updated 5/8/2009 9:50:40 AM ET 2009-05-08T13:50:40

Guest: Jonathan Alter, Chris Cillizza, Jane Meyer, Jim Moore, Christian Finnegan

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The new and improved GOP: The huge effort to rebrand the Republican Party over the weekend got sidetracked by the actual notion of ideas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC CANTOR, ® HOUSE REPUBLICAN WHIP:  I don‘t think any of us should have any monopoly on the ideas.  And I know that there are some who like to make it all about personality.  But it‘s about ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But if those ideas come from a certain Alaska governor praised by “Time” magazine as being influential, then forget ideas and make it personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But was that an issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?  I‘m not sure.  If it‘s the most beautiful, I understand.  We‘re not real cute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Call us when the rebranding is over.

Arlen Specter ran from the Republican Party.  Now, he‘s trying to run from claims he told the president he would be loyal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ® PENNSYLVANIA:  I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat.  I did not say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  There‘s no question about the loyalty of President Bush‘s rich friends, his first 100 days out of office and he raises $100 million for his library.  Recession?  What recession?

The latest exhibit for the torture wing of the library.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE:  I hope people understand that it was a struggle.  It was a difficult time.  We were all terrified of another attack on this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Did that answer to a fourth grader reveal the most we‘ve ever heard about why torture was OK?  Jane Mayer of “The New Yorker” on the scared Bush administration.

Peace in our time between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: Many said it could never work, but Secretary Clinton is enjoying record approval working for the man she spent a year trying to defeat.

And politics and love: As the Obama marriage thrives, Berlusconi‘s union is about to die, and Rudy Giuliani—remember his former gay roommates?  Rudy refuses to come to their wedding.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (in drag):  I thought you were a gentleman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

And when future historians chronicle the rebirth of the Republican Party, they will recall that it took place on Saturday, May the 2nd, in Arlington, Virginia, specifically, in a Lee-Harrison‘s Shopping Center, at the Pie-tanza Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant.

Our fifth story tonight: Led by House Republican whip Eric Cantor and two has-beens, that is Mitt Romney‘s term, referring to himself, and Jeb Bush, the inaugural meeting of the National Counsel for a New America, join at least 50 participants dedicated to coming up with enough new ideas to justify the continued existence of the Republican Party—and already drawing protesters.  In this case, a handful were upset that immigration was excluded from the agenda, along with gay marriage and abortion.  Instead, issues affecting family and women took center stage—despite the fact that center stage was all male.

Republican Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers could not attend because he child got sick, and if that did not create enough irony over the effort to court women, Romney added some of his own on Sunday.  When asked about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and her inclusion, along with Rush Limbaugh, on “Time‘s” list of influential people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  I‘d like to have a lot more influential Republicans.  I think there are a lot more influential Republicans than that would suggest.  But, was that the issue on the most beautiful people or the most influential people?  I‘m not sure.  If it‘s the most beautiful, I understand.  We‘re not real cute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  House Republican Whip Eric Cantor answered the same question without remarking on Palin‘s physical appearance and suggests that he wants to focus more on ideas and less on Palin or Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANTOR:  They are two individuals that have a lot of ideas.  And our party should be about ideas.  That‘s what this effort is about, and the National Council for a New America, and that‘s what they‘re about.  So, I don‘t think any of us should have any monopoly on the ideas, and I know that there are some who like to make it all about personalities.  But it‘s about ideas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  While Cantor may want to focus on ideas, his money is going elsewhere.  According to Politico.com, Cantor has hired at least four communication staffers recently.  After November‘s losses, GOP House Conference Chairman Mike Pence told fellow GOP members to fire legislative staff, the idea people, so they could hire more spokespeople.

What kind of spokespeople can convey the new GOP ideas that it no longer has the staff to think of?  House Republican press secretaries hold their annual workshop this Friday.  The GOP House Conference has lined up the following speakers to teach them: former Bush press secretary Dana Perino; former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie, former Bush speechwriter, Marc Thiessen and former Bush deputy press secretary, Tony Fratto.

GOP House Conference communications director, Matt Lloyd, called them, quote, “the gold standard for Republican communications professionals.”

One of those communications professionals, Mr. Fratto, describes his tenure as, quote, “being in an actual duel with the slings and arrows from Congress.”  Of course, Bush communications professional Fratto misspoke.  He was not, in fact, in an actual duel with slings and arrows.  It was metaphorical, the difference being reality versus not reality.

As to whether Fratto and company can lead the GOP in a direction the American people want, rather than just attack the president and try to win elections, here is the forecast Fratto gave for GOP spokespeople.  “I think they‘re improving.  And they‘re starting to get a sense of how to attack in the next 18 months ahead of 2010.”

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

And, Jonathan, thanks as always for joining us.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  Any sign this weekend that the National Council for a New America will become an idea generator for the Republicans?

ALTER:  Well, you know, they had a pretty good discussion at that pizza parlor.  Look, it‘s in the interest of everybody that we have a strong two-party system.  If we get a kind of fragmented America, where we have a multi-party system, that‘s a recipe for chaos.  So, I for one, you know, wish them success in talking about ideas—not attacks, not one-liners—but real ideas for the future.  And that‘s a long process.

And if they thought that they began it, that‘s fine.  They need to do an awful lot more work before they can bring any kind of truly fresh ideas in front of the American people.

SHUSTER:  If you want to applaud them for severing the anti-immigrant, anti-choice, anti-gay wing of their party .

ALTER:  No.

SHUSTER:  . what do you say about Mitt Romney talking about Palin‘s looks and Jeb Bush leading the way for working families?

ALTER:  Yes.  I don‘t think we should applaud them for severing those parts of the agenda because they haven‘t severed them.  And they are essentially, you know, tied to people who hold a series of political views that are on the extreme now of this spectrum and that will hurt them going forward.  I don‘t actually think that Mitt Romney was attacking Sarah Palin‘s looks.  It sounded to me more like you‘ve got to take this from a “Newsweek” guy, that he was attacking “Time” magazine‘s, you know, particular emphasis on nonpolitical figures in their 100 most powerful.

So, I think we‘ve made a little bit too much of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin having some kind of a feud there.  But clearly, Sarah Palin decided not to participate in this.  She was invited.  She was given four days to respond, and she never even let them know why she didn‘t want to go.  So, that raises real questions about whether, you know, she wants to take part in this—in this idea of rethinking where they need to be headed.

But the real work on this, David, is done in think tanks.  That‘s where they come up with, you know, ideas that are fresh and that can drive the debate.  And I haven‘t seen a lot of evidence lately that those ideas are percolating up.  For instance, the Republicans should be talking about the payroll tax holiday that they supported which even a lot of liberal economist think could be very stimulative for the economy, since that payroll tax is lower income workers.

You‘ve heard very little conversation about that.  They need to be thinking about positive things for the American people instead of attack lines that appeal to the base.

SHUSTER:  Well, and on that point, what should we all make of a party that tries to get ideas for free at these town halls while firing its own idea people, of that idea of welfare, idea of socialism?  And along with that, when the idea people are no longer there, and the press secretaries are being trained about how to attack over the next 18 months, what do we make of all this?

ALTER:  Yes.  Well, that‘s a problem.  That is a blind alley for them.  If they think that they‘re going to get some clever press people to take down this president and take down the Democratic Party, it‘s simply not going to work.

And what‘s happened is, they have been so acclimated over the years, the Republicans have, to attack mode politics, to ripping the skin off the opposition, that they still are working on that same playbook and they tend to think that a good campaign is one that is effectively negative and very affective on the attack.  Barack Obama just proved—he didn‘t go on the attack, that the way to win is to lift people‘s sights, and they‘ve got to do that.  The Republicans do, if they want to get back into the game.

SHUSTER:  MSNBC‘s Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at “Newsweek”—

Jonathan, thanks again for coming on today.

ALTER:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  If it seems like the Republican Party is wrestling with an identity crisis, imagine the struggle of a Republican who used to be a Democrat and now says he‘s a Democrat gain, but says he never said he is a loyal Democrat, though he also never said he is a disloyal Democrat.  Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, I give you, Arlen Specter, mystery senator.

On Wednesday, the day after Specter switched back to the Democratic Party, “The Wall Street Journal” quoted people familiar with the White House recounting details about Specter‘s meeting that morning with President Barack Obama.  Among those details, that Mr. Obama told Specter, “The Democrats are thrilled to have you,” and that Specter replied, quote, “I‘m a loyal Democrat.  I support your agenda.”

On Sunday, four days after that report appeared, Senator Specter was asked about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”/NBC)

DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” HOST:  When you met with the president, you said, “I will be a loyal Democrat.  I support your agenda.”

Let me test that on probably one of the most important areas of his

agenda, and that‘s health care.  Would you support health care reform that

puts up a government-run, public plan to compete with a private plan issued

by a private insurance company?

SPECTER:  No.  And you misquote me, David.  I did not say I would be a loyal Democrat.  I did not say that.  And last week, after I said I was changing parties, I voted against the budget because the budget has a way to pass health care with the 51 votes, which undermines a basic institution to require 60 votes to impose cloture on key issues.

GREGORY:  All right.  Just to be clear, Wednesday on “The Wall Street Journal,” Jonathan Weisman and Gregg Hitt reported that when you met with the president, you said, “I‘m a loyal Democratic,” and according to people familiar with the White House, quote, “I support your agenda.”  So, that‘s wrong.  You didn‘t say those things?

SPECTER:  I did not say I‘m a loyal Democrat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Today, “The Plum Line” blog reported that both “The Wall Street Journal” reporter and ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos, who reported the same Specter loyal quote, all stand by their story and that neither of them ever got a request for a correction from Specter.  The context, of course, specific guidance on the Obama agenda, Specter having voted no on the president‘s budget and he opposes both cap-and-trade legislation to reduce global warming as well as legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions.

With us now is Chris Cillizza, White House reporter for “The Washington Post,” and author of “The Fix” blog at WashingtonPost.com.

And, Chris, thanks for your time tonight.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Thanks for having me, David.

SHUSTER:  Did Senator Specter tell the president he is a loyal Democrat or not?

CILLIZZA:  Well, look.  You know, unless you‘re in the room, and I wasn‘t in the room, you can‘t know for sure.  But I will tell you this:

Jonathan Weisman, former colleague of mine at “The Washington Post” now at “The Wall Street Journal,” he‘s a terrific reporter.  I have no reason to think he would report something that‘s incorrect.

I actually think Senator Specter is in sort of a “damned if you do, damned if you don‘t” situation.  Let‘s say he didn‘t say that.  There are several people, again and Joe Torsella, a congressman named Joe Sestak, both looking at running against Specter still in the Democratic primary.  Now, the, quote, “I am not a loyal Democrat, I never said that.”

Let‘s say that we believe Specter‘s side of story, that‘s not going to help him in the Democratic primary.  So, he‘s caught between a rock and a hard place a little bit here.

SHUSTER:  So, then, from a message standpoint—message management standpoint, is the issue here, you left the quote sitting out there for a couple days and you knock it down on national television essentially once you‘ve already gotten the field cleared away involving Sestak and Allyson Schwartz?

CILLIZZA:  You know, it seems very odd to me, David.  You point out, usually—let‘s say there‘s something incorrect, usually a Senate office in a newspaper—I‘ll tell you from my experience—are very quick to make sure they call and correct it.  It seems odd that neither George Stephanopoulos nor Jonathan Weisman got any push back there from Specter‘s office.

Now, it was a busy time, they had a lot going on.  But it seems to me on something that basic, saying either you are a loyal Democrat or you‘re not, that if that was, in fact, reported incorrectly, you would be—it would be in your best interest, as Senator Specter, to get that record corrected immediately, not 96 hours later.

SHUSTER:  Is it possible that loyal Democrat meant something other than someone who votes how the president wants him to?  And if so, what else could it mean?

CILLIZZA:  Well, look.  Remember, Arlen Specter is the guy who, in the vote on President Clinton‘s impeachment, voted “not proven,” which you can really only vote yea or nay in the Senate, but Specter voted “not proven.”  So, he may be defining “loyal Democrat” differently.  But again, he‘s trapped here in some ways.  If he is not a loyal Democrat, then a guy like Joe Sestak who is a congressman, who is setting on $3 million on the bank, who may well get the support of labor in this race, that‘s a nice platform to run on against the guy who has just switched parties and said he did so solely for political expediency.

SHUSTER:  If Mr. Specter is neither not a loyal Democrat or does not support the Obama agenda, especially if he votes against the unions on the organizing legislation, how many Democrats—putting aside those who might want to run—how many Democrats in leadership such as Obama or such as the DNC leader, how many of those will be loyal to Specter?

CILLIZZA:  My guess, David, is that you‘re going to see President Obama, Harry Reid, the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell—you‘re going to see those people keep their promises to Specter because they want to keep him in the loop on things like Employee Free Choice Act, on things like health care, on things like the environment.  They know they‘d rather have him and not have him.

That said, all of that establishment support could wind coming back to

hurt him because if Sestak or someone else runs effectively as an outsider

that the big wigs in Washington want to tell you what to do, but I‘m running a different kind of campaign—it could be an effective message.  So, Senator Specter is definitely not out of the woods yet.

SHUSTER:  And just to back at something that you just talked about in terms of issues, is this an issue where the White House says, “OK, we want your vote on health care, you promised your vote on health care, we‘ll let you take a pass on the union issue”?

CILLIZZA:  I‘m interested to see how that happens.  I—even if the White House let‘s him take a pass on the union issue, I will tell you organized labor will not let him take a pass.

Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, met with Joe Sestak today.  I‘m sure that it came up that Joe Sestak might think about running against Arlen Specter.  If Arlen Specter votes against the unions, they will be looking for another candidate.  Whether they‘re willing to go directly against a newly-elected popular president of the Democratic Party is another question.  But they will certainly think about it if Specter votes against some form of the Employee Free Choice Act.

SHUSTER:  Chris Cillizza, White House reporter for “The Washington Post,” also author of “The Fix” on WashingtonPost.com and the first person to report last week that Arlen Specter was moving from the Republican side to Democratic side—Chris, thanks as always.  We appreciate it.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, David.

Coming up: A stunning admission from Condoleezza Rice on what may be the real motivating factor behind the Bush administration torture program.  And new details about the level of dissent and paranoia in D.C. over the interrogation tactics.

Also, charities may be having a hard time right now on relying on donations.  But if you‘re George W. Bush that is not a problem.  Money is pouring in in record numbers for his presidential library.

That and a look at the budding working relationship between Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—all ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  One hundred days leads to $100 million for George W. Bush‘s presidential library, in the enhanced interrogation wing where they‘ll discuss Condi Rice‘s surprising admission on what really motivated the torture program.  Jane Mayer of “The New Yorker” joins us for that.  And the 100-day report card is in for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Being a part of team Obama has never been better for approval numbers. 

That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  One of the most visible defenders of Bush torture policies we learned today was one of its most vocal opponents behind the scenes.  And she suggested yesterday that the Bush administration tortured at least in part because Osama bin Laden succeeded, terrorism succeeded in terrorizing America‘s leaders.

Our fourth story tonight: Condoleezza Rice, a Soviet expert who became national security adviser and then secretary of state, made her remarkable admission in response to questioning from a fourth grader.

But first, behind the scenes.  “The New York Times” reports today that on June 26th, 2003, when President Bush signed a proclamation for U.N.  International Day, in support of victims of torture, even though no one in the administration calls its interrogations torture, the agency carrying out those interrogations, the CIA, freaked out.

The CIA‘s top lawyer called the White House to complain about its support for victims of torture.  Why?  Because condemning torture could unnerve CIA interrogators, even though, of course, they would never torture.

So, the White House secretly reaffirmed its support for the torture it had just publicly condemned.

But behind the scenes, “The Times” says, administration consensus fractured.  Rice took on Vice President Cheney and eventually won.  The Bush administration banned waterboarding well after the CIA stopped doing it, out of fear—“The Times” says—that no matter what the president said, it was illegal.

Yesterday, at a school in Washington, D.C., Ms. Rice was asked about waterboarding‘s legality, specifically about President Obama‘s statement that waterboarding constituted torture.  In her reply, in her explanation of why they waterboarded, you will hear her say that we, not her but we, the administration, were terrified.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE:  President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything

that he could to protect the country.  After September 11th, we wanted to

protect the country.  But he was also very clear that we would do nothing -

nothing that was against the law or against our obligations internationally.  And so, the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.

And I hope people understand that it was a struggle.  It was a difficult time.  We were all terrified of another attack on this country.  Because September 11th was—was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die because these people attacked us.  But even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Ms. Rice‘s statement that 3,000 Americans died was factually incorrect.  More than 300 of the dead were citizens of other countries.  This just a week after Rice told another group of students that the World Trade Center towers only had 80 stories, not 110.  Her statement that “We were so terrified” however, echoes a claim made by Vice President Cheney‘s White House position and belies the swaggering posture adopted by the White House.

With us tonight is journalist Jane Mayer, whose reporting including the book, “The Dark Side,” which drops in paperback tomorrow, continues to charge what we know—change what we know about America—how America came to terror.

And, Jane, thanks to your time tonight.  What was reaction to Rice‘s explanation, given everything you know about her role behind the scenes?

JANE MAYER, AUTHOR, “THE DARK SIDE”:  Well, I guess, I think that any time that a former secretary of state has to take 785 words to try to find an answer for a fourth grader, she‘s in deep water.  She‘s—they‘re struggling to find a justification.  So, she‘s trying this and she‘s trying that.

But basically, I do think that inside the White House, right after 9/11, they were terrified.  And Cheney in particular was terrified, too, because he thought he‘d been poisoned with some kind of chemical substance right after 9/11, the month after 9/11.  They thought they were facing mortal danger and they thought that America was facing an existential threat.

Now, listen.  Well, that—I think that many people can be quite sympathetic and understand how in that panic they‘ve made some wrong choices, those answers don‘t really explain why they were still using enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA‘s own lawyers thought were possibly criminal years later.

This—and one of the things that‘s actually, that‘s interesting to me was that Condi Rice talks about how the program evolved and evolved and evolved.  It grew from that earlier period and it became bigger and more of a bureaucracy.  It involved all these doctors and jets, moving people in private prisons, secret prisons.  It became, really, a huge bureaucratic program.

SHUSTER:  And if Rice was not pushing for that huge bureaucratic program to torture, who was?

MAYER:  Well, one of the interesting things, “Pandora‘s Box” is beginning to open.  I mean, there‘s a lot of it in my book and you can read it and see that—but just the same, almost consistently, the person pushing for this program all the way through was Vice President Cheney.  And every document that comes out seems to sort of bear this up even more, shows us a little bit more about it.

So, you‘ve got a situation now where Condi Rice is trying to say, she‘s being—she‘s being questioned with—very toughly by the students at Stanford and she‘s saying, “I tried to shut it down.  I really did.  But Cheney didn‘t want to.”

In my book, you can read that Cheney says that the reason he didn‘t want to move the prisoners out of the black prison sites was he was afraid someone would say, “Where have they been?”  And if they did, they‘d start asking legal questions.

SHUSTER:  In addition to Vice President Cheney, what about the role of the CIA?  I mean, a lot of recent reporting seems to suggest the CIA took it upon itself to pursue harsh interrogations.  How does that jibe with all of your reporting?

MAYER:  Well, you know—I mean, there are certainly some gung-ho people at the CIA who were really champing at the bit to do things that really pushed the envelope and maybe violated the law.  You can see that early on in the reporting about the CIA.

But what‘s really hard to tell still is: Was the CIA answering to the push that came from the White House?  Was Cheney pushing them?  Or were they pushing the White House?

And it‘s questions like this that I think are why—for our own history—we really need to have some more information.  We‘ve got—we‘ve got to get to the bottom of this.

SHUSTER:  And as far as the pushing is concerned, do you have a sense of why the administration overall pushed for one particular method?  Why not just push for a resolve or for the best method?  Why torture?  Why waterboarding?

MAYER:  Well, you know, they asked the wrong people in the beginning.  The CIA were amateurs, they didn‘t do interrogations before 9/11.  And they asked a couple—literally two psychologists for the military who told them we know how to do this and they actually didn‘t know how to do it.  They were instructors in a weird program that knows all about torture techniques, and the CIA adopted those torture techniques and turned them into a program.

SHUSTER:  What about your view of Ms. Rice on 9/11?  She says 3,000 Americans.  It was actually, you know, that included—that figure included 300 who were not Americans.  And for her to say that the World Trade Center towers were only 80 stories, when virtually everybody else in this country remembers that they were 110.  What do you make of that?

MAYER:  Well, I mean—you know, I think that these are sort of kind of gotcha questions to some extent.  You know, how many towers—how many floor it had.  It clearly was a horrible day for the whole country and intensely horrible for the people who had let down the guard in the country and somehow let these attacks get through.

SHUSTER:  Well .

MAYER:  Don‘t forget, Condi Rice had a number of warnings before 9/11, and so did President Bush.  And they really didn‘t connect the dots.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  But I would argue, that also gets to the idea that, yes, she was a Soviet expert, she was not equipped to deal with al Qaeda, because al Qaeda certainly had their eyes on the World Trade Center towers and knew how tall those towers had been for a long time even if Condoleezza Rice did not.

But in any case, Jane Mayer of “The New Yorker” and author of “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals”—Jane, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

MAYER:  So glad to be with you.

SHUSTER:  The post-White House legacy-building for President Bush is well underway.  In the 100 days, he raises $100 million for his library.

And after his heroic landing on the Hudson, wait until you hear what Captain Sully is taking up as his cause.

That and more—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  If you‘re one of those people that loves though those GPS navigation systems in your car and can‘t live without it, you have President Bill Clinton to thank.  It was his presidential decree enacted nine years ago this past weekend, on May 2nd, 2000, that the satellites once used just for the military‘s global positioning needs would be made available to the general American public. 

So if you are one who loves your Tom-Tom, but not your Bill-Bill, it may be time to recalculate.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in a dumpster in Fort Myers, Florida, and peek-a boo.  It‘s a 150 pound black bear fooling around in a dumpster, which is just slightly further away than where our affiliate WVBH originally discovered the bear, live on the air. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, this is like a reminiscent events of the wolf dog.  The bear is literally standing right in the woods next to us.  As you can see, he just crept up about five minutes ago and he is now creeping out of the woods staring right at us. 

SHUSTER:  Wait a minute.  Wolf dog?  The bear probably smelled some food in the dumpster and went in to chow down.  And I‘m smelling a local Emmy for that ace reporter. 

To the New York Hudson River, scene of January‘s miracle US Airways crash landing.  You will recall it was Captain Chesley Sulley Sullenberger who heroically saved all 155 people aboard that plane.  Alas, there were four non-human casualties, the library books Sullenberger had stored in his suitcase.  The books were retrieved but badly damaged.  Now Sullenberger is ready to make amends by doing his local library a solid, and shaking down the San Francisco area for their unreturned books. 

CHESLEY SULLY SULLENBERGER, HERO PILOT:  As an avid reader and a frequent user of my local library, I know what sometimes happens; you‘ve misplaced your library book.  Perhaps you‘ve just forgotten to return it until it‘s late and you owe fines.  Or maybe you‘re just trying to think of a really, really good excuse, like it got lost in the Hudson River. 

Well, don‘t let fear of fines keep you from using one of our community‘s most precious resource.  Take advantage of your library‘s amnesty program today and feel free to use the library. 

SHUSTER:  Finally, more bear news, this time at the National Zoo, where over the weekend Tai Shan the panda got a colonoscopy.  The colonoscopy was part of a routine check after Tai Shan had some tummy trouble last year.  The doctors wanted to get under the hood of the endangered animal to make sure it had fully recovered. 

Thankfully, Tai Shan received a clean bill of health.  It is now back in the pen with the other pandas, who his story of abduction and tuckus probing by another species is completely ridiculous.

Could a favorite video from Oddball‘s past make its way into divorce proceedings for Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi?  Comedian Christian Finnegan joins us for political love stories.

And George W. Bush is feeling the love from the right, 100 million dollars in 100 days.  Why his library fund-raising is off to a record start next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  In his first major speech since leaving the White House, George W. Bush spoke of writing his memoirs to an audience in Canada.  When the history of this administration is written, at least there is an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened.  That authoritarian history could be written a lot sooner than expected.  Our third story, the George W. Bush Presidential Library raised 100 million dollars in 100 days.  And the battle to secure the Bush legacy has begun. 

A third of the projected 300 million needed for the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University has already been secured.  “Time Magazine” reports that the Bush library fund-raising effort is being organized like a modern political campaign, with a national finance committee in place.  The Bush team has also recruited co-chairs from all 50 states, 100 in total. 

But unlike a political campaign, contributors can donate unrestricted amounts of money and can do so anonymously.  One Arkansas financier remarked about the former president, “he struck a very positive nerve among a lot of financial sources across the country.” 

To put the enormity of this financial feat into perspective, consider this, organizers of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library had set a goal of raising 100 million dollars within the first year President Clinton left office.  That goal was not met due to the fallout from Clinton‘s 11th-hour pardons, proving that low improvement ratings, leftover scandal and policy blow back, accompanied by recession of historic proportions, has not hindered the Bush fund-raising frenzy. 

One library foundation spokesman noted “considering the current economic climate, we‘re very pleased with where we are.” 

Time to call in Jim Moore, “Huffington Post” contributor and the editor of MooreThink.com.  Jim, good evening. 

JIM MOORE, MOORETHINK.COM:  Hi, David. 

SHUSTER:  A hundred million dollars in 100 days, the Bush tax cuts benefited the wealthiest Americans, or his base, as the former president likes to refer to them.  Are these donations a form of payback to Bush‘s economic policy? 

MOORE:  I don‘t know, but the economy and the tax cuts and all of the things that he did that were beneficial to big business, multi-national corporations, defense contractors, all of those things, wealthy CEOs—he certainly has created a climate under his administration where it was easier to make these types of donations. 

And it‘s no secret where the money for this thing is coming from.  It‘s going to be coming from all those big corporations, whether it‘s Halliburton or many of the other multi-nationals.  And you‘re looking at a lot of money that‘s going to keep flowing and people are going to say. it is anonymous.  The curious thing you have to ask is, if you are proud of what your president did that you donated to support, why not publicly state that you are giving to this library? 

SHUSTER:  The fact that Bill Clinton, an expert in fund raising himself, could not raise that amount in a year due to political scandal; is donating to the Bush library a way that those unhappy with the current administration can retaliate? 

MOORE:  Well, it certainly is something that‘s going to keep them in good stead.  And I also think—with the Bush people.  But I also think that this is a part of—many of these corporations were associated and many of these individuals, wealthy individuals, have been associated with all of the things that have gone bad.  And they might just be trying to buy into and invest in a different version of history that they hope this library presents. 

If you are Halliburton and you have a display in the library that shows how the Americans gloriously rebuilt the economy and used defense contractors to do it, maybe that‘s something you want to invest in. 

SHUSTER:  There‘s currently a bill pending in front of the U.S. Senate that would require donors who give 200 dollars or more, that those names be disclosed four times a year.  How would that affect fund-raising efforts in a case like this? 

MOORE:  It‘s hard to know.  But I think it will have a major inhibiting effect, because George Bush, thus far, is publicly very radioactive.  Even here in Texas, he is persona non grata.  And none of the people running for statewide office in Texas have asked him to help publicly in any way.  They haven‘t sought endorsements.  You have some pretty significant races coming down here.

I think it would have the same effect on fund-raising.  People who are inclined to give anonymously might not want to be publicly associated with the controversies of this administration that just left office. 

SHUSTER:  Library planners have insisted the Bush center will not be used to defend or promote something that President Bush did in the past.  But if you were among those who donated millions of dollars, wouldn‘t you want the library and your money to essentially reflect positively on Bush administration policies?  And to what extent will these donors essentially influence the way some of this is presented? 

MOORE:  I think that‘s at the heart of the entire matter, David.  That‘s the most salient question out of all of this.  Does this money influence how history is reported.  The president keeps saying history will judge, history will judge.  Well, in this case, I think it has to be viewed that the history that‘s coming out of here is prejudicial, because of these donations being secretive.  And whether it‘s a Bush library or the Clinton library or any other library, I think the public, even though these are private institutions, has a right to know who‘s giving money.  Otherwise we can‘t trust what we learn from these libraries.  And we need to have that if we are going to value what we get there. 

SHUSTER:  There‘s another Bush, Jeb Bush, we mentioned earlier in the broadcast is it possible that some of this is possibly to sort of keep connections to the Bush family? 

MOORE:  I don‘t think there‘s any question that they‘re maintaining those fiduciary relationships with all the people that have enabled their growth and their climb in American politics and American finance.  This is a big part of it. 

SHUSTER:  James Moore, a contributor to “Huffington Post,” and founder of MooreThink.com, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it. 

MOORE:  Thank you, David. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spent a year as opponents on the campaign trail.  Now they‘re chummier than ever and she has her highest approval numbers she has ever had.  John McCain and Sarah Palin spent a few months on the trail, and all she gets are more and more ethics complaints again her. 

And this cool new rifle from the NRA.  Details on those stories ahead.  When Rachel joins us at the top of the hour, why the GOP is up in arms over President Obama trying to close down overseas tax havens. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The headline was, electability; a divisive primary season winding down, two political adversaries preparing to do battle in Indiana and North Carolina, making a final big push for delegates.  While the calendar shows only a year has past, the political hourglass measures a lifetime.  Our number two story, the unlikely accord between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

One of the latest polls out shows the secretary of state‘s job approval rating is higher than the president‘s; 71 percent approve of Mrs.  Clinton‘s job as top diplomat, compared to 65 percent for Mr. Obama.  Perhaps those numbers reflect a rehabilitated image for Mrs. Clinton, as she manages to defy critics by not only staying on message with the president, but boosting morale at the State Department, and easing leftover tensions from the Bush administration with the Pentagon.  Proving that Barack Obama‘s one-time adversary is now a key ally.  Our correspondent is Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  Where in the world is Hillary Clinton?  Circling the globe, more than 72,000 miles in just the first 100 days.  But now, as Barack Obama‘s envoy and confidante, speaking for him and his policy, not her own. 

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I bring greetings from President Obama—on behalf of President Obama—from President Obama. 

MITCHELL:  White House officials say the feeling is mutual. 

OBAMA:  I‘ve given you an early gift, Hillary Clinton. 

MITCHELL:  Gone is the anger of the primaries. 

CLINTON:  Shame on you, Barack Obama. 

MITCHELL:  Their foreign policy differences, that‘s yesterday.  Today, she‘s playing for his team. 

CLINTON:  President Obama won the election.  He beat me in a primary, in which he put forth a different approach.  And he is now our president.  And we all want our president, no matter of which party, to succeed. 

MITCHELL:  Remember how she once said he was too inexperienced to be president?  Not anymore. 

JOHN PODESTA, OBAMA TRANSITION TEAM:  Whatever their struggles were during the course of the presidential nominating fight, I think those are long past.  And I think people are working together effectively, and working together well as a team. 

MITCHELL:  What does he get?  A foreign policy superstar, attracting more attention for his message. 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  We‘ve got a very powerful point person for his argument that he wants diplomacy to have a greater stake in the world.  And he couldn‘t have found a more powerful person than Hillary for that. 

MITCHELL:  He, more than anyone, knows she is tough, undaunted by challenges on every continent.  As for all those critics who said it wouldn‘t work, especially because of the ex-president, even he has gotten out of her way. 

JOE KLEIN, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  Former President Clinton has been strangely silent these last three or four months, which is all to the good. 

MITCHELL:  Clearing the stage for his wife in the role of a lifetime. 

GOODWIN:  She seems more vibrant, more alive, loving the job.  You feel that when you watch her out there.  She seems relaxed.  She seems to really be enjoying herself, as does he. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  From political pairings that work to those on the rocks.  Italy‘s prime minister is in an ugly war of words from his wife.  Maybe this misses doesn‘t know this video really isn‘t Berlusconi.  Politics and love at the top of the COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  To the top of the COUNTDOWN and three stories of legislators in love from over the weekend, a dinner, a divorce, and a gay wedding diss.  In D.C., the president and first lady celebrated their first 100 days in office with a Saturday dinner date that was covered more closely than his trip to Europe.  Mrs. Obama wore a white blouse that tied in the black and black heels, not flats as first reported. 

The couple dined at Georgetown‘s Citronell, the restaurant, not the candle.  According to Jeff Zeleny of the “New York Times,” the couple was home by 8:30, just in time for tip-off of the Bulls and Celtics. 

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Rudy Giuliani was busy not attending his friends‘ gay wedding.  Howard Keffel and Mark Schiaw (ph) housed Rudy Giuliani in their Manhattan condo during his 2001 divorce.  Last Thursday, Giuliani, through a secretary, told his friends he would not be at the marriage ceremony.  The thrice Giuliani is anti-gay marriage.  So, his attendance would have proved almost as problematic as this video with him in drag with Donald Trump, should Giuliani decide to run for New York governor. 

Finally, in Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his wife are slugging it out in the tabloids.  Veronica Lario (ph) says her 72-year-old husband flirts too much with younger women and wants a divorce.  For his part, Berlusconi responded by telling a newspaper his wife better apologize for saying that.  Quoting the premier, “Veronica will have to publicly apologize to me.  And I don‘t know if that will be enough.” 

If it helps any, the prime minister‘s wife should know that we have thoroughly debunked the veracity of this video.  This guy is definitely an impostor.  Comedian Christian Finnegan‘s New York one hour Comedy Central special, Au Contrair, debuts this Friday night, and it is mandatory viewing.  Christian, welcome. 

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Hello, David. 

SHUSTER:  Starting with Berlusconi, have you ever demanded an apology from a woman who was trying to dump you? 

FINNEGAN:  David, not only have I never gotten an apology, I‘m still trying to get my Depeche Mode cassettes back.  Don‘t think I forgot, Laurie.  I do think it is pretty obviously that the affair for these two is over.  In fact, just last night, for the first time in years, the Moon failed to hit Berlusconi in the eye like a big pizza pie, which is so sad. 

SHUSTER:  How about the Obamas?  Will there ever been a moment in these people‘s lives where they can eat out without the D.C. paparazzi all over them? 

FINNEGAN:  When I was a kid, my older brother and I used to build a fort in the living room out of sofa cushions.  It was great, because it felt like a different world.  That may be the Obamas‘ only option at this point.  Maybe a tent in the Rose Garden or a tree house.  Not even those ruffians in the paparazzi would violate an adorable hand-painted keep out sign. 

SHUSTER:  Speaking of couches, does the president loose credit for the nice dinner if he just plopped on the couch and watched the Bulls lose as soon as they returned home. 

FINNEGAN:  No, this is finally a bit of a common touch for this guy.  Listen, this dude has been so annoyingly perfect, I half expected to read he spelled out the word Michelle in rose petals or something nauseating.  But plopping down on the TV watching sports and thereby disappointing your wife, that is a date night I can relate to.  If he did in his boxers shorts or holding a broken lager, even better. 

SHUSTER:  To the Giuliani thing, do you buy that he suddenly remembered he was washing his hair two days before his gay friends were wedding. 

FINNEGAN:  I want to be clear, this was not a political decision on Giuliani‘s part.  What happened was the mayor got very depressed when he couldn‘t squeeze his increasingly Stromboli-like favorite into his favorite dress.  I realize between the video and what I just said, you could get the wrong idea.  So I want to be very clear about this, America.  Rudolph Giuliani loves to wear women‘s clothing. 

SHUSTER:  Another topic, Sarah Palin.  She‘ll be honored by the NRA at an upcoming banquet.  The group will give the Alaska governor this Alaskan hunter white assault weapon in return for her staunch support of the Second Amendment.  Do you see any trouble with this? 

FINNEGAN:  You know, it‘s kind of like a university giving you an honorary degree.  But, you know, in the case of Sarah Palin, that is probably never going to happen.  But this is even better, because you can‘t take a phony doctorate from Vassar and use it to take out wolves from a helicopter. 

SHUSTER:  So she‘s got all sorts of other ammunition and guns she could also use in that quest. 

FINNEGAN:  Oh, yes.  I imagine it probably looks like something from an Iron Maiden video at her house. 

SHUSTER:  Christian, if you were to go to Alaska, what‘s the first thing you would do? 

FINNEGAN:  Book a flight out of Alaska.  No, I‘m sure—sure it‘s a lovely, lovely place.  I would probably spend the entire time in a beer-induced stupor.   

SHUSTER:  And if you could ask Sarah Palin one question, what would it be? 

FINNEGAN:  Um, why and—and, um—that‘s it, why.  Why? 

SHUSTER:  I‘m with you.  Comedian Christian Finnegan, his TV special “Au Contrair” airs this Friday on Comedy Central.  Christian, great thanks, as always.  Great stuff.  We look forward to the special.

FINNEGAN:  DVR alert!

SHUSTER:  OK.  That will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann.  Our MSNBC coverage continues “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.

END   

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