updated 4/23/2009 11:59:01 AM ET 2009-04-23T15:59:01

Guest: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Turley, Jerrold Nadler, Lawrence

O‘Donnell, Christian Finnegan

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

               

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

Prosecuting torture: President Obama‘s breaking news today from the Oval Office—those who devised the legal arguments to torture, their name will not get the same protection he‘s offered to agents who carried out the policies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don‘t want to prejudge that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But beyond the lawyers, what about the Bush administration officials who pushed to make torture our policy?

The politics with Richard Wolffe—how high could this eventually go?  The legalities with Jonathan Turley—what could we see next out of the Justice Department?  And from Capitol Hill, Congressman Jerrold Nadler reacts to Obama‘s remarks and gives us the latest on his efforts to impeach one of the lawyers who wrote the torture memos.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney returns to FOX to complain that President Obama didn‘t release the right torture documents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  They didn‘t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  “Mr. Executive Privilege” himself neglects to mention he wants those memos released so he can bolster his new memoirs.  And as for our foreign policies, not a fan of Obama‘s message to the world, either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  The United States provides much of the leadership in the world.  We have for a long time.  And I don‘t think we‘ve got much to apologize for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The odd couple: No, not Oscar and Felix.  It‘s “W” and Bubba.  They will share the same stage in a one-of-a-kind post-presidential debate next month.

And the Craigslist killing: How a computer trail led police to a 23-year-old medical student set to be married this summer—he is the suspected killer.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

Either President Obama‘s own chief of staff misspoke when he said just two days ago that Mr. Obama would not be prosecuting Bush administration officials for torture or President Obama changed his mind.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The president said today that he is still open to the possibility of holding accountable those who drafted the previous administration‘s torture policies.

Under pressure from Congress and critics Mr. Obama indicated his apparent change of heart this morning after a meeting with Jordan‘s King Abdullah.  He told reporters that officials who approved the interrogation techniques could still face legal liability, but not those at the CIA and elsewhere who carried out the actual interrogations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The OLC memos that were released reflected, in my view, us losing our moral bearings.  That‘s why I have discontinued those enhanced interrogation programs.  For those who carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House, I do not think it‘s appropriate for them to be prosecuted.

With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that that is going to be more of a decision for the attorney general within the parameters of various laws, and I don‘t want to prejudge that.  I think that there are a host of very complicated issues involved there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  It was only Sunday that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said that, quote, “This is not a time for retribution or anger,” when he stated that President Obama had no interest in going after Bush administration officials.

Despite Emanuel‘s remarks, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs claimed today that Obama‘s comments did not represent a shift in policy.  In any case, Mr. Gibbs was pressed today and refused to rule out the possibility of prosecuting any Bush officials above the level of interrogator including President Bush himself.  Although he stressed that it would not be President Obama‘s decision to make.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  If you‘re going to keep going up the ladder here, then where does it stop?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  That‘s a determination for the legal department to make.  Again, Chuck, I .

TODD:  Those would be bosses of those folks who wrote the legal opinion.  So then does it become Alberto Gonzales?  Does it become the president of—former president?  I mean, where does it .

GIBBS:  Well, no.  I think it is important to understand that the president has stated on any number of occasions that he is not the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America.  We have pretty good historical examples of what the attorney general‘s power is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Neither Mr. Gibbs nor President Obama uttered the word “torture” today.

Greg Sargent of the “Plum Line” blog reports that the president and his top advisers have dramatically scaled back their use of the word this week, instead using euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  The White House is denying that any shift in language has been intentional.  Speaking of intentions, President Obama also indicated he would support having a bipartisan 9/11-style commission investigate but did not call for creating one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I do worry about this getting so politicized that we cannot function effectively and it hampers our ability to carry out critical national security operations.

And so, if and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period, I think for Congress to examine ways that it can be done in a bipartisan fashion, outside of the typical hearing process that can sometimes break down and break entirely along party lines, to the extent that there are independent participants who are above reproach and have credibility, that would probably be a more sensible approach to take.

I‘m not suggesting that, you know, that should be done, but I‘m saying, if you‘ve got a choice, I think it‘s very important for the American people to feel as if this is not being dealt with to provide one side or another political advantage but rather is being done in order to learn some lessons so that we move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Time now to call in our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

And, Richard, thanks for joining us.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My pleasure, David.

SHUSTER:  Richard, is it likely this apparent change of heart would have happened were it not for the enormous public pressure from Congress and critics?

WOLFFE:  Well, no president is an island and no White House is fully detached from political pressures.  But the complex legal issues at the heart of this case are very messy indeed.  Not the at least because the Bush administration passed not one but two pieces of legislation to provide some immunity to those involved in this kind of behavior.

And secondly, the internal division inside the administration is so fraught—the infighting has been so intense about this, that if it‘s possible for a decision coming out of the White House to be detached from politics, I think this might just be one of them.  The issues are complex.  The morality may be very, very clear.  But squaring the circle between the values of national security—between one part of the administration and the other is no easy task.  So, there are politics involved, but I think this is even more complex than the political pressure suggests.

SHUSTER:  It does sound as if the White House has given Attorney General Holder free rein on this.  Do we have any indication where he is likely to go?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think one of the things that have been so complex here is you have White House officials who—well, you can say they misspoke.  What really, what they didn‘t understand or chose to forget was the relationship between—the distance relationship between the White House and the Justice Department.  Remember, this is a candidate who campaigned on the idea of restoring legal principles and independence to the Justice Department—wiping away the Alberto Gonzales Bush era there.

And—so, we have, yes, an empowered, emboldened free spirited

attorney general in Eric Holder and that is as it should be.  But the

language the president used today was pretty clear and pretty indicative, I

think, of a legal date.  He talked about not just going after or looking at

the idea of prosecuting people who drew up the memos, but he also said,

people who enacted this kind of interrogation—for want of a better word

this torture, who did not operate within the square boundaries of those memos, they could also be subject to prosecution.  So, there are some legal guidelines, I think, that are being kicked around inside the administration that the president gave some insights into today.

               

SHUSTER:  If and/or when a special prosecutor is appointed to investigate, should we expect Congress to back off and should they back off?

WOLFFE:  No, they shouldn‘t.  They should not back off at all.  They are doing what they should be doing.  The first investigation is already underway; it‘s the Senate Intelligence Committee.

And by the way, the Justice Department and the White House are going to have to have difficult decisions about what to declassify as that committee goes through the work of “how did we get to those memos,” what raw material—for want of a better word—made up the situations that lay behind those memos.

So, you know, Congress needs to its job.  I mean, that‘s the lesson of the Bush era, they need to maintain their independence just as the Justice Department needs to.

SHUSTER:  And yet, there are some political minefields that Congress would be walking through.

WOLFFE:  Absolutely.  There is still the key question that as the president has framed it, how to square American values with its national security.  The reason this is complex is not just because the Bush administration laid those mines about who to immunize and who not, it‘s complex because the national security is still in the hands of intelligence officials who were embroiled in these interrogations that many people think are torture.

SHUSTER:  And whether a deliberate or purely coincidental, is it like that everyone is going to forget this is about torture if President Obama and his top advisers merely stop using the word torture?

WOLFFE:  No.  I think the lawyers are all over this.  You know, for the president to go out and describe something as torture at a time when they are weighing what the legal definition of it is and the legal exposure of it is, can be used in a court of law in defense for the people who are accused of this kind of thing.  So, yes, he‘s not the chief law enforcement officer, but the president‘s words can have weight when it comes to a trial.

I think the White House counsel is all over this one no matter what the White House press secretary says.

SHUSTER:  MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe—great stuff as always, Richard.  And thank you.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, David.

SHUSTER:  For more on the legal fallout, let‘s turn now to George Washington University law professor, Jonathan Turley, an expert in constitutional law.

And, Jonathan, good evening to you.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  Jonathan, what should Attorney General Eric Holder do?  Is it now time for him to appoint a special prosecutor to handle this?

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s long overdue.  What he should do is, quite frankly, to do the job described to him, the job that he took an oath to uphold—and that is to enforce the laws.  You know, when he in his confirmation hearing, many people criticized him for his role in the pardon scandals at the end of the Clinton administration.  And he admitted that he had made a mistake in going along with those pardons.

That political role of his that he apologized for is minor in comparison to what has happened already.  There is an undeniable claim of a crime here, a war crime.  The evidence is insurmountable.

You have not just Bush officials who called this torture—Obama, Holder, have also defined this as torture.  The International Red Cross has defined this as torture.  The vast array of experts have defined as torture.  Even conservatives that were carrying the water for the Bush administration have disappeared in defending—largely in defending waterboarding.

And so, this is as clear as it can get.  And yet Holder has not appointed a special prosecutor which has been baffling for many.  He needs to appoint a special prosecutor and not limit it as to who committed the alleged war crimes, to allow a neutral respected person to uphold the law.  And then there is no retribution, like what the president referenced earlier, there is just the enforcement of law and the investigation goes where crimes will take it.

SHUSTER:  President Obama said today that he would support a bipartisan 9/11-style truth commission—commissions often conduct public hearings and issue a report.  That, of course, is very different from the way a special prosecutor would operate in front of a grand jury, where evidence remain secret unless there is a criminal indictment.  Which of these approaches—competing approaches, if you will, is more appropriate and why?

TURLEY:  Well, there is no significance to a commission, a truth commission.  First of all, a truth and reconciliation commission is an insult for a country that believes it is committed to the rule of law—that is often seen in emerging democracies.  We have nothing to reconcile.

The people who committed torture have to reconcile themselves to the criminal code.  We don‘t have to reconcile anything as a nation.  Now, I‘m not opposed to the Congress studying this.  They should study it.

But the primary and main question is the appointment of a special prosecutor.

And God help us if the only thing we get out of this is a commission modeled on 9/11.  That was a commission that was really made for Washington; a commission composed of political appointees of both parties, that ran interference for those parties—a commission that insisted in the beginning it would not impose blame on individuals.  So, it‘s the ideal Washington commission—a commission that would investigate without any repercussions.

SHUSTER:  White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say how high up the ladder that an investigation could lead, but he also would not rule out the possibility that it might lead all the way to President Bush.  Wouldn‘t the logical conclusion, if any, through investigation have to include officials as high as President Bush and Vice President Cheney?

TURLEY:  Well, David, that‘s the really strange thing.  In the last week or so, we have seen an effort to define a potential investigation in terms of the lawyers who gave these—who wrote these memos.  That‘s just facially ridiculous, that if a war crime investigation does not look at the people who drove the trains, they look at the people who told the trains to roll.  They look at the people who not just committed torture but who ordered the torture.

The lawyers will, indeed, be investigated and they may be held accountable.  But it is the people who ordered the investigation—and those would be George Bush and Vice President Cheney, the CIA director, the attorney general.  They implemented, in full knowledge that it was a war crime, a torture program.

Now, these lawyers have something to answer for.  But the effort to define it in terms of lawyers is something of a beltway shift that is setting us up for failure.  And in many ways, what Obama did today maybe just simply shifting the blame to Holder so that he can be the fall guy—because if he defines this solely as whether lawyers will be investigated, he is very likely going to find a legal reason not to do it.  But a true war crime investigation would be given to a special prosecutor who would follow it where it would lead him or her, and that would most certainly lead him to the former president—or her to the former president or vice president and the people like the CIA director and attorney general who pushed through this program.

SHUSTER:  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University—Jonathan, thanks as always.  We appreciate it.

TURLEY:  Thank you, David.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Coming up: The action on Capitol Hill over the torture memos—calls for impeachment, resignations and investigations.  Representative Jerrold Nadler will join us.

And then on the other side of the equation, Dick Cheney insists torture works and that there are memos to prove it.  Oh, and by the way, Dick Cheney wants them declassified in time for his book.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Coming up: The view from Congress on prosecuting the architects of the Bush administration torture policy.  We‘ll talk to one congressman who is working to impeach a judge who wrote one of the torture memos.

And later: Dick Cheney says even more memos should be released, the ones that he thinks prove torture works.

All that—and how police say they tracked down the suspect dubbed “the Craigslist killer.”  That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  As the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Justice Department, Jay Bybee authored the 2002 memo justifying and authorizing acts of torture by the CIA.  His reward?  A life time membership to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  And although former President Bush nominated him and the Senate confirmed him—our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Members of both houses of Congress are now calling for Judge Bybee‘s impeachment.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler will join us in a moment.

But first, the bipartisan back and forth on Jay Bybee has already begun.  Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic member of the judiciary committee and chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refrained from commenting on the calls for impeachment today, but noted that had the Senate known of his involvement with authorizing torture, Bybee, quote, “most likely would not have been confirmed for a judgeship.”

Senator Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asserted that Democrats who called for Bybee‘s impeachment are trying to score political points.  Hatch remarked, quote, “Bybee is one of the most honorable people you‘ll ever meet.”

That prompted response from the judiciary committee chairman, Democratic Senator Pat Leahy.  Mr. Leahy, who voted yes on Bybee‘s appointment to the Ninth Circuit back in 2003, is calling for an independent commission of inquiry on Bush/Cheney national security policies.

And as for Mr. Bybee, listen to what Senator Leahy said earlier this evening to my colleague, Ed Schultz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT LEAHY, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I think the only decent and honorable thing for him to do now that these facts have come out is to resign.  Resign for the good of the—of the judiciary.  I mean, what he‘s done is a total blot on him and it reflects on the rest of the judiciary.  He should do the decent and honorable thing and step down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Joining us now is Congressman Jerrold Nadler, member of the House Judiciary Committee and chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

And good evening, Congressman.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Good evening.

SHUSTER:  I want to talk about Judge Bybee in a moment.  But first, you were the first Democrat to call for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate torture abuses.  Are you satisfied with the president‘s comments earlier today and what do you think prompted this shift in his position?

NADLER:  Well, I think, I‘m very happy with the president‘s position today.  He left the door open for the attorney general to decide whether there should be a special counsel.  And that‘s exactly where the decision should be made, not in the White House but in the attorney general‘s office.

We held hearings on the judiciary committee a year ago and two years ago, on the politicization of the Justice Department during the Bush administration.  And frankly, the president deciding that there should or should not be a special prosecutor would be making a decision that belongs to an independent Justice Department.

And so, the president sort of indicated that today.  And I‘m very glad of that.  And I don‘t know that he shifted his position.  I think he clarified it.

SHUSTER:  You are calling for Judge Jay Bybee to be impeached.  If he does not resign on his own as Senator Leahy was urging him, is impeachment a real possibility and what‘s your next step towards that end?

NADLER:  Well, I think impeachment is a possibility a little down the road.  I mean, we are—we‘re waiting first and we expect not too long ago from now, the Office of Professional Responsibility to come out with a report on whether Judge Bybee and Mr. Yoo and mister—the third one, I forget his name—violated professional ethics by writing these handbooks on how to torture people, which is what those memos were.  They were not, in my judgment, honest legal memos.  They were handbooks on how to torture people and try to get it away with it under the law.

And once that report comes out, if it indicates, as I suspect it may, that they violated—that Judge Bybee violated professional ethics, then I think that, first of all, we have to see whether a special counsel is appointed and whether is a subject of prosecution, and then the impeachment issue will come up after that.

SHUSTER:  The Democratic leadership in Congress has been pretty quiet on all of this.  Are you expecting them to weigh in on this at some point and at what point should they?

NADLER:  Well, I don‘t know what their plans are, and I don‘t know that they should at this point.  The chairman of the judiciary committee on which I‘m subcommittee chairman, Mr. Conyers, announced that the judiciary committee is going to be holding hearings in the next few weeks, I gather, on the question of torture and the question of people in the administration who arranged and suborned torture.

Now, all of these are illegal acts.  But let me say one other thing—

I don‘t think the attorney general has much choice but to appoint a special counsel, a special prosecutor because everybody now knows from the international community, the Red Cross report, from admissions that waterboarding was done, that torture—these memos make it very clear that torture was committed.  The convention against torture which the United States helped draft and sign on which—the law of the land mandates that when there is evidence of torture, that there must be an investigation, and where warranted, a prosecution.

That‘s why I have called for a special counsel to be appointed to do the investigation and to decide whether prosecution is warranted.  It must be a special prosecutor because the Justice Department itself, albeit in the prior administration, but nonetheless the Justice Department, which would normally do the investigating, was itself implicated in these crimes.  So, it has to be a special prosecutor.

SHUSTER:  If Congress, in addition to whatever the Justice Department does, if Congress has hearings and jumps into say, what these hearings that are coming up jumps into the torture memos—can these hearings be bipartisan?  And even if they can be bipartisan—in your view, can they be received that way by the public as being above partisanship?

NADLER:  Well, that‘s really up to the Republicans.  The Republicans have tended since this administration took power, to be totally partisan, to give zero votes to any proposal, to say no to everything.  And during the administration—during the Bush administration, they were totally protective of the Bush administration and of everything it did.  They didn‘t have real oversight hearings or anything else.

If they decide to be open and open-minded, they can be bipartisan.  If they decide they simply are going to be a cheering section for the now departed—thank God—Bush administration, then they won‘t be bipartisan.

SHUSTER:  Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat from New York—

Congressman, we appreciate your time tonight.

NADLER:  You‘re quite welcome.

SHUSTER:  The torture documents front and center for Dick Cheney, and not surprisingly enough, the man who likes to declassify for his own gain is asking more memos to be released so he can cite them in his book.

Rally car racing Portugal-style—Oddball is next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Way back in the year 1910, 99 years ago today, Samuel Langhorn Clemens, also known as author Mark Twain, died.  Of course, it was believed that Twain was on death‘s door more than ten years prior to that.  In 1897, a newspaper mistook a gravely ill cousin James Ross Clemens for the author.  Twain famously told the reporter investigating his alive or death status, quote, the report of my death was an exaggeration.  Mark Twain is also famous for saying get the facts first.  You can distort them later. 

The spirit of Mark Twain lives on at the Fox News Channel.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin with a crime stoppers report from Orlando, Florida.  See if you can spot the bank robber sprinting from the scene of the crime.  This is closed circuit footage outside a Wachovia bank after a robbery.  This fellow demanded cash and got a little red dye pack as a parting gift.  Seconds after leaving the bank, it blew up all over him.  Police somehow tracked down the perp and weren‘t buying it when he claimed he was very badly sunburned. 

To Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada, where we pick up our green is universal tip of the day.  Instead of noisy lawn mowers and trimmers, get yourself a moose to eat that overgrown shrubbery.  Fish and Wildlife officers tried to coax this moose out of the residential neighborhood yesterday, except the yearling was not buying.  He continued to loaf around town, going backyard to backyard, jumping fences along the way.  Eventually officials brought out the tranquilizer gun and gave the moose a little nappy-poo and a free ride back to the woods, just before the Palin family arrived. 

Finally, to the rally car circuit in Portugal, where part of the course is up a hill on a 500-foot cliff.  And I bet you can guess happen what happens next.  Look out.  Unbelievable, Yari Massi Latvia (ph), and his co-driver were completely unhurt, after flipping their Ford Focus 19 times down the hill.  As it turns out, the potentially fatal spill happened on Latvia‘s 24th birthday.  He said the safety measures inside the car saved his life and that if this had happened 20 years, he would have been dead.

Still, I wouldn‘t go trying this at home. 

Former Vice President Cheney returns to Fox yet again for another tongue lashing of President Obama.  Everything from the torture memos to foreign policy.  Where is that undisclosed location when you need it? 

And the surprising developments in the Craigslist Killer case; why authorities believe this guy preyed on young women at night, and by day was a medical student planning a summer wedding?  All that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The ACLU has a new ally in its fight for classified CIA torture memos, Former Vice President Dick Cheney, maybe.  In our number three story tonight, Mr. Cheney appearing on tape last night on Fox News, announced that he has formally asked the CIA to release its secret memos.  Mr. Cheney was responding to the release of those four memos from the Justice Department authorizing the CIA to use specific torture methods in accordance with guidelines sent down from the top, including from Mr.  Cheney. 

Asked whether water boarding, sleep deprivation and other tactics were necessary, Mr. Cheney said yes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We had to collect good, first-rate intelligence about what was going on so we could prepare and defend against it.  And that‘s what we did.  We—with the intelligence programs, the terror surveillance programs, as well as the interrogation program, we set out to collect that kind of intelligence. 

It worked.  It‘s been enormously valuable in terms of saving lives, preventing another mass casualty attack against the United States. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Of course, there is no definitive documented evidence that al Qaeda attempted such an attack, nor that Mr. Cheney‘s illegal torture stopped it. 

But in the very next sentence, Mr. Cheney made an unsolicited digression to suggest there was such evidence if only the Obama administration would release it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel.  But they didn‘t put out the memos that show the success of the effort.  And there are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.  They have not been declassified. 

I have formally ask they be declassified now.  I haven‘t announced this up until now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Mr. Cheney did not say why his administration did not declassify the memos when it could have.  Nor did he say why he would want to help terrorists by giving them information about American techniques, methods and intelligence sources.  Nor was he asked those questions. 

But Mr. Cheney had other confusing moments last night.  He admitted to staggering incompetence about al Qaeda, saying that even after al Qaeda killed 17 U.S. sailors on the USS Cole, even after al Qaeda declared war on the U.S., even after President Clinton and his team warned the new administration about al Qaeda, even after Bush counter-terror adviser Richard Clarke pleaded for more focus on al Qaeda, even after the CIA warned of al Qaeda‘s intention to attack, the Bush administration knew little about them. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  We didn‘t know a lot about al Qaeda.  We didn‘t have the body of knowledge we have today.  But it was a relatively unknown group.  We knew a little bit about it, but not a lot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Joining us is MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell, also a contributor at HuffingtonPost.com.  Lawrence, thanks as always for your time. 

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, David. 

SHUSTER:  We have more sound coming up.  But first, Mr. Cheney on these memos, it endangers America to release memos approving torture, but it is fine to release memos describing torture and the intelligence secrets we supposedly got from it?  What‘s going on here? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, this is a desperate flailing around now by the vice president, former vice president, to—legal memos are just legal memos.  The vice president is now saying, let‘s do more than that.  Let‘s reveal memos that are about operational practices of the CIA and that are evaluative of those operational practices and revealing of specifically what they were and when they were used.  This is completely inconsistent with everything he has said in this area prior to now. 

All to prove—he believes prove a point, that torture worked.  He‘s sitting there now telling us torture worked.  He knows about torture.  He‘s very clearly telling us that he knows about specific cases of it being used and authorized at the highest levels.  And this would be a really good time for a former vice president to have some credibility, because what this former vice president‘s doing is saying, trust me, I‘ve seen it; I was there; I know these things; trust me; believe me on the basis of no submittable evidence at all. 

And, of course, no public figure has less credibility with the public in this country at this time than Dick Cheney.  So he‘s in a hopeless hole that he is flailing around in now. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s listen to Mr. Cheney talking here about Mr. Obama‘s travel overseas.  Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  There‘s a great temptation for a new administration to come in, and when you find a problem, obviously, to blame it on your predecessor.  We did it.  I‘m sure the Obama administration‘s not the first one ever to do that. 

But what I find, well, disturbing is the extent to which he‘s gone to Europe, for example, and seemed to apologize profusely in Europe, and been to Mexico and apologized there, and so forth.  And I think you have to be very careful.  The world outside there, both our friends and our foes, will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they‘re dealing with a weak president, or one who‘s not going to stand up and aggressively defend America‘s interests. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Does the U.S. have anything to apologize for?  And either way, in what kind of scenario is Mr. Cheney suggesting it hurts America for the president to apologize? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, listening to Cheney talk about this is listening to someone who is pretending to forget what all past presidents have done.  I mean, let‘s—imagine, for example, if Obama had decided today he wants to sell arms to Iran.  Well, he would be impeached if he said today I would like to sell arms to Iran.  And voters would have a right to say hey, I didn‘t vote for a president who is going to sell arms to Iran. 

It is inconceivable, except that the geniuses who were surrounding Ronald Reagan and his administration decided that‘s what they should do.  The greatest act of appeasement to a country that is considered in some way threatening to the United States that we can think of in recent history was the Iran Contra scandal, in which the Reagan administration was selling arms to Iran.  I know there are some viewers of this show who aren‘t old enough to remember this.  I‘m just going to say it one more time.  The Reagan administration sold arms to Iran, engaged in illegal activity doing so, and provoked his successor, the first President Bush, to issue about a half dozen pardons for the criminal activity involved. 

SHUSTER:  Naturally, Fox News asked Mr. Cheney about Hugo Chavez. 

Here‘s the clip. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Is there something wrong, maybe, with the president of the United States laughing and joking with a dictator that has been so anti-American?  Is that a—is that image a bad image for the country? 

CHENEY:  Well, I think it‘s not helpful.  I think it‘s—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  If pictures of Cheney with Pervez Musharraf and Rumsfeld with Saddam Hussein are OK, what‘s the problem with the Chavez photos? 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, David, the provable stupidity, the relentless stupid of Sean Hannity has been proven to the audience of this show time and time again.  But Sean Hannity actually thinks that Hugo Chavez is a dictator, does not know—I don‘t believe Sean Hannity knows that Chavez was elected, not just elected, but ran in an election in which the Bush administration was actively trying to help the other side.  Chavez won that election. 

The dictator, the Castro brothers were not there.  They were not there.  So, there was no dictator for Obama to be palling around with, as they say in this.  And, you know, again, Republican president Richard Nixon, after—after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, Richard Nixon, in a meeting with Brezhnev, gave him a Cadillac, because Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, liked cars and American cars.  Nixon gave him a car. 

Imagine if Obama had gone down there and said, you know what, we got to get friendlier relationship with Venezuela.  They are not threatening us in any way, the way the Soviet Union was under Brezhnev.  They‘re not aiming missiles at us the way the Soviet Union was when Nixon gave Brezhnev a Cadillac.  So why don‘t I just give Chavez a skateboard or something, something less than a Cadillac, because it is just Venezuela.  Imagine if Obama had given him anything and, in—but in this history in which we have given gifts to dictators—Brezhnev was a dictator—to dictators who had missiles aimed at the United States, with the intention of being able to destroy the United States, that guy gets a Cadillac from the Republican president, and Chavez cannot get—cannot get a handshake from this president. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s also delicious, I must point out, Lawrence, as you know, that Dick Cheney, when he ran Halliburton, talked about following the oil.  Well, it went all the way through Unocal, which was in pipeline talks with the Taliban.  In any case, Lawrence O‘Donnell of “Huffington Post,” thanks, as always.  We appreciate it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, David. 

SHUSTER:  Coming up, one was impeached, the other accused of lying us into war.  Now Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will take the stage together.  Comedian Christian Finnegan joins us with his take on how that evening will go. 

At the top of the hour with Rachel, Congressional Republicans are trying to stop President Obama‘s agenda.  Now they‘ve resorted to shady fund-raising practices, all in the name of trying to communicate with Congress. 

Up next, the alleged Craigslist Killer; why investigators say a 23-year-old college student was leading a double life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  It may seem odd, in retrospect, that the suspect was not apprehended sooner, since a pretty clear image of him has been on television and in newspapers for days.  But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, police had apparently been tracking the movements of the so-called Craigslist Killer for some time now.  And today, the suspect was ordered held without bail one day after he was arrested. 

The crimes are disturbing.  The suspect, surprising.  Our correspondent is NBC‘s Jeff Rossen. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ROSSEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Philip Markoff, a 23-year-old medical student at Boston University, today entered a municipal courtroom with his hands cuffed and legs shackled to face first degree murder charges.  Prosecutors say Markoff was leading a double life, studying by day, allegedly terrorizing women at night.

JENNIFER HICKMAN, PROSECUTOR:  This is the defendant, who on April 14th, 2009, bashed in the head of Julisa Brisman and shot her three times at close range. 

ROSSEN:  Police allege he killed Brisman inside her hotel room in Boston, and attacked two other women as well.  Prosecutors believe he met all of the victims on Craigslist. 

DANIEL CONLEY, SUFFOLK CO. DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The defendant is a predator.  He preys on young women who are vulnerable, who are unlikely to resist, unlikely to fight back. 

ROSSEN:  Investigators say they traced some of the victims‘ e-mails back to Markoff, and then followed him for days.  Inside his home, they found a gun, plastic ties and duct tape. 

(on camera):  Prosecutors have offered no motive.  But late today, the D.A. told NBC News Markoff may have had a gambling problem, and are looking into that as a possible move motive to rob his victims. 

JOHN SALSBERG, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  He‘s pleaded not guilty.  He is not guilty. 

ROSSEN:  But police claim, even as Philip Markoff was planning his wedding this summer, creating a website and registering for gifts at Pottery Barn, he was also on a violent rampage.  His friends don‘t believe it. 

JAMES KEHOE, FRIEND:  He‘s far from the kind of person I would ever expect to do anything along those lines.  So it was a shock. 

ROSSEN:  Today, Markoff‘s fiance wrote an e-mail to the “Boston Herald.”  “Philip is the best fiance a woman could ask for,” she wrote.  “He would not hurt a fly.” 

CONLEY:  It‘s a wonder how someone‘s life could spiral out of control, someone who seemingly had a lot going for him. 

ROSSEN:  (voice-over:)  A clean-cut student with no criminal history, now suspended from medical school.  He sits in a jail cell without bail. 

For COUNTDOWN, I‘m Jeff Rossen, in Boston. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Coming up, 16 years of White House history, two presidents, one stage.  Bill Clinton and George W. Bush will talk politics in Canada.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  One of them likes to talk endlessly; the other one still isn‘t very good at it.  In our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, former President Bill Clinton and former President George W. Bush will speak together in a joint appearance with a moderator.  Debate?  Not quite.  But 42 and 43 should have much to say about their collective 16. 

May 29th in Toronto, Canada, billed as a two-hour conversation with the two former presidents, along with a moderator, to be decided.  The official topic, according to the invitation, challenges facing the world in the 21st century.  Both men are expected to garner hefty speaking fees for the appearance. 

Now to the decidedly D-list former politicians like former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who you will recall wants to be dropped into the jungle of Costa Rica so that he can be a reality TV star in NBC‘s show “I‘m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”  But today a federal judge refused to modify the terms of Blagojevich‘s bail, denying the former governor the permission to leave the United States. 

The judge said that Blagojevich needed to stay in this country and assist his attorney in his own defense.  After all, Blagojevich will soon be standing trial on 19 corruption counts, including racketeering, conspiracy, wire fraud, attempted extortion and extortion conspiracy. 

Let‘s bring in comedian Christian Finnegan.  His one hour comedy special “Au Contraire” debuts May 8th.  Christian, great to see you again. 

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Always a pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  Now there are some might say that one of those presidents lied us into war and the other lied about oral sex.  Do you think any of that will come up at this joint appearance conversation? 

FINNEGAN:  Nah, it‘s a private events.  So it‘s probably going to be a pretty toothless affair.  Probably be like seeing two aging bands come out of retirement.  Like Clinton will be one of those boring jam bands like Phish, who will try to mesmerize you with a 14 minute guitar solo.  And Bush will be like Right Said Fred.  He knows he‘s a punch line and he just doesn‘t care.  He is going to show up.  He‘s going to play his hit.  And then he‘s going to get his check and go home.  It‘s about getting paid, David. 

SHUSTER:  This event is expected to be closed to the media.  I realize I may be a bit biased on this issue, but isn‘t there something wrong about all of us not getting to see Bubba and W in a talk fest like this? 

FINNEGAN:  Can you imagine the ratings, David, it would be insane.  If they knew that the American public was watching, then they would go for the jugular and ask each other the tough questions.  Like Bush would say, Bill, curious here, you and Hillary, seriously, you guys had an arrangement, right?  And then Clinton could turn around and say, OK, George W. Bush, quick, what‘s nine times nine?  We‘re talking TV bedlam. 

SHUSTER:  The group that arranged this is the same one that paid for former President Bush to speak in Calgary just this past March.  What is it about Canada and its fascination with our former presidents? 

FINNEGAN:  You know, them having Bush and Clinton on the same stage allows Canada to indulge its simultaneous inferiority and superiority complex.  I‘m actually impressed that they care about our ex-presidents.  If not for Google, we wouldn‘t know who their current president is.  By the way, I know that Canada doesn‘t have a president.  They have a czar, I‘m pretty sure. 

SHUSTER:  That Harper guy. 

All right on to Mr. Blagojevich.  He will not be allowed to perform what is described as sweaty physical tasks to avoid elimination in that reality show on NBC. 

FINNEGAN:  What I call Thursday. 

SHUSTER:  Yes.  Your thoughts? 

FINNEGAN:  Listen, I have a message for U.S. District Judge James Zeigle (ph), in the words of Keith Olbermann, how dare you, sir.  Maybe you don‘t know this up on your lofty bench, but America needs this.  This is what we call bread and circus, your honor.  I mean, there is legal precedent here.  The Supreme Court ruled that a public figure under indictment cannot leave the country, unless it involves building a tree fort with a former member of the Pointer Sisters.  It‘s Plessy versus Ferguson. 

SHUSTER:  The former governor is evidently pretty broke, because his lawyer is also trying to get permission from the judge to use two million dollars left over in campaign funds to pay for attorney‘s fees.  Sounds like Blago is in quite the pickle. 

FINNEGAN:  I kind of get the feeling the Vitch will somehow stumble across some extra money.  If he doesn‘t, there is cash to be made for that guy.  There‘s personal appearance money.  There‘s hairbrush sponsorships, maybe even a video podcast, a subscription thing.  Call it Lonely Gov 16. 

SHUSTER:  Comedian Christian Finnegan, whose Comedy Central special airs May 8th.  Thanks, as always. 

FINNEGAN:  Good-bye, sir. 

SHUSTER:  That will do it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching, everybody.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Rachel, good evening. 

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

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