updated 5/11/2009 2:23:37 PM ET 2009-05-11T18:23:37

Guest: Margaret Carlson

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Dick: He can‘t keep his mouth shut—again—saying, yes, we tortured, but only when we had to.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  We resorted, for example, to waterboarding—which is the source of much of the controversy—with only three individuals.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, we only waterboarded the three of them 268 times.  Just like as if he said, “Sure, I shot a guy.  But I only shot one guy, with 268 pieces of buck shot.”

It‘s not like there are consequences.  Not only does Dick still think he‘s right, he thinks it‘s still the basis on which Republicans can stand.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHENEY:  I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate.  This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Consequences: What did Speaker Pelosi know and when did she know it?  February 25th .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER:  They never told us that these enhanced interrogations were being used.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But just released CIA reports suggest the speaker was briefed and might have known about Bush administration torture.  Do the documents back up the allegations now being made?

Hitting the eject button: The panic-inducing, unannounced Air Force One photo-op over Manhattan.  We now have the photo.  We now have the resignation of the moron who scared thousands for it.

Dinnertime: Obama‘s first White House correspondents dinner tomorrow.  Somebody‘s wrangling for an invitation, but somebody has suddenly canceled at the last minute.  Will there be consequences?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA:  You betcha!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Governor Palin sends her regrets, has to deal with flooding, a, quote, “unusually warm spring thaw.”  Of course, it couldn‘t be the consequences of global warming since she knows there‘s no global warming.

And, Worsts: The CBS sports golf announcer who wrote, “If you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it, and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there‘s a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.”

David Feherty is still employed somehow by CBS, but as they say on the lanes (ph), when things are about to be flying at your head, floor (ph)!

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

If Dick Cheney had a good lawyer, the high-priced advice today would consist of two words: shut and up.  Our fifth story tonight: Instead, Mr.  Cheney proving the old maxim about having an idiot for a client, continuing his public relations campaign with a new radio interview in which he not only adds a new absurd lie about waterboarding to his growing list, but also in a remarkable slip admits that the techniques he authorized were not consistent with American values, together suggesting that he, more than anyone else, fears that investigation into torture because he, more than anyone else, knows it is exactly what he is guilty of.

In a radio interview with Scott Hennen, one of the most popular conservative radio hosts in all of North Dakota, Mr. Cheney was asked about the future of his party, which we‘ll address in just a bit, but also about the topic hunting him recently: torture by Americans.

He claimed again that two CIA documents will exonerate him if they are released by proving that these methods, including waterboarding, yielded intelligence that saved American lives.  Remarkably, he agrees that the methods he authorized were not consistent with American values.  This in response to Hennen‘s question about President Obama‘s remarks on day 100 of his presidency, that he, too, had seen those documents and concluded the information therein could have been gotten in ways consistent with our values.

Mr. Cheney, as you will hear, does not believe the information was gathered in ways consistent with out values.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SCOTT HENNEN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST:  He said basically, he believes that we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values and ways that were consistent with who we are.  What your response to that?

CHENEY:  Well, I don‘t believe that‘s true.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Cheney went on to say that the Bush administration only waterboarded three people, as if waterboarding four would have been torturer, and claims it was a last resort used only when other methods failed.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHENEY:  That assumes that we didn‘t try other ways.  In fact, we did.  And we resorted, for example, to waterboarding—which is the source of much of the controversy—with only three individuals.  And in those cases, it was only after we‘d gone through all of the other steps in the process.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In fact, as journalist Jane Mayer has noted, quote, “FBI agents believed they were getting phenomenal information from ABU Zubaydah until the CIA took over with harsh interrogation methods.”  Zubaydah then, quote, “completely shut down.”  “After 10 to 15 days, the FBI agents had to be brought back in, at which point, Zubaydah began talking again.  But, FBI sources claim they were once again expelled on orders from Washington.”

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, thanks for your time tonight.

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

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s the quotation again.  The question we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values and ways that we were consistent or were consistent with who we were.  Cheney‘s answer, “I don‘t believe that‘s true.”

Wouldn‘t an innocent man say we did get information in ways consistent with our values?

WOLFFE:  well, before we get into the dark recesses of Dick Cheney‘s mind, let‘s just step back a little bit and look at what we‘re dealing with.  This was a collective enterprise to, the very least, evade the law on torture, and at very worst, to engage in torture.  And the way these enterprises work is to create some distance.

What‘s interesting about this language is that there‘s still this fiction that somehow Dick Cheney was removed from the events going on in the CIA sites or in Abu Ghraib or wherever else, that these techniques were being used.  And the purpose for that is partly legal, and political.  But it‘s also this bureaucratic fiction that somehow he wasn‘t really at the center of the spider‘s web or close to the center of the spider‘s web that made all of these things happen.

So, you‘re right to sense that there is a gap of credibility here, but the reason he cannot say what is and isn‘t true is because that puts him too close to the action and the facts.  He needs the distance for the bureaucracy and for the deniability.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  But if the timeline proves him wrong, that‘s the same problem from the different direction.  The big problem in this is, is all reporting suggests that Cheney signed off on waterboarding even before we had any detainees to waterboard, and the second part of that was that enhanced interrogations worked more poorly than did the traditional methods.

Why claim otherwise in those cases?

WOLFFE:  Well, he‘s not claiming that he wasn‘t involved with these

what they like to call techniques and what everyone else calls torture. 

What they are saying and what he said in this interview was somehow—and this was his argument against the Obama administration‘s tactics, that somehow it was bold.  In fact, taking torture off the table he said was a way to put a wet blanket on people being bold.

This is the kind of justification that all the ex-Bush administration officials who haven‘t expressed regret or recanted their positions are saying, that they were acting in good faith for national security reasons.  They were trying to break out of the box.

The problem is, every person indicted with war crimes has said the same thing.  Slobodan Milosevic said the same thing in Serbia, that he was protecting ethnic Serbs.  There‘s always—there is always a justification for it.

OLBERMANN:  Why so much comment from Cheney now?  It sounds a little frantic.  What‘s going on?

WOLFFE:  I‘m not sure how frantic it is, but his argument is still based on the idea of threat.  “If this doesn‘t continue, America will be threatened.”  That‘s an argument you can make from power, and now he‘s out of power—frankly, he‘s not fooling anyone.  I don‘t think the darkness of his words really make—have any impact.

OLBERMANN:  Does there come a point with those words, though, where his insistence and his—“needling” might be a good term—of Obama backfires, because it will—it will make this question so public, so uncertain that it insists—the public that is—insists on definitive answers?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  Look, Keith, I‘ve talked to senior Obama administration officials who believe that actually, politically now, the way Cheney has spoken about declassifying additional materials, there‘s very little downside to let all of this come out.  And what they say is, the stuff that has yet to come out is far more shocking, because it amplifies and extends that spider‘s web.

So, Cheney may welcome to regret the idea that he wants more out, because more is not going to be helpful for him.

OLBERMANN:  The lessons of Oscar Wilde and Roger Clemons lost on yet another public figure.

MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe—as always, great thanks for your time tonight.  Have a good weekend.

WOLFFE:  And you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And if Mr. Cheney‘s course on torture smacks of self-destruction, consider his advice in the very same radio interview for the party he once helped to lead.  This, as Mike Huckabee urges Republicans not to ignore social conservatives, the anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-immigrant crowd, advice also offered by former RNC chair, hopeful, Ken Blackwell; while Tom Ridge, the former homeland security secretary warns Republicans against sounding too shrill.

And where does Cheney come down on this rift?  Mr. Cheney was asked about Arlen Specter‘s defection from the Republican Party, a party Mr.  Specter described as moving to the right; and also asked about former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who suggested Republicans move away from the far right.  Mr. Cheney said, damn the torpedoes.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CHENY:  I think it would be a mistake for us to moderate.  This is about fundamental beliefs and values and ideas, and what the role of government ought to be in our society and our commitment to the Constitution and constitutional principles.  You know, when you add all those things up, the idea that we ought to moderate basically means we ought to fundamentally change our philosophy.  And I, for one, am not prepared to do that, and I think most of us aren‘t.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One piece of advice that party leaders might actually welcome, however, was not about ideas but about leaders.  Mr. Cheney suggesting the time had come for some of its current crop to shuffle off the stage, himself, to his credit, included.

Joining us now, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Jon, thanks for your time tonight.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t say this a lot to anybody, and it‘s only under the most dire of circumstances, a last resort, if you will, but bear with me.

You‘re Dick Cheney.  You‘ve just told me the GOP should not moderate.  Here‘s my question, Lord Vader.  By that strategy, what does the GOP do now and how does that lead to gains next year or in 2012 or both?

ALTER:  Well, look, things can turn around very quickly in American politics.  If Obama fails to make some progress against the recession, you could see something of a GOP comeback in 2010, 2012.  But the idea that somehow staying in the direction they‘re headed right now is going to work for them long term is just nuts politically.  This is a shrinking party.  It is a white, old, poorly educated, regional, political party.

And Dick Cheney‘s ideas, which he thinks are about to catch on—if his approval numbers are any indication—they are right now fluctuating between the old drinking age, Keith, and the new drinking age.

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER:  That‘s how low they are.  They top out for this political philosophy he‘s talking about with his, quote, “constitutional principles.”  This kind of politics tops out at 25 percent of the American electorate.

So, you can‘t get there from here in terms of coming back into power unless they moderate their party.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you point out the cyclicality of things, and Mr.  Cheney did as well.  He said that under President Ford, Republicans got their clocks cleaned, which wasn‘t exactly true.  They only lost by a couple points after being 33 down.

ALTER:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  But even he says that was just after Nixon and Watergate.  Is the problem here that Republicans, unfettered, got to enact to all their dream policies and the results were war and employment and economic collapse, and Americans then rejected the fundamental concepts driving that Republican Party?  I mean, to be Dick Cheney, don‘t have you to reject the notion of “cause and effect” being in play for the last eight years?

ALTER:  Well, yes, you have to reject the fact that they had their chance.  You know, they had a Republican Congress, a Republican president.  They inflicted their priorities on the American people, and it‘s like the old story about, you know, why is a brand of dog food not selling, and the board of directors, you know, tries to examine the question and finally one guy at the end of the boardroom table pipes up, “Dogs don‘t like it.”  You know?

(LAUGHTER)

ALTER:  The American people just weren‘t buying what they were selling.  And they‘re still not buying it.  And unless they change their message, they‘re not going to go anywhere.

Sure, they could make some gains if Obama—if he were to somehow hit a really rocky period, they can make some gains.  But if you‘re talking about any long term comeback where they really become a significant force in American politics again, they‘re going to have to change; they have to update their message.  And the smart Republicans understand this.

OLBERMANN:  Well, how does this then fit into that?  Because there was this ugly note that Mr. Hennen left out of the transcript which refers to General Powell‘s political remarks and Hennen said he was tired of Powell‘s tea leaf reading, he said he wished Powell would stay in his lane.  And I don‘t know who talks that way about a decorated veteran who also served as secretary of state.  But even worse, Mr. Cheney said nothing in response to that.

Is that ultimately another Republican problem here, a sort of cultural problem, this disdain—that you‘re not a real American even if you‘re a war hero—disdain they have for anybody who disagrees with them?

ALTER:  Well, you know, there‘s a lot of bad blood between Cheney and Powell, and interestingly now, between Cheney and President Bush.  They‘re basically not speaking these days because Bush is blaming Cheney for the failure of his presidency.  So, you‘ve got to take that.  And then also, there‘s the kind of a—there‘s a nastiness which is ingrained in some of these folks anyway that is very, very hard for them to shed.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  If you‘re calling Dick Cheney nasty, I‘m going to have to ask you to step outside.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek” --, great thanks to you.  Have a good weekend, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, there has been so much Republican foot stomping that enough dust has been raised to make it look like there‘s also a torture-related storm around the speaker of the House.  So when “The Washington Post” headline screamed, “Memo Says Pelosi Knew About Use of Harsh Tactics,” a mighty roar went up from the GOP crowd.

But as the proverbial dust settles, however, there is left a series of questions.  A, the memo does not say she knew any harsh method was in use, which was her claim; B, regardless she had no legal right to say anything about the briefing; and, C, when are Republicans going to realize this is not first about party?  It is about the traducing of our national character, the selling out of our principles in what was a phony, ineffective pretense of protecting those principles.  If a Democrat is also culpable, then they can go to hell, too.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The headline says Pelosi knew.  The memo the headline quotes is anything but that definitive, Nancy Pelosi and the secret briefing on enhanced interrogation.

Later, what would you think of a broadcaster who insisted in public that the average American serviceman would assassinate the speaker and the Senate majority leader, too?  The CBS announcer who has done just that, and with no consequences.

Worst Persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is a difference, and an important one, between a revelation and mere repetition.  Headlines do not always jibe with the story—or in the fourth story of the COUNTDOWN: The apparent reality that CIA documents released yesterday, rather than contradicting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in truth, offer very little additional information.

In recent weeks, the speaker has addressed this issue, whether she knew all along, through classified briefings that the Bush administration was using torture, like waterboarding, and whether she failed to speak out against it.  Speaker Pelosi has said that during a classified briefing in 2002, an array of possible techniques was discussed by the CIA but that none was presented as taking place at that time.  Quote, “We were not, I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.”

She made a similar point to Rachel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”/FEB. 25, 2009)

PELOSI:  The inference to be drawn from what they told us was, these are things that we think could be legal.  And we have a difference of opinion on that.  But they never told us that they were being used, because that would be a different story altogether.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So, right wing blogs and FOX News, a right-wing blog that‘s on TV, jumped all over today‘s headline from “The Washington Post” and a similar one from ABC News online, quote, “Memo Says Pelosi Knew About Use of Harsh Tactics.”  But the essence of the story is, that, quote, “the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and then-Representative Porter Goss were briefed September 4th, 2002 on EITs, enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Since that did not necessarily contradict what Speaker Pelosi has claimed, no surprise that her office today released a statement saying as much—which reads, in part, “Of the 40 CIA briefings to Congress reported recently in the press, I was only briefed once, on September 4th, 2002, as I have previously stated.  I was briefed on interrogation techniques the administration was considering using in the future.”

And the CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, has confirmed that none of the notes and memos on torture specified that Speaker Pelosi had been briefed on the use of waterboarding—this according to Greg Sargent of ThePlumLine.com.

Let‘s call in the senior national security and intelligence correspondent with “McClatchy Newspapers,” Jonathan Landay.

Jonathan, good evening.

JONATHAN LANDAY, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS:  My pleasure to be here again.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get into some of those details in a moment, but how did a story that Speaker Pelosi was briefed on some enhanced interrogation techniques, which she‘d already acknowledged, get treated as if this was new and/or contradictory information?

LANDAY:  Well, this, of course, is a major political issue—at least the Republicans are trying to build it into one.  And, of course, in the political hot house that surrounds the whole issue of torture and the interrogation technique that‘s were used by the Bush administration, it‘s getting traction.  And, of course, there is a legitimate political question as to whether or not and when Speaker Pelosi knew what was going on.

But I think that this is a minor issue.  I think that this is all detracting from the real major issue.  Look, last time I checked, there is no political—no international law, no U.S. law against forgetting or misleading or mixing updates, et cetera, et cetera.  But there‘s the Geneva Conventions, there‘s U.S. laws, there‘s the International Convention Against Torture.  And those bar the use of torture, and that‘s where the real issue lies here.

The real issue is—there are two.  The first is, were the techniques that were used by the Bush administration legal?  And second of all, did they produce intelligence that prevented attacks on the United States?  That‘s where the focus of all of this should really be.

OLBERMANN:  Now, there are details about that briefing in September 2002 that may be worth pursuing on their own, for instance, the techniques were used specifically relating to Abu Zubaydah.  Those were discussed.  And since Abu Zubaydah was, in fact, waterboarded, perhaps that was discussed in the classified briefing in relationship to him.  But can that leap really be made without more information?  Is that—is that a leap that can be made with the information that‘s on the table right now?

LANDAY:  Well, there‘s the—the other information on the table is indeed this cover letter that came from the CIA director who says, “Well, we‘re not sure that all of this material that we have in this memo is accurate.”  And therefore, yes, perhaps this could be examined as part of, as I said earlier, a larger investigation, a larger inquiry into the entire circumstances surrounding the use of these methods.

OLBERMANN:  Another issue, and this too has been mentioned by the speaker, is that even now, she is legally limited as to what she can disclose about any classified briefing.  And is that not hampering the ability of anybody to truly air this out, this who knew what, when?

LANDAY:  Well, I would think so.  I mean, there are U.S. laws against disclosure of classified information.  She was bound by those laws, as was everybody who knew about these techniques.  And so, that raises the question—I mean, the Republicans are saying, “Well, this proves that she knew about it, and didn‘t go out and try to stop it.”

But my response and the response of other people is—well, she couldn‘t, A, because this was classified.  She wasn‘t allowed to speak about it publicly.  And she could talk about it in channels to people who had clearances and I think this—the suggestion has been made that, well, she could have taken this all the way up to the White House, where I think the response would have been.  But, the lawyers at the Justice Department and at the CIA say these are legal and, therefore, we‘re not sure why you‘re complaining and we‘re going to continue with this.

OLBERMANN:  When somebody like the Republican congressman, Peter Hoekstra, who is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, suggests that if there‘s a truth commission, it should begin by looking into what Congress knew.  Should Democrats consider calling his bluff?

LANDAY:  Well, I think Speaker Pelosi is among the leading voices on Capitol Hill for the creation of a commission.  Something that indeed even the Obama administration right now seems to be dragging its feet on.  And indeed, this is a legitimate question to ask—what did Congress know, when did they know it?

But again, these are—these are questions that should be asked.  But they detract from the major questions, the two major questions.  The first is, were these techniques legal?  And the second is, did they obtain information that prevented attacks on the United States?  And the only way we‘re going to get to the bottom of that is if there is indeed some kind of commission of inquiry.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Landay of “McClatchy Newspapers”—great thanks for your insight.  Have a great weekend.

LANDAY:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Remember the old song in the commercial for Oscar Mayer Baloney?  “My baloney has a first name.  It‘s O-S-C-A-R.”  Well, now, somebody‘s salami spells out “God.”

And later, oh—he sliced it.  The CBS sports announcer who should have stuck to golf instead trying to branch out into truly offensive political commentary.  Why David Feherty should not be getting a mulligan or a new contract.  Ahead on Worsts Persons.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This is May 8th, thus 16 days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity, thus 15 days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted, thus 14 days during which Sean Hannity has suffered the consequences of reneging on his promise.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin with a pretty scary scene outside an office building in Sao Paolo, Brazil.  Thankfully, nobody got hurt on Wednesday when high winds caused the window-washing platform with two men inside it to swing violently.  Office workers in the building watched in amazement as an onlooker in an adjacent building shot this footage.  The men in the bucket tried grabbing on to the building just to slow their momentum and the pendulum effect going on.  The platform eventually did slow down, sufficiently for them to crawl out into an open and still dirty window.  They left a few streaks.

Finally, to Miami, Florida, where “God” has appeared on some fried salami.  Not an image of God, mind you, the word.  This video is from CBS‘ Miami affiliate WFOR.  Nancy Simoes says she‘s about to plate the three salami slices when she turned over the first piece and saw the letter G, then an O, and finally, a D—in that order. Could have gone D-O-G, the “D” could have been an “O,” which would have made her discovery “goo.”  But Nancy has face—faith that the meat is a sign.  She may consider selling her salami on eBay. 

First there was the word.  Then the word was salami.

The flyover‘s fallout.  The first look tonight at the photo somebody deemed worth striking fear into the hearts of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom had lived through 9/11.  Why that somebody will not be working at the White House any longer.

And global warming?  How the manmade climate change problem in Alaska that Governor Palin is sure is not real is all too realistically messing with her social calendar. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you think this White House can‘t try to manage a news cycle, then you were not paying attention today.  Our No. 3 story this morning, the good news the Obama administration announced it will open up the observation deck on the crown of the Statue of Liberty for the first time since 9/11. 

This afternoon, the concomitant bad news: the administration released the picture from that disastrous photo op next to the Statue of Liberty and announced the resignation of the guy who ordered it. 

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar joined Matt Lauer on “The Today Show” to announce that, on the Fourth of July, the statue crown will reopen to the public for the first time since President Bush ordered it closed in the wake of the 2001 attack on the nearby World Trade Center. 

At around 4 p.m. Eastern, though, the other shoe dropped.  The White House released this photo from April 27 of the jumbo jet acting as if it were Air Force one, soaring over the Statue of Liberty. 

What we saw was the jumbo jet being tailed by an F-16 buzzing the Manhattan skyline, the image all too reminiscent of the plane before they went into the Twin Towers in 2001. 

The man responsible for the photo op, who was the director of the White House military office, the former war secretary, Louis Caldera—

Army secretary, forgive me.  Today the White House announced today it had accepted Mr. Caldera‘s resignation. 

Reading from his letter to the president, Caldera writes, “I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the presidential air lift groups aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the military office.  More over, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as president.  After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent upon me to tender my resignation and step down as director.” 

We‘re joined now by Margaret Carlson, political columnist for Bloomberg News, Washington editor of the week magazine. 

Margaret, good evening. 

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  “I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the flyover has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the military office.”  It‘s not, I have concluded that my bone headedness has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House military office.  There‘s no apology.  There‘s no acceptance of responsibility.  Is there a distinction?

CARLSON:  Well, there is.  And no one in Washington ever says, “I‘m—

I apologize.”  They say, “If you were offended,” or, “if you determine I did anything wrong.”  In other words, “If you‘re so sensitive and such a wussy person that you found this wrong, then I‘m going to say to you, you sensitive person, I‘m sorry.” 

What‘s interesting, if we were still in the Bush administration, there would have been no firing.  It would have been, “Louis, what a heck of a job.”  Instead, there is responsibility at the top.  He did something really horrendous.  There‘s no excuse, and he was let go. 

And that is the amazing difference.  I hope this continues, the difference between the Bush administration and the Obama administration. 

OLBERMANN:  To his credit, right after it happened, Caldera stepped up and took responsibility for it.  But there was something in that internal report, the internal Obama investigation into it that I‘d like to read. 

In the report, the White House said Caldera, who had been traveling with President Obama when the flyover plans were initially discussed did not remember a conversation in which his deputy, George Mulligan, informed him of the flyover.  Caldera did not open an e-mail about final plans for the flyover until after it had happened.  Reports said that Caldera had been suffering from severe muscle spasms and had left the office early on several days.” 

People get muscle spasms.  It happens.  But still, the chain of command here seems to have broken down, so that it wasn‘t even just the head of the White House military office.  It was his deputy who authorized this, and just passed it up the chain of command.  There was nobody there to say no to it. 

CARLSON:  Well, you have to be hospitalized not to open your e-mails.  We are all required now to open our e-mails day and night.  And muscle spasms just doesn‘t do the trick. 

And the people who needed to be notified in New York weren‘t really notified, because the public wasn‘t notified.  And the public was scared, you know—the daylights scared out of them. 

So there were just—there were—there were a lot of dropped balls along the way.  I still think—I‘m glad you reminded that that Caldera did take responsibility, and now he‘s—you know, Obama took the ultimate responsibility.  People never want to let go of the people that they‘ve hired or that are in charge.  They don‘t like to do it.  And he did it.  That‘s the best way to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  This was traumatic for those who witnessed it; not end of the world traumatic, but it was bad enough.  In light of that, did the White House risk looking a little too cute, too clever in putting out the Statue of Liberty news and the flyover resignation on the same day?

CARLSON:  Keith, until I heard you say this, I mean, I—you are so attuned to cuteness.  I didn‘t tie the two together.  I see now where some really smart, clever, White House press people probably did, and you caught them.  And that‘s very good.  It may be too cute by half. 

You know, I know a way to even the score.  Mayor Bloomberg is coming to Washington tomorrow for the White House correspondents dinner.  He could buzz the White House with his plane, and then New York and Washington would be even. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, that‘d be good.  And like that wouldn‘t have consequences. 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this over now?

CARLSON:  Well, you know, if you get the resignation of the top guy, and this is—well, we won‘t have this again.  There will be other mistakes.  But nobody is going to buzz the Statue of Liberty again.  Do you think?  I mean, not even—not even for a blockbuster thriller, summer movie is anybody going to buzz the Statue of Liberty. 

OLBERMANN:  At least drop leaflets first.  At least warn the populace. 

CARLSON:  Or like one of those planes at the beach, with a banner behind it...

OLBERMANN:  This is not a...

CARLSON:  This is a joke. 

OLBERMANN:  Right.  This is not as scary as it looks.  Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News and The Week magazine.  Thanks, Margaret.  Take care.

CARLSON:  Good night, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  As amazing a political comment as you‘ll ever read.  In the great tradition of Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, a CBS sportscaster with an observation about U.S. servicemen being willing to kill Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.  It will likely end the man‘s career. 

The RNC saves a couple thousand on another dress for Governor Palin.  That is the upside of her last-minute cancellation of tomorrow‘s White House correspondents‘ dinner.  The excuse she gave is a beaut. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, could the Republican base really be turning on minority whip Eric Cantor?  Turning on him in the negative sense, not in the “ick” sense. 

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them.  The headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, “Still Bushed.” 

No. 3, false idols-gate.  This is back in 2006.  This program, COUNTDOWN, revealed that the former No. 2 man in Bush‘s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was about to publish a book blowing the whistle on the administration‘s exploitation of the Christian right.  The office did not really do anything to advance the supposed causes of religious charities; it just specialized in paying lip service while stroking egos of Christian right-wingers with trinkets and symbols. 

So what do they want now that Obama is in office?  More symbols.  After President Obama did not mark the National Day of Prayer yesterday with a formal event, FOX News and the Christian right screamed that Obama had broken tradition, not noting that Mr. Bush had only established the tradition by holding events for the first time during his presidency.

In other words, they don‘t mind being duped on the substantive stuff; they just want their parties back. 

No. 2, “Change Who Can Believe In?-Gate.”  After President Obama this week announced his plan to cut 121 government programs, for an estimated savings of $17 billion, Mr. Obama‘s move was praised as, quote, “a serious first step towards changing the culture in Washington.” 

What raving liberal lunatic would damn Mr. Bush with that comparison?  Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican described by Politico.com as, quote, “a hardline fiscal conservative.” 

Coburn even said, quote, “Many presidents have proposed specific spending cuts, but nearly all have failed to carry through.” 

Somewhere in Dallas, somebody‘s ears are burning. 

No. 1, “Keeping Us Safe-gate.”  First Mr. Bush allowed Osama bin Laden to escape, and instead of attacking bin Laden, he diverted U.S. sources to Iraq.  Then he helped propped up Pervez Musharraf with money and political backing while Musharraf did nothing to get al Qaeda.  Mr. Bush even signed off on a truce that allowed Islamic extremists who were harboring al Qaeda to live their lives in peace, ostensibly, while planning future attacks on us.

Now, less than four months after Mr. Bush left office, Mr. Bush‘s days of appeasement are over.  Last night, the prime minister of Pakistan went on national television there, and almost eight years after September 11, finally, declared war on the Taliban, in part because of U.S. pressure. 

Pakistan‘s government has the support if its people in this, finally, in part because of the U.S. pressure even on a top opposition leader, a religious conservative.  But also because the Taliban have become so successful in recent years in capturing new territory and spreading their brand of violent Islamic extremism that it has genuinely threatened the average Pakistani.  And that peril is thanks to the appeasement of President Bush. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s a spot at the dinner table suddenly open in Washington.  Sarah Palin bails out on tomorrow‘s White House correspondents‘ dinner.  I was going to bring those “SNL” cue cards for her to sign. 

And then, worse, Alan Keyes gets arrested over Barack Obama.  William Donahue compares the president to ex-Klansman David Duke, and a CBS sportscaster suggests the average American soldier would be likely to commit political assassination in this country. 

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A dinner of consequence in the political world.  Sarah Palin bails out of the White House correspondents‘ dinner tomorrow in D.C.  when she suddenly remembers she‘s actually the governor of Alaska and like has to do stuff there, you know? 

That‘s next.  But first, COUNTDOWN‘s No. 2 story, tonight‘s worst persons. 

The bronze to William Donahue, self-proclaimed president of the self-titled Catholic League, comparing President Obama, in accepting an honorary agree from Notre Dame during its upcoming commencement, to the former Klan leader, David Duke.

Quoting, “Obama belongs at Notre Dame to speak at a symposium to address the law school.  I‘m all in favor of that.  To give him an honorary degree would be like Howard University giving David Duke a degree in racial politics.  It flies in the face of everything that we believe in.  We don‘t need people that are not Catholic sticking their noses in where they don‘t belong.” 

So I‘m assuming you think Notre Dame should dismiss all its non-Catholic football players.  Or are you just meaning this as hyperbolized irony, like you expected that people would believe that a mean-spirited, bigoted blowhard like you actually are thought of by others as practicing the teachings of Jesus. 

The runner up, former Senate candidate and ex-MSNBC host Alan—over here, Alan, the viewer is the one in the middle—Keyes.  Among 22 protestors against the Obama speech, arrested today when they refused the leave the campus at Notre Dame, thus disproving the theory that, when it comes to politics, Alan Keyes couldn‘t get arrested anywhere in this country. 

And the fact that when he ran against Obama for the Senate, Obama beat him 70 to 27.  That 27 had nothing to do with it. 

And our winner, soon to be ex-CBS sports golf analyst David Feherty, who writes in the April edition of the Texas publication “D Magazine,” quote, “From my own experience visiting the troops in the Middle East, I can tell you this, though.  Despite how the conflict has been portrayed by our glorious media, if you gave any U.S. soldier a gun with two bullets in it and he found himself in an elevator with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Osama bin Laden, there‘s a good chance that Nancy Pelosi would get shot twice, and Harry Reid and bin Laden would be strangled to death.”  Wow. 

Manages to threaten by proxy the lives of the speaker of the House of Representatives and the majority leader in the Senate and smear the average U.S. soldier as a potential political assassin. 

There‘s free speech, and then there is the abuse of free speech.  And when you start predicting the hypothetical murder by the U.S. military of two democratically-elected officials of this country, it‘s not exactly rocket science to tell which this is.  Even Feherty should be able to figure it out. 

He has not yet resigned.  CBS Sports has not yet fired him, which is especially troubling since the head of CBS Sports is also the head of CBS News, and the Secret Service apparently has not called him yet.  I guess it is just a question of who gets him first. 

David Feherty, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Gerald Ford pulled off a well-rehearsed pratfall with a stack of papers.  Ronald Reagan re-enacted a press conference with Rich Little.  George W. Bush saved his hilarious, “Gosh, where are those darn WMD” bit for a rival gala event.  What President Barack Obama will do will be determined tomorrow. 

The No. 1 story, the annual White House correspondents‘ association dinner.  Tomorrow night at the Washington Hilton, Mr. Obama will join the ranks of every president since Calvin Coolidge.  Joining him will be the requisite media types, government types, Hollywood types, and other people with no actual line of employment, like the first three really count. 

There has been one late cancellation: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  Mrs. Palin will instead be guest of honor at the worst flooding in decades near her hometown of Wasilla, the governor declaring the unusually warm spring thaw a disaster.  Of course, it could not be the consequences of global warming.  Nah. 

Pinch-hitting, the first dude, in her words, Todd Palin, will be the guest of—no surprise here—Fixed News.  No word yet on where Levi Johnston will be sitting.  Curd (ph) has been mentioned.

Not dining at the Fixed table, head cheerleader Sean Hannity, either still outraged over the president‘s use of Dijon mustard on a burger, or hunkering down in fear of being asked about the water, you-know-whatting. 

Another notable absence, dessert.  Instead, $23,000 will be donated to a charity benefiting D.C. area homeless. 

And for those feeling nostalgic for the Bush years, out of work, under investigation, but still scheduled to attend, former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. 

Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst, dinner attendee Craig Crawford. 

Good evening, Craig. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This is the first year of the tux I bought a few years ago pays for itself, compared to the rental prices. 

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations.  That‘s a milestone in a young man‘s life. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.  It takes a while when you only wear them once a year. 

OLBERMANN:  I know.  The first thing is, it‘s really a footnote to the thing, but former attorney general Gonzales is going to be there, courtesy of the “Houston Chronicle”?  Fredo is going to be there?  He‘s going to hand out his resume?  What is he there for?

CRAWFORD:  There might be some method to the madness there at the “Houston Chronicle.”  Gonzales knows a lot about what went on in these past few years.  If he ever decided to do a tell-all, it would be quite the story.  He knows all of Bush‘s secrets, going back to when Bush was governor and Gonzales got him out of jury duty when it inconveniently turned out to be a drunk driving case. 

OLBERMANN:  Tradition dictates at this thing that the gives some sort of performance: a few jokes, a video presentation.  I managed to avoid all of them since 1998.  Bill Clinton was expert that year, just really vivisected the press.  It was a marvelous job and play on the word “content” versus “content.”

Given the fact that John McCain stole the show at the Al Smith dinner last fall, does the president have some sort of bar being set for him in terms of the funny?

CRAWFORD:  Well, President Obama has so many skills, Keith, that slapstick comedy is not one of them, and that‘s just fine with me.  And so I would imagine something sort of understated that plays to what is really his more droll style and wit would be better.

And I think it would be good to ratchet down the expectations for presidents.  It‘s very time-consuming for them to hire these joke writers and practice the delivery and the timing.  And you know, something that‘s a little more naturally funny that comes from him and not from joke writers would be more appreciated by me, at least. 

OLBERMANN:  Unless the jokes are about you, right?

CRAWFORD:  There you go.  I‘ll take that too. 

OLBERMANN:  Every person is saying just leave me out of it, just leave me out of it.  The unexpected warming near the Arctic Circle has prevented Governor Sarah Palin—Palin of Alaska from attending.  Do you think she sees the irony in this?  And do you think—are you surprised that she gave up this opportunity in the national spotlight for, what do you call it?  State business?

CRAWFORD:  My guess is irony is something she thinks maids do.  I don‘t know if she‘d see much irony in that. 

The global warming issue for her is such that maybe it would be good if she gave her seat to a climate change activist to start to triangulate that issue a little bit. 

But I think for her, it looks bad in Alaska, particularly at a time like this, to be out cavorting—you know, being a nationally famous personality has not exactly helped her, among her Alaska constituents.  Her polling numbers are OK, but they certainly haven‘t gone up since she became nationally famous. 

OLBERMANN:  No, they went down from 85 percent approval to 54 percent approval in 14 months.  The other bold-face names include Warren Buffett at the NBC tables, Jason Bateman at the NBC tables.  I don‘t know how the hell that happened.  Who invited him?  Tables, I should say, because we apparently bought 77 of them.  Owen Wilson, Ashton Kutcher, Sting, Alicia Keyes and there‘s going to be this hero face-off between Captain Sullenberger will be there with “The New York Daily News” and Captain Phillips will be there with Bloomberg News. 

This is—certainly, in terms of the invite list, it doesn‘t have the feeling of one of the dinners during the Bush years, does it?

CRAWFORD:  No.  There was a big change during the Bush years.  Hollywood just quit showing up.  I remember one year, George Clooney was about the only really big name who showed up, and the poor guy was mobbed everywhere he went, even by some of the other Hollywood celebrities who were around. 

And in the Clinton years, they loved Clinton and showed up.  So my guess is Obama will be quite the draw.  Even at our “CQ” table, Keith, we‘re going to have the Rock, Duane Johnson, and Christian Slater and Rachael Ray, the cook.  So that will be an interesting combination. 

OLBERMANN:  The meal better be good, then, or you‘re never going to hear the end of it.  About the entertainment...

CRAWFORD:  But no dessert?

OLBERMANN:  Well, maybe you should bring some. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, maybe. 

OLBERMANN:  Craig Ferguson last year did a—I thought he sort of threaded the needle.  I really don‘t know how he did it.  He managed to be offensive without being too offensive in the last Bush one of those. 

Colbert made the hall of fame a couple years ago.  There‘s no question about that.  Rich Little came out and didn‘t mention Iraq at the absolutely height of the political controversy over it. 

Wanda Sykes is doing this this year.  Do you have any idea, any guidance for her, where she should go, whether she might go in terms of humor?

CRAWFORD:  It‘s a tough crowd.  And I‘ve talked to some of those comedians who have done it in the past, and they say it was one of the hardest gigs they ever did. 

Part of it is it‘s 3,000 people at this dinner who are really more interested in talking to each other and looking at each other and being seen than listening to anything that‘s going on.  And if the comedian doesn‘t hold them solidly, he‘ll lose the crowd really fast. 

But you‘re right about Craig Ferguson.  I thought he did—and Wanda Sykes is this year.  Wanda is great.  Very funny, but a little bit edgy. 

OLBERMANN:  I understand.

CRAWFORD:  And I have a feeling there could be some controversy. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, at least it will keep us awake, as the hours pass by.  We‘ll see you there, our friend Craig Crawford of “CQ” politics, and when we‘re fortunate enough to have him, right here. 

See you tomorrow.  Just wave. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,199th day—I‘m sorry, he lost the audio, clearly, since the previous president declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq.  Either that or something in his ear.

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

And now to discuss why Dick Cheney just can‘t seem to return to his secure undisclosed location permanently and avoid the consequences, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you very much. 

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

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