updated 7/9/2009 10:16:08 AM ET 2009-07-09T14:16:08

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, Jack Rice, Christopher Hayes, Christian Finnegan

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Breaking news at this hour in the twin battles between Congress and the CIA, and the CIA and the truth.

MSNBC has learned tonight: Six Democratic members of Congress claimed that CIA Director Panetta testified to them last month that top agency officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress and misled Congress dating back to 2001.  Thus, have they asked him, by letter, to correct his past claim made in the wake of Speaker Pelosi‘s charges that the agency never briefed her about tortures of detainees, that it is not CIA, quote, “policy or practice to misled Congress.”

And just breaking in the last few minutes: the CIA‘s dramatic insistence that Panetta said no such thing last month and will make no such correction.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

She quits on Alaska—and now, the polls quit on her.  Three in 10 Americans saw their opinions of Sarah Palin change after her resignation.  Democrats are now viewing her less favorably by a margin of four to one.  More tellingly, independents now viewing her less favorably by a margin of two to one.

Still confused about the “why”?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN ®, ALASKA:  You know why they‘re confused?  I guess they cannot take something nowadays at face value.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But as her speeches back-checked, should anybody take her at face value?  She claims she was vindicated in all the ethics investigations—she was not.  And if she thought she was done as late-night comedy fodder—she was not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST:  The category tonight: top 10 messages on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  I asked George W. Bush, why didn‘t anyone tell me resigning was an option?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  King Karl is disposed—well, as in he gives a deposition, not they took his throne away.  Eight hours of grilling by congressional investigators about the political purge that claimed nine U.S. attorneys.

Sotomayor again.  How Senator Sessions cares less about a fair hearing and more about using an unfair one to push his agenda.  This as the American Bar Association issues the judge its top rating: “well qualified” as opposed to, say, Clarence Thomas, who was just “qualified.”       

And Worsts.  Another local hero, an Arizona state senator and an airfield rationale for uranium mining of biblical proportions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STATE SEN. SYLVIA ALLEN ®, ARIZONA:  This Earth‘s been here 6,000 years—and I know I‘m going on and on and I‘ll shut up—it‘s been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws and somehow it hasn‘t been done away with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This shut up of which you speak, when does that go into effect?

All of that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(INAUDIBLE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Breaking news tonight—our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: That CIA Director Leon Panetta has told lawmakers that agency officials did indeed mislead Congress and did so since 2001 -- what would be the start, roughly, of the Bush administration.

The CIA is confirming to MSNBC and NBC News that Director Panetta told lawmakers that Congress was not adequately informed about unspecified post-9/11 activity, classified activity.  The CIA will not say what the briefing was about.  Other officials say it was not about waterboarding, nor about interrogation practices.

Two days after Panetta‘s testimony, several Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee having then sent the director in the wake of his own testimony, reading in part, quote, “You recall no doubt that on May 15th, 2009, you stated the following in a letter to CIA employees: ‘Let me be clear, it is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.  That is against our laws and values.‘  In light of your testimony—the letter continues—we ask that you publicly correct your statement of May 15th, 2009.”

In another statement tonight, Director Panetta is refusing to amend what he said in May, nor even confirm what the congressmen and women said he said in June.  Again, reading in part, “Director Panetta stands by his May 15th statement.  It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress.  This agency and this director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed.  Director Panetta‘s actions back that up.”

Earlier this year, House Speaker Pelosi, of course, having accused the CIA of misleading her in briefings about the agency‘s use of waterboarding, something she said she never heard about in any kind of briefing—secret or otherwise—an allegation for which she has been roundly attacked by Republicans.

Time now to turn to our chief foreign affairs correspondent: Andrea Mitchell, who has been working this story for MSNBC and NBC News.

Thanks for your time tonight, Andrea.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:   Do we know .

MITCHELL:  There‘s a lot—you know, Keith, there‘s a lot of disagreement over what happened and who said what to whom.  What we do know is that the CIA and Leon Panetta are not acknowledging in any fashion that he testified that there was any misleading of Congress.  They say that is not true.

U.S. officials say that Panetta is—believes strongly that Congress should be informed, that there were some matters that were not adequately briefed, that were inappropriately not briefed to Congress.  And that he changed that when he took over.

But he is not attributing to any motivation to what was done in the past.  He‘s not saying that it was an attempt to mislead or conceal, simply that they were not informed and that he has made sure that in the future, they will be informed.

OLBERMANN:  So, is there a .

MITCHELL:  And you can see the distinction.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Is there a disconnect here between—you‘ve got representatives Eshoo and Schakowsky and Holt and Hastings and Tierney and Thompson.  Is it a—is it a disconnect, or did they hear something that they wanted to put on the record?  Why would there be such divergence of what exactly he said to them?

MITCHELL:  Ah, you get to the bottom of it.  The fact is that these six members are very close allies of Speaker Pelosi, and you know the background, that there has been this running feud between the speaker and the head of CIA, not a terribly healthy situation, we might add.

The House is about to debate and vote tomorrow, barring any unforeseen circumstances on an intelligence bill.  That intelligence bill has—a Democratic version of that intelligence bill has amendments which would require better briefings, more extensive briefings, and would give the members of Congress—the speaker and the other leaders—the ability to say who should be briefed on these secrets, not just the top four or the top eight members of the committees.  It would take away from the administration and the president the power to determine who gets briefed.

Today, the White House issued a veto threat, saying if they vote on that version of the House intelligence bill, the president will not sign it.

So, you can see a growing feud between House Democrats loyal to Pelosi, and this is not a document of the intelligence committee of its leadership or of all of its members.  It is simply six Democrats very closely aligned with the speaker against Leon Panetta.

Panetta is not acknowledging that there was any lying that went on in the past.  He‘s just saying that nothing like that will happen in the future.

OLBERMANN:  Andrea, the speaker stated she had been misled by the CIA and Republicans said that that was disparaging our country‘s agents and that this was never done.  Panetta‘s comments seem to back up that end of the political maelstrom here.

What we‘re dealing with in between the characterizations by these six representatives in that letter and what the CIA have said on Mr. Panetta‘s behalf in response, is it nuance and shading, or is this yes or no?  In other words, do either versions of this confirm what Panetta said or is it dependent on whether the representatives are right or the CIA statement is right?

MITCHELL:  I think they‘re in direct conflict.  Although Panetta says or indicates through people that he has no way of knowing what happened, he just knows that it‘s true.  They were not informed of certain things.

The big distinction here though is that it‘s—officials say it‘s not over waterboarding.  They are backing the fact that Pelosi and others were extensively briefed on waterboarding and that there is, in fact, there are records to that effect.  They‘re saying that this issue is separate from waterboarding and separate from interrogations.

I can‘t tell you tonight what it is.  It‘s covert.  I haven‘t yet uncovered that.

OLBERMANN:  Last question then.  What happens next pertaining to this?  Is this solely about that vote and the threat of the veto, or is there potentially more here?  Are there hearings?  Is this more open testimony?  Is this going to carry on its own accord, or does this go away relative to just this political posturing in front of a vote?

MITCHELL:  Well, it‘s a lot of posturing, but it does determine—it will eventually determine, I think, an influence, whether or not more people will be briefed.  Will Congress get what the House leadership is demanding right now?  Which is more briefings, not just four or eight for top leaders.

And we should point out that even though only certain members were briefed, there were other documents such as the document before the Iraq war, which was put up there, any member—any number of the Senate, any member of the Senate could have read it, for instance, and only a very few, only six members of the Senate read that Iraq intelligence briefing.

So, Congress has—according to many critics—fallen down on its side of the bargain, but it‘s very clear that in the past, the CIA was not very forthcoming when clearly it should have been more forthcoming.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  The difference is here is: did they lie, did they mislead?  The CIA, Panetta are not acknowledging that—in fact, saying it did not happen.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell in our Washington bureau, who has added so much to this story in the last half hour—great work, great thanks.

MITCHELL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the implications of this, let‘s turn to former CIA officer and former prosecutor, Jack Rice, giving some of us—giving us some of his time once again tonight.

And thank you for doing so, Jack.  Could this be a missing link or maybe better, is it a linchpin turning point—whichever cliche is most appropriate—towards some sort of manner of actual substantive investigation into Bush administration policy here and what the Congress was and was not told by the CIA post-9/11 -- whether it‘s about torture, whether it‘s about warrantless wiretapping or anything else relating to the agency?

JACK RICE, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Potentially, what it‘s really about now is about credibility, because there‘s really two parts to this, as we listen to Andrea‘s report here.  The first part is: not providing all of the information that the CIA had.  That‘s one part.

But if they actually purposefully lied here, the next piece of this investigation—I‘m thinking about this as a former prosecutor now—I want to know, was it one briefer or who just screwed up?  Was it the CIA who drove them to screw or was it the White House who told the CIA to tell the briefer to screw up?

So, either way, that‘s the real question now.  And so, if we think about Congress is looking for, they have an obligation to hear all of this intelligence.  If they‘re not getting it, they should be upset.

OLBERMANN:  The striking difference between characterization of this -

of what Leon Panetta said he said, and what six people listening to him said he said, it certainly fits into the history of the CIA very nicely.  But does it—does it at all help us—does that history at all help us understand or at least figure out where we should place our bets on who‘s telling the truth, the CIA or these six congressman who are—as Andrea mentioned—allied with Speaker Pelosi, who kind of went off the end of a pier there without the support from Leon Panetta in May?

RICE:  If we look at what‘s happened since 2001, it appears that politics have driven the CIA to do a lot of things.  They have said a lot of things.  Their conclusions have been questioned in 15 or 20 different directions.  And what they have said over and over has driven members of Congress and even the current White House to question those very same things.

So, if we think of it from that perspective, and the fact that they‘re not actually providing all of the information that that‘s their disposal, that they‘re capable of providing, I think it really does drive even more questions into the ring.  And now, what is it that they know—I hate to come back with the old cliche—and when did they know it?  I mean, those are issues that we‘re going to have to figure out and we‘re going to have to figure out very, very soon.

OLBERMANN:  It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress.  Panetta said that on May 15th.  His statement now on July 8th says the same thing, exact same wording.  They‘re not changing the wording at all.

Obviously, words and direction that those words send people in are vital in something like this, the nuances, everything.  Is there anything in there that says, if it‘s not the policy and it‘s not—it‘s not the—it is neither the policy, nor the practice, does that mean it didn‘t happen?

RICE:  No, it doesn‘t, does it?  I mean, that‘s the obvious link.  So we can say, so, normally, don‘t lie to you, but we lied to you this time.  Is that our conclusion?  Is that what we stand by?  Wow, that makes me feel so much better if I‘m a member of Congress, or frankly, just an average American citizen.

OLBERMANN:  And, Jack, if it‘s—if it is true and Andrea just said that this is what appears to be the case, that these instances of misleading Congress and/or not fully briefing them—depending on whether you believe Panetta‘s versions and terminology or believe Congress‘ versions—this was not waterboarding, this was not interrogation, what are the possibilities—what more is there out there that we don‘t know about?

RICE:  Well, see, that again is the biggest question, Keith.  Again, even if this isn‘t about terrorism or waterboarding, it‘s the credibility factor now.  It‘s about what it is that the intelligence community, what the CIA was doing on behalf of the American people.

And if they‘re not willing to provide accurate intelligence, then what is going on?  This is really the broader question.  If we can‘t believe what was going on outside of the terrorism realm or at least outside of the torture realm, then how can we possibly believe what was going on inside the torture realm?  That‘s the question we need to find out—now.

OLBERMANN:  And right now, it stands as, “We didn‘t lie to you, but we didn‘t tell you the truth either.”

Jack Rice, formerly of the CIA, who‘s—as he said there—former prosecution role coming into play here, too.  Great thanks.  Great thanks for your time, Jack.

RICE:  Always a pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  And then there is Governor Sarah Palin and the fact that her resignation has inspired more than just reaction in the media and by the comedians.  She has now sunk like a stone in the polls.  Of course, the comedy is not going away as nearly as fast as her popularity is, evidently.  For David letterman, this will be night three of his telethon.  One of tonight‘s targets—we understand—the wading boots the governor wore during her glut of interviews yesterday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Governor Palin sliding down polls—oh, opinion polls.  The pun almost sufficient for the latest David Letterman monologue joke sequence about her tonight will reportedly be pre-apologized for.

Put your hand on the Bible and repeat the oath.  I, Turd Blossom, do solemnly—finally, on the record testimony about attorneys-gate from Karl Rove.

And another star is born in Worst Persons.  The state legislature who announces the Earth has survived its whole history without environmental protection laws, so why does it need them now.  Its whole history—all 6,000 years.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator John McCain having selected Governor Palin as his running mate in what we then suspected and have since learned was a desperate last-ditch effort to appeal to independent voters and centrist Democrats last year.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: What did not work for the Republican nominee then does not appear to be working for the soon-to-be former governor of Alaska now.

Whenever people thought of Sarah Palin before she announced she would be leaving office a little more than halfway through her term as governor of Alaska, it seems that they feel exactly the same way now, only more so.  Seven in 10 of those voters surveyed by Gallup for “USA Today” saying their opinion of the governor has not changed.  Independent voters not only saying though that they would be less likely to vote for her -- 51 percent to 44 percent—but now, 55 percent of them hoping that Governor Palin leaves the national stage altogether.  Seventy percent of Democrats—not surprisingly—are saying that they are not at all likely to vote for Governor Palin in 2012, almost matching the number of Republicans saying that they would be likely to vote her for president.

GOP candidates not exactly clamoring to have the soon-to-be former governor join them on the campaign trail.  A spokesperson for Chris Christie, the Republican running to try to unseat Governor Corzine of New Jersey, is saying that the Christie campaign has no plans to bring Palin in.

What appears to be Governor Palin‘s main activity this Wednesday, even with two full weeks left in office: posting to her Twitter page.  Twitter rhymes with critter.

Some highlights, quote, “Today, try this: ‘Act in accordance to your conscious - risk - by pursuing larger vision in opposition to popular, powerful pressure‘ - unknown.”

Why attribute to “unknown” when you can cite from someone who appears to be either the former Republican senator from Virginia, George Allen—otherwise known as Mr. Macaca—or his father, the Washington Redskins football coach of great fame?  Quote, “Couple of thoughts for the day on beautiful, bright, AK morn, ‘You have to sacrifice to win.  That‘s my philosophy in six words‘ - George Allen.”  Ampersand.

From an inexplicable ampersand, let‘s turn to the always illuminating Howard Fineman, MSNBC political analyst and senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Don‘t forget the ampersand.

OLBERMANN:  Well, it is—I guess it‘s the Twitter equivalent of “also,” as a complete sentence.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  The governor‘s quitting, did this just solidify whatever it was individual voters of any of the political stripes were already thinking and feeling about her?

FINEMAN:  Well, Keith, I studied that Gallup poll very carefully.  I don‘t think it‘s so much the fact that she quit as the fact that she was so much in the news.  I mean, only Sarah Palin could break through the Michael Jackson story, and I think when people got another chance to look at her, it was like quick-drying cement.

The Democrats solidified four to one against her.  And they view her as the un-person—you know, an unqualified, unintelligent, unintelligible, unthinkable.  Independents kind of view her as squarely at best.  And for a lot of Republican conservatives, she is “St. Sarah of Wasilla.”  You know, she is the person being burn at the stake by the evil national media.  That gets her a long way with the base of the Republican Party.

OLBERMANN:  You can never—you know, you can never put the last nail in—as the old sick joke goes—and you can never light the fire yourself if you‘re standing in the middle of the pyre.

FINEMAN:  That‘s true.

OLBERMANN:  But, was this—is this not kind of a distillation right now of the same problem that she bought—she brought with her to that ticket last year?  That which—as much as she may have excited the people who were probably already going to vote for her side of it, the result in the other direction was just as—just as intense and thus, you lose independents and centrists .

FINEMAN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN: and people who do just naturally shy away from polarization?

FINEMAN:  Well, what with really happened there is that John McCain undercut his own argument.  I mean, it was about Sarah Palin, but in that - when talking about the campaign, Keith, it was really more about John McCain.  John McCain‘s calling card to independents and centrists was, “I‘m the guy with more experience and better judgment.”  And of course, after the sort of lost weekend in St. Paul with Sarah Palin, the next two months were the long hangover, the long political hangover.

And John McCain‘s judgment was undermined by Sarah Palin‘s demonstrable lack of qualifications and preparedness to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.  And so, in that sense, she destroyed the ticket she was picked to save.

OLBERMANN:  With the number that was in that poll about GOP support for her, for the presidency in 2012 -- are we seeing, you know, in swimming and diving, scores are based on degree of difficulty.  This particular dive gets you a factor of six.

FINEMAN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And this dive gets you a factor of 12 or whatever the numbers are.  Is somebody—did somebody tell the Republicans that each vote gets counted on a degree of difficulty basis, that if you really, really, really like your candidate, it counts twice?

FINEMAN:  Well, the thing is, in talking to Republicans here in Washington and around the country, Keith, political consultants—people like Craig Shirley and Diana Banister, who I have known for a long time, very experienced people here—they say, look, Sarah Palin just can‘t win the presidency.  I mean, yes, she is popular within a certain group.  And to pursue your analogy about diving difficulty, I mean, she took—is taking a nice swan dive, an easy swan dive into the pool of Republican conservatives.  But she just can‘t make the sale beyond it.

Now, she‘s going to try—apparently, she‘s going to go around the country, she‘s going to write her books, she‘s going to give speeches, she‘s going to see what she‘s got to give out there, but, geez, the numbers that you see in the Gallup poll and everything that Republicans I talk to say, nobody thinks she can—even on this wild stretch of the imagination she can win the nomination, that she could win the presidency.  That‘s what they think.  That‘s not what I think. 

OLBERMANN:  So, her higher calling was tweeting?  Is that the final conclusion here?  Is that a full-time job?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know.  Well, it‘s difficult to do in hip waders, evidently.

OLBERMANN:  If you use your hips, it is.  If you use your fingers, they‘re still free, aren‘t they?

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—I‘ll spare you the no comment.  Howard says no comment on that.

FINEMAN:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK.  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll take obvious, almost unbelievable international political analogies for a thousand, Alex.  That‘s right.  Ahmadinejad attacked by some small flying insect

And tonight, this woman leaves from the obscurity of a hearing on uranium mining by the Arizona State Senate Retirement and Rural Development Community into the national fame for something that is the Worst Persons in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Best in a moment.  And congratulations on breaking into the cell phone story.  You did notice all those cell phones were hollow, didn‘t you?

First, time for our annual birthday salute to the impeccable actor, vital mover behind the rest of development movie and COUNTDOWN viewer, Jeffrey Tambor.  Plus, I missed one on Monday, the birthday of another great actor, Ned Beatty, who began in barbershop quartets and wound up giving the second greatest soliloquy in the movie “Network,” portraying the corporate evil who admonishes Peter Finch‘s character “that you have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won‘t have it.”

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin outdoors in Tehran where yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave his first address since that country‘s allegedly rigged election last month.  The president told Iranians that the vote was, quote, “clean and free” and then a winged visitor flew clean and free into his shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(PRESIDENT MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD OF IRAN SPEAKING FARSI)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Swing and a miss.  Ahmadinejad kept reading.  The large insect or small bat kept buzzing him, perhaps attracted by those flowers on his pants.

Of course, in contrast, our president was a little more successful enforcing the no-fly zone, you‘ll remember the outtake from the recent John Harwood CNBC interview with the president when he killed a fly dead in the Oval Office.

We‘ll see how this latest embarrassment plays out on the streets of Tehran.  But again, there‘s always the chance that Ahmadinejad will simply claim it never happened.

To the Oddball police blotter, and a word of warning to the Sweathogs from “Welcome Back, Kotter,” the cast of “Taxi” or really, any TV sitcom star from the ‘70s, use a designated driver.

Monday, we learned that Joyce DeWitt, best known as Janet from “Three‘s a Company,” picked up in California on suspension of DIU.  Come and knock on her car door, she‘ll be waiting for you, officer.

Then yesterday, we found out that this man, Eddie Mekka, aka Carmine “The Big Ragoo” Ragusa of “Laverne and Shirley” fame was charged with DUI in Vegas.  Ms. DeWitt was released on bail.  “The Big Ragoo”‘s status is unclear.

Either way, stars of the ‘70s, unless your arresting offer happens to be John Fonzarelli, you do the crime, you will do the time.  Hey.

Finally, to Fenway Park, where, before Sunday‘s Red Sox game, ceremonial first pitch thrown out by actor and Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg.  And say high to your pitching coach for me, all right?

Mark Wahlberg, holding a water bottle, yanked one all the way to the backstop.  He then got a ceremonial second pitch and did slightly better. 

Listen, I will tell you what I told Baba Booey.  Pick at the stitches on the ball with your finger for as long as you can, aim at the catcher‘s head, and say hi to your pitching coach for me, all right?

A day that many thought would never happen.  Say hi to the prosecutor

Karl Rove submitting to eight hours of questioning from congressional investigators about the U.S. attorneys scandal.  And there are even more questions to come. 

An extreme satire, a third consecutive night ahead of the revenge of David Letterman—the focus, what she‘s wearing in the interviews.

These stories ahead, but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons” in the world, all dumb criminals tonight.

Dateline: Destin, Florida, best alias, John Quincy Adams.  That‘s who a man arrested for obstructing traffic there identified himself as.  And our best wishes to the sixth president, who has a birthday coming up this Saturday, when he will be 242 years old. 

Dateline: Morelia, Mexico, number-two, best-surprised thieves.  At least two men broke into the Telefonica Movistar cell phone store there, cleaned off several shelves of the merchandise, never once noticing that, even for cell phones, those were particularly lightweight. 

They were the hollow replicas used for the displays.  The actual cell phones are over there near the cash. 

And Dateline: Cecil County, Maryland, number one, best bad driver, Jonathan Schultz of Delaware, pulled over for drunk driving without pants, told the officer he had lost them, though none were found in the car.  And, yes, they pulled him over near Rising Sun, Maryland, in a 50-mile-an-hour zone while driving 69. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The former Democratic Governor of Alabama Don Siegelman may have summed it up. 

“Karl Rove,” he said, “is one of those who can lie under oath and take a lie-detector and pass it.”

With that as a backdrop, our third story on the COUNTDOWN: Rove testified under oath about the 2006 Bush administration political purge of nine U.S. attorneys.

Warning:  Your truth mileage may varied.  Grilled for no less than eight hours Yesterday by House Judiciary Committee lawyers about his role in those firings, after the deposition, Rove‘s attorney, Robert Luskin, issued this statement to NBC News and MSNBC.

“The agreement setting up the interviews contemplated that they would remain entirely confidential until all the interviews were complete.  Out of respect for that term of the agreement, Mr. Rove is not commenting.”

Respectful.  It took them nearly two years just to get him to comment to the investigators.  Rove was first subpoenaed by the committee in 2007.  But the Bush White House—the Bush White House, rather—asserted executive privilege for Rove and then White House counsel Harriet Miers.

Only after a bargain among the Obama White House, the Bush White House, and the Judiciary Committee did Rove even talk on the record.

The firings began to take shape in 2005, with then White House counsel Miers, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Justice Department official Kyle Sampson talking about replacing all 93 U.S. attorneys.  When they figured out that that might have been too obvious, the trio allegedly settled on firing eight of the prosecutors in all and seven on December 7, 2006. 

But, according to from Bush administration officials, it was Rove who actually came up with the idea.  First Miers, then Sampson, finally Gonzales resigned.  Rove has not been touched, possibly, that is, until now.  He‘s expected to appear before the committee for a second time at the end of the month. 

Let‘s turn now to the Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine, Chris Hayes. 

Chris, good evening.

CHRISTOPHER HAYES, WASHINGTON EDITOR, “THE NATION”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, which is this?  Is this the start of something big, or is this kind of a—an anachronistic postscript? 

HAYES:  Well, I—I hope it‘s the former, but I fear it‘s the latter. 

OLBERMANN:  Mm-hmm. 

HAYES:  I mean, committeemen—the chairman, John Conyers, has shown an admirable fidelity to the—to the—to truth and accountability.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  And—and I think he‘s been pursuing this sort of quietly, but zealously, in a way that I hope bears some fruit. 

But the fact of the matter is, if we‘re going to actually open up the books and open up the chapters on the last eight years of what happened in this country, particularly around secrecy, around the sort of malfeasance in the Department of Justice, what happened to the national security state, intelligence, all that needs to be wrenched out in the light, and there has to be a broad political constituency for that. 

And that‘s not what I see right now, particularly not in Washington, and certainly not among Democratic leadership. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, and that goes to the point of what we‘re—what we began this news hour with, with the breaking news about...

HAYES:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  ... the—the CIA report. 

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  And there‘s a back-and-forth here about what...

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  ... Leon Panetta said in a private briefing...

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  ... about which no one will tell us what it‘s about. 

And the six members of this committee say they were told that, yes, why, we at the CIA, we misled you.  And Panetta says, no, I didn‘t—I didn‘t say misled.  I said, we just simply didn‘t brief you sufficiently. 

And exactly that nuance decides which side is to be believed.  And I would presume there are parallels—although we don‘t have any evidence of it yet, I would—I would assume there are parallels to that in the Rove case and what he is going to testify and what people will interpret him doing, whether it is nefarious or potentially innocent. 

HAYES:  Yes, that‘s right. 

I think that‘s—that‘s a really good point.  I mean, there‘s—there‘s a certain amount of sort of political hardening around people‘s opinions of these matters.  And they‘re disposed to feel one way or another. 

But it‘s interesting.  You know, you—you raised Panetta.  And Rove fit into this as well, and him being disposed today.  You know, I have been doing some recent—some reporting recently on the Church Committee back in the 1970s.  And, you know, it really becomes evident that there was—there was a real from—from some different sectors of—of the elites, of the establishment, of—of the beltway, of—politically, there was a push for some real dragging things out into the sunlight, and having an actual process of reckoning with how we‘re going to manage this tension between sort of secrecy and democracy. 

And, as a whole, as a sort of major conceptual enterprise, that‘s not being undertaken.  And, you know, John Conyers deserves all the credit in the world, but he is kind of a lone warrior in this enterprise. 

And, unless there‘s a broader consensus politically, I don‘t think we‘re going to get a whole lot out of this. 

OLBERMANN:  And, if you study the history of the—of the CIA, you can say that at least that Frank Church‘s efforts bought the country 10 years, maybe 15 years worth...

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  ... of relative honesty...

HAYES:  Yes.  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  ... out of an organization that had never been asked to provide any of that. 

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, back to Rove here.  Cast our memories back there.  The real motivation, the down-the-road payoff for the Republicans, if the whole plan would have worked, if Rove‘s plan would have worked, was what? 

HAYES:  Well, the most dystopic vision of it would have been one in which the—the independence of the Department of Justice would be completely compromised, in which the—the—the mechanism of the administration of the prosecutorial function of the American government would be brought wholly with—within the purview of—of the president of the United States and his staff.

And they would decide, at a whim, who—who to prosecute and when.  And that would be utterly, utterly un-American and corrosive to our entire system of justice. 

At a more sort of banal level, what‘s really interesting about these individual cases—and David Iglesias, who is one of the—the men fired, speaks of this—these were, in some ways, kind of payoffs...

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

HAYES:  ... to local Republican cronies.  So, this was part of the economy of influence, part of the kind of paybacks to local bigwigs around the country that Karl Rove was—was managing from the White House. 

OLBERMANN:  And, lastly, and briefly, I have to mention this.

Alberto Gonzales, at the center of all this, has a new job.  He is going to teach at Texas Tech University.  And this, of course, begs the reminder that Texas Tech is the place where Bob Knight went to coach basketball...

HAYES:  Bobby Knight.

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  ... after he shamed himself out of real jobs, too. 

HAYES:  I—it—it‘s really too perfect, isn‘t it? 

OLBERMANN:  Mm-hmm. 

HAYES:  You know, these—Alberto Gonzales deserves to be cast out of polite society.  And—and—and the same is—the same is true of Yoo and—and Bybee and other people that participated in this.  And I hope that happens. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  That‘s John Yoo.

HAYES:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re not referring to me personally. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  I may deserve to be cast out but that‘s...

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES:  There are some who feel that way, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re not going to—you‘re not going to get the choice on doing that, Hayes.

Chris Hayes of “The Nation,” always a pleasure.  Thanks, Chris. 

HAYES:  You, too, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And I said it to John and I said it to Sarah.  Do not cross David Letterman.  The revenge continues—tonight, about the waders. 

And, when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her presidential guest, Frank Rich, on the GOP‘s distractions, the ones that linger and linger, including today‘s latest developments in the Senator Ensign soap opera, plus the latest on that CIA back-and-forth with the House.

And, in “Worsts,” Senator Inhofe calls the newest member of the Senate a—quote—“clown,” then defends its by saying, kind of looked like a clown when I was talking to him. 

Hey, Senator Inhofe, you sure you want us to judge senators on whether or not they look like clowns? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The David Letterman parade of parody will continue tonight for a third straight evening on the CBS‘ “The Late Show”—limited hints as to the focus—those boots—coming up. 

First, the “Worsts.”  If you look like Senator James Inhofe, should you really make a joke about what Senator Al Franken looks like or any other human being?

And another Hall of Fame-caliber on tape submission from a local politician—how old is the Earth, and why that would even matter when you‘re talking about mining uranium from the earth—next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And the number-one message on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine: “Hey, it‘s McCain.  Who would have thought you would retire before I did?”

The revenge of David Letterman continued, and continuing.  That‘s next. 

First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s number-two story, tonight‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

The bronze to blogger Rossputin at the Web site FreedomWorks, which put up a post eviscerating several groups of workers, people who works at AIG, or GM, or Citigroup, or the Department of Education, or—quote—

“If you work at a company which uses lobbyists to steer federal earmarks your way, or if you are that lobbyist, you are the antithesis of this nation‘s founding, the antidote to liberty and free markets, the source of the smiley-faced fascism which creeps further into our lives.”

Wow.  Here‘s the punch line: FreedomWorks.com painting lobbyists and people at AIG and GM as the source as smiley-faced fascism.  The chairman of FreedomWorks.com is Dick Armey, the former House majority leader and now lobbyist.  Lobbyist for?  AIG and GM. 

The runner-up, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma told the newspaper “The Tulsa World”—quote—“I will tell you what a lot of people are thinking, and that is, it looks like things are going to be over, and we‘re going to get the clown from Minnesota.  I don‘t know the guy, but, for a living, he is a clown.”

Inhofe was criticized for calling then senator-elect, now Senator Al Franken a clown.  His latest defense, he said, when he saw Franken, they embraced—and—quote—“Believe me, he knew.  He kind of looked like a clown when I was talking to him.”

OK.  We‘re going to judge it on looks, Senator Inhofe?  Let‘s see it. 

OK.  Well, there goes the joke. 

No.  All right, Mr. Inhofe, you sure you don‘t want to raise that bar a little bit, kind of looking like a clown?  Left?  Yes, left.

But our winner, State Senator Sylvia Allen of Arizona, another local politico up from the ranks to instant national stardom tonight.  We join Senator Allen at the Retirement and Rural Development Committee hearing into possible uranium mining in Arizona. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SYLVIA ALLEN ®, ARIZONA STATE SENATOR:  I can‘t say enough how it‘s time that we get beyond and—and start focusing on the technology we have and move forward into the future, so that our grandchildren and—can have the same lifestyle we have.

And—and this earth‘s been here 6,000 years.  And I know I‘m going on and on.  hand I will shut up.  It‘s been here 6,000 years, long before anybody had environmental laws.  And, somehow, it hasn‘t been done away with. 

And we need to get the uranium here in Arizona, so this state can get the money from it and the—the revenue from it.  And it can be done safely, and you will never even know the mine was there when they‘re done. 

I am for this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I love this woman. 

Even the infamous Bishop Ussher, the 17th century Irish cleric, calculated that, if literally correct, the Bible places the start of the earth on October 23, 4004 B.C., meaning even he would say the planet is at least 6,013 years old.

But this is better than that.  Well, if you want to believe the Earth is 6,000 years old, despite the evidence of civilizations in Mesopotamia 8,000 years ago, go to town.  Have fun.  But don‘t pretend it‘s a fact.

And, essentially, don‘t make yourself look like the stupidest person on the planet by stating it as fact during a hearing about digging up uranium.  The way we know the Earth is actually billions of years old is because of the speed at which we can measure the radioactive decay of uranium, of uranium, carbon dating. 

Don‘t tell Senator Allen about that, though.  You know what you‘re going to get then.  “Carbon dating?  See, I told you what would happen when we let those gays start to get married.  Now people are dating carbon.” 

State Senator Sylvia “The Earth was created 6,000 years ago, I know, I have been there” Allen, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Anyone can harp on one issue or one person day after day. 

Hi. 

But to do so and make it fresh each time and make it sing and bullseye at every single night for days and weeks on end, that is genius, or, as in our number-one story, if you‘re Sarah Palin, that is hell. 

Well, the Don Quixote of the Klondike figures out her higher calling, David Letterman enjoys a victory lap, a lap that might be longer than his beloved Indianapolis 500. 

Tonight, must have been the shoes—a brief preview of this evening‘s joke theme in a moment.  First, with the second of what proves to be at least three consecutive nights, Letterman devoting the bulk of his monologue to Palin, quipping that, after the nonsensical speech about her parent‘s refrigerator magnet, Palin—quote—“went out on her porch and waved goodbye to Russia.”

And before a sly nod to last month‘s manufactured brouhaha over a joke he had told about one of the Palin daughters, Letterman suggesting the almost-ex-governor may want a future as the next octomom, to which Paul Shaffer cracked: “Watch it.  They‘re demonstrating outside.”  Yes, all three-dozen of them.

Then there was the business of the top 10 list managing to mock George W. Bush, John McCain, and himself, and still maintain Palin as punchline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)   

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  The category tonight, top 10 messages on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  I can‘t tell you how we did it, but we got ahold of her answering machine.  And here are the top 10 messages. 

Friday, she announced she would be stepping down as governor of Alaska and would not seek reelection. 

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER:  Yes. 

LETTERMAN:  So, here we have now the—the top 10 messages left on her machine, after that controversial announcement.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number 10: “Hi.  It‘s George W. Bush.  Why didn‘t anybody tell me resigning was an option?”

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number nine...

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number nine: “It‘s John McCain.  Why did I call?”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number eight: “Mark Sanford here.  Ever been to Argentina?”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number seven: “I‘m calling from Geico to see if you want to renew your dogsled insurance.”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number six: “It‘s Letterman.  We still cool?”

SHAFFER:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number five: “McCain again.  Still no idea why I called.”

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number four: “Hi.  It‘s the dry cleaner.  Having trouble getting caribou blood out of your Prada jacket.”

SHAFFER:  Uh-huh.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  Number three: “Hi.  It‘s Sarah.  Whoops.  Dialed my own number.”

SHAFFER:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

LETTERMAN:  Number two: “Schwarzenegger here.  If you want a job, California could use a new governor.”

SHAFFER:  Ah.

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  And the number-one message on Sarah Palin‘s answering machine: “Hey, it‘s McCain.  Who would have thought you would retire before I did?”

Well, there you go. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We are apprised that the barrage does continue tonight, with most of the Palin jokes about what she was wearing during that orgy of interviews yesterday, one about having naughty thoughts about her fishing wading boots.

Cutting out the middleman, David Letterman reportedly immediately apologizes in advance. 

Time now to call now on comedian Christian Finnegan, who joins us whenever things like this happens. 

Christian, good evening.

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Good evening to you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let‘s start with the—with whatever he did at the recording of tonight‘s show late this afternoon about the waders. 

There seems to be an implication to her here.  You give him material, any material, even what you‘re wearing, he will be able to run with this. 

FINNEGAN:  Well, I mean, you have to understand that, after last month‘s kerfuffle, David Letterman basically has an ownership stake in Sarah Palin Comedy LLC. 

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEGAN:  It used to belong to Tina Fey.  Now it‘s David Letterman‘s. 

And that‘s very powerful.  That‘s like somebody handing you Excalibur. 

You know, Johnny Carson had Dan Quayle.  Now Letterman has Palin.  I hear Jimmy Fallon just put dibs on Idaho Representative Walt Minnick, which seems like a bit of a reach. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  It‘s—it‘s creative, at least. 

Letterman, of course, pounded John McCain for week upon week upon week, after the senator blew him off in October of last year.  And, each night, it was new, and it was fresh.  It was not outlandish.  He didn‘t stray far from the original baseline of the first joke about suspending the campaign and not showing up. 

How—do we have any estimate how long this could go on, because there‘s no finish line to this, the way there was with the election last year?

FINNEGAN:  No.  I mean, I think we can all put on some sweatpants and get comfortable, because, you know, what‘s great about Sarah Palin is that she‘s already done half the work for him. 

I mean, she‘s conditioned us to laugh at her.  I mean, saying the word “Sarah Palin” to a late-night talk show audience is like me saying the word cheese in front of my wife‘s Chihuahua.  I mean, there‘s just—the ears pick up, and, all of a sudden, it‘s like, what?  What?  Sarah Palin?  Oh, this is going to be good. 

Is it remarkable to you, as—as it—as it feels to me, that she has remained silent about this?  I mean, no Facebook missives, no tweets?  Is that going to last, or is she going to have to come back at him now again? 

FINNEGAN:  Well, in her defense, I mean, she spent a few days trying to pick out the perfect fishing waders that would look good on “NBC Nightly News.”

But now that that completely organic and not-at-all-staged set of interviews is over with, she can take her critics head on.  In fact, she just installed a large cross that she‘s going to jump on any—at the slightest provocation.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEGAN:  And they have a stack—a stack of indignant press releases that are essentially just Mad Libs. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

FINNEGAN:  She has to fill in , like, OK, David Letterman, offended, poltroonery, Eskimo. 

OLBERMANN:  Waders. 

And I don‘t mean to correct you, but that—by the way, that—that cross went up—that was built by the same people who built the Wasilla sports complex. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s been up for a while.  Now, the tweet—I have got to get to the tweeting thing. 

FINNEGAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  She tweeted philosophical musings: “Act in accordance to your conscience.  Risk by pursuing larger vision, in opposition to popular powerful pressure,” and then an ampersand.  That was one of them from today. 

Is this it?  Is this—is this the higher calling?  Is this why she -

has she just gone full-time into tweeting?  Has—is she the one who figured out how to make a profit off of this stuff? 

FINNEGAN:  I actually was going to ask if she stole that off a Snapple cap.

(LAUGHTER)

FINNEGAN:  But then I realized that even Snapple employs copywriters.

But what does that even mean?  I mean, you can‘t blame that on the Twitter format, because I counted.  And she had a solid 25 characters left to play with, unless she was doing us all a favor.  Maybe she was leaving room for when I add a hashtag that says, “Things stupid people say when they‘re trying to sound deep.”

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it may have come off the—the series of the Starbucks cups, and that was what was left off...

(CROSSTALK)

FINNEGAN:  That‘s possible, yes.

OLBERMANN:  You know, Starbucks—read it on a Starbucks cup down there in liberal New York. 

Comedian Christian Finnegan, thanks for helping us analyze both the comedy and contributing to it.

FINNEGAN:  I do what I can.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,260th day since the previous president declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. 

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

And now the special guest is Frank Rich on the enduring slimy scandals of the GOP. 

But the lead story is now all Democratic—the news breaking tonight that what six congressional representatives think the CIA director told them about the CIA misleading them is not what the CIA director thinks he told them. 

With that, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. 

Good evening, Rachel. 

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

END   

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