolled over and allowed themselves to be told what to say and to do so in ways that just are flagrantly apart from any defensible legal theory, really shows how bad things got.  It really helps make the case for why we need this kind of investigation.  This kind of stuff can‘t keep happening in America. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator, if you have drilled into it, and you‘ve looked at this carefully, as you say you have, does it suggest that maybe a truth commission might not be enough, and that we might actually have to have a special prosecutor?  Would you support that idea? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think it may be early to talk about a special prosecutor.  A special prosecutor would probably want to have a lot narrower focus than the broad look at the issues that we are talking about in the truth commission.  But nothing, I think, should prevent a special prosecutor being invoked at the appropriate time.  And I would not be surprised if we got to the point where that was appropriate. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you have a bearing, a sense of the president‘s opinion about this, and where he‘s going to wind up on it?  I don‘t want to say he has been evasive in giving an answer about it, but he has certainly not committed himself.  Do you think he should support a truth commission if there is no blanket immunity, if the possibility of prosecution is built into the equation? 

WHITEHOUSE:  I think the president is doing the right thing, focusing as hard as he is on the economic troubles our country is presently embroiled in.  People are really hurting, and they need to know that President Obama is working as hard as he can for them.  I think it‘s appropriate for him to let us in Congress begin to sort through these issues, decide a little bit more clearly how much we‘re going to do through Congressional oversight.  Maybe let the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Department of Justice come out with its opinion on the Office of Legal Counsel, see whether the Department of Justice is going to go forward on any of these things, let us come up with how the commission will be shaped.  And then he can enter the debate at that point. 

I think he‘s being prudent, and think we have some work to do ahead of us.  I hope very much that where we end up is a joint effort that President Obama supports, so that we can go forward, clear the decks, let America know what happened and put these unfortunate days behind us. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, great thanks for being so forthright and so direct and for your time tonight, sir. 

WHITEHOUSE:  My pleasure.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, our coverage continues of the military dictatorship memos, and the truth commission.  Her guest is Senator Pat Leahy. 

One way to avoid the truth, Boss Limbaugh.  Time for a COUNTDOWN refresher course on just how off the wall he is in his own words. 

And among the other worst persons, this Fox News actress claims imaginary high-speed rail lines will not go from Disneyland to Vegas, but from Disneyland to the Nevada Bunny Ranch. 

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds out live them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, Still Bushed!

Number three, Diebold-Gate.  California secretary of state has issued a report into why about 200 votes in Humbolt County, California disappeared after last November‘s presidential election.  Apparently, there‘s a button on the machine that you can press and it will automatically wipe out the records the machine is by law supposed to keep for auditing purposes.  The Humbolt incident was an accident, apparently.  The button on the machine, that was not an accident. 

Number two, rewriting history-gate, part A.  A new bill introduced by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa, it falsely claims that 17 of the 18 benchmarks of progress in Iraq set by Congress in May two years ago, have now been met and it congratulates former President Bush on doing such a good job in Iraq.  Co-sponsored with 30 other Republicans, it‘s called the I Am, Too, Crazier Than Michele Bachmann Bill.

Number one, rewriting history-gate, part B.  As we keep pointing out, just because Mr. Bush is gone, that does not mean new problems are not being caused in his name.  The latest, the leading propagandists of the right wing all got the same memo.  Tom Delay, “the left is trying to discredit the conservative movement, discredit the Republican party.  They‘re rewriting history, saying that the last eight years of Bush is what caused the recession.  That is absolutely false and you know it.”

Boss Limbaugh, “Barack Obama has been controlling the political authority on the economy for six months.”

Sean Hannity, “now if we go back to May 6th, when it was apparent that he was going to be probably the Democratic nominee, the stock market was over 13,000.  We go to October, just before the election, the stock market was what, around 11,000 plus mark.”

Right month, manatee, wrong year.  The stock market peaked in October 2007, and has been heading down ever since.  Boss, Sean, termite killer Tom, the NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” poll yesterday, “when you think about the current economic conditions, do you feel this is a situation that Barack Obama has inherited or is this a situation his policies are mostly responsible for?  Inherited, 84 percent, his responsibility, eight percent, some of both, six percent, not sure, two percent. 

So we can now measure exactly how many people in this country the Bush-era propagandists represent, 14 percent, 14.  Boss, Sean, Termite killer Tom, say good-bye now. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As he stands either on the edge of further influence or the end of his career, time to let Boss Limbaugh hang himself with his own words.  We‘ve assembled the highlights, if that‘s the word you would use for them.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O.  There is now a petition online asking the rape victim support group It Happened to Alexa Foundation to withdrawal its invitation to O‘Reilly to speak at its Florida fund-raiser two weeks from tomorrow.  It was O‘Reilly, of course, who three years ago declared a dead New Jersey rape victim a, quote, moronic girl, and proceed to describe how she was dressed before she was brutally and fatally attacked.  The petition, from what is apparently an ad hoc group called Concerned Citizens Against Sexual Violence, includes a new statement from the people at the Alexa Foundation, who told us yesterday that they knew of O‘Reilly‘s blame the victim comments, but still wanted him at their support the victim event. 

The new statement makes even less sense.  An administrator at the foundation is quoted thusly online: “bill is speaking about his new book, not rape victims.”  Now it is a blame the victim person addressing a group of support the victim people.  Now it‘s a blame the victim person trying to sell a product to a group of support the victim people. 

The silver shared by Fox Noise new actress Megyn Kelly and Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona.  The right wing talking point Bobby Jindal spat out a week ago last night apparently did not sick, that eight billion dollars of stimulus money is to be spent on a magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disneyland, one that seemed to terrify the governor. 

So now it‘s not from Disneyland to Las Vegas, it‘s now the whore train.  “It‘s a super-railroad of sorts,” Miss Kelly claims.  “A line that will deliver customers straight from Disney, we kid you not, to the doorstep of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch Brothel in Nevada.”  If only all you were doing was kidding us, Miss Kelly.  “The majority leader of the U.S.  Senate Harry Reid has fought for this publicly and is committed to this project,” Congressman Franks then parroted.

Truth be told, Congressman Reid has been hoping to refurbish an historic train line that ends in Carson City, Nevada, indeed, not seven miles from the doorstep of that brothel.  But the train does not go to Disneyland.  It goes to Gold Hill, Nevada, 14 miles away.  Honestly, Fox, you can do better than this. 

But our winner is the Manatee.  In defense of Boss Limbaugh, arguing with Lanny Davis‘ son, Seth, “did Harry Reid want Bush to win the war,” Hannity blustered?  “Of course, he wanted Bush to win the war,” answered Davis the younger.  “He didn‘t think that Bush was winning the war.  You think Harry Reid wants American servicemen and women to die and be wounded and lose limbs?” 

That‘s when Hannity crossed the line, “yes,” he yelled, “yes!”  That, sadly, is a passive accusation of treason against the majority leader.  Mr.  Reid should sue Mr. Hannity‘s ass off, because, to paraphrase one of Hannity‘s predecessors, “if Mr. Reid is giving comfort to our enemies, he ought not be in the House. “ If, on the other hand, Mr. Hannity is giving comfort to our enemies, he ought not be brought into the homes of millions of Americans by News Corps.  The original version of that quote was from Senator Joe McCarthy, who is probably very proud at this moment in hell of Sean Hannity, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  My apologies to Senator Harry Reid, who I inexplicably put back in the House, in which he last served in 1987.  I don‘t know.  That life take strange twists, you already know.  What you may not know is that if the Kansas City Royals baseball team had recognized the larger than life quality of their director of promotions, or if ESPN had overcome the objections of its mid-‘90s staff and had hired the self-proclaimed football genius, who at least once loitered around its news room so he could watch the preparation of the network‘s Sunday football shows, if either of those things had happened, the head of the Republican party today would be Michael Steele. 

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, time to remind you just who the ex-promotions director of the Kansas City Royals and ex-briefly football commentator of ESPN, Boss Limbaugh, really is, in his own words. 

First, some help for terrorized Republicans from the DCCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a Republican apology generator to Limbaugh.  You go to the DCCC website and fill out a form stating your reason for being sorry to him and why you will never do it again.  Such as, “Dear Rush, I‘m sorry I called you ugly and yes, sometimes I say words that I‘m not thinking.” 

That, of course, is what Limbaugh has done with such benefit to his wallet and such damage to our nation since about 1984. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH:  Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society. 

We are being told we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend over forward, backward, which ever, because his father was black. 

REP. MIKE PENCE ®, INDIANA:  Rush Limbaugh, who I admire, and like millions of Americans, I cherish his voice. 

LIMBAUGH:  We would now like to provide a little safe haven for Eric Cantor. 

REP. ERIC CANTOR ®, VIRGINIA:  Rush, it is great to be on with you. 

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA:  I think Rush is a great leader for conservatives.  I think articulates what a lot of people are concerned about. 

LIMBAUGH:  How many women in the audience, in the deepest dark secrets of your dreams and desires, would be flattered to be hired as eye candy?  I‘m not talking about—I don‘t know how many of you want to be sexually harassed.  That‘s not what I was asking.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL ®, KENTUCKY:  Who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh? 

LIMBAUGH:  I say, keep these freaks out there.  Keep these left wing socialist freaks out there, the femi-Nazis, the 1960s femi-Nazis. 

Whenever I hear from any of these Middle East al Qaeda terrorists, I think I‘m hearing Democrat party talking points. 

Governor Palin, welcome to the program. 

GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  Hey, thank you so much.  Ditto from Scranton. 

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR:  What you do in Missouri matters to millions of Americans.

LIMBAUGH:  He is moving all around and shaking and it‘s purely an act. 

This is really shameless, folks.  This is really shameless of Michael J.

Fox. 

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED:  Hey, Rush. 

LIMBAUGH:  Mr. President, sir. 

BUSH:  All is well.  Did you see our man Ailes at all. 

LIMBAUGH:  Oh yes, I—

BUSH:  Are we on the radio? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For years, the radio talk show host had taken a tough stand on drug cases, advocating prison time for the crime.  But that‘s not what happened when he faced his own drug charge. 

LIMBAUGH:  I am addicted to prescription pain medication. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  President George W. Bush calling to congratulate you on 20 years on important and excellent broadcasting. 

LIMBAUGH:  My cat comes to me when she wants to be fed.  After I feed her, guess what, she‘s off to wherever she wants to be in the house until the next time she‘s hungry.  And she doesn‘t have to do anything for it, which is why I say this cat‘s taught me more about women than anything in my life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Rush Limbaugh is a patriotic, pro-soldier guy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s really funny is they never talk to real soldiers.  They elect these soldiers to come out of the blue and talk to the media.

LIMBAUGH:  The phony soldiers. 

You know, racism in this country is an exclusive province of the left. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Weeks before the Imus controversy, Rush Limbaugh started airing this diddy about Senator Barack Obama. 

(SINGING) 

LIMBAUGH:  Hey, Barack Obama has picked up another endorsement, Halfrican-American actress Halle Berry. 

You are right, they want to get us out of Iraq, but they can‘t wait to get us into Darfur.  

There are two reasons.  What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes. 

LIMBAUGH:  It‘s black and who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them?  If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they‘re in trouble. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  The black population. 

LIMBAUGH:  This is really shameless, folks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He lives at home with his cat?  One other quote, not on tape, sadly, would be from 1995, a very subdued, very modest Mr. Limbaugh to me, in the corner of the main ESPN news room.  “You do a great job.  Gosh, I wish I could work here.” 

That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,125th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

Copy:     Content and programming copyright 2009 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. 

                Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.

                No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

                User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

                personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

                nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

                that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or

                other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

                transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,