updated 7/16/2009 11:01:03 AM ET 2009-07-16T15:01:03

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Jack Rice, Melissa Harris-Lacewell

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

The confirmation hearings: Yesterday, they confirmed Senator Sessions‘ racism and unpreparedness.  Today, they confirmed Senator Cornyn‘s hypocrisy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  So, I want to just start with the comments that you made about the “wise Latina” speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But Cornyn at the confirmation hearing for Chief Justice Roberts four years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORNYN:  If we keep asking the same question over and over and over again, are you going to give us a different answer?  Or are you going to give us the same answer?

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT:  I hope my answer would be the same, Senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the Republicans launch an ad claiming Sotomayor, quote, “led a group supporting violent Puerto Rican terrorists” and tries to tie her to “Obama‘s buddy Bill Ayers,” presumably because those lies worked so well for McCain and Palin last November.

The president gets the message on healthcare.  Screw the Republicans.  The insurance and pharma lobbyists who own them will not let them vote for this anyway.  Even with the 160 Republican amendments the majority accepted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  A hopeful sign of bipartisan support for the final product, if people are serious about bipartisanship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The CIA secret Dick Cheney plan—more details.  Not the assassination of al Qaeda leaders but the assassination of al Qaeda supporters—you know, the equivalents in other countries of the people who would say things like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL:  The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Can‘t keep it zippered-gate.  Senator Ensign may run for

re-election anyway.  Governor Sanford is taking time off from taking time

off.  He‘s on vacation hoping to reconcile with the missus.  So, dear, you ever been to Argentina?

And “Worsts”: The surprise for the birth certificate denier who sued, claiming Obama wasn‘t really president and thus couldn‘t legally send him to Afghanistan.  He had volunteered to go to Afghanistan so the military simply said, “OK.  You don‘t have to go.  End of story.”

Except in civilian life, Major Cook is reportedly an employee of a Pentagon contractor, and reportedly the Pentagon told the contractor, “Sorry.  He just sued the army.  He‘s not allowed on army properties.”  So, Major Cook is reportedly out of work—hoist on his own petard.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

It is the first test they give for insanity.  Does the patient do the same thing over and over and over again while still expecting a different result?

Our fifth story on THE COUNTDOWN: The Republicans leading off today at the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings with more questions about Judge Sotomayor‘s “wise Latina” speech.

Meanwhile, in a new ad, the right-wing attempting to label the Supreme Court nominee a terrorist sympathizer and a pal once removed of Bill Ayers.  Do you know what else?  She didn‘t earn those medals in Vietnam, neither.

Day three of the confirmation hearings: the Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee confirming only a clear double-standard when it comes to their treatment of Judge Sotomayor as well as the severe case of amnesia.

The nominee at least searching for new ways to explain the historical context of her “wise Latina” remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE:  As I pointed out in the speech that eight, nine white men had decided Brown versus Board of Education.

CORNYN:  Do you stand by your words of yesterday and when you said it was a failed rhetorical flourish that fell flat?  That they are words that don‘t make sense and that they‘re a bad idea?

SOTOMAYOR:  I stand by the words.  It fell flat.  And I understand that some people have understood them in a way that I never intended.  I would hope that, in the context of the speech, that they would be understood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Hoping against hope as it turns out.

Yet in 2005, during the John Roberts confirmation hearings, Senator Cornyn having possessed an entirely different view on how those proceedings were playing out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CORNYN:  If we keep asking the same question over and over and over again, but try to approach it from a slightly different way, are you going to give us a different answer?  Or are you going to give us the same answer?

ROBERTS:  I hope my answer would be the same, Senator.

CORNYN:  Well, I‘m sure that‘s the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, back from his latest run as a FedEx escort, credited with a topic change to abortion.  Since Coburn is also an obstetrician, one would think or at least hope that Dr. Coburn already knew the answer to this completely hypothetical question—unless he just happens to have a uterus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Let‘s say I‘m 38 weeks pregnant and we discover a small spina bifida sac on the lower sacrum, the lower part of the back on my baby, and I feel like I just can‘t handle a child with that.  Would it be legal in this country to terminate that child‘s life?

SOTOMAYOR:  I can‘t answer that question in the abstract because I would have to look at what the state of the state‘s law was on that question.  And even if I knew that, I probably couldn‘t opine because I‘m sure that situation might well arise before the court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  By the time Senator Coburn had Judge Sotomayor trying to explain whether the Second amendment confers a right to personal self-defense, things seem to have entered into would any jury really blame her territory.  Senator Coburn somehow morphing into Ricky Ricardo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOTOMAYOR:  If I go home, get a gun, come back and shoot you, that may not be legal under New York law because you would have alternative ways to defend.

COBURN:  You‘ll have lots of ‘splainin‘ to do.

(LAUGHTER)

SOTOMAYOR:  I‘d be in a lot of trouble then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A subtle ethnic drop there, Senator.

The most junior member of the judiciary committee, Senator Franken of Minnesota, revealing that he liked the old “Perry Mason” TV show nearly as much as Judge Sotomayor did.  She said she was inspired by it.

In his questions, Senator Franken touching on a topic he raised in his opening statement on Monday: the concept of judicial activism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA:  Judge, what is your definition of judicial activism?

SOTOMAYOR:  I don‘t use that word because that‘s something different than what I consider to be the process of judging, which is each judge coming to each situation trying to figure out what the law means and applying it to the particular facts before that judge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No reports of Boss Limbaugh‘s head actually exploding at the sight of Senator Franken in action, the Sotomayor hearings apparently taking enough of a toll on his sanity as it was, with his accusing the Democrats of having given their questions to Judge Sotomayor in advance because she‘s so smooth when answering their questions but she stumbles when answering those of the Republicans.  Maybe that might have something to do with the relative absurdity of the Republicans‘ questions.

Boss Limbaugh also having decried the minority mindset of the nominee, declaring that he had to turn the hearings off because Judge Sotomayor, quote, “was scary.”  For three entire days, Judge Sotomayor appearing calm and composed, which certainly would scare any racist or misogynist or certainly somebody who‘s both.

Speaking of “scary,” in a new ad, a group that has been defended by the ranking Republican of the judiciary committee, Senator Sessions, that group accusing Judge Sotomayor of supporting terrorists if not of actually being a terrorist herself solely because she belongs to a mainstream civil rights organization that protects Latinos from discrimination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  Remember Barack Obama‘s buddy Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist who bombed American buildings in the ‘70s?  It turns out President Obama has done it again, picked someone for the Supreme Court, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who led a group supporting violence, Puerto Rican terrorists.

Is this radical judge the type of person America needs sitting on our highest court?  What is he thinking?  Or what was she thinking?

Call your senators.  Tell them to stop Sonia Sotomayor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll bring in our MSNBC political analyst and author of “Renegade: The Making of a President,” Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘ll try not to be scary, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you very much.  You pal of somebody you.

Even assuming the ad has no direct connection to any Republican senators in the hearing room, particularly in the light of the fact of recent actual domestic terrorism—George Tiller, other cases—don‘t those senators bear some responsibility for something that coarse when they fail to denounce it?

WOLFFE:  Well, let‘s put this so-called “ad in context.”  For starters, as far as we know, there was no ad buy, so this is a blatant attempt to jump up and down and get some attention.  Secondly, yes we don‘t know that Republican senators are involved.  No one senior in the party is involved.  Thirdly, it‘s pretty dumb and outdated politics.  It didn‘t work in 2006.  It certainly didn‘t work in 2008.

Having said all of that, they are following the script that Senator Sessions laid out right at the top of these confirmation hearings.  Sotomayor hangs out with terrorists.  Well, he said that she ruled in favor of terrorists.  She ruled in favor of foreign law and the U.N.; and she basically was barely American and just would look after ethnic interests.

These were all proxy attacks on the man at the top of that ad, President Obama.  It‘s not really about her.  None of this has been.  This is the campaign—a strong, vocal wing of the party using pretty slick professional operatives they want to run between now and the midterms.  So, it‘s ugly.

OLBERMANN:  And the point of it as you suggest, besides—is there one besides going after the president on this?  Because the transparency is the thing at least outside the confines of the hearing—in the Limbaugh remarks here.  Is it—is it fun for these people or cathartic to call Sotomayor words like “scary” when, you know, really, it might be more accurate to describe her as thorough and methodical in her answers as opposed to scary?

WOLFFE:  Well, I speak to you as someone who just called by none other than Rush Limbaugh a “dunce” recently.  So, you know, he also said that my book “Renegade” was an abysmal failure after six weeks on the best seller list.  But that‘s nothing compared to what he‘s doing on this and so many other things.

You know, what scary is this sort of semi-detached relationship with reality that they have.  And look, I‘m sure he‘s feeding his own neurosis and, obviously, satisfying a big audience there.  But it‘s building on paranoia or this idea that I think Glenn Beck has taken to a different level—which is that they are some sort of isolated cult and only they know the truth and everybody else out there is crazy.

There‘s this—it reminds me of “The Far Side” cartoon about the mad cow thing.  Maybe it‘s the rest of the herd that‘s mad.

OLBERMANN:  Not to digress here, but in the book, are there enough pictures of naked women or lunch meat?  Is that perhaps the issue?

WOLFFE:  I.

OLBERMANN:  All right.

WOLFFE:  My eyes are burning.

OLBERMANN:  As for this nominee‘s presentation and her demeanor, we would expect her to be cautious.  But is there something here that seems sort of eerily reminiscent of the president who did nominate her that when she approaches her views, when she articulates her approach, she sounds, in fact, anything but radical?  Was that perhaps the reason he went in this direction for the first nominee?

WOLFFE:  Yes, I think that he had slotted her into place in his mind in a very short list in the late stages of the campaign because of temperament, because of character, because of intellect and—and look, whatever her sympathy, whatever people on the Republicans side think her empathies are, 17 years of rulings and opinions from the bench show her to be incredibly well reasoned and considered and respectful of the law.  You may disagree with where she came out on some of her opinions, but she has been a measured judge by any sense of the word.

So, I think there is something that appeals to a politician like Obama, someone who obviously is a Democrat, but has taken centrist positions and centrist statements.  It‘s about character.  But it‘s also about positioning with regards to the law, and he did used to teach the law.

OLBERMANN:  I noted yesterday that the Republicans might be witnessing a different kind of confirmation than the one that was on the schedule here—that Senator Sessions was confirming how ill-prepared he was and basically how stupid he was when he talked about Hispanic judges as if they all dished out one kind of law.

Today, what was this with Senator Cornyn going back to “wise Latina”?  Did he forget his own withering remarks to Roberts about others repeating the same question four years ago?  Was he not there yesterday?  Did he not get a transcript sent to his office?  What the heck?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think they exhausted the line of questioning after about the first hour or two.  But, look—this is pretty crude ethnic politics.  And, yes, they‘re trying to play the victim card.  Although, again, none of them can point—none of her critics can point to any area of the law where she has abused white folks in any way.

The limited amount of rulings there are about affirmative action was done in a panel.  It was done according to the test.

I think they‘re on very thin ice and they expended all their ammunition in the first day.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and author of the best seller “Renegade”—many thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Light bulb, president‘s head, click—illumination.  The efforts of Mr. Obama to sustain bipartisanship on healthcare reform—well-intentioned, admirable and today, finally, mercifully; and when the other party is owned by lobbyists, inevitably, apparently, at an end.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Republicans get 160 of their amendments to the healthcare reform bill approved and still none of them may vote for the bill—like they own their own vote, I know, instead of merely borrowing it from the lobbyists.  Has Obama finally bailed out on bipartisanship on this?

Later, the Dick Cheney assassination SWAT teams not meant for al Qaeda but for al Qaeda supporters.

And in “Worsts”: Now, it proves there was a network news correspondent implying he would be softer on the runaway governor than a rival had been if only he could get an exclusive with the runaway governor.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With the Sotomayor confirmation, all but certain, healthcare reform taking center stage at the White House today—on our fourth story of THE COUNTDOWN: The Obama administration is finally pushing bipartisanship aside, challenging Republicans to get onboard or get out of the way.

With the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee today passing a healthcare reform package to join one the House passed yesterday, the president, in the afternoon news conference, chiding those who said reform would not happen and adding that work has just begun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The naysayers and the cynics still doubt that we can do this.  But it wasn‘t too long ago that those same naysayers doubted we‘d be able to make real progress on healthcare reform.

This progress should make us hopeful but it can‘t make us complacent.  It should instead provide the urgency for both the House and Senate to finish their critical work on health reform before the August recess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then, President Obama citing overwhelming public support for reform, telling Congress, “Now, it‘s up to you, dudes.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It‘s now up to us.  We can do what we‘ve done for so long and defer tough decisions for another day—or we can step up and meet our responsibilities.  In other words, we can lead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  With the Senate legislation coming out of committee on a strict party line vote, no Republicans voting for it, even though the GOP added 160 amendments to it.

Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel carving out a narrow definition of bipartisanship now: “At the end of the day, the test isn‘t whether they voted for it.  The test is whether the final product represented some of their ideas.  I think it will.”

But the president‘s top political strategist, David Axelrod, is warning Republicans the search for bipartisanship support is ending.  “We‘d like to do it with the votes of members of both parties but the worst result would be not to get healthcare reform done.”

Meanwhile, the Republicans warning of the dangers of a purely partisan bill: Mitch McConnell saying from the Senate, “Americans want us to work together on proposals that are likely to garner strong bipartisan support.”  And from Republican Minority Leader John Boehner in the House—predictable scare tactics—“What this is going to do is ration care, limit the choices that patients and doctors have, and really decrease the quality of our healthcare system.”

Let‘s turn now to Lawrence O‘Donnell, MSNBC political analyst, “Huffington Post” contributor, former chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What is the plus for Republicans if they continue to

stay on the sidelines and reform gets passed—and I mean in asking that -

·         besides the fact that they will continue to be afforded sustenance by their insurance and pharma overlords?

      

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they get to disown unpopular parts of these bills.  And these bills have extremely unpopular pieces in them.  For example, a very big Medicare cuts are being used or being contemplated to be used in order to pay for the rest of these reforms.  Also, three new top tax brackets just invented by the House of Representatives—I can‘t think of a Republican who‘s going to want to vote for that.  And, as well as an 8 percent—basically a double of the payroll tax on businesses.

So, that‘s what you‘re going to hear from Republicans, “We don‘t want any part of that and we‘re going to stay away from that.”  And they will be harping on that nonstop.  So, they‘ve got an agenda here that will make sense to Republican voters when they‘re standing in opposition to this.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Emanuel has now suggested Democrats might use the reconciliation process to push this through, simple majority votes.  Is that a message to Republicans or is it a message to the blue dog Democrats?  Whose that intended for?

O‘DONNELL:  It is a message to both and it is a message to liberal Democrats who desperately want to do it this way.  They‘re tired of any maneuvers toward Republicans.

What‘s happened at this point, Keith, is they can see the shape of the bill from the White House.  The Senate can see the shape of the bill.  It‘s going to be just about impossible to get Republican votes on these bills—and what‘s likely to come out of the Senate will also probably be impossible for Republicans.

And so, they‘re really just facing the reality of what the policies in the bill are likely to get in terms of support.

OLBERMANN:  Did the president finally say “no mas” here or did a preset time limit run out on the holding the door open for the Republicans -- or what happened?

O‘DONNELL:  No, I thought—I think the timing is about right.  The president—they knew what the White House schedule was.  They knew what the foreign trip schedule was.  They knew what the markup schedule was in the House and in the Senate.

And so, they‘ve timed the president‘s strong entry into this subject at exactly when you need it.  He needs to push votes, Democratic votes, in the House Ways and Means Committee, as these bills are getting marked up, Energy and Commerce Committee, also in the Senate Finance Committee—which has yet to take action.

And the Senate Finance Committee is always the place where the real shape of the bill begins because that‘s where the reality is.  For example, in the Senate committee that passed one today, they have no jurisdiction over taxation or Medicaid.  They have Medicaid pieces in that bill that came out of that committee totally irrelevant because they have no jurisdiction.

So, we have to see what the Senate Finance Committee does.  They‘re struggling to find a way to pay for this that will appeal not just to Republicans but will appeal to all of the members, the Democratic members of that committee.  That is a very tough thing to do right now.  That‘s where the problem is.

OLBERMANN:  And, are there problems—also, we mentioned reconciliation as the process by which this would get passed, perhaps.  Are there political ramifications for that?  Are there dangers, land mines in this, too?

O‘DONNELL:  There are no longer political dangers in it because it‘s pretty clear you‘re not going to be able to get Republicans on this bill, but there are procedural dangers.  There are pieces of this bill that could be ruled irrelevant and therefore struck out of the bill if it goes through the reconciliation process.  Now, the way you can overrule that is with the magical 60 votes of the Senate in which you can do anything you want.

So, the Democrats may be able to get this through reconciliation and may be able to keep it intact because of the Al Franken 60th vote.

OLBERMANN:  Irony abounds.  Lawrence O‘Donnell of “Huffington Post” and MSNBC—as always, great thanks.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Somewhere, the late actor Gordon Jump is smiling.  As God is my witness I thought feminine hygiene products could fly.  We‘ll explain.

And should you really be making fun of somebody else‘s first name if your own first name is a synonym for a drug high?

“Worst Persons” is ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  “Bests” in a moment, and the Hamas claim that the Israelis are now attacking them with chewing gum.

First, able was I ere I saw Elba.  On this date in 1815, Emperor Napoleon, not five months after escaping from his banishment to Elba, surrendered to the British and was sent to another island, Saint Helena.  And the palindrome about that would be much clumsier—and I (INAUDIBLE) was I ere I saw Saint Helena.

Let‘s play—“Oddball.”

I can‘t even say Oddball.

We begin at a different shore in The Netherlands where it was sunny with a chance of showers of feminine hygiene products.  This was the scene at six Dutch beaches.  Thousands of you Libresse brand, you know, parachuting from an airplane to a stunned citizenry.  Some of them landed in the water becoming tampon pontoons.

It‘s a publicity stunt reminiscing of the WKRP in Cincinnati turkey drop.  The company hopes it will help move product even if Dutch environmentalists were not sold on the whole idea.  As to the men on the beach, they actually were a little bit more aggressive about grabbing the freebies overjoyed that that meant that they wouldn‘t have to face the clerk in the checkout line.

To a zoo near Tel Aviv, where Denisa the giraffe has given birth to her 11th baby today.  Well, not all today.  Denisa is 20 years old.  She‘s been producing calves since she was five.  And her 11 kiddies means she now holds the unofficial world record for giving birth to baby giraffes.  Just call her the hendeca-mom.  The zoo says her prolific parenting is thanks to the fact that she is the only adult female in her herd.  It‘s nice to have an exclusivity deal.

As for her children, eight of them still live at home.  The other three have moved out to get jobs at Toys “R” Us.

An update from Pittsburgh on that building that has allegedly been flashing the word “Pittsburgh” in Morse code every night for 80 years—we told you Monday the building was misspelling the name of the city P-I-T-E-S-B-K-R-R-H, Pitesbkrrh.

Here‘s the visual proof—the red bulb to the right of your screen shot by Pittsburgher Tom Stapleton.  We also told you the building said—the owners there anyway, said they would change the signal and they have.

As of yesterday, the spelling has gotten worse.  Also from Tom Stapleton—this is the Grant Building now spelling Pittsburgh T-P-E-B-T-S-A-U-R-G-H, Tpebtsaurgh.  Either they do not know what they‘re doing or they are warning airplanes about flying dinosaurs.

Speaking of which, Dick Cheney was not trying to assassinate al Qaeda.  He was trying to assassinate al Qaeda supporters.  And he got into trouble by going on vacation so the governor has gone on vacation?  And Senator Casanova is seeking re-election?  These stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Top Three Best Persons in the World.”

Dateline; St. Louis—number three: Best unintentional presidential second.  At the baseball all-star game, President Obama asked pitcher Tim Wakefield of the American League and Boston Red Sox how he threw his famous knuckleball pitch.  Turns out this is not the first time a president has quizzed a knuckleballer, not even the first time a president has quizzed a Red Sox knuckleballer.

Peter Morris, who might be baseball‘s foremost historian, reports that on April 29th, 1910, the Red Sox visited the White House.  The 27th president and also noted baseball fanatic, William Howard Taft, was told that Boston‘s Eddie Cicotte threw a knuckleball.  “What is this knuckleball,” Taft asked, examining Cicotte‘s hands according to a report in “The Boston Globe.”  “Oh, nothing very much,” Cicotte answered, nine years before he was banished from baseball. 

Dateline Bar Harbor, Maine, number two, best non-violent response to a criminal.  The homeowner there accosted by a man named Scott Cotay (ph), who had broken into his house.  The homeowner offered Mr. Cotay a beer as an inducement to get him to leave.  He left.  Little did Mr. Cotay know that that was a non-alcoholic beer. 

And dateline Gaza City, number one, best war crime allegation.  Spokesman Islam Shahwan of Hamas, who has told the “Agence France Press” that he has definitive evidence that the Israeli Intelligence Services are distributing aphrodisiacs to young Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in order to, quote, corrupt the young. 

Some in drops.  Some in chewing gum.  Wait, I think we have video of the distribution, don‘t we?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With the top Democrat and the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee now supporting an investigation into the CIA hit squads, and whether Vice President Cheney concealed their existence from Congress, it‘s time to look at what we know about the Bush-Cheney assassination teams. 

Our third story tonight, how Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld gave themselves the luxury of total secrecy, free from Congressional oversight, still failed to get Osama bin Laden or roll up al Qaeda, and instead screwed up not one but two assassination attempts, that we know of. 

Here then, in our third story, what we do know.  On September 11th, 2001, the CIA already had a list of high value al Qaeda targets.  The “Washington Post” reporting that the agency‘s counter-terrorism center chief of operations suggested creating hit teams to take out those targets in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. 

On September 17th, 2001, President Bush signed a presidential finding allowing the CIA to kill or capture al Qaeda members anywhere in the world.  James Risen‘s 2006 book “State of War” reported that the CIA created a paramilitary unit code name Box Top to go around the world and target terrorists.  Box Top began training, but was disbanded.  Quote, “the agency‘s top management got cold feet over the prospect of turning the paramilitary unit loose.” 

A former senior U.S. intelligence official telling NBC News tonight the CIA Director Tenet killed the program in 2004 in part because of a lack of targets.  From the “Washington Post,” quote, “some officers worried that the CIA would not be very adept at assassination.  We would probably shoot ourselves, another former senior CIA official said.” 

Not so at the Pentagon.  The British newspaper “The Guardian” reporting the military picked up the assassination ball, and sent killing teams into the field, where they actually killed people.  The “Guardian” reports several assassinations.  Al Qaeda?  Presumably, but not exclusively, possibly. 

“American Conservative Magazine” reporting, quote, “the secret CIA program involving a Dick Cheney cover up consisted of dispatching assassination teams to various countries to kill individuals who were known to be”—Al Qaeda?  No, al Qaeda supporters.  “The first hit attempt was in Kenya, was botched, and the Delta Forces had to be bailed out by the ambassador, who had not been briefed on what was going on under his nose.” 

James Risen, 2006, quote, “members of an operational support element team, Rumsfeld‘s euphemism for hit squads, working in Latin America, killed a man outside a bar.  The American personnel then failed to report the incident to the U.S. embassy for several days.  The incident has never been made public.” 

Time to bring in Jack Rice, former CIA officer himself, who has since become both journalist and documentarian.  Welcome back, sir. 

JACK RICE, FMR. CIA OFFICER:  Always a pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  We find ourselves with a lot of questions about why this moved from CIA to Pentagon.  We know the White House had turned to former military when CIA interrogators refused to use their methods.  Is it possible the same transference thing happened here, or just that Cheney and Rumsfeld wanted the secrecy that they would gain from the laws giving them greater leeway for the military covert ops, as opposed to the CIA ops? 

RICE:  Well, I think Rumsfeld was a bit of a control freak anyway.  And I think if he had his choice, he would have found a way to absorb both the CIA and maybe State Department inside the Pentagon anyway.  So the fact that he decided he wanted this done in house isn‘t exactly shocking.  Is it? 

OLBERMANN:  No.  James Risen reporting here that Rumsfeld chafed at CIA ops, special ops taking the lead in Afghanistan, wanted his own hit squads all over the globe, lines up with what you said.  Apparently, he got them, but he and Cheney and Bush still failed to get bin Laden, still failed to knock out al Qaeda, and killed two people in these murky and questionable circumstances.  Yet, this was the administration of military competence? 

RICE:  Yes, this really says something, doesn‘t it?  It has to make you feel good when you realize all the things we missed doing, all the failures that took place.  The biggest part of this we have to realize for the American people is that this was all done in our names.  And so every failure that was created caused an entire blood feud for every family that was ultimately murdered here, who‘s now stepping up and trying to find ways to go after Americans who are in the field.  Great.  We‘re feeling pretty good about that, aren‘t we? 

OLBERMANN:  In addition to reporting that targets included al Qaeda supporters, this “American Conservative Magazine” also says the CIA plan was to use fake passports, smuggle weapons even into friendly countries, using diplomatic pouches.  Is it possible that even this, you know, amount of cloak and dagger was too much for the CIA? 

RICE:  We‘re starting to wonder.  Isn‘t it?  When you look at the number of failures here—then, of course, what you‘re doing is you‘re sort of comparing the competency of what happens at the Pentagon versus what happens at Langley.  Right now, they‘re sort of fighting for the bottom slot. 

I don‘t think anybody necessarily wants to be there.  But when you‘re actually debating on which one is doing a worse job, that‘s a pretty scary place to be, for us I mean. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  The person who first killed this program was George Tenet in 2004.  That‘s pretty much established.  But Senator Kit Bond I guess reverting a little bit to James Bond here—he is the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee.  He asked the “Washington Post” yesterday about Panetta killing it, quote, “why would you cancel it.  If the CIA weren‘t trying to do something like this, we‘d be asking why not?” 

Do we have to, in turn, wonder whether if Bond had been briefed on something like this, he might have kept this alive and somehow made it successful? 

RICE:  You would really wonder, don‘t you?  In the end, what‘s really sad is this has become political.  Everybody is trying to find some angle to say it was the other party‘s fault.  That‘s really the problem here.  This goes back to George Tenet for sure, certainly.  And it goes through every other CIA director since. 

So the failures continue.  If this had been briefed in the first place, could this have been a better operation?  Could this have been a more successful operation?  Could this have been a more effective operation? 

How about this, hypothetically, we could actually not kill the wrong people.  Maybe if we killed the right people, that wouldn‘t be such a bad idea.  And actually, if we did it by the law, maybe that‘s the best idea of all. 

OLBERMANN:  The last point that keeps striking me on this—I keep bringing it up; people go, oh, that‘s not important.  The Seymour Hersh hint at a story that he was hoping to develop about—that he mentioned earlier in the year at the University of Minnesota, I guess it was, that there was a secret Cheney assassination team that operated through the Pentagon, through special operations inside the military, and that it involved sending in assassins around the world, and not letting station chiefs know, not letting the CIA in on it. 

Is it possible that he was running two at once, or are we talking about the same thing, snapshots of which have been taken at different times in history? 

RICE:  It‘s a really good question.  I‘m a big fan of Cy Hersh.  I‘ve interviewed him a couple times on this myself.  The thing is because these are all quarantined in special little spots, you never really know. 

But this really highlights a broader point.  If one side doesn‘t know what the other side is doing, if the diplomats don‘t know, if the ambassador doesn‘t know, if the station chiefs don‘t know, and you send in a special operation from the Pentagon, these guys could actually kill one another, and not even realize which is the bad guy.  That in itself is a disaster waiting to happen. 

OLBERMANN:  To say nothing of it being a plot of several Peter Sellers films.  Jack Rice, the former CIA officer, former prosecutor, now media type like myself.  Great thanks, Jack. 

RICE:  You bet. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it self-delusion?  A disgraced governor now joined by a disgraced senator trying to hang onto office?  Is it the old joke, no brain, no pain? 

And more e-mails to the governor.  New ones showing a network news correspondent throwing other networks under the bus for doing real reporting. 

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the Family, the quasi-cult that forced Senator Ensign to send the breakup Fed-Ex letter to his mistress.  An author of the book on the Family with even more of the secrets of this bizarre DC outfit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Democrat Spitzer resigned.  Democrat McGreevey resigns.  Democrat Hart drops out.  Republican Senator Ensign, taking a break from obeying cult-like religious groups, telling him to stop an affair and then resuming the affair the next day anyway.  Senator Ensign is now talking about running for re-election. 

That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Jake Tapper of ABC News.  Following up on yesterday‘s revelation of suck-up e-mails to Governor Mark Sanford‘s office in hopes of getting an interviews with him; Tapper on June 23rd, subject, “NBC slot was slimy.  For the record, I think “The Today Show” spot was pretty insulting.” 

Find cheek, plant kiss.  Now it‘s gotten worse.  First, an ABC News vice president said Tapper was, quote, carrying some water for producers who know he had a relationship with the governor‘s office.  Then Tapper got mighty defensive.  On Twitter, “there was no story at the time, just mystery as to where he was.  Only ones who knew about the affair: him, wife, mistress, and the State.”  The South Carolina newspaper, not the actual state. 

Then also on Twitter, “the e-mail reflects a clumsy attempt to harm a competitor‘s chances of getting an interview, nothing else.” 

Then finally the sun broke through.  An e-mail to “Politico.” 

“Busted; in retrospect, the story I was referring to wasn‘t slimy enough.  At that moment, the only ones who knew of the governor‘s affair were Sanford, his wife, his mistress and the State newspaper.  But I shouldn‘t have said that.  And I‘ll try to leave the media criticism to others from now on.” 

Good thinking, because what‘s slimy is for a new organizations to offer to not cover some of the news as part of an agreement with a news maker or an agreement with another news organization or anybody for that matter. 

The runner-up, Boss Limbaugh.  Just another half step away taken from reality, and the old living in glass houses things.  “There‘s a show on MSNBC named after a horse, “THE ED SHOW,” a talking horse.  I think they brought the horse out of retirement to host the show.  And the horse, Mr.  Ed, is talking to a former CIA officer.” 

So because Ed Schultz‘ first name is Ed, his show is named after a horse?  Meaning that since Rush Limbaugh‘s first name is Rush, his show is named after a rush, like a drug rush? 

But our winner, Obama birther and general nut bag Orley Tates (ph), who has now gotten another Obama birther person fired.  We told you yesterday that Stefan Frederick Cook (ph), major, US Army Reserves, had his attorney, Tates, sue to get him out of assignment to Afghanistan.  The claim was Obama‘s not really the president, so he couldn‘t really order anybody to serve anywhere. 

One thing Ms. Tates never mentioned in publicizing the suit, Cook had volunteered for service in Afghanistan, and then sued to stop it.  But as a volunteer, he could simply change his mind and the Army could not send him there.  Meaning, the suit was a transparent political stunt. 

The Army has already vacated Cook‘s orders.  He‘s not going to Afghanistan.  But what this dim bulb Tates, and what increasingly looks like her sap of a victim Cook did not consider was in civilian life, Cook is a systems engineer for a Pentagon contractor.  Naturally enough, the Army, sued by a guy, has the right to say he is not welcome at Department of Defense facilities, which is exactly where Cook was working.  Not anymore. 

Major Cook, by now you must have gotten the hint that this obsession with a birth certificate already endorsed by one of your own whack job sites, World Net Daily, is clouding your judgment.  It has become increasingly poor cover for your real issue with the Obama presidency.  Steer out of the skid.  See if you can give that advice to, if after costing you your job she hasn‘t gone into hiding, Orley Tates, tonight‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So, the governor who got in trouble by leaving the state to spend time with a woman has chosen as his solution and his penance leaving the state to spend time with a woman.  And the senator whose dalliance with a staffer mistress left him looking alternatively like the before picture in a sexual harassment guide and the victim of a political religious quasi-cult, thinks the best thing for everybody is if he gets re-elected. 

Our number one story, two political careers in the hands of the women wronged by the participants.  First, the luckiest governor in America is taking the rest of the week off.  Only this time we know it.  Mark Sanford of South Carolina hoping to patch things up with the Mrs.  Quote, out of state. 

It‘s probably a safe bet that Argentina will not be on the itinerary.  Sanford‘s spokesman issuing this statement: “the governor remains committed to repairing the damage he has done to his marriage, and so it shouldn‘t be any surprise that spending personal time with his wife is part of that process.” 

Well, it might come as a surprise to the governor‘s top economic adviser, who had a meeting scheduled with Sanford regarding the state‘s faltering economy. 

Meanwhile, west of the old Appalachian Trail, the Republican two termer caught two timing announcing he‘ll seek re-election in 2012.  John Ensign supporting support from his constituents as reason to continue on as Nevada‘s junior senator. 

But it may not be up to Senator Ensign.  A wait-and-see game on whether or not the hypotenuse of the Ensign love triangle, Cindy Hampton, will come forward with a sexual harassment suit or charges of wrongful termination.  Both Cindy and husband Doug Hampton were let go from their jobs with Ensign after word of the senators affair with Cindy got out.

This as Ensign says he is getting support from both sides of Senate leadership, male and female. 

As for the state of Nevada, “I‘m going to work to earn their respect back.” 

Let‘s now call in Melissa Harris Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.  Good evening, professor. 

MELISSA HARRIS-LACEWELL, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Hi.  How are you tonight? 

OLBERMANN:  Senate Republicans have been kind of measured I think in their support of Ensign.  Why is it those who want to legislate morality continue to stand by those who commit the very acts that they rail against? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, I think for me the thing I find sort of most disgusting about this whole moment is the idea that somehow this is a private matter.  Right?  We should deal with our elected officials only on public matters, but not on private matters. 

Marriage is most decidedly not a private matter.  If it were just a private matter, then gay men and lesbians would be free to marry in this country.  Marriage is clearly a public matter, and particularly for politicos who, you know, use their wives and children and church memberships as a kind of credential card for their good citizenship. 

You know, if you‘re going to make your marriage a public definition of why we ought to vote for you, then you similarly have to stand for judgment when the choices that you make clearly demonstrate a kind of narcissism, a willingness to be dishonest with those who are most intimate with you in your life. 

So I really despise the notion that marriage itself is some kind of private matter that we don‘t have any business talking about. 

OLBERMANN:  Plus, if you disappear while trying to break up your marriage, as governor, that‘s a public matter.  I don‘t care if you‘re disappearing to go bowling for nine nights in a row.  But back to the western edition of this, as we‘re talking about it.  If this Ms. Hampton talks, any idea what kind of impact that would have?  And do you think that the fact that Ensign plans on continuing his career will, in turn, encourage her to speak out?  Because this—I mean, that is a textbook sexual harassment case.  Not only is there some sexual element to it, but at the end there is a firing. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Right.  So this country is of course built on some textbook sexual harassment.  Whether we go all the way back to the case of Thomas Jefferson, who has an on-going sexual relationship with a woman who he enslaves and produces children with her, all of the way up to Clarence Thomas being confirmed to the Supreme Court, when there was clear evidence there of his sexual harassment of Anita Hill. 

So there is a sort of old boys club mentality that, you know, the behavior of men relative to women, sexually in their lives, is not really a matter that should impact their political lives.  And I think that‘s a mistake, not so much for the kind of titillation factor; don‘t we all want to watch what happens?  But it matters because there‘s a way that it creates a second class citizenship for the women in these stories, who are, in fact, wronged. 

So I certainly do hope that the young woman who was exploited will, in fact, come forward and speak openly about it. 

OLBERMANN:  In the other case, Governor Sanford first abandons the state, humiliates Mrs. Sanford.  Now he abandons the state while trying to patch things up with Mrs. Sanford.  Clearly, South Carolina is number one on the list of the abused people in this equation.  But again, is it the woman victim here, Jenny Sanford, the glue that is keeping her husband together with that job? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  You know, it‘s too bad.  I have to say, I loved Jenny Sanford early on, because her responses were, you know, I‘m worried about my children.  Whatever happens in his political career is his business.  And then, of course, there was a kind of humiliation factor when, you know, Senator motor mouth just started talking about his soul mate and just, you know, sort of really exploded this. 

What I can say is this; you know, clearly, I hope that the choices Jenny Sanford is making about her family, which, you know, any of us can understand—a woman who‘s married and raising children wanting to put her marriage back together.  People make all kinds of choices in marriage. 

But that said, I am dating a man who is running for mayor of New Orleans.  And part of the reason that I feel comfortable endorsing him politically is because I have such a clear sense of his private morality and his private ethics.  I‘ll just say if you know that the private ethics are messed up, it ought to call into question the public ethics as well. 

OLBERMANN:  Melissa Harris Lacewell of Princeton University, great thanks.  Take care. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 2,264th 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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