updated 5/15/2009 12:51:38 PM ET 2009-05-15T16:51:38

Guest: Sheldon Whitehouse, Derrick Pitts, Howard Fineman, Eugene Robinson

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

We rejoin Dick Cheney already in progress.  The man who suddenly can‘t stop talking may have just inadvertently cleared Nancy Pelosi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS:  When you say briefed—briefed on, specifically, waterboarding?

RICHARD CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques.

CAVUTO:  That included waterboarding?

CHENEY:  I don‘t know.  I wasn‘t in the meetings and I can‘t speak to the content of the meetings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So the briefing was about techniques, not that they were in use.  And if they did not specifically include waterboarding being in use, Cheney just admitted the White House waited six months after first waterboarding Abu Zubaydah to tell any member of Congress.  The president is obliged by federal law to keep Congress, quote, “fully and currently informed” on all intelligence activities.

Our special guest, the chairman of the subcommittee conducting tomorrow the first public hearing on the torture memos: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Limbaugh won‘t like this.  The stimulus-embracing, Rush-loathing Republican governor of Florida is running for the Senate.

The Hubble mission: Big deal, fix a mirror in space.  Then why is NASA keeping a second shuttle on stand by to rescue the astronauts in case during the repair job the shuttle they‘re using is destroyed?

Worsts: Greta Van Susteren stops a reporter from interviewing Todd Palin at a social event, writes, “He did not agree to it or ask for it.  He was at a social event and not looking to be ambushed by a surprise interview.”  She still works for the FOX “ambushed interview” Network, doesn‘t she?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are just dishonest.  That‘s truly disgraceful. 

You got to back up your accusations from there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Disgraceful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You want to comment on that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And tonight, the premiere of a new feature—your WTF Moment starring Miss California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA:  I exercised my freedom of speech and I was punished for doing so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Except that isn‘t freedom of speech and you weren‘t punished—WTF!

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREJEAN:  Everybody‘s entitled to their own opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(MUSIC)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

If you have missed prior performances of the Dick Cheney confession tour—good news, everyone—he added more dates.  And while ripping through one of his golden oldies, he today apparently cleared Nancy Pelosi.

In our fifth story tonight: Mr. Cheney playing once again to a friendly audience, adding what appears to be a new crime to his set list—violation of the 1991 Intelligence Authorization Act.

Cheney‘s interview this afternoon came as other Republicans are trying to scare Speaker Pelosi out of investigating Bush/Cheney torture because she might then get investigated on whether she knew about the torture in 2002 -- joining Republican congressmen, like Pete Hoekstra, into full throated champions of torture investigations, unwittingly supporting the basic Democratic argument that, yes, something bad happened and America should know what.

It does not matter that Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, who ran the intelligence committee in 2002, now tells “Politico” that the CIA memo indicating Pelosi was briefed about interrogation techniques is wrong about the details of his 2003 briefing.  It does not matter that CIA chief, Leon Panetta, says he cannot vouch for the accuracy of the briefing summaries.  It does not matter that former Senator Bob Graham, the only Democrat other than Pelosi briefed in 2002, says he was not told about waterboarding.

What matters is that, as House Democratic Steny Hoyer indicated today, the Republican plan of targeting Pelosi is backfiring.  How?  Quote, “The information about what was said and when it was said and who said it, I think that probably ought to be on the record, as well, so the American public knows that.”  In other words—Republicans, Democrats just accepted your invitation to investigate torture.

And while they‘re at it, they might just throw in Mr. Cheney‘s aforementioned confession today.

First, the context: Democrats only got those CIA briefings because federal law requires the executive branch to keep the intelligence committees briefed on, quote, “significant, anticipated intelligence activity that have major foreign policy implications.”

If the White House failed to brief committee members, including Pelosi, that would violate the law.  And as you will hear, Mr. Cheney now admits he does not know whether Pelosi was briefed about waterboarding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAVUTO:  Nancy Pelosi has been caught up in “when did she know and how much did she know” as far as the waterboarding issue, elevated interrogation techniques, and says she was aware of a 2003 meeting.  But the way it‘s been characterized that she was aware of all the details is wrong and that painting her any other way is wrong.  What do you make of that?

CHENEY:  I don‘t know the specifics of what sessions she was in.  I know she was listed in a memorandum I‘ve seen.  The timeline that talks about when various members were briefed that the agency has produced in the last few days is public document.

CAVUTO:  When you say briefed—briefed on, specifically, waterboard?

CHENEY:  Briefed on enhanced interrogation techniques.

CAVUTO:  That included waterboarding?

CHENEY:  I don‘t know.  I wasn‘t in the meetings and I can‘t speak to the content of the meetings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in MSBNC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, of course, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for “Newsweek.”

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s suppose Bush officials told Democrats just enough to

in a sense—implicate them later, that in effect they booby-trapped any future investigation.  How do Republicans now execute the implication without endorsing this overarching endeavor of investigating torture?

               

FINEMAN:  Well, if they were trying to booby-trap anybody, they ended up booby-trapping themselves politically.  I spent a good part of the day talking to Republican strategists of one kind or another.  And they are pretty unanimous in their view that this is a loser politically for the Republican Party.  So, that‘s the political context.

The substantive one is—yes, you can‘t separate what you are being briefed about from the legality and the morals of what the subject matter was.

OLBERMANN:  What happens here if Republicans hoping to show that Pelosi knew about this, thereby spreading the guilt, responsibility, blame or credit, instead end up showing that Pelosi was not fully briefed, that nobody in Congress was fully briefed for six months between the first waterboarding and first briefing that mentioned waterboarding.  Isn‘t the end result of that only proving that the White House violated the law requiring them to keep the intelligence committee chairs in the loop?

FINEMAN:  Well, quite possibly, Keith.  And I think if the former vice

president could have flatly asserted that there were documents and that he

knew exactly what Nancy Pelosi was briefed on, he would have said so.  He

is going on his own fishing expedition apparently for those memos he keeps

talking about.  But he apparently isn‘t clear that there is any evidence,

you know, in terms of timelines or other things he could get out of the CIA

notes of meetings and so on—that would support his viewpoint.

               

So, again, if he had any evidence that he could have brought forward, he would be doing so right now.

OLBERMANN:  That is a great point.

Take an aerial view here of the Republicans.  What does it say about them when: one, they endorse torture investigations after it looks like they can get a target sort of shifted over to a Democrat; and, two, they‘re now treating the Pelosi alleged knowledge of torture as a bad thing—which is somehow, to me at least, inseparable from the idea that the torture that they have defended all along was also a bad thing?

FINEMAN:  Well, sure.  Horror of horrors, she was briefed.  What is the meaning of that?  Well, the underlying behavior she was briefed about is something that she should have run screaming into the streets to protest as in a more discreet way Jane Harman of California apparently did in, I think, the spring of 2003.

You are absolutely right.  Again, to return to those Republicans I was talking to today, Keith, they believe that the Republicans have—are on solid ground politically when they talk about national defense.  That‘s still an area where Republicans are somewhat highly regarded.

However, to be maneuvered into a position of seeming to defend enhanced interrogation techniques, i.e., torture, is quite obviously a political loser.  And every time Dick Cheney does it and every time they get in a—in a joust with Nancy Pelosi, it doesn‘t help them.  Just bringing down Nancy Pelosi‘s ratings, which were never that high to begin with, you know, is not going to help the Republican Party politically.

And you got a lot of people kind of mumbling under their breath that Dick Cheney is doing his own business here and not the Republican Party, even though they dragged Pete Hoekstra into this thing on the House side.

OLBERMANN:  But now, each time Cheney goes into another confessional here, the questions get more and more specific, and we are in line now for two reports that seem poised to raise questions about whether or not he pushed for the legalization of torture in memo form at least.  What is the next step here and what‘s the last step here?

FINEMAN:  Well, there are a couple of things coming down the road.  One of them is the release of 2,000 photographs of interrogation as a result of a lawsuit.  Those pictures are going to be made public.  Dick Cheney is going to be outraged.  He‘s going to be saying they are taken out of context.  He‘s going to be pounding the table, demanding more memos be released that supposedly show the fruits of those techniques.

But that are—and he‘s going to pursue it and there will be a lot of talk about it, and it will dominate a lot of discussion on cable television.  The only point I can make as a political analyst and writer is that it‘s a nightmare from beginning to end for the Republican Party.

OLBERMANN:  Hard to believe a man with 20 percent approval rating going out of office could actually hurt his reputation thereafter—but here it is.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman, our own political analyst, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist at “Newsweek”—as always, thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tomorrow morning, we‘ll see the first public hearing in Congress on the Bush administration‘s legalization of torture.  It will come from the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversights and the Courts.

We are joined now by the chairman, Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat of Rhode Island.

Great thanks for your time tonight, Senator.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE, (D) RHODE ISLAND:  Thank you.  Wonderful to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  As a result of your hearing, is there a specific fact that we, the country, should know by tomorrow afternoon that we don‘t know tonight?

WHITEHOUSE:  I think what I‘m really more doing is trying to build a foundation for looking at the Office of Professional Responsibility opinions that will come out about the OLC torture memos.  So, I hope what America will learn is that the facts that were alleged in the torture memos are very likely not true.  The legal theories were contested even by Bush administration lawyers who weren‘t in on the fix, and a little bit about what the consequences are for lawyers who commit professional malfeasance.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned some of that blowback inside the Bush administration.  Philip Zelikow was the counselor to the secretary of state, Dr. Rice, and wrote the now famous anti-torture memo a couple of years after the torture occurred, 2005.  Why is he relevant?  What do you plan to do about whoever ordered that anti-torture memo destroyed?

WHITEHOUSE:  He‘s relevant because he‘s one of a number of government officials who got a look at this Office of Legal Counsel torture memos and were appalled at the what they saw—the shoddy legal scholarship and the preposterous conclusions.  And like some of the Judge Advocate General lawyers who fought back, he, too, fought back.

And what‘s interesting is not only that the opinions were so bad that it produced this result from the State Department and from Mr. Zelikow, but when he fought back, the response wasn‘t “Oh, my God, we got to get the bottom of this, let‘s get the real legal answer here.”  The response was “Withdraw your memo, tear up all copies, you‘re silenced.”

OLBERMANN:  Your other central witness on the docket here, Ali Soufan, who participated in some of the interrogations.  That‘s field experience.  How is that relevant to the legal calls that these Bush lawyers made?

WHITEHOUSE:  Because the predicate in the OLC opinions for a lot of these legal calls are assertions of fact about how imminent the need was, about how effective the techniques were, about how there weren‘t adequate alternatives to get information, and about how sort of amateurish regular interrogations was compared to the so-called CIA experts.  And Ali Soufan does a wonderful job of blowing up those factual predicates that OLC swallowed hook, line and sinker.

OLBERMANN:  And Senator, isn‘t the fundamental question about those memos, whether they gave honest legal opinions or if they‘re now the kind of a legal self-fulfilling prophecy set, “We need a memo that makes this legal, you go write one”?  And if that‘s the case, why aren‘t the authors or the instigators of those memos testifying tomorrow?

WHITEHOUSE:  Well, we don‘t even have the Office of Professional Responsibility report out.  So, I think it would be premature to bring them in until we know what that report says.  This is a foundation-setting hearing.  Once the OPR report is out, I‘m confident that Chairman Leahy will either authorize hearings or, most likely, conduct them in the judiciary committee himself and then we‘ll go on from there.

So, this is the beginning of a several step process and more to come.

OLBERMANN:  On the eve of this, can you address those people who say, better just to leave this alone?

WHITEHOUSE:  I don‘t think that‘s right.  For one thing, the difference between an education in the ongoing experience that is American democracy and a blueprint hidden away for somebody else to come back and do this all over again is sunlight.  And sunlight has to be cast on this.

Second, there are two problems here.  The first is the torture itself, as abhorrent as that was.  The second is: all the damage that was done in the structure of government to make that torture possible.  That‘s an equally important story and it has to be told because American democracy is important.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed, sir.  The chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island—again, thanks for your time tonight.  Good luck with it tomorrow.

In the torture self-rationalization firmament, former Vice President Cheney is the sun, all others just orbit around him.  But one of them has managed to turn these rationalizations—of his rationalizations into profit center.  He‘s getting paid.  He‘s getting paid by the liberal media.

And it is not true that despite all the good he does liberals, Boss Limbaugh is a paid agent of the left.  Still, the control of his party is again up in the air tonight.  A Republican governor he doesn‘t like is now running for a Senate seat that Republicans must retain next year.

It‘s all fun and games until somebody winds up apologizing to somebody else.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Once again, Florida gets more than its fair share of responsibility or blame for national politics, Republican Senate seat there being bid for a stimulus-hugging, un-Limbaugh like local favorite.  Yahey!

Later, the premiere of our new feature: The WTF Moment.  Compared with what little she knows about constitutional freedom of speech, it turns out Miss California is a virtual expert on gay marriage.  And an eloquent defense of the right of people not to be the victims of ambush news interviews by a woman who‘s show is on the network that is defined by ambush news interviews.  Worst Persons and the new WTF Moment—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Push has shown up at the door of shove.

Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, anathema of Boss Limbaugh and happy bipartisan local distributor of the Obama stimulus program, is running for senator.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Odds Crist winds up apologizing to Limbaugh for not having had him sign a permission slip first?

Governor Crist today announcing he will run for the seat being vacated by the Republican Mel Martinez instead of running for reelection as governor.  Crist was quickly endorsed by the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, John Cornyn, who had last week said he would not endorse anybody in a contested Florida Republican primary, and also by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But Crist‘s challenger in the close Florida Republican primary, Marco Rubio, is backed by the conservative Club for Growth, otherwise known as the “club for non-growth of the Republican Party.”  That club has assailed Governor Crist for supporting President Obama‘s, quote, “reckless stimulus package,” unquote.  Mr. Rubio is already released a YouTube video featuring Obama with Crist.  And if the club gets its arch-conservative into the general election, the Democratic Party will be jumping for joy.

Meantime, Chairman Michael Steele of the RNC, guest-hosting a radio show, said that former Massachusetts governor and presidential-want-to-be, Mitt Romney, was rejected by the base, quote, “because of his switch on pro-life.”  Of course, Romney‘s switch on pro-life was to a pro-life position.  Also, “because it had issues with Mormonism,” and also because Romney waffled on economic issues.

From the Romney camp came the answer: “Sometimes when you shoot from the hip you miss the target.”  Followed by, “Chairman Steele regrets his comments have been interpreted.”

Let‘s call in associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of “The Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst Eugene Robinson.

Good evening, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A popular Republican governor will run for the Senate so he will rapidly be attacked by Republicans?

ROBINSON:  That seems to be the way of the world these days.  This battle inside the Republican Party, I think, is just beginning and it‘s going to go on for a while.  But, clearly, Marco Rubio could be a formidable challenger to Charlie Crist even though he‘s governor.

And Crist‘s appearance with Obama and his backing of the stimulus, while many of us believe it makes economic sense and it would be foolish for a governor to turn down money at a time when his state is going broke, nonetheless, for the Republican base, that‘s Dems‘ fighting words (ph).

OLBERMANN:  As we look at Florida and sort of liberal trends that had been appearing throughout that state recently, again, as a microcosm for the Republican Party across the nation, do they think they are going to get some sort of degree of difficulty score, like in the Olympics when you try the really hard dive?  You‘re going to—you shrink your party down to about a quarter of the population, but if they really believe your principles, each of their vote counts twice?

ROBINSON:  I guess that‘s the theory behind this now.  I don‘t think you can count those votes twice, Keith.  I don‘t think technically that‘s allowed.  But that seems to be the Club for Growth‘s theory.

And, look—I mean, who knows?  Maybe the Club for Growth is going to kind of shrink down to some sort of neutron star of a party and turn into a black hole or something and disappear.  I don‘t know how this evolves, how this works out.  But it‘s going to be bloody.

OLBERMANN:  Is it another test of the mettle of the leader of the Republican National Committee, and by that, of course, I mean Boss Limbaugh?

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  Well, it will be interesting, of course, a prominent Floridian and boss man.  And one imagines he would be looking for anyone to support but Charlie Crist.  He is no big fan of the governor and Marco Rubio sounds like a guy who would—wouldn‘t want to get on Limbaugh‘s bad side and do everything to stay on his good side.  So, it will be interesting to see if he really plays in this race.

OLBERMANN:  Are we seeing—are the Republicans doing exactly the same thing that the conservative party did in Britain after labor kind of broadened out in 1996, 1997, and won the huge victory behind Tony Blair, where they just—the idea that it is more important for everyone to agree on exactly the same thing somehow becomes—it actually gets you to dig further into the tunnel but you mistake it for the light at the end of the tunnel?

ROBINSON:  I think there are similarities.  And I think that‘s basically what happens.  Eventually, this works itself out.  It‘s almost an implosion, I think.  And then more reasonable people get some oxygen, get some air, and can reasonably point out that if you drive away the majority of the voters, you are never going to win elections.  And so, eventually, the party will move back toward the center.  But it could be a while.

OLBERMANN:  And what do they do about Michael Steele in the interim?  I mean, it‘s only—it‘s only Tuesday, right?  We already had this.  The thing over the weekend where he was standing up and waving at Obama after Obama had moved on to the next joke at the White House Correspondents dinner.  Now, it‘s gotten to this factually—error-laden dispute with Mitt Romney where Romney‘s people just barely hit him on the way out.  They could have leveled him.

What do they do about Michael Steele?

ROBINSON:  That‘s a good question.  I mean, what is he—what is he trying to accomplish other than, you know, kind of pouring gasoline on this fire in the party and entertaining us all?  I think, you could say that if you were to ask me—is he is a long range, perhaps not so long range problem for the Republican Party, I‘d have to say fo‘ shizzle.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC and noted hipster—as always, thanks, Gene.  Have a good night.

ROBINSON:  Good night, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So, junior comes home tells you his teacher just drones on and on in this like robotic tone of voice.  And you thought the kid was high, didn‘t you?

And the hypocrisy sometimes is so brightly lit it shimmers like gold.  A fixed newser complains that a reporter tried to ambush somebody who didn‘t want to be interviewed.  Have you ever watched your own network, madam?  Worst Persons is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment, and he hasn‘t bathed in 35 years.

First, this is May 12th, thus 20 days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity, thus 19 days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted, thus 18 days during which Sean Hannity has reneged on his promise.

This development, though: Hannity, last night, asked, quote, “Now, for all the moral indignation and outrage over waterboarding, what would be worse, wishing an American citizen who has a different point of view that his kidneys fail than to waterboard a terrorist to get information?”  Well, when you‘re man enough to live up to your word we‘ll know for sure, won‘t we?

Let‘s play Oddball.

On his birthday, one of the top English teachers of his generation, Arthur Naething of Hackley School.  Happy Birthday, Mr. Naething.

We begin in Tokyo where some teachers are just wired differently.  Meet Saya.  She started her robot career first as a receptionist.  Now, she‘s been reprogramming to teach these students the joys of technology.

Saya‘s creator says, leave the teacher alone.  Saya‘s creator says schools could benefit from robots if they have a shortage of human teachers.  She speaks several languages, can organize tasks for people and even gets angry when kids misbehave.  Later on, they‘ll do an upgrade in which they will put actually eyes in the back of her head.

In Los Angeles, officials have not yet determined who was responsible for this monumental screw up.  A large metal baggage container seen on the left got sucked into the giant engine of this Boeing 747 while it was pulling back from gate 101 at LAX.  Nobody is injured.

The Japan Airlines flight would have gone on to Narita.  It didn‘t.  The airport says the baggage container was empty.  We know this much for certain - it‘s empty now.

Speaking of flying things, the space repair mission so dangerous NASA has an extra shuttle on stand by just in case the one they‘re using gets destroyed during the repair mission.

And tonight‘s first ever WTF moment.  Carrie Prejean does not know that freedom of speech has nothing to do with what she said during a soft porn television show. 

These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best dumb criminal, 21 and under, unnamed 20-year-old alleged shoplifter at a liquor store in Hartford, Wisconsin.  The store owner saw him palm three bottles of whiskey before walking out.  He also saw him fill out a raffle ticket, which he put into the raffle ticket box, which the store owner had emptied.  So the shoplifter‘s was the only one in there.  And each raffle ticket required the entrant‘s name and address. 

Number two, best dumb criminal, over 21, William J. Reese, 58, of New Hall, Iowa, a civilian jail employee at the county sheriff‘s office.  He was for some reason driving a sheriff‘s black & white.  Mr. Reece decided to pull over the driver ahead of him for a traffic violation.  The driver ahead of him turned out to be an actual county sheriff‘s deputy.  When that sheriff‘s deputy left, Mr. Reece still decided to initiate a high-speed pursuit, even though he wasn‘t a deputy and the guy he was pursuing was.  They expect Mr. Reece will wind up in jail. 

Number one, best disgusting person, Kailash Singh, a 63-year-old man living in a village outside Varanasi (ph), in India.  He had seven kids, all girls.  So he came to the conclusion that he could sire a boy if he stopped washing with water.  This was 35 years ago. 

Now, he has undertaken other cleanliness measures since.  Every night, he says, he stands on one leg next to a bonfire, smokes marijuana and prays to Sheva.  A fire bath, he explains, helps kill germs and infection in the body.  And, of course, thanks to all the pot, if it doesn‘t, what the hell does he care?!

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OLBERMANN:  For all the triumphs and tragedies of manned mission in space, this has always been the greatest fear, the greatest recurring nightmare, the greatest compelling story line of science fiction, astronauts marooned in space.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the current NASA mission to fix the Hubble telescope so risky that the space agency has built in a backup plan in case the shuttle the astronaut repairmen are using, gets destroyed in the process. 

This is the first full day in space for the crew of the Shuttle Atlantis, all part of an 11 day mission to give Hubble one last tune-up.  The crew discovering minor damage near the shuttle‘s right wing already.  But even more problematic than that, theoretically, if Atlantis suffers further, more serious damage while in flight, the fear is space junk, the seven-member crew would be left stranded, unable to dock at the International Space Station, where they could take refuge for weeks.  The crew would be marooned on their space craft, albeit briefly, near the Hubble, where they could stay alive for 25 days, if they were lucky, before they ran out of air. 

The backup, on standby at Cape Canaveral, a rescue mission ready to go.  The Space Shuttle Endeavour and its four-person crew, as you see, already in launch position.  The Hubble‘s batteries are dying, gyroscopes failing, several scientific instruments broken.  Repairs will require the crew to complete five grueling and risky space walks.  And for the first time, the astronauts will be opening instruments and replacing circuit boards in space.  They hope to extend Hubble‘s life by five years. 

And then there‘s the subject of the junk.  NASA officials expressing concern that Atlantis could be hit by floating trash while in Hubble‘s orbit, causing further damage, possibly irreparable damage to the shuttle. 

Joining me now, as he always is good enough to do on matters such as this, the chief astronomer for the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Derrick Pitts.  Good to have you back, Derrick. 

DERRICK PITTS, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  Thanks a lot, Keith.  It‘s a pleasure to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m right about this, aren‘t you?  As horrible as the explosions have been, this is the great fear you can‘t look away from, this idea, even if it‘s only briefly, lost in space, marooned.  It is the stuff of science fiction. 

PITTS:  Well, you‘re right.  And this is the last thing you would want to have happen, that these guys get stuck there for some reason or another and they can‘t get back.  And it would just be a horrible thing to have happen.  So, since we have an extra space shuttle hanging around that we can put on the launch pad, why not prep it for rescue just in case? 

OLBERMANN:  So, the fear—explain what the fear is and the backup plan is ready to go how quickly? 

PITTS:  OK.  The backup plan is ready to go within three days.  What they are doing right now prepping Endeavour to within three days, so that it will be able to launch.  And then they could do the final preparations and launch it.  And so what they are going to do is keep it on standby until Atlantis has made its reentry, or until it is cleared for reentry. 

But the way it would actually happen is this: if it turns out that something happens to Atlantis that absolutely cannot be corrected, since it can‘t come down to the International Space Station‘s orbit, they would have to be able to rescue it at that height of 320 miles. 

So, they would then launch Endeavour within three days, get there, and then off-load the seven astronauts from Atlantis onto Endeavour and bring everybody back. 

OLBERMANN:  The idea of the space junk, Derrick, it sounds like—as much as there has been tragic science fiction, there‘s also comic science fiction, where you see the old Russian space station, the Mir, getting hit by a beer can.  The difference is, of course, the speed the space junk is traveling at.  Is that not the essence of why there is such a danger? 

PITTS:  This is exactly the problem.  It‘s a very simple thing, Keith.  In physics, there is a formula F equals MA; force equals mass times acceleration.  So this means you can take something very, very small and, if you accelerate it to a very, very high speed, you can get a lot of damage out of it. 

And so, even if it‘s something as small as a very small screw, if it‘s traveling at 17, 500 miles per hour, it can cause a tremendous amount of damage.  So, that‘s what they‘re actually watching out for. 

Now, The chance is one in 229, which is a bit bigger than what it would be at the elevation of International Space Station.  So, it‘s not as if they actually expect something.  But what they‘re doing is they‘re hedging their bets and having a backup plan in place, which is what NASA has been working to set itself up to be able to do really well. 

OLBERMANN:  If it is one in 229 and more than 17,000 miles an hour, what about risk to the number of space walks this requires?  What about actual direct contact with the astronauts in space junk? 

PITTS:  That‘s also a danger, you are absolutely right.  The danger extends to them as well as the orbiter, because they‘re actually out there in space.  And the suits, of course, are built in such a way to protect them to a degree. 

But we should also think about it this way: it‘s not as if there are a big clouds of material that the orbiter has to fly through.  I mean, this trajectory has been very, very carefully planned to minimize what danger there could be.  So, even at that, there‘s always still a chance there could be something that goes wrong and that‘s what the preparation is for. 

OLBERMANN:  Does this not suddenly, though, become the animated buckets of water in “Fantasia?”  I mean, the space shuttle could be theoretically fatally damaged by space junk.  So at that point, wouldn‘t it become space junk, thus increasing the chances that the backup shuttle might be damaged by space junk if it comes in for a rescue? 

PITTS:  Well, yes, it could be, except the idea of being able to launch the additional space shuttle with trained crews is that they can maneuver their way around.  Now, there‘s no question that this is a very, very dangerous sort of thing to do, to try to connect two space shuttles, considering it‘s never been done before.  And so, trying to do this would be very challenging. 

But, nonetheless, that‘s what the backup crew has been training for at the same time that the Hubble repair crew has been training.  So, it would become space junk and eventually have to be de-orbited and brought back down into the Pacific Ocean. 

OLBERMANN:  As dramatic as it might be to go through, I think everybody has their fingers crossed, saying, I hope we don‘t have to deal with this, because I don‘t think the world could hold their breath for four days.  Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute, helping us understand this.  As always for doing so, Derrick, our great thanks. 

PITTS:  My pleasure, Keith.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Take care.  Tonight, the premiere of our new segments, the WTF moment.  Her free speech violated, even though that wasn‘t free speech.  She‘s been punished, except she got to keep her job and is more famous than the contestant who beat her.  What the? 

Worsts; Fox News is complaining about reporters trying to conduct interviews without the interviewee‘s consents.  Fox News is doing this? 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, a man who could have been invaluable now, with a track record of prosecuting wrong doers on Wall Street.  Her interview with her special guest, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The premiere of the nightly commentary, your WTF moment;

Miss California says, “I exercised my freedom of speech and I was punished for doing so.”  Except that isn‘t freedom of speech and you weren‘t punished.  What the, next. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst person in the world.

The bronze to Harold Jackson, the editorial page editor, and William K. Marrimow (ph), editor and executive vice president of the “Philadelphia Inquirer.”  Turns out they hired a columnist for a once-a-month piece late last year, but nobody knew he was anything more than freelance until the paper revealed it on Sunday.  It‘s John Yoo, one of the architects of the self-fulfilling prophecies that were the Bush administration, torture‘s OK memos. 

In Mr. Jackson‘s defense, in an email to my friend Will Bunch of the “Philadelphia Daily News,” “he‘s a Philadelphian and very knowledgeable about the legal subjects he discusses.” 

Well, he‘s a Philadelphian.  But as the Justice Department‘s investigation into him suggests, he is not at all knowledgeable about legal subjects.  That‘s why they are investigating him.  Instead of Mr. Yoo paying to get his self-serving self-defenses published by some vanity press, the “Philadelphia Inquirer,” as the news paper industry implodes, is paying him. 

Our runner up, Eric Bolling, who was reportedly on the Fox out of Business channel, possibly as part of a witness relocation program.  Weeks after Fox whined about this network, their web story was headlined, cable anchor‘s guests use tea parties as platform for frat house humor.  Mr.  Bowling ran through a list of all the potential guests he was trying to get on his show, as if they were a baseball team, gave them each a baseball position.  He ended with, “and appropriately positioned, Representative Barney Frank, catching, of course.” 

Oddly enough, that catching part, that‘s using your platform for frat house humor, isn‘t it?  Which would make Mr. Bowling and his employers hypocrites? 

And our winner, speaking of hypocrisy, Greta Van Susteren of Fixed News, complaining about what happened at a party before the White House Correspondents Dinner.  Quote, “a ‘Politico‘ reporter came up to our Fox guest Todd Palin with a pad to take notes, and interviewed Todd Palin.  It was an attempt to interview him when he did not agree to it or ask for it.  Print paparazzi at a brunch party. 

“The reporter may have been working, but he was not.  He was at a social event and not looking to be ambushed by a surprise interview.”

Seriously?  Which network is it, Greta, that stalks and ambushes people for interviews when they did not agree to it or ask for it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fox News, how are you? 

Mr. Immelt, Fox News. 

Hey, judge—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not doing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A lot of people think this is really disgusting. 

How do you react to that? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is this some sort of ruse to de-emphasize Christmas. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I beg your pardon. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are just dishonest. 

That‘s truly disgraceful.  You have to back up your accusations, man. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Disgraceful?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you leave me alone for just a second? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Actually, no, we‘d like to talk to you for a second. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And now I‘ll ask you to leave my private property or I will call the police. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You want to comment on that? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Rules?  There are no rules here, Greta.  Your employers saw to that.  Greta Van Susteren, today‘s worst person in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Now, as promised, the premiere of a new regular segment here in our number one story tonight, WTF moment.  It is not that she is wrong on the issue, though she is; one thing all sides can agree on, there are many wrong on the issue of gay marriage.  Also, there is one fact that has completely vanished from the Carrie Prejean experience.  She was asked.  She didn‘t just stand up there at the Miss USA pageant and cut off Perez Hilton in the middle of a question about breast implants or nuclear fission, and start shouting, I only believe in opposite marriage.  She was asked. 

But this is no longer about her opinion.  It‘s about her.  It‘s about the amazing holier than thou, know it all-ism that she has exuded from the moment the question was asked, right through every complaint about how she was being unfairly paraded on the public stage as the evil doers foisted news conference after news conference onto her and the anti-gay marriage group she joined, and as the evil left-wing media forced her to do interview after interview with the likes of Dr. James Dobson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA:  I felt as though Satan was trying to tempt me in asking me this question.  And then God was in my head and in my heart saying, Carrie, do not compromise this.  You know, I—you need to stand up for me.  You need to share with all these people—if there were 95 percent of the people in the audience that were gay, you need to witness to them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  God and Satan, battling it out for the future of freedom of speech inside the head of St. Carrie of La Jolla.  Where exactly, Carrie, were God and Satan when the Miss California people came to you and offered to pay for you to alter your God-given body with breast implants, so you stood a better chance of getting what amounts a better job inside the Donald Trump miss whatever company. 

Where exactly, St. Carrie, were God and Satan when you posed in only your panties as a teenager, and didn‘t know the photographer with the camera and all the lights might be, I don‘t know, a photographer? 

Where exactly, St. Carrie, were God and Satan when, incredibly enough, the same exact thing happened again, and another evil photographer took hidden surveillance photos of you without your consent and without the express written consent of the commissioner of baseball? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREJEAN:  While I don‘t know who released the photos from this morning, I do know who released the photos that were actually just released as of a few hours ago.  And I find it appalling that a professional photographer would violate my trust by releasing an unauthorized and inappropriate image taken in between posed shots on a windy day, which I was unaware of. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Which were you unaware of, the windy day or the photographs or the photographer?  Imagine this, somebody in the modeling business violating somebody else‘s trust.  And St. Carrie in the unauthorized an inappropriate image taken in between posed shots, you‘re looking right at the camera, twice. 

And exactly what was up with that wind?  Windy enough to get a reaction from part of your body, but not windy enough to move your hair significantly?  That‘s some kind of wind.  Satan‘s winds. 

Your grandfather fought against that wind at the Battle of the Bulge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREJEAN:  My grandfather served under General Patton during World War II.  He never spoke about the Battle of the Bulge that he participated in as a rifleman.  On April 19th, on that stage, I exercised my freedom of speech.  And I was punished for doing so. 

This should not happen in America.  It undermines the Constitutional rights for which my grandfather fought for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Ahh, thank you for bringing us back to the two cruxes here.  Firstly, you were not exercising your freedom of speech during the Miss USA Pageant.  Your freedom of speech, my freedom of speech has nothing to do with something as crassly commercial as a beauty pageants, nor as crassly commercial as Donald Trump.  On April 19th, you were an employee of USA Inc., or Donald Trump Inc.  Unless you have a written contract guaranteeing you carte blanche, and nobody does, the pageant people also have the right to take that right away from you at any moment, just as MSNBC, NBC, or GE could take away this industrial version of free speech I‘m utilizing right now. 

Uh, by the way, about that, don‘t. 

This, St. Carrie of La Jolla, is exactly what your freedom of speech, what my freedom of speech consists of in its entirety: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

No more, no less.  I‘m sorry, but your grandfather did not fight to protect your right to answer a question during a network television soft porn special without consequences or fallout.  And he did not fight to protect my right to criticize you on TV, either. 

He fought to protect you from having the government stop us from speaking our minds.  If you want to extend that to protecting you from having your employer stop you from speaking your mind, I advise you to join an entirely different political action committee, because if your National Organization for Marriage suddenly decides that people with breast implants also shouldn‘t be allowed to get married, and for some reason you disagree with them, they won‘t have to honor your freedom of speech, either. 

Now, the other part.  Let‘s listen to the second half of that last answer again. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PREJEAN:  On April 19th, on that stage, I exercised my freedom of speech and I was punished for doing so. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  First of all, crying in a beauty pageant, there‘s no crying in beauty pageants.  How exactly were you punished?  The Miss California people say were you entered under—into that contest under false pretenses.  They claim you are in breach of contract, that you posed semi-nude and more semi-nude, while claiming you hadn‘t.  They say you violated the rules by joining a political organization.  And they say you have not been showing up for your contractually obligated appearances as Miss California. 

So, naturally, you got fired.  Wait, she—she didn‘t get fired? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, “THE APPRENTICE”:  Carrie will remain miss California, very importantly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  After all this, Donald Trump, who never compromised a dollar for the sake of a principle, did not suddenly kick this publicity Generating machine to the curb.  Still she thinks she got punished. 

Oh, she assumed she didn‘t win the pageants because of her answer.  So?  That wasn‘t an election.  It was a business decision made by a bunch of employees about another bunch of employees.  They weren‘t electing a new Pope over there.  They were just expressing their corporate freedom of speech, Carrie. 

What the—

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,203rd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

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