updated 4/20/2009 10:00:13 AM ET 2009-04-20T14:00:13

Guest: Jonathan Turley, Matthew Alexander, Jonathan Alter

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Torturing the law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Any activity we conduct is within the law.  We do not torture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  After years of promises, the Bush torture memos show otherwise.  Waterboarding done with greater frequency and intensity than thought—even referred to as torture in the documents.

President Obama criticized from all angles.  The right says he‘s put us at risk by reviewing the memos.  From the left, not prosecuting is not acceptable.  Tonight, Jonathan Turley on the political and legal ramifications.

And reality check from a former military interrogator.  He notes that these extreme techniques do not work.

Are teabaggers the lifeline of the GOP?  Minority Leader Boehner leaks (ph) his job to the prospect of tapping into the movement.  Eugene Robinson tonight on why the Democrats should take this seriously.

The decision 2012 to start last night: Sarah Palin talking to an anti-abortion fund-raiser reminds donors of Obama‘s comments from the campaign trail.

Candidate Obama then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK WARREN, PASTOR:  At what point does a baby get human rights in your view?

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  Answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Sarah Palin now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA:  And by the way, I‘m just a governor, but I don‘t think it‘s above my pay grade to rally you to speak up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The former wedge issue of gay marriage, the guy who couldn‘t put McCain-Palin in the White House says it‘s time for conservatives to embrace same-sex marriage.  But Stephen Colbert has a different message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you know that if all 50 states approve gay marriage, straight marriage becomes illegal?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I heard that somewhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And our look back at the week of the tea bag.  Enough cable network propaganda and satirical innuendo to make your jaw drop.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get ready to tea party.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Good evening.  I‘m David Shuster.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.

Trying to split the difference runs the risk of pleasing no one.  President Obama having released the Bush torture memos but having promise immunity for likely rank and file torturers, now in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The president is coming under criticism from former Bush officials who accuse him of weakening national security by merely releasing those damming memos.

Meanwhile, today, it became even more evident that President Bush knew or should have known that his administration employed torture, even while he was saying, “We do not torture.”

President Obama today was attending the 34-nation summit of the Americas in Trinidad, while two former Bush administration officials pummeled his decision to release those four legal memos authored by Mr.  Bush‘s Department of Justice.  The memos which painstakingly attempt to bring various torture tactics, most notably, waterboarding, under the Bush administration‘s notion of legal.

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, in a “Wall Street Journal” op-ed asserting that President Obama was wrong to release the memos, that doing so prevents the current and every future president from using those so-called enhanced techniques ever again.  But also, as if conceding potential culpability, Mr. Hayden and Mr. Mukasey claim that these techniques were rarely used.

“The techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small-number of hardcore prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation.  And then, only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA.”

But even that claim is contradicted by the torture memos.  Recall that three of the four memos were authored by Mr.  Bush‘s Justice Department in 2005 in response to request for legal advice from a former senior CIA official.  A footnote to one of the memos clearly states that, quote, “In some cases, the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated, and also, in a different manner.”  And there‘s more—“Has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on the frequency and cumulative use of the technique.”

Translation?  For some period of time, possibly for much of the three-year period from 9/11 attacks until the 2005 memos, limitations on the manner of Washing were not in place.  And even after waterboarding was metaphorically bathed in the Justice Department‘s attempt to make it look legal, there was no compelling reason to believe it was anything by torture.  And, in fact, another footnote in one of those memos acknowledges that as a starting point, waterboarding constitutes the legal definition of torture.

But then President Bush repeatedly said that the United States does not torture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOV. 7, 2005)

BUSH:  We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice.  We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding.  We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans.  Anything we do to that effort, to that end, in this effort, any activity we conduct is within the law.  We do not torture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Let‘s call in George Washington University law professor and a constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley.

And, Jonathan, good evening.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Good evening, David.

SHUSTER:  Let‘s begin with another criticism of President Obama‘s release of these memos and this one is from an unnamed former Bush administration official, quoting, “It‘s damaging because these are techniques that work.  And by Obama‘s actions today, we are telling the terrorist what they are.  We have laid it out for our enemies.  Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can ever be used again, even in a ticking time bomb scenario.”

Isn‘t that criticism open to at least three rebuttals?  I mean, first of all, torture does not work.  Second, the point is not to use these techniques ever again.  And third, the enemy‘s not gaining any relevant information it didn‘t already posses.

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s a perfectly bizarre defense.  I mean, first of all, let‘s start out with the position: you‘re not allowed to make this choice.  This is a war crime.  You can‘t say, yes, it‘s a war crime, but, you know, it‘s effective in some regards.  You‘re not allowed to use it.

But more importantly, I will be really surprise if there‘s any dirty bomber out there who‘s just been shocked to know that he might be slapped or forced into a wall or waterboarded.  All of those things were well known.  Detainees have talked about their treatment by U.S. officials.  So there‘s nothing here that we didn‘t know before.

What is new is the legal analysis.  Most of this is legal analysis.  And what I‘m surprised by the Obama administration is they haven‘t looked at people like the NSC staffer, Mr. Brennan, or CIA Director Panetta and said, “Look, you just said that this was filled with national security information.  All of this stuff has been released, for the most part.  What it is mainly composed of is the legal arguments that are fallacious, that are wrong.  And the only reason you are withholding this is to avoid accountability.”

And that‘s one of the reasons the Obama administration came out at the same time and said, “Don‘t worry, anyone who committed torture won‘t be hearing from us.”  Because the real purpose in claiming national security concerns was to protect these people from being held accountable for a well-defined, premeditated war crime.

SHUSTER:  Given that the Obama administration may have left the door open to prosecuting or at least investigating those in the Bush administration who created this policy, is there obvious motivation behind former Bush administration officials lashing out?

TURLEY:  Oh, there most certainly is.  This is—this is truly an other-worldly scene, where you have people like Cheney and others who have been rightly accused of war crimes—out there, you know, basically defending themselves.

The reason this conversation—this bizarre dialogue is going on is because President Obama is preventing the appointment of a special prosecutor.  They have not done the most obvious thing.  There‘s no question, there‘s credible arguments of war crimes here.

Now, maybe Vice President Cheney and President Bush have defenses.  That‘s what the rule of law is about.  You appoint a professional prosecutor, who is not going to engage in retribution or partisan politics, and he or she looks at the law and decides if there‘s a case here.

Quite frankly, there‘s no question in my view that there‘s a credible case of war crimes.  President Obama himself has called waterboarding torture.  Torture is a well-defined war crime.  And we have prosecuted people for this specific violation.

SHUSTER:  Well, since we didn‘t have you here yesterday, tell us what was and is your reaction to the president effectively granting immunity to those interrogators who acted on the legal advice of these Department of Justice memos?

TURLEY:  Well, this is the first attorney general in the history of the United States of America that has said that he will not investigate people accused of the war crime of torture.  They don‘t rule out the people who ordered the war crime.  But this is the first time in the history of this republic that an attorney general has said, “I‘m not going to investigate.”

It reverses the precedent we created in Nuremberg.  Not only did we reject the “just following orders” claim, but we actually prosecuted Nazi judges who rendered opinions that were obviously wrong and obviously violations of human rights.

Now, none of us really were thinking that we would prosecute or grab these low-lying fruits, that is to grab the torturers and prosecute them.  But what Holder just did has made it very difficult—if we do have an investigation, one of the ways you get cooperation is the agreement not to prosecute.  He‘s basically telling all these people, “You may have committed torture and you may have committed a war crime, but you‘re not going to hear from us.”

SHUSTER:  Yes.  It‘s like trying to build a house by essentially not having a foundation to build on top of that.

In any case, Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law professor—thanks as always, Jonathan.  We appreciate it.

TURLEY:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Let‘s turn to Matthew Alexander, a former U.S. Air Force interrogator and author of “How to Break a Terrorist.”  Mr. Alexander is using that pseudonym for security reasons.

And thank you for your time tonight.

MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FMR. AIR FORCE INTERROGATOR:  Thank you for having me, David.

SHUSTER:  Here we are again, revisiting the effectiveness of torture because of former Bush administration officials who say that not using it weakens our nation‘s security.  Is torture effective?  And if not, why not?

ALEXANDER:  Well, torture is ineffective for a lot of reasons and just the one that I want to point out is—when you take a long-term view of interrogations, al Qaeda‘s number one recruiting tool has been the fact that we have a policy of torture and abuse that resulted in Abu Ghraib and the other abuses that occurred at Guantanamo Bay.  I heard time and time again, at the prison where I was, in Iraq—foreign fighters state that the reason they had come there to fight was because of our policy of torturer and abuse.

So, Al Qaeda uses that.  It‘s a very effective recruiting tool.  And it has resulted, literally, in hundreds if not thousands of American casualties in Iraq.

SHUSTER:  What about the actual act of trying to squeeze information out of somebody in front of you?

ALEXANDER:  You know, I‘ve never seen any type, of course, of methods work.  In fact, in my experience, what I saw was that detainees would harden resolve when faced with that, because we were just reaffirming the idea they had in their mind that we weren‘t living up to American principles.

And I‘d like to put this in the words of one al Qaeda leader who decided to cooperate and he told me, he said, “When you treated me with respect, when you treated my religion with respect, I decided that everything al Qaeda told me about Americans was wrong.  And so, I knew that I could cooperate with you and I could work with you.”

SHUSTER:  The other argument being made by former Bush officials is that—merely releasing these memos, putting them in the public domain, either helps the terrorists or harms the work of future interrogators or both.  How do you assess that?

ALEXANDER:  No.  It‘s just the opposite, actually.  Al Qaeda members are more likely to cooperate when they see American interrogators abiding by American principles.  When we see that we torture people and abuse them, and use cruelty as a method of interrogation, it hardens their resolve, it reaffirms in their minds the reasons that they picked up arms against us.  And so, it‘s self-defeating.

SHUSTER:  There is also, of course, the charge that what we‘re left

with once torture is no longer an option is somehow insufficient, that

there‘s not enough time to show the respect that may work.  In a situation

where you‘re looking for immediate information—based on your experience

what is the proper approach?

      

ALEXANDER:  Let me say, I‘ve lived through the ticking time bomb scenario on numerous occasions in Iraq.  The people that we‘re hunting, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, and his henchmen who were behind the suicide bombings, everyone that we captured had information that could have saved lives, if we could have gotten information quicker.  But we knew that the quickest way to get information was through relationship building, sometimes deception, but mostly through using our intellect.  And that‘s what we used.  We decided to be smarter, not harsher.

SHUSTER:  You were on this program about a month before Barack Obama became president and you made some recommendations for his administration regarding torture.  What do you think the president has achieved on this subject and what do you think he is still lacking?

ALEXANDER:  Well, the first thing was just the banning of torture across all agencies is a tremendous help to interrogators in the field.  Because it lets al Qaeda know that we‘re not going to torture them and so that we are people that they can negotiate with and cooperate with if they decide to do so.  The second part—it remains to be seen, because the special task force that‘s evaluating interrogation policy has 180 days to come back with recommendations.  And there‘s certainly ways that we can improve upon the army field manual of interrogations.

SHUSTER:  Former U.S. Air Force interrogator using the pseudonym Matthew Alexander—we thank you for your service, and also, we thank you for your time tonight.

ALEXANDER:  Thank you, David.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Well, this week‘s teabagging parties across the country actually sparked a resurgence in the GOP.  Republicans are wondering if today‘s tea bag could be tomorrow‘s electoral gold.  Up next: Eugene Robinson on why Democrats should be mindful not to laugh that off.

And speaking of the GOP‘s future, Sarah Palin makes her first major speech in the United States this year and the Alaska governor makes a not-so subtle swipe at President Obama.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Coming up: Teabagging and the GOP.  Could it breathe new electoral life into the party?  Growing concerns that the Democrats should not underestimate anti-Washington sentiment right now.

Sarah Palin leaves Alaska to talk about her choice to give birth to her boy with Down syndrome at an event where everyone hopes to take away the possibility of making that choice in the future.

And Stephen Colbert‘s hilarious take on gay marriage.  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  For all the teabaggers and teabagging networks out there who thought they were part of a bipartisan or nonpartisan movement—it took exactly one day for the Republican Party to reveal the truth—you belong to them.

Our fourth story tonight: John Boehner, the House Republican leader, telling the Hill.com about the tea bag protesters, quote, “We should embrace them.  These are Americans who believe that their government, at all levels, are going in the wrong direction and they‘re tired of it.”

On the movement‘s future—quote, “We‘ll see.  But clearly, they‘re responding to a lot of what we‘ve had to say in Washington over the past couple of months.”

And despite mockery of their symbolic choice, there are warnings today on both sides of the aisle about teabagging‘s future.  “Huffington Post‘s” founder, Arianna Huffington, writing, quote, “I think Democrats need to be careful not to turn their backs on what could become a dangerous conflagration; a grassroots populist backlash fueled by the perception that the Obama economic team is treating Wall Street with kid gloves.”  This even as the “Huffington Post” reports some Republicans are also worried about the tea bag impact, quote, “It is not clear-cut that the tea-party phenomena helps the GOP, unless they have a specific measure or policy to coalesce around.”

Referring to the anger on display and possibly some of the hateful, violent sentiment expressed on Wednesday, the co-founder of Unity ‘08, Republican Doug Bailey said, quote, “It is ineffective for the Republican Party when it is Rush Limbaugh and the likes stirring it up.  That just doesn‘t speak to the middle.”

With us now is MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, also a columnist and associate editor at “The Washington Post.”

And, Eugene, good evening.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  Eugene, you had a warning of your own in your column today about the politics of this movement, assuming someone turns it into a movement.  What is your warning?

ROBINSON:  My warning is that I think, potentially, there‘s an opening there for the Republicans, that they might be able to exploit.  And it‘s essentially the—I saw the same opening that Arianna saw, the argument—a kind of a populist critique of the Obama administration‘s performance, particularly in response to the financial crisis, and the idea, you know—you‘ve given all this money to the banks, what have you done for ordinary, hard-working Americans?

And this is an opening that potentially could widen, I think—say, we begin an economic recovery tomorrow, it would still be months and months before unemployment even peaked, much less started going down.

So, there‘s going to be a period of time at some point when Wall Street is back, the stock market is doing well, the banks, you know, are reporting even better profits than they‘ve been reporting in the last few days, and unemployed still going up and people are still hurting.  And that disconnect, I think, is potentially exploitable by opponents of the administration.  I wouldn‘t ignore it.

SHUSTER:  Let‘s say Republicans lead a big populist movement against helping out the banks.  What happens later this year when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says, “OK, here are the bank regulations we need.”  What does the GOP say at that point?

ROBINSON:  Well, I think you—essentially, if you‘re the GOP, anybody in Washington, I think, has to believe in better regulation of the banks at this point.  I think, opposing that is a losing strategy.  So, you say something like of, you know, President Obama has finally seen the light, or something like that, and then you vote for it—and you change the subject, again, you start talking about the deficit, you talk about—he wants to spend all this money on health care.  All this money on “pie in the sky” energy, that‘s your money.  And we ought to give it back to you.

And you know—now, is there a coherent political ideology or argument in this?  Perhaps not.  But there is a feeling out there, and you can kind of capture that and perhaps you can mobilize it in a way that‘s helpful to your side.

SHUSTER:  And what‘s the matter with Kansas?  Thomas Frank wrote about rich Republicans using social issues to convince poor and middle class voters to vote against their own economic self-interests.  How do you actually use economic issues to get voters to vote against their own economic self-interests?

ROBINSON:  Well, that is a good question.  But how do you get people out there on Wednesday complaining, “Barack Obama is going to raise my taxes” when, actually, Barack Obama is going to cut their taxes?  So, you know, it is, I think, in part more about this anti-Washington, anti-Wall Street, you know, anti-the-big-guy feeling, rather than those inconvenient specifics of exactly what the policy would do to your bottom line.  And you know—actually, I want a whole lot of attention paid to that, I think.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  After the Bush administration exploited the Christian right, Bush insider David Kuo blew the whistle on it as Keith actually first reported here on COUNTDOWN, feeding into evangelical skepticism towards the GOP.  How much does the GOP need to worry about economic David Kuos coming forward, and what would that do to the party?

ROBINSON:  You know, I think, I don‘t think they would have to worry a whole lot about it.  I mean, I‘m not convinced that the GOP in its current kind of fractured state is going to coalesce around this kind of populist argument that I think is out there for them.  But, let‘s suppose that they did.

Remember what happened with the evangelicals—how many years did evangelicals stick faithfully, loyally with Republicans while essentially getting none of their agenda worked on, and certainly nothing passed that they really wanted.  They got—they got very little out of the deal, and eventually, that started to dawn on people that this was more lip service than real action.  But that took a while.  I mean, that took—that took many years.

And so potentially, I think, if Republicans could make that populist argument, it might take a while for people to catch on.

SHUSTER:  Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC—

Eugene, thanks as always.  Have a great weekend.

ROBINSON:  You, too, David.

SHUSTER:  Could gay marriage help resurrect the GOP?  Stephen Colbert with his own hilarious take on the real message of commercials opposing same-sex marriage.

And the odd coupling of a goat and a restaurant, the goat is not on the menu.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Ten years ago today, the then-speaker of the House announced that he was having to borrow 300 grand from a colleague to pay off a whopping ethics penalty.  And that speaker was none other than holier-than-thou Newt Gingrich.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin in Mira Loma, California, where a goat has invaded a Carl‘s Jr. fast food joint.  He scampered happily around the dining area while staff nonchalantly continue (ph) on their business.  No word on why the Randy (ph) ruminant chose Carl‘s Jr., though we suspect that this might have had something to do with it.

To Pflugerville, Texas, where police have now released video of a man driving a piece of construction equipment under the influence.  A steamroller, the dynamic vibrator roller, taken by 32-year-old Ronald Howell at 4:00 in the morning one night last October.  When the cops pulled him over, Mr. Howell explained that he didn‘t want to walk home from the local tavern in the cold.  The steamroller he appropriated is worth $180,000.  Mr. Howell failed a series of sobriety tests, and thus, he was plowed on a steamroller.

Sarah Palin talks about the miracle of making the choice to keep her unborn child diagnosed with Down syndrome.  Those comments came at a fund-raiser where people hope to take away that very choice from every other woman.

And the YouTube‘s spoof of the week, a make-believe conservative reacts to not one but two failed right-wing movements.

All that and more—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Just when you thought it was safe to turn on your television, she‘s back.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Governor Sarah Palin returning to the national spotlight, giving a speech in the lower 48 for the first time this year.  Palin was special speaker at the annual Vanderburgh County Right to Life fund-raiser in Evansville, Indiana, last night, delivering a strange and sometimes rambling speech to the sold out crowd of about 3,000 people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® AK:  It is great to be here in the Hoosier State and yes, I was bribed.

America likes an underdog.  That‘s why we like Hoosiers.

By the way, I hope some of you enjoyed some local tea parties.  I know others across the country certainly did.  I have a feeling that Indiana would have appreciated those tea parties yesterday.  Finally, yes, you can see Russia from Alaska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The recurring theme throughout the first 30 minutes of her speech was not, as you might expect at an anti-abortion dinner pro-life, it was pro-Alaska.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  We‘ve got the largest mountain on the continent there.  In fact, 17 of North America‘s 17 largest mountains are there.  Our rivers, plentiful and long, the mighty Yukon is 1,900 miles.  We have 80 active volcanoes, including the second largest in the world.  We‘ve got more than 3 million lakes.  More than 3 million.  And we are one of only two areas, we have only two lakes in the world with a year-round seal population, resident population.  You know, seals in the ocean?  We have them in one of our lakes, it‘s that big.  We have more coastline than the entire continental United States, 46,000 miles.  And over 10,000 islands, only 1,000 of them are even named.

But Alaska is amazing, and just real quickly, we have the greatest temperature range, from 82 below zero to 100 above.  We have the largest, busiest floatplane base in the world.  We have the largest school district.  We have the longest sled dog and snow machine races in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Finally, once the governor was done doing her part for the Alaska tourism board, she got back to the point of the evening, advocating against abortion, criticizing President Obama for his pro-life and pro-stem cell positions and asking the audience to keep working for the quote, “culture of life”.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Every innocent life has purpose and there are no accidents and I‘m going to choose the Creator‘s idea of perfection over our society‘s definition of perfection any day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Governor Palin followed up her appearance last night with a visit to a center that cares for children with Down syndrome today.  I‘m joined now by our own Jonathan Alter, author of “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s First Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope” and senior editor of “Newsweek” and thanks for your time, Jonathan.

ALTER:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  At that pro-life rally, Palin acknowledged that she considered an abortion when she found out she was having a child with Down syndrome, telling the crowd, quote, “Just for a fleeting moment, I thought, nobody knows me here.  No one would ever know.”  But she decided to keep the baby instead.  Isn‘t that choice the opposite of the pro-life position?

ALTER:  First of all, I‘m not quite clear on how “nobody knows me here.”  She was governor of Alaska.  But your point is a good one.  She at least entertained the idea of choice.  And what she‘s trying to do is rule it out for everybody else, and under the kind of America that she wants, the doctor who she fleetingly considered consulting with, belongs in jail.  So if you kind of play out the logical ramifications of what she‘s talking about, it‘s very out of sync with where the American people are, but very in sync with where the conservative base of the Republican Party is, and that‘s what she‘s trying to appeal to audition for in 2012.

SHUSTER:  Well, and on that point, Governor Palin threw some not so subtle digs at the president, mocking his comment last year to Pastor Rick Warren that decisions on when a baby gets human rights were above his pay grade.  Did you get the impression she‘s going to challenge him again in 2012?

ALTER:  I don‘t think there‘s any question that she at least wants to put herself in a position to consider making a race.  She clearly hasn‘t made a final decision.  The first big decision is whether to run for re-election as governor of Alaska in 2010.  There are kind of two ways to do this.  You can go the George W. Bush route where he was overwhelmingly re-elected as governor of Texas in 1998, which set him up well for 2000, or you can go the Mitt Romney route and he would likely be a major candidate for the Republican nomination, and basically, you know, retire from state politics and focus all of your energies on the presidential.

So that‘s the choice she‘s going to make, but she‘s clearly doing what‘s necessary to keep her options open as the reining rock star in the Republican Party.

SHUSTER:  As Governor Palin traveled to Indiana, her Republican-controlled state legislature rejected her nominee for attorney general, Wayne Ross, who has called gay people degenerates and defended a KKK statue.  That‘s the first time in Alaska history the lawmakers rejected a governor‘s choice for an agency head.  What does that tell you?

ALTER:  Well, it tells you she‘s got a lot of problems back in Alaska.  Before she was nominated for vice president, she was very, very popular there among not just Republicans but independents and even some Democrats.  And that‘s all gone away.  She‘s been—become kind of a fringe figure, even within Alaska politics.  I think what that signifies is that she is looking toward not maybe running for re-election.  Obviously we don‘t know for sure.  And playing to the very conservative Republican base, shrinking base, but that does continue to dominate in those early primary and caucus states in 2012.

SHUSTER:  And then finally here, Palin has also been criticized by her state legislature for leaving Alaska when the legislative session is nearly over and seeking the national spotlight.  In seeking a national spotlight, is Governor Palin losing her home base support and how fatal could that be for any national aspirations she might have?

ALTER:  It‘s a good question about how much of a base you need at home.  The advantage that she has is that Alaska‘s pretty far away.  So if reporters were going to do stories about how she, you know, was unpopular in Alaska, a lot of their news organizations, especially nowadays are not going to fund trips up there.  So I think she can afford to kind of move away from Alaska politics.  But if she gets the reputation as being very unpopular up there, that obviously doesn‘t enhance her chances.

SHUSTER:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Jonathan, thanks as always.  We appreciate it.

ALTER:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Coming up, Steve Schmidt, one of the master minds in the McCain/Palin campaign takes a strong stand today in favor of gay marriage, but taking a strong stand against Stephen Colbert in a way only he can.

And the fury over tea bagging whipped up by Fox News from inflated numbers to deflated spirits.  An entertaining look back at the week that was.

And ahead on MADDOW, a Republican senator from North Carolina suggests a run on the banks and instead of decrying that preposterous idea, the national Republicans support it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The chief strategist for John McCain‘s campaign made his return to Washington today, making a very public call for a controversial policy that John McCain and George W. Bush opposed.  Our number two story tonight, another prominent voice speaking out for gay marriage.  His name is Steve Schmidt and he was one of the men who ran McCain‘s campaign.  Today he gave a speech to the Log Cabin Republicans, the organization representing gays in the party.

Schmidt laid out his argument for legalizing gay marriage, a position he first took publicly last month in an interview with the “Washington Blade,” telling “The Blade” that like Dick Cheney, he too has a gay person in his family.  Schmidt said his sister who he did not name is a lesbian out to her family.

In 2006 in Governor Schwarzenegger‘s campaign, Schmidt unsuccessfully urged Schwarzenegger to sign a gay marriage bill, but in 2004, Schmidt served as Karl Rove‘s department in the Bush campaign which strongly pushed anti-gay marriage passion to turn out the conservatives.  He said today, “It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex threatens the rights of others.  Denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union is protected and respected by the state and denies the basic rights in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

That apparently a response by the National Organization of Marriage running an ad saying gay marriage infringes on religious rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s a storm gathering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The clouds are dark, and the winds are strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I am afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some who advocate for same-sex marriage have taken the issue far beyond same sex couples.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m a California doctor who must choose between my faith and my job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we can‘t support same-sex marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The gay rights group Human Rights Watch already pointed out that this ad complains about existing state laws banning anti-gay discrimination in public life.  That doctors have to treat lesbians, churches that rent their space to the public cannot exclude gays and parents can not force public curriculums to discriminate against gays.  In short the argument against gay marriage has been reduced to this.  It might interfere with someone‘s right to discriminate against gays.

Not surprisingly, a new version of the ad shows its true colors, courtesy of “The Colbert Report.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s a storm gathering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A giant gay storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  With rough winds blowing in from the east.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And even rougher winds blowing in from the west.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Before long, the winds will be blowing each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And I am afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you know if all 50 state as prove gay marriage, straight marriage bumps illegal?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I heard that somewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am a New Jersey pastor, whose church was turned into an Abercrombie and Fitch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am a hired actor willing to take any job.  You may recognize me from that Phillip Morris commercial or that herpes ad where I‘m walking on the beach.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I remember that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That was good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re a normal, totally happy, heterosexual couple.  I don‘t need gays flaunting how much fun they‘re having.  Following their heart.  Please!  You know how I feel about PDA.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I like gay people, but only as hilarious best friends in TV and movies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, God, the storm is here!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah, it is here.  And I‘m afraid about the church.  And how it‘s going to get all wet.  Do you work out?  You have a really good body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am an Arkansas teacher.  Oh, God, the homo storm got me!

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN:  But there is hope.  Join the Colbert Coalition, a rainbow of proud people coming together in a commercial.  Join us.  Do it for someone you love.  I won‘t let them make you retroactively gay, pee-pop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We should get you out of these wet clothes.  You‘ll catch cold.

ANNOUNCER:  Paid for by generous donations of an anonymous group that may or may not be the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  From the international funnies of Comedy Central to the unintended hilarity to conservatives, they say tea parties, we say tea bagging.  The week that should be kept in a time capsule at the top of the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  To the top of the COUNTDOWN our number one story, this week in tea bagging.  Now that April 15th and the Fox News tea bagging parties have come and gone, we think it would be useful to tour the damage.  The latest weapons cache of smoking guns outing Fox News for their less than subtle sponsorship of the grassroots movement and an online parody that could have helped tea bagger avoid their unfortunate metaphor.  First, there‘s been some criticism of the tea bagging coverage we disseminated here on COUNTDOWN.  As you‘ll see, we couldn‘t resist the sexual jokes.  It was like, what‘s the phrase?  Oh yeah, hanging fruit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  In our fourth story tonight it‘s going to be tea bagging day and they‘re going nuts for it.  Thousands of them whipped out the festivities earlier this past weekend.  While the parties are officially toothless, the tea baggers are full throated about their goals.  Then there was the media, specifically the Fox News Channel, including Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.  Both are looking forward to an up close and personal taste of tea bagging themselves at events this weekend.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Republican talking heads like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have pushed their own version of tea bagging down the throats of the original tea baggers, who were in fact libertarian supporters of Ron Paul.  And the nation‘s tea bagging of course impossible without this man, a Dick Armey at the head of it.

Then they said let‘s tea bag the Congress, let‘s tea bag the White House.  Today, in our fifth story of the COUNTDOWN after all the anticipation and buildup, the tea bagging exploded all across the America.

From Dixon, Illinois, to Duncan, Arizona, from El Cahon (ph) California, to Sag Harbor, New York.  Do we have the video of the rally at Tallahassee, in Florida?  No?  This is what the state house looks like there.  The imposing site that greeted slack jawed teabaggers today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Among the grumps saying flippity foo (ph) to our fact based, silly infused coverage was the Papa Bear himself, Bill O‘Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  They make the shock jocks, they are shock jocks.  That‘s where they took it from and now NBC is paying them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Of course Mr. O‘Reilly knows you can find that kind of sexual innuendo in all kinds of media.  Take literature, for example, like the classing mystery thriller, “those who trespass.”  Author?  B. O‘Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  Say, baby, put down that pipe and get my pipe up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  What you can‘t find anywhere else is the kind of in the tank tea bagging coverage furnished by Fox News this week.  It wasn‘t just from the usual suspects like Hannity and Beck.  The entire network was doing the tea baggers‘ bidding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get ready to tea party.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  April 15th, all across the country, citizens are standing up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Folks talk about tea parties, full steam ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Americans are outraged over unfair and crippling taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How to get involved in the hundreds of tea party protests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How about you?  Would you go to one of these tea parties.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It might end in a revolution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Taking a stand at the Alamo.  Citizens revolt against more taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sean Hannity is going to be in Hotlanta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sean is on the scene with Newt Gingrich, Joe the Plumber.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST:  Rick and Bubba.  Mike Huckabee.  Neil Boortz and a special performance by singer John Rich.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let‘s take a look at all the hit shows covering the tea parties.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST:  Neil Cavuto.  He is live in Sacramento, Glenn Beck in San Antonio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s powerful tea party coverage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m going to be at one.  Are you going to be at one of these?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m covering one.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST:  When these people are going to the tax tea party and the taxes .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Congratulations, by the way.

BECK:  I‘m just attending.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fox isn‘t sponsoring any of the stuff, we are just realizing there are a lot of people across the country who are not happy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a big difference between covering something and promoting it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re there with total fair and balanced network coverage.  Live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s now my great duty to promote the tea parties. 

Here we go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And there you have it, simultaneous denial of tea party sponsorship as they sponsored the tea parties.  Fox News Channel says they weren‘t doing publicity for the tea parties, they were covering the news.  They might have gotten away with it if it hadn‘t been for yesterday‘s inadvertent slip from the anchor of “America‘s Newsroom” Megyn Kelly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  You know, Brent (ph), it‘s interesting was Fox News covered the tea parties and we were one of the only stations to give it any publicity or P.R. prior to the fact that it happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  I bet she wishes she could have had that one back.  Just like the tea bagging movement probably wishes they could go back in time and rename their little get-togethers.  That may have saved them from some of our ribbing, although the comedy online stylings of Andy Cobb demonstrate, it could have been worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now a message from the silent majority.

ANDY COBB, ONLINE COMEDIAN:  Hello, patriots and welcome back to tea bag central.  The last transmission from our teabag nerve center dealt with our movement‘s perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenges, challenges such as having a marketing theme associated with putting your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) in someone‘s mouth.  But no matter because we conservatives have an exciting new theme, a new concept, a new rallying cry.

Ta-da!  2M4M y‘all, 2 million for marriage, what up?  It means 2 million people will rally to stop gay marriage.  As you can see, this campaign uses the exciting abbreviations of the Internet age.  We‘ll reach young people in chat rooms, through text messaging, through social networking sites.

2M4M and teabagging headquarters.  How can I help you?

Oh, great.  We are always looking to meet new people.  Wonderful.

Oh, and there‘s two of you.  Oh, great.  Are you interesting in the tea bagging or the 2M4M?  Maybe both.  Awesome.  What?  What?  What?

No!  Ah!  No!

Revolutionaries don‘t cry.  Revolutionaries don‘t cry.  Revolutionaries don‘t cry.

So it‘s come to our attention that 2M4M is a code used in chat rooms, text messaging and social networking sites for gay men to hook up for a threesome.  Had we known that, we probably would have gone in an entirely different direction to promote a heterosexual lifestyle.  And I‘m definitely having second thoughts about the tattoo.  It‘s tough being a conservative right now.  Everything hates us.  It gets lonely and you wish something would change.

(MUSIC)

No, I‘ve got no plans.  I‘ve got “Atlas Shrugged” on books on tape.  I could bring that over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And on that note, that will do it for this Friday edition of

COUNTDOWN.  I‘m David Shuster in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.  Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, David.

I too regret the tattoo.  Thank you very much.

Have a great weekend, David.

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

END   

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