updated 4/29/2009 10:04:27 AM ET 2009-04-29T14:04:27

Guest: Chris Matthews, Eugene Robinson, Brian Williams. Margaret Carlson

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

Spec: Politics; Arlen Specter; Policies

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

               

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

In the weirdest trajectory since he proposed the magic bullet: Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is suddenly a Democrat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The explanations and implications, like a filibuster-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, with our guest, Chris Matthews.

The reactions from the Republicans?  Stick finger in left ear, stick finger in right ear.  Make blah, blah, blah, I can‘t hear you!  Blah, blah, blah sound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, ® SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  This is not a national story, this is a Pennsylvania story.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, ® TEXAS:  This decision by Senator Specter was a personal decision, limited to his Republican primary prospects in Pennsylvania.  Nothing more and nothing less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Swine flu: The inevitable racism surfaces.  “I‘ve blogged for years,” boasts Michelle Malkin, “about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration.”  Yes, except this contagious disease spreads into the U.S. as a result of kids from a Catholic school in Queens who went on vacation to Cancun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS:  Does anybody wish maybe we can control the borders a little bit at this point?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Worsts: The priceless argument from FOX News: John McCain should not be allowed to talk publicly about torture.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  He was tortured.

JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  And his views on torture are irrelevant because of what happened to him?

KILMEADE:  Are skewed.  Are skewed.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And New York City flyover panic day two: Plenty of responsibility-taking but no firings or demotions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  It was a mistake as was stated.  It was something we found out about along with all of you.  And it will not happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Is that enough?  The thoughts tonight of a blogger who wrote, “Someone should pay for this”: Brian Williams.

All of that more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Perhaps of all of the headlines imaginable for tomorrow morning, the dawn of Barack Obama‘s overemphasized 100th day in office, this was the least likely—our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Arlen Specter is the Democratic senator from Pennsylvania.

Whether two months, 100 days, five years or even 43 of them in the making, the veteran Republican citing irreconcilable differences with the GOP and switching in the move that may have incalculable impact on the current balance of the two parties.  Once Al Franken is finally seated, he will become the 60th senator caucus with the Democrats, a filibuster-proof majority, and that may be only the start of the ramifications.  My colleague, Chris Matthews, who knows a little bit about the Pennsylvania Senate seat issue, joins us presently.

After 29 years in that Senate, after 43 years in the Republican Party, Mr. Specter informing the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, and then the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, about 6:00 o‘clock Eastern yesterday, and making it public today—first citing philosophy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER:  As the Republican Party has moved further and further to the right, I have found myself increasingly at odds with the Republican philosophy, and more in line with the philosophy of the Democratic Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Later, the senator frankly acknowledging that he further alienated Pennsylvania Republican voters, creating a schism by having supported the stimulus bill.  But last year, hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania Republicans switched their own registrations to the Democrat Party.  By having traveled to his state and having conducted opinion polls and observing other polls .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER:  And have found that the prospects for winning a Republican primary are bleak.  I am not prepared to have my 29-year record in the United States Senate decided by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.  Not prepared to have that record decided by that jury, the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  President Obama reportedly unaware of the impending switch until this morning, called Specter, offering his full support and saying he was thrilled to have him as member of the party, while Vice President Joe Biden reportedly had 14 conversations with Senator Specter since his stimulus bill vote.  The senator is saying today that the president promised to campaign for him as did Senate Majority Leader Reid and that Reid had agreed to set Specter‘s seniority as if he had been a Democrat since he first became senator in 1980.  But the consequential committee chairmanship is not yet decided.

Pennsylvania‘s Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, was also instrumental in Specter‘s decision.  “But the overtures from Senate Democrats,” says Specter, “have continued on a continuous basis for the past five years.”

The now 40-member Republican caucus is trying to portray this authentic political bombshell as purely local.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  This is not a national story, this is a Pennsylvania story.  This is a Pennsylvania story about his inability, according to his pollster, to be re-nominated by the Republican Party, or to be elected as an independent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then from RNC Chairman Michael Steele, “He knew he was going to lose the Republican primary due to his left-wing voting record.”  But it was Senator Specter providing the rebuttal, describing the trend of moderate Republicans who lost primaries to hard-right Republicans who themselves went on to lose to Democrats in the general election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER:  They don‘t make any bones about their willingness to lose the general election if they can purify the party.  I don‘t understand it, but that‘s what they say.  There ought to be rebellion, there ought to be an uprising.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Other Senate Republicans like Olympia Snowe and even Lindsey Graham of South Carolina today decried the implications of a party unable to hold on to a moderate member.  The true implications for Democratic power in the Senate less exact even after Franken is finally seated.  Senator Specter has made clear he will not automatically provide the filibuster-proof 60th vote, even refusing, he says, to provide cloture on the Employee Free Choice Act, and Democrats should take heed since Specter infuriated the GOP by being the only Republican to vote against Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork 22 years ago.  Realistically, since young Democrat Specter switched to Republicans in 1965, he has been something of an enigma to both parties ever since.

Nobody in television news has a better idea of Pennsylvania politics and how it fits into the national scene than my guest, the host of “HARDBALL,” Chris Matthews.

Good evening, Chris.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Oh, Keith, you would have me on tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here I am with the truth.  I‘m not thrilled by this moment because I feel like I‘m back in confession at the Catholic Church.  But I will be honest.  If you ask the right questions, I‘ll give you the right answers.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  I‘ll get to your part in this, but give me that overview first, given what we know of this terrain.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  What were the mechanics in Pennsylvania?  Was Specter really in a position where he would have been the underdog in the Republican primary, but if he gotten there, he would have been the favorite in the general election?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think (AUDIO BREAK) OK, you got it?

They are not happy; they feel dumped like first wives do.  They‘ve been dumped by a guy who saw a better opportunity.  He clearly believes, and he said so transparently right there, he would lose the Republican nomination next year from now to Pat Toomey, who‘s a conservative.  Arlen Specter made a miscalculation.  He thought he could vote for the stimulus package, improving his chances in the general election without causing him too much worry in the primary, but he made a big mistake.

The mood of the Republican Party is very polarized right now, unusually so for a party that‘s normally been moderate like him.  He‘s lost touch with his party.  It is a polarized party now.  And he‘s still trying to swim in the middle and there‘s no room there.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Cornyn of Texas said today, apart from the clip we just played, that the GOP will do well enough in the midterms to, quote, “regain its status as a national party.”  There‘s an awful implication in that.  To regain means you‘ve lost.

We haven‘t seen a viable national party .

MATTHEWS:  No.

OLBERMANN:  . come on to the scene since 1852 and we haven‘t seen one banished from the scene since then.  And we haven‘t seen any third party go as high as second place in a presidential election since 1912.  Are the Republicans actually in the danger that Cornyn implies there of not being of sort of flat-lining nationally?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  The Republican Party has made—as you know better than I—a couple of Faustian deals over the years (ph).  They want to cut a deal with the Dixiecrats.  Lyndon Johnson signed a civil rights bill and they got all those white southerners who are angry about civil rights to join their party.  Well, the Trent Lotts of this world joined the party and remade it into their party.  That was the first Faustian deal.

The second deal they made was with the religious right.  They became something of—I don‘t know - a religious party in many ways, and that cost them.  So, what‘s the result?  They are playing the price now in the northeast.  The Democratic Party now owns the northeast.

The Republican Party, which was once dominant in the northeast, with all of the Yankee Republicans: Javits and Keating, and Clifford Case of New Jersey, and Weicker of Connecticut; and Pennsylvania was John Heinz country and Hugh Scott country, and Richard Schweiker country, and Arlen Specter country.

They have lost the northeast because of the deals they‘ve made with the religious right and with the old Dixiecrats.  They‘ve kissed it good-bye in the northeast.  And the only people they‘re going to be left after the next election, in the Republican Party, are going to be the two senators from Maine who are very much moderates.  And Maine is a very independent-minded state.  But the northeast, not a single Republican congressperson in New England.  What a wipeout that‘s been—and Arlen is now jumping ship.

OLBERMANN:  Is he going to be the last?  You mentioned the two from Maine, the others in the northeast.  Is it possible that he might not be the last to go to the Democratic Party?  To go blue?

MATTHEWS:  No, I think they‘ll stick, because Maine is very independent.  Maine has always been willing to be counter.  They‘ll stick and they‘ll fight for their right to pick the people they like and they like those two senators.

And by the way, any Republican that survived 2006 or 2008 is pretty safe.  Those will be the tough issues (ph).

By the way, Arlen is a hawk.  Never get this wrong.  He‘s a hawk who supported the Iraq war, the Vietnam War, for that matter—right down the line to the last nickel for that war.  It‘s so ironic that the Democratic Party is embracing the guy that was completely at odds with them on the war issue.

But lucky for him, right now, the issue is the economy.  And he‘s been right on the stimulus package.  So, he‘s not going to hurt much in the short run.  But two years ago, he couldn‘t have pulled this trick.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Your part in the Pennsylvania Senate equation

a bid for the Democratic nomination.

               

MATTHEWS:  I have no idea.

OLBERMANN:  It was on the table for you.  Certainly, that‘s not a secret.  It‘s not a secret that you chose no and thankfully decided for our benefit, anyway—thankfully decided to stay with MSNBC.  Did you have the foresight to have calculated this prospect for Specter, calculating the possibility that he might have switch sides?  Was that a factor in your experimentations or explanations?

MATTHEWS:  Well, I did a little due diligence, a little reporting.  I figure what—I thought, the lay of the land looked like, in that time I could do it.  And I was very constrained by my role here, what I could do in terms of just asking questions.

OLBERMANN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I did find a lot of comfort with a lot of good people—the mayor of Scranton, the chairman of the Philadelphia party, the chairman of the Allegheny party, the governor of the state.  I had wonderful feelings from them.  I felt very good about it.  If I have decided to make a career change, my heart was here.  I love what I do.

I‘ve been working 30 or 40 years to be an opinionated guy who bugs a lot of people.  I bug the Clinton crowd.  I bug the Republicans.  I bug the right, sometimes the networks get mad at me.  I love it.  I love to argue politics.

And I don‘t mind getting hit once in a while but I don‘t want to be a tote of a political party.  And when you this damn political parties, no matter which one it is, you end up buying the blue plate special.  You got to buy card check, you got to buy trade restrictions, you got to do everything they want, and you got to eat it.  And I didn‘t want to eat it.

Now, Arlen is willing to eat it.  This guy is willing to do anything to keep that Senate seat.  Fine, if the voters like that and re-elect him next year, they know what they‘re getting, a guy that will do anything to get that seat.

This guy is the opposite of Edmund Burke.  He doesn‘t stand for the people.  He goes with the flow.  He polled this election.  He saw he couldn‘t win in Republican Party so he switched to the Democratic Party.

My senses of Pennsylvania, it leaves a little bit in the air right now, because Pennsylvania for all its history was a generally-moderate state.  It was settled by the Quakers.  It‘s a tolerant state historically.  It does believe in middle of the road politics but it does believe in loyalty.

And I think they‘re going to find it very hard to believe that a guy, a politician, was loyal to a political party for half a century, that gave him elected office time after time after time, supported him, raised money for him, voted for him, believed in him—and then just like that, when he sees a better opportunity, he splits to the other side.  You got to wonder about a guy‘s character who does that—I think.

Now, the voters are going to have to decide.  And I have no idea what they‘re going to decide.  Maybe they won‘t have any better choice than him and they‘ll be stuck with him.  But, you know, that‘s what politics is.

And by the way, anybody who‘s mystified by this, keep your eye on these politicians, because you may have principles as a voter, but don‘t count on them having any.  I‘m sorry I got to say that.  Thanks for asking me, by the way.

OLBERMANN:  Wonderful.  Absolutely wonderful.  Chris, I‘ve said this to you before—I think you would have made a hell of a senator.  You would have made a constant news story.  And I‘m glad you stayed on “HARDBALL” because we would have missed you otherwise.  Thank you, sir.  And .

MATTHEWS:  I love being your lead-in, bro.  That‘s all my—I am not a U.S. senator, I am Keith Olbermann‘s lead-in.  That‘s my job in life.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I was going to congratulate you on everything .

MATTHEWS:  I‘m your St. John the Baptist.

OLBERMANN:  I was going to congratulate you on .

MATTHEWS:  I just ring of the bell, you‘re coming.  That‘s all.

OLBERMANN:  I was going to congratulate you on everything you‘ve achieved.  And now you‘ve gone and spoiled it.  Have fun on the “THE TONIGHT SHOW” tomorrow night.

MATTHEWS:  Great.  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Chris.

Arlen Specter is not the only Republican suddenly embracing that which he until recently fiercely opposed.  Another Republican quoted today as having warned military personnel that war crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished, and it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”  There is an asterisk.  As Chris suggested, there always is an asterisk with these people.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Prosecuting torture: Republican who warned civilians and military personnel alike that it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”  The other who helped frame torture as plausible and productive, even though it now turns out he truly had no first-hand knowledge of what he spoke.

And blaming illegal immigrants from Mexico for swine flu even though it was brought here by Catholic school students from Queens.

Late developments on the buzzing of downtown Manhattan by the back up Air Force One, an FAA shows the agency knew it might scare people but it insists on secrecy anyway.  A rare comment tonight from my guest, NBC‘s Brian Williams.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He has remained quiet about Mr. Obama‘s presidency for months, but today, we have videotape of former President George W. Bush calling for full, open investigations of U.S. torture and calling for prosecutions of the guilty.

Our fourth story tonight: Yes, of course, there‘s a catch.  But we begin with Mr. Bush talking about the war on terror and demanding prosecution of war crimes and rejecting even the rationale embraced by President Obama that the chain of command makes it OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  War crimes will be prosecuted.  War criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And now the two catches that was March 17th, 2003, the eve of Mr. Bush‘s war in Iraq.  And his tough words directed not at U.S. troops or CIA operatives, but at Iraqis.  However, when he learned that the actual Americans were capable of war crimes, he explained to an Arabic audience, and across the years, to Mr. Obama, that in America, we do not sweep past wrongs under the rug.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  It‘s important for people to understand that in a democracy, that there will be a full investigation.  We want to know the truth.  We will find the truth.  We will fully investigate.  The world will see the investigation and justice will be served.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush portrayed Abu Ghraib as an aberration from his policy rather than an—as we learned in the Levin report—an iteration of it.  Where he stood behind because it was not torture, it were his enhanced interrogations—just as (inaudible) we now know as Abu Ghraib—because those interrogations prevented new attacks.

Except now, we know more than we originally suspected, that one of the prime drivers of that story line, a former CIA officer named John Kiriakou was full of it.  In 2007, Kiriakou said Abu Zubaydah lasted probably 30, 35 seconds the on the water board, and from then, quote, “answered every question.”

But now we know that Zubaydah was, in fact, waterboarded 83 times.  So, times number two through 83 mean that his answers either kept changing or were not what the CIA wanted, or they were just done for fun.

How did Kiriakou get it so wrong?  The day after he came forward, we spoke to another former CIA officer about the basis for Kiriakou‘s claims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Kiriakou had moved on to another job, stateside before the waterboarding actually began.  He wasn‘t there for the confessions.  How would he know how effective it had been or hadn‘t been?  Was he overstating how much he would know about the results or was he kept in the loop somehow?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think he could have tried to have been kept in the loop.  But does he really know?  The answer is no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Eugene Robinson, also, of course, now Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor at “The Washington Post.”

Thanks for your time tonight, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I want to start with Mr. Bush, open investigations, prosecutions, no following orders excuses.  Now, there‘s change we can believe in.  Is there any chance we can get that guy running the show now?

ROBINSON:  Signing up for some of that change as well.  But I think

the—I think the message there is—just kidding, folks.  You know, just

it‘s fascinating the way George Bush see clearly the issue of torture, the issue of war crimes when it‘s Iraqis involved, and apparently can‘t see it when it‘s our troops involved, or officials involved.  But I guess I‘m not terribly surprised, Keith.

               

OLBERMANN:  What are we to make then of the subsequent interview, the one with Al Arabiya, knowing how directly Mr. Bush‘s directives about the detainees had gone from him to Rumsfeld and Cheney into the field while he‘s still saying, “Oh, no, there‘s going to be full investigations” of anything that went wrong at Abu Ghraib?

ROBINSON:  That is obviously, he meant full investigations up to a point.  But that—wasn‘t that a kind of almost brilliant—and I‘m using that word—and succinct summary of the way these sorts of things ought to be handled and ought to be handled now.  Let‘s have an investigation.  Let‘s take it where it leads and let‘s hold people accountable.

OLBERMANN:  He could even be the leader of that investigation.  If he stuck to that principally, he‘d do a good damn job of it.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But as to this Mr. Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who said he got his info about Zubaydah -- 30 seconds then broke from field reports, from CIA field reports.  Given that claim given, what do we now still need to know on top of what Levin and others have revealed?  There seems to be some details missing here between “he lasted 30 seconds,” “we had to waterboard him 84 times”?

ROBINSON:  Yes, there‘s a lot missing there.  I mean, one unanswered question is, what did the CIA reports say?  I mean, did they make that claim?  Did they make that claim 82 times?  It‘s unclear.

But here‘s what we should remember—you know, there are surveys that show surprising levels of tolerance among Americans for torture.  You know, I think it depends how you ask the question.  But I think, to the extent that that‘s true, I think it‘s due to this fallacy that torture works like it works on “24,” that it produces great information, produces it fast.

And we know that Abu Zubaydah gave up valuable information he had while he was being questioned by the FBI not under torture.  When they started torturing him, he didn‘t have anything valuable left to say and didn‘t say anything valuable.  And that‘s, you know, that is—according to experts that I‘ve talked to—it is more the pattern that one would expect to see.

So, it doesn‘t work, and if we can remember that, if we can keep that in mind and reinforce that, I think, we can—we can open people‘s eyes (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  But it seems to me that remembering what George Bush said in 2003 or what Newt Gingrich said in 1997 or on the previous McCain comments is just as important, because as these accumulate, do they have an impact on the issue of whether investigations would be politicized or what the decision should be made about investigations?

ROBINSON:  You know, I think people who are determined to politicize the investigations that I hope ensue and the ones that are ongoing now, they‘re going to do that, and I think they‘re going to do that, heedless of what or what officials have said in the past.  But I do—you know, the irony is there.  It doesn‘t lay a foundation in legal sense.  I don‘t think it really does.  I think we got enough foundation in the legal sense to go forward.

OLBERMANN:  I think you‘re right.  Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Gene Robinson, of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC—we now have to say that, it‘s written in introduction: a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.

ROBINSON:  Oh, dear.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations.  Thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Thanks so much, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, look, a kitty.  A cat has adopted a squirrel.  Yes, yes, says the cat.  Adopted—that‘s the word.  Not planning to eat—adopted.

And when your conspiracy theory is so nuts that Karl Rove has to roll you back in, you maybe off your important medication.  Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment, and a scientific study suggesting conservatives think Stephen Colbert only pretends to be joking and is actually a conservative.

First, this is April 28th, thus six days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity.  Thus five days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted.  And thus four days during which Sean Hannity has reneged on his promise.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin at an animal shelter in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where these creatures have chosen a shockingly deviant lifestyle.  They blame you, Iowa.  It‘s a squirrel living with a family of cats.  The rodent was rescued after falling out of a tree.  And the shelter lumped in with the litter of kittens that have just been born.

The kitties and the squirrel don‘t know any better and don‘t seem to mind the extra company.  And mother cat just figures she had one ugly offspring like, you know, “Cousin Oliver” kind of thing.

Via YouTube, we head to eastern shore of Maryland, where on Saturday, this 36-foot tall rocket was launched not by NASA but a guy named Steve.  You sure you know what you‘re doing, Steve?

Well, Steve appears to know what he‘s doing.  At 1/10th the size of a Saturn V, this oversized, unguided missile weighs almost a ton and is believed to be the largest model rocket ever launched.  It costs more than $20,000 to build.  Mr. Eves had to clear all of this with the FAA before blasting the rocket over 400,000 feet in the air.

Did it buzz New York City?  No, it was something else.  As for the landing, Eves said, “Hey, did you see the take off?  Actually, they used like these parachutes and stuff.

Blaming swine flu on illegal immigration for Mexico, even though the people who brought the disease into this country were from a Catholic school from Queens.

And the day after that New York City fly over, the man who took responsibility is still employed.  It turns out the FAA anticipated the outrage and decided to keep it secret anyway. 

Brian Williams joins me for reaction.  These stories ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best reenactments of a crime, James Howard, attorney, Chelmsford (ph) Crown Court in England, adjourned to the scene of a crime so the jurors could get a better sense.  Attorney Howard promptly fell down a nine foot man hole breaking his hand. 

Number two, best nobody saw this coming, an unidentified factory employee in Balsa, north of Stockholm, in Sweden.  The robotic machine that lifts heavy rocks at the factory was on the fritz.  So the guy went over to perform some maintenance, where upon the robot attacked him.  Four broken ribs.  He‘ll be wanting the Employee Free Choice Act next. 

Number one—we‘ll have more on this tomorrow—best having it both ways, Steven Colbert.  The April edition of the “International Journal of Press Politics” reports a research study which says conservatives and liberals find “The Colbert Report” equally funny.  However, to quote this research study, “conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said, while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.” 

So, I shouldn‘t tell conservatives that Colbert greets his guests back stage by saying, you know how this works, I play an idiot? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the current Republican playbook, there are only so many maneuvers you can turn to, especially with facts off limits.  In responding to Swine Flu, however, the Republican party‘s chosen talking heads have opted for an oldie but goodie.  Our third story tonight, making scapegoats out of Mexicans.

Swine Flu has killed more than 150 people in Mexico, the country considered ground zero of this outbreak.  At least 68 cases have been reported in the U.S., as of today, with a handful hospitalized and no fatalities. 

Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said she found it, quote, interesting that the last Swine Flu outbreak was in 1976, under another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, one who took office in 1977. 

But Republican commentators, from the radio clowns to the respected journalists at Fixed News, have resurrected the shrewd political tactic that served them so well last year, of using our loose border controls with Mexico to terrify Americans.  Michelle Malkin writes “I have blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the U.S. as a result of uncontrolled immigration.  We‘ve heard for years from reckless open border ideologues who continue to insist there‘s nothing to worry about.  We‘ve heard for years that calling any attention to the dangers of allowing untold numbers of people to pass across our borders and through our other ports of entry without proper medical screening, as required of every legal visitor, immigrant to this country, is racist.”

Well, yes, you are a racist.  Exactly how does that apply, though, to the people who the Centers for Disease Control confirmed actually carried the Swine Flu from Mexico to the U.S., a group of Catholic school students from New York City, who spent Spring Break in Cancun.  Uncontrolled Catholic immigration, open borders for private school kids reckless? 

Anyway, unswayed by the facts, the Republican echo chamber tried to stir the American melting pot with a classic recipe of hate and fear. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I thought that this line, though, was very ironic, this morning in one of the articles I read about surveillance at the Mexican border.  You thought we had an immigration problem, well now we might actually want to prevent the sick people from crossing over the border. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chaos in Mexico; from earthquakes to Swine Flu, will it mean more illegals heading for the U.S.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Does anybody wish maybe we could control the border just a little bit at this point. 

SHEPPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Everybody is e-mailing, going the illegals are bringing it across the border.  Relax. 

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Tonight, Swine Flu spreads from Mexico to the United States.  Is this the latest border crisis. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The U.S. is not currently testing travelers from Mexico.  But customs officials are wearing protective clothing. 

MICHAEL SAVAGE, “THE SAVAGE NATION”:  Illegal aliens are carriers of the new strain of Human Swine Avian Flu from Mexico.  Is this a terrorist attack? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some, though, say the solution is to close the border. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now talk that we should even close the border? 

BECK:  If this is so important, why haven‘t we closed the border. 

NEAL BOORTZ, “THE NEAL BOORTZ SHOW”:  There‘s the bio-terrorism angle.  What better way to sneak a virus in this country than to give it to Mexicans. 

BECK:  Wouldn‘t it be great if we had a secure border? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wouldn‘t it be great if they gave sanity hearings for people who went on TV.  With us now, somebody who would pass, Margaret Carlson, political columnist for “Bloomberg News” and Washington editor of the “Week Magazine.”  Thanks for your time tonight, Margaret. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “THE WEEK”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  This was just a race to see which of the knee-jerk reactionaries would blame this on immigration, wasn‘t it? 

CARLSON:  Uh-huh, yes.  The noted epidemiologist Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin have one-upped Lou Dobbs on the subject of immigration.  In a whole set of fresh reasons to hate people that they don‘t think should be in this country.  I mean, there‘s no evidence to back up what they say.  There‘s just no—none of the border people, none of the health care people in this country, none of the public health officials.

As a matter of fact, they were complimenting Mexico.  I mean, 20 million people, and they noted a small outbreak of Swine Flu, and got the word out, and started quarantining people. 

OLBERMANN:  In addition to being -- 

CARLSON:  We should be grateful to Mexico. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  In addition to there being no evidence that there is anything that pertains to this issue of immigration, legal or otherwise, the whole issue a political issue worked so poorly for the GOP last year.  This sounds like this is—they‘re ignoring the Arlen Specter advice.  Somebody desperately thinks that winning the primary is all you need to do.  What is the end game in this?  There seems to be no ability to actually make this work on a national level with a political population. 

CARLSON:  Once the primary—the Republican primary was over, immigration as an issue just passed by the boards.  It had no salience whatsoever. 

Now, I think they‘re hoping, you know, immigration on its own might not work to motivate the base of the party.  How about if we combine an epidemic with some xenophobic riots?  Maybe that would do it. 

But you‘re right, I mean, their whole swathes of the country now that aren‘t Republican.  They‘re just going to be muttering to one another about Swine Flu, brought in by Mexicans, when, you know, it‘s simply not the case. 

OLBERMANN:  And the Mexican cases seem to have started from this large industrial, essentially industrial pig farm, a US-owned farm that‘s been generated pollution complaints from the people who live in the area.  Is it likely that the Republicans are going to get all worked up over this and they‘re now going to demand greater regulation of agri-business and American investments in Mexico?  Is that likely? 

CARLSON:  No, I mean, Republicans are not going to learn from Arlen Specter‘s defection, and they‘re not going to learn to regulate suddenly agri-business or any of the food safety problems that we‘ve been having.  It‘s not in their—the people controlling the Republican party now are not interested in going that way. 

Maybe when—I think we‘re at 21 percent of people identifying themselves as Republicans.  Maybe when we get down to 10 percent and there is this tiny, tiny group talking to each other, maybe some of this, you know, this kind of rhetoric and, you know—a market, a market for talk radio like this will diminish. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of markets, the thing to invest in right now, anything that says Whig Party on it.  Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg News” and “The Week Magazine.”  Thanks, Margaret.   

CARLSON:  Thanks, Keith.  Good night. 

OLBERMANN:  If you think having a secretary of Health and Human Services right now might help in responding to an outbreak of, say, Swine Flu, well, today you‘ve got one.  With her swearing in tonight at the Oval Office, Kathleen Sebelius is the new HHS secretary, having resigned as governor of Kansas following today‘s Senate confirmation vote, 65-21.

The Swine Flu crisis created pressure to confirm Sebelius, whose nomination had been blocked by Republicans who opposed the fact that a female nominee for Health and Human Services had supported a woman‘s right to choose. 

Now, the president promises this will not happen again.  Everybody takes responsibility.  Nobody is getting the pink slip.  Brian Williams joins me about this. 

From Fixed News, this brilliant idea; you can‘t let John McCain talk about torture because he is prejudice, because he was tortured.  Worsts. 

And with Arlen Specter now a Democrat, what are the chances he will be joined by Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins.  When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, who better to ask about the odds than her special guest, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Brian Williams next on something about which we are both outraged, the buzzing of New York City on the OK of the head of the White House Military Office.  What‘s next?  That‘s next. 

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.  The bronze to Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has announced that she‘s been appointed to the House GOP‘s new American Energy Solutions Group.  Ms. Bachmann‘s expertise on this topic seems to be limited to her statement last week that, quote, “there isn‘t even one study that can be produced that shows Carbon Dioxide is a harmful gas.  There isn‘t one such study because Carbon Dioxide is not a harmful gas.  It is harmless gas.  Carbon dioxide is natural.  It is not harmful.” 

By appointing her to this group, Republicans may be acknowledging that there are enough emissions coming out of Michele Bachmann‘s mouth to serve as a new source of gas, or at least winds power.  Runner-up Brian Kilmeade of Fixed News.  This is quite possibly the dumbest argument ever given voice to on national airwaves.  About John McCain and torture—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  He should not be allowed to talk on torture because he is clearly somebody who went through unspeakable pain and punishment. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you mean he shouldn‘t be allowed to talk? 

He has an opinion like everybody.  He represents the state of Arizona.

KILMEADE:  But, he was tortured. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Therefore his views are irrelevant. 

KILMEADE:  Are skewed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think his views are particularly telling. 

KILMEADE:  What do you think he‘s going to be, pro torture, after he‘s been through it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, of course he‘s not going to be pro-torture.

KILMEADE: Plus, I don‘t think this is torture. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, you are saying, Brian, that the conclusions of a victim of torture might be neither not accurate or not reliable. 

But our winner is Bill-O the clown.  He showed this cartoon from the “New York Times” while saying, “take a good look at this cartoon which the ‘New York Times‘ printed yesterday.  It shows the Statue of Liberty holding a whip, ready to strike.  Just look at this atrocity and tell me that newspaper is a fair media outlet.  The two men responsible are Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and editor Bill Keller.  These guys are on a Jihad to define America as a gulag nation, a country that tortured helpless captives.  The Times is aided and abetted by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt and NBC‘s Jeff Zucker, who allow their commentators to push a hateful, far left agenda.”

You know what, Bill-O, I never saw that cartoon in the Times.  I didn‘t see it on NBC, either, because NBC didn‘t show it.  I don‘t even think we ran it until just now.  You know where I saw that hateful cartoon?  I saw it on Fox News.  Bill, why do you hate America?  Bill-O then went on to explain, with the insistence of a paranoid schizophrenic in a psych ward, that this is an unpatriotic Keller/Sulzberger/Immelt/Zucker plot to marginalize the Republican party through show trials. 

It was so bad, Karl Rove had to reel him in.  Karl Rove!

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS ANALYST:  And I don‘t say they are unpatriotic, they just have a definition of what they -- 

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Let me stop you there.  They are not unpatriotic?  When you‘re going to have pictures released in the next few days of criminal investigation into wrongdoing by Americans, which happened.  And they‘re going to flood all over the world.  Well, who‘s going to be in danger there?  That‘s going to heighten the danger for every American troop overseas, every American diplomat, and every American tourist.  And you‘re saying these men aren‘t unpatriotic, Mr. Rove? 

ROVE:  I‘m not saying—they‘re not doing this because they‘re unpatriotic.  They‘re doing this because they want to achieve a goal for America that I fundamentally disagree with. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Rove, Mr. Murdoch.  When Karl Rove has to talk your commentator down, either your commentator or his supervisors or you are out of control.  Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Now the president has joined the director of the Military Office at the White House in expressing regret that a backup Air Force One flew dangerously low over Lower Manhattan yesterday, with two fighter jets in tow, for a photo-op, while an internal memo from the Federal Aviation Administration indicates the FAA was aware in advance of the possibility of public concern over the publicity flight, but still insisted on everybody keeping it secret. 

In our number one story, one blogger is really mad about this.  He will join me in a moment.  His name is Brian Williams. 

Today, the Defense Department calling the stunt an unfortunate flight and a mishandled, misguided mission.  Very nice.  Alliterative.  One official admitting to the Associated Press the purpose of set mission was to update the file photos of the president‘s plane near the Statue of Liberty, and that the photo op was combined with a training exercise to save money, which would have been dandy if anybody had been forewarned in New York. 

Many of the people were witnesses to, even survivors of 9/11.  Now the defense secretary says he didn‘t know in advance.  Yesterday, the mayor of New York said the same thing.  Police sources said they did, but were warned by the FAA not to warn anybody else.  And the president? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It was a mistake, as was—as was stated.  It was something we found out about along with all of you.  And it will not happen again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, yesterday got chewed out by Rahm Emmanuel, then assumed public responsibility for this.  A similar flyover for Washington, D.C. was scheduled for next week.  That has now been canceled. 

What about Caldera?  Has he been canceled? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think the president has rightly asked that a review of the situation and the decision making be undertaken, so that we can have a better understanding of why that decision might have been made. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is firing a potential outcome? 

GIBBS:  Well, I don‘t—I think our course would be to conduct the review before something like that‘s determined. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And WCBC television in New York has obtained an internal memo from the FAA, in which it claims the agency, quote, demanded total secrecy from the NYPD, the FBI and even the mayor‘s office, and threatened federal sanctions if the secret got out.  This even though James Johnston, an FAA air traffic control official, is quoted as writing “the possibility of public concern regarding DOD, Department of Defense, aircraft flying at low altitudes in and around New York City.” 

As promised, the anchor and managing editor of NBC News, Brian Williams.  Good evening, sir.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Thank you for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  You say this isn‘t often enough.  Opinions are not your side of the street.  This isn‘t your business.  Yet you were very, very emphatic in your blog, “The Daily Night” about this issue.  Why? 

WILLIAMS:  This was the clunkiest thing I‘ve seen done in years.  And I think from the distance of Washington, it was hard to tell just what it did to people in Lower Manhattan.  If they ever release the 911 calls, you‘ll hear it, people taking it upon themselves to evacuate buildings, spill into the streets. 

It was just enormously clutzy and ill-conceived.  The head of the White House Military Office—you know, I flew with this air wing covering President Clinton, been thousands of hours on that aircraft, and gotten to know their procedures.  I‘m quite convinced that no one in the White House knew about this.  They—they‘re their own operation. 

He‘s Harvard educated, West Point educated.  He‘s been a law professor.  He‘s run the Army.  But he is squarely in the spotlight for this. 

OLBERMANN:  As you wrote, somebody has to—someone should pay for this.  Is it him?  Does somebody have to pay for it with a job? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I‘ll leave that up to the boss and the president today, obviously, appointing the deputy chief of staff to run the investigation.  One of the points I made on my blog, I couldn‘t believe they didn‘t make this a virtue.  Say to folks in New York—and we‘re good at getting the word out.  The web‘s really good at it.

You know, Mary Kate Olson can order a latte at 4:00 and we know about it at 4:05 on Gawker.  So we are good at telling folks, come out Saturday morning, Battery Park for those of you in Jersey, Liberty State Park, bring the kids, bring your camera.  You‘re going to see a once-in-a-lifetime picture of Air Force One making a low pass near the Statue of Liberty.  Make it an event.

Instead, it was cloaked in this automatic, don‘t ask any questions, post-9/11 secrecy, an empty 747.  We were so fearful that the wrong element would find out we were flying an empty plane over New York, we forgot to tell the right element. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly. 

WILLIAMS:  That would be you and me. 

OLBERMANN:  What about this newly uncovered memo over Mr. Johnston‘s signature at the FAA, acknowledging the possibility of public concern but still insisting on secrecy.  This means that somebody made an equation that what they are getting now is better than somehow letting the right people, as you suggest, know. 

WILLIAMS:  That‘s why I think the higher-ups are so angry.  This kind of thing, if you know the workings of government, something like a military air wing never bubbles up to the bosses.  But they have to take responsibility.  They get the responsibility. 

This is an enormous quality of life issue here in New York.  I spoke to a gathering of firefighters the other night here in midtown.  And in the quiet of that ballroom, 9/11, as I said that night, was 10 minutes ago. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course. 

WILLIAMS:  Ten minutes ago.  It‘s so fresh.  They lost 343 of their members, who went in to help those who had been already hit.  It was just ten minutes ago.  You can‘t trifle with feelings in Lower Manhattan.

OLBERMANN:  To even bring it to a larger point, which I don‘t think it has been made yet; so what if it‘s New York.  It could have been Washington.  They had one planned for Washington.  It could have been the Sears Tower in Chicago, which we always hear mentioned about.  Would the reaction have been different, but yet similar, in another location, rather than just, oh, it‘s New York again. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, the Chicago comparison, L.A., they haven‘t heard—happily for them, they don‘t know the sound of a squealing jet engine before impact.  Part of what was so bracing about yesterday was to see a jet that large on a severe angle, wing up, the way you never see a commercial airliner handling, say nothing of the fighter that appeared to be chasing the jetliner. 

As I said yesterday, it was harrowing if you saw it from a distance.  The only thing worse was seeing it up close and realizing, my god, those are the markings of Air Force One.  Is the president on board?  You know, is something wrong here or tell me it‘s a Harrison Ford movie. 

OLBERMANN:  As it turned out, we could have been told in advance it virtually was.  The anchor and managing editor of “NBC Nightly News,” Brian Williams.  Thanks for visiting us here at your alma mater. 

WILLIAMS:  Thanks for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,180th 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   

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