updated 7/21/2009 10:06:54 AM ET 2009-07-21T14:06:54

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Scott Horton, Derrick Pitts

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Scare tactics, stall tactics: RNC Chair Michael Steele‘s strategy for attack on the president‘s health care reform effort.

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MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  He‘s conducting a dangerous experiment with our health care and the quality of our lives.  All of us should be scared to death.  So, slow down, Mr. President.

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SHUSTER:  The president‘s reply: Seek immediate professional help.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We can‘t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care.  Not this time.  Not now.  There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  “Explain yourself,” asked Senator Russ Feingold of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair who, last week, stated the CIA did not break the law during the national security briefings with members of Congress.  And now—new charges of wrongdoings hit the CIA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PFC. BOWE R. BERGDAHL, CAPTURED U.S. SOLDIER:  I‘m scared—scared I won‘t be able to go home.

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SHUSTER:  Chilling video released of Taliban hostage Army Private Bowe Bergdahl—the latest reminder of why how we treat detainees matters when the other side captures our guys.

Will Paula Abdul be eliminated?

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PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  I didn‘t say that.  No, I didn‘t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Rumors abound that the “American Idol” judge will not return for the show‘s ninth season.

And, 40 years ago today—images and words that piqued the wonder of millions.

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NEIL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT:  It‘s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

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SHUSTER:  Is a similar scene broadcast from the surface Mars in our future?

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ARMSTRONG:  The Eagle has landed.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Good evening from New York, everybody.  I‘m David Shuster. 

Keith Olbermann has the night off.

Six months to the day after he was sworn into office, President Barack Obama was back on the campaign trail this afternoon.  In our fifth story on THE COUNTDOWN: President Obama is now fighting back against the Republicans and centrist Democrats in Congress who are now trying to block the first real attempt at health care reform in this country in nearly two decades.

The president today visited a children‘s hospital and spoke with doctors and nurses about the shortcomings of the health care system.  He said that it‘s time to take action on health care because, quote, “We‘ve talked this problem to death.”

The president‘s approval numbers on health care have softened if only slightly, dipping below 50 percent in “The Washington Post” poll for the first time to 49 percent.  His overall approval rating remains high at 59 percent.

Mr. Obama also has this going for him: Americans still trust him far more than they do anyone in Congress.  The job performance rating for the Democrats is split: 47 percent approve, 48 percent disapprove.  Republicans fare even worse: Approve 36 percent, disapprove 58 percent.

On the specific question of who they trust to handle the issue of health care: 56 percent picked President Obama, only 33 percent chose the Republicans in Congress.

Conservative columnist Bill Kristol has cited this week as the week to go after health care.  In his latest column, he advises fellow Republicans, quote, “Go for the kill.  Throw the kitchen sink at the legislation now on the table, drive a stake through its heart—I apologize for the mixed metaphors—and kill it.”

That‘s an odd choice of metaphors when the choice is literally people‘s lives.

Other Republicans are of the opinion that they are already beating President Obama on the topic of health care, and if efforts at reform should fail on Capitol Hill, Senator DeMint of South Carolina believes it would be the president‘s downfall.

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SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  If we‘re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his waterloo.  It will break him.

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SHUSTER:  President Obama today responded to Senator DeMint, if not by name.    

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Just the other day, one Republican senator said, and I‘m quoting him now, “If we‘re able to stop Obama on this, it will be his waterloo.  It will break him.”

Think about that.  This isn‘t about me.  This isn‘t about politics.  This is about a health care system that is breaking America‘s families—breaking America‘s businesses and breaking America‘s economy.

And we can‘t afford the politics of delay and defeat when it comes to health care.  Not this time.  Not now.  There are too many lives and livelihoods at stake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele gave a speech in which he said he agreed with Senator DeMint‘s waterloo remark.  He also accused the president of conducting a dangerous experiment with national health care.  Yet, when he was asked about the specifics of the president‘s plan, Chairman Steele could not answer the question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MODERATOR:  Do Republicans support an individual requirement to get coverage?

STEELE:  An individual requirement—what do you mean by an individual requirement?

MODERATOR:  To require people to, you know, get health coverage.

STEELE:  Do we support requiring individuals to get health coverage?  Again, that is one of those areas where there are—there are different opinions by some in the House and the Senate on this.  And, look, I don‘t do policy.  I‘m not a legislator.  My point in coming here today was to begin to sit a tone and a theme, if you will, and approach to addressing this issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Lots to talk about with our own political analyst Richard Wolffe.  He‘s also the author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”

And, Richard, President Obama is on the campaign trail, on the attack, on the offensive.  Does it feel like we haven‘t seen this Obama in quite a while and why don‘t we see him more often?

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, the short answer is: because he does policy, unlike Michael Steele.

But—look, he does—he does all sorts of events.  He gets out there on the campaign trail but we don‘t care as much and I don‘t think he cares as much, because the stakes are so much higher now.  Because—as I explained in “Renegade”—he sees himself and his friends see him as a fourth quarter player.  And here, it‘s not just health care that‘s on the table, it‘s his authority, it‘s the conventional wisdom in the beltway saying, somehow, things are slipping away from him.

You know, this is the time for him to step up the game and, of course, now, he has opponents.  He has people that he can beat up.  And this oppositional conflict, this dynamic, is much more to his liking than him just being out there on his own.

SHUSTER:  And as far as being a fourth quarter player, here‘s the president—here‘s the fourth quarter player‘s job approval number.  It remains at 59 percent.  The numbers of the opposition party on every issue even health care—far, far worse.    

Might there be a lot less to those poll numbers than how they were being framed and portrayed all day today?

WOLFFE:  Well, they‘re sliding.  It‘s true.

And my White House sources say, listen, you‘ve got to expect that.  A number of the independent voters who are out there are really Republicans who are going home and they‘re getting most of their news from FOX News, by the way.  So, this is to be expected.

On the other hand, it is relative.  His numbers are way higher than anybody else‘s.  He‘s still the only game in town, and the erosion still leaves him at a very high level.  I mean, one of the worst numbers he has is on his handling of health care.  Well which piece of health care?  It‘s so vague and nebulous.  I think, at this point—at this moment, it‘s really processy (ph) to focus on approval ratings for issues people don‘t fully understand.

SHUSTER:  The president indicated both in a speech today and in an interview with Jim Lehrer that health care reform might not happen before the August recess.  Republicans are saying that if it doesn‘t pass before August, they‘ve won.  Does it matter when it gets passed?

WOLFFE:  Well, it matters if it gets dragged out over a long period of time because that‘s traditionally how health care has been killed, and it allows the opposition to build and gain also sorts of momentum.  But August is interesting.  They‘re sort of backing away from it because it is very ambitious.  If they count—if Republicans are counting out this president because he doesn‘t make a two-week deadline, then they are seriously underestimating him.

SHUSTER:  Richard, there‘s a prime-time news conference on Wednesday night, as you know.  Should we expect health care to dominate then and perhaps all week long?

WOLFFE:  Health care, yes, but generally, the sort of question of momentum and is he having a sort of summer slump?  You know, in the White House, they said they‘ve seen this before and they certainly seen these questions before.  And again, anyone who counted him out in the summer of 2007 was proved wrong by January of 2008.

SHUSTER:  And, Richard, as far as using the bully pulpit, both with speeches and obviously the press conference, what are some of the other cards that are part of that that the president could conceivably play, and when might we see those?

WOLFFE:  Well, the question is, does he do the sort of LBJ arm-twisting?  And specifically, what I‘m hearing is that he‘s going to be putting pressure on Democrats, those supposedly centrist Democrats who are threatening to leave him on this question of health care.

Are they going to put direct pressure on him?  Is he going to turn it around on them?  What kind of ads are they going to run?  That‘s where this stuff really gets interesting.  That‘s why he‘s out (ph) to prove he‘s the president.

SHUSTER:  Indeed. MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe—

Richard, thanks as always.  We appreciate it.

WOLFFE:  My pleasure, David.

SHUSTER:  For more on the Republican strategery, let‘s bring in our own political analyst, Howard Fineman, the senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good to see you.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, David.

SHUSTER:  President Obama‘s response to Senator DeMint today that this isn‘t about him, it‘s about fixing a health care system that‘s broken.  For Republicans, like Jim DeMint, who has received nearly $3 million from the health care industry in just the last five years, what is this about if it‘s not maintaining the status quo for the health care industry?

FINEMAN:  Well, I got to say, David, I was over at the White House briefing and then I spent the rest of the day talking to Republicans.  And it was like I was shuttling between parallel but not overlapping universes.

People, like Jim DeMint, and other Republicans in the Senate and House, I can‘t overstate their fear and dislike of Barack Obama and everything he stands for.  In their view, Barack Obama is trying to engineer a government takeover of every aspect of private enterprise, whether it was in the stimulus package, cap-and-trade, and now, health care.

And Jim DeMint is proud of what he thinks it stands for, which is private sector dominance over health care.  Politically, that‘s very unpopular but he doesn‘t care.

SHUSTER:  Well, if President Obama‘s effort at health care reform were to fail, would Jim DeMint and Republicans really win by essentially keeping the status quo, by knocking it down?  I mean, would Americans be likely to look at Senator DeMint, even in his own state, as having achieved anything for them?  I mean, how hollow would the victory be?

FINEMAN:  I think it would be pretty hollow.  You showed the poll numbers on the public‘s basic trust of Democrats over Republicans on health care.

The fact is that most Americans want health care reform.  They know the system is broken.  They want it to be fixed.  They want coverage extended to all.  Most Americans, if you ask them just on this question, they say they think there should be a government guarantee of health care for all.

So, it would be, I think, not a pyrrhic victory at best.  I don‘t know whose waterloo it would be if health care goes down.  It probably won‘t be Barack Obama‘s, but it very well might be the Republicans.

SHUSTER:  Michael Steele could not talk about the specifics of the president‘s health care plan today.  He dismissed policy as something he does not do.

Might that be because the details are not important to the Republicans, and all that matters right now is saying no?

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think that was a devastatingly stupid political remark by Steele.  The American people want to know what‘s in the bill.  And to the extent that the American people are uncomfortable with it, as Richard was talking about, it‘s because they sort of want to know what‘s in it.  They want to believe what‘s in it.  They want policy discussed right now.

The president is right to stick to policy to the extent that the president doesn‘t, I‘m not sure he‘s on the high ground himself.

SHUSTER:  President Obama is not just fighting the Republicans, of course, as you know, but also centrist Democrats who have threatened to vote against him.  Mr. Obama‘s campaign arm is now targeting some of those Democrats in a new ad.

What do blue dog Democrats, Howard, have to gain by saying no?  And is this why 60 Democrats can never quite be seen as equal to 60 Republicans?

FINEMAN:  Well, sure.  It‘s herding cats with the Democrats.  It always has been, David.

The problem that Obama has with these blue dogs is that they‘re in red districts and people are concerned there.  Independents are concerned there.  There is conservative influence there.  They‘re concerned about the deficit.  They‘re concerned about taxes.

If Obama wants to win those people over, those centrist Democrats, he‘s going to have to change the bill.  And there‘s clear indications on the Hill today that that‘s what‘s happening.  Both Nancy :Pelosi, the speaker, and Jim Clyburn, another member of the Democratic leadership, are talking about making changes in hopes of drawing those blue dog Democrats back into the fold.

That‘s going to be the main dynamic, I think, between now and probably the inevitable time that something passes, if not in August, certainly in the fall.

SHUSTER:  And, Howard, what are some of the blue dog Democrats are saying in terms of—I mean, they literally could torpedo this if enough of them go with Republicans.  Do they have a political sense as far as what that might do to this presidency and is that something they‘re willing to move forward with?

FINEMAN:  No.  I don‘t think they want to do that.  I think, if it‘s a showdown in that sense, I think both sides will blink.  Obama doesn‘t want to permanently alienate them and they don‘t want to undercut him because he is still very popular, extremely popular in the Democratic base, still pretty popular among independents.

They know that Barack Obama is their ticket to the future.  They want to bargain hard with him but, I think, in the end, they want to cut a deal with him.

They also like him.  These are people who also like Barack Obama.  They like the new generation that he stands for.  They like his moves generally.  They‘d rather be comfortable with him than opposed to him based on the many that I talked to all the time.

SHUSTER:  Interesting stuff.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC Howard, thanks as always.  We appreciate it.     

FINEMAN:  Thank you, David.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

As the White House hopes to focus on health care, more allegations surface against the CIA and lying.  And a senator demands answers as to why some in the Obama administration think the CIA didn‘t do anything wrong when it neglected to tell Congress about plans to have squads of assassins take out al Qaeda operatives and supporters.

That and why a return trip to the moon isn‘t enough to spark a new generation of scientists and inspire the nation.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The CIA faces charges of fraud from the courts for lying in an eavesdropping case.  The military is doing everything it can to find a U.S. soldier held hostage somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  Buzz Aldrin says NASA isn‘t dreaming big enough in its manned space exploration program.  And Paula Abdul‘s contract isn‘t big enough to keep her on “Idol” or so she‘ll have us believe.

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The ongoing political debate over whether the CIA lies got a new player today in the form of a federal judge.  And no points for guessing which side he comes down on.

Our fourth story tonight began when Republicans claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must have known about U.S. waterboarding back in 2002 because the CIA never lies and would have told her.

In documents unsealed today, a federal judge found that the CIA committed fraud in an unrelated case involving the exact same guy who led the CIA in 2002, George Tenet.  U.S. District Judge Royce Lambert wrote that he is considering sanctioning Tenet and others at the agency because the CIA got a case against one of its officials dropped by arguing that the official was a covert op.  They never told the judge after they lifted his cover.

Judge Lambert also said current CIA Director Leon Panetta has given conflicting accounts of what should be revealed in the case, which involves an American citizen, a DEA agent who claims he was wiretapped by the CIA overseas back in ‘93.

All of this unfolding as the House committee announced it will investigate why the CIA—reportedly at the bidding of Vice President Cheney—did not brief congressional leaders on a plan the CIA was pursuing to train and deploy hit squads to hunt al Qaeda.

In Thursday‘s “Washington Post,” Obama‘s director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, said he thinks the CIA had legal leeway not to tell Congress.

We learned today that on Friday, intelligence committee Senator Russ Feingold shot Blair a letter disputing his interpretation of the law and asking him to back it up.

Let‘s bring in Scott Horton, a lawyer who specializes in the law of armed conflict and human rights, and also serves as contributing editor at “Harper‘s” magazine.

Scott, thanks for joining us tonight.

SCOTT HORTON, HARPER‘S MAGAZINE:  Great to be with you, David.

SHUSTER:  Intelligence Director Blair essentially said he thinks the CIA should brief Congress as thoroughly as possible but that the law did permit the CIA to make a judgment call and not tell Congress about its hit squad plan code named “Box Top.”

Why would Senator Feingold take such exception?

HORTON:  Well, I think he‘s picked the right issue.  I mean, he‘s focusing on Congress‘ right to know, at least the gang of eight‘s right to know about these programs.  And Leon Panetta rushed to Capitol Hill, gave a briefing, seems to feel he was obligated to do so, and then we have Blair walk out back very quickly.

And I think Russ Feingold is pushing Congress‘ right to know.  He‘s pushing that issue and he wants to know exactly where the Obama White House stands on it.

SHUSTER:  Well, in addition to pushing to try to find out where the White House stands, what eventually do you think Senator Feingold hopes to accomplish?

HORTON:  Well, I think it‘s establishing policy, but I think—we go back here and we can look and say over the last eight years, particularly between 2002 and 2007, congressional oversight of the intelligence community reached a low point.  It was really, virtually ineffective.

And, I think, he and, I think, his chair and the committee on the House side are pushing these boundaries back now.  They want to assert congressional oversight.  And this is a very effective tool for them to use to that end.

SHUSTER:  And as they push back, the House Intelligence Committee is now investigating the decision not to brief Congress.  So, what happens if it turns out—as CIA Director Panetta reportedly said—that former Vice President Cheney told the CIA to keep Congress in the dark?  Should Mr.  Cheney care?

HORTON:  Well, I think that‘s the major issue and we have to develop many more facts to know what his exposure is here.  But I would doubt that his exposure is of the level we see with the torture issue, for instance, or his role in the outing of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent.

In this case, it‘s very, very likely that Cheney and Addington, who were very deep in this program, secured the appropriate paperwork.  They got national intelligence findings.  They got President Bush to sign off.  And that would be perfect cover for him and would address any potential criminal exposure he would have.

SHUSTER:  But doesn‘t that then cry out for what they did in the Valerie Plame case and that is to appoint a special prosecutor?  I mean, never mind what Congress does with its committees that are investigating, isn‘t there a burden on Eric Holder, the attorney general, to go ahead and name a special prosecutor to review some of those issues?

HORTON:  Well, exactly.  I think that‘s one of the reasons we see Blair suggesting that there was no need to brief here.

There‘s great concern in the intelligence community now about the prospect of more intrusion, particularly a special prosecutor.  There‘s one already acting—looking at the destruction of tapes, of torture sessions that went on.  There‘s a likelihood—as “Newsweek” and I and others have reported—of a second special prosecutor being appointed, and this is a third opportunity for a special prosecutor.  The intelligence community wants to shut that down.

But I think Congress‘ concern really would not, in the end of the day, be served by a special prosecutor.  Congress probably wouldn‘t learn everything the Justice Department investigator learns and I think it‘s unlikely to lead to criminal prosecutions, unlike some of these other matters.

SHUSTER:  Finally, the court case we began with, a federal judge saying that the CIA misled his court in order to protect one of its officials from a lawsuit by letting the court think the official still needed immunity, essentially for national security reasons.  Any sign of a theme here?

HORTON:  Well, the CIA uses stealth and deceit as tools.  It has to use them in the nation‘s interest.  The problem arises when those tools are used with respect to our own government—when they‘re used on a court, when they‘re used on Congress or even the White House.

In this case, you know, we‘ve seen a number of instances, Judge Brinkema, for instance, being misled about the tapes that were made.  There are a number of very questionable allegations that were made by the CIA and two lawsuits dealing with the renditions case.

So, we‘re really seeing a pattern emerging.  And I think, even though I know some of the people who are involved here and I consider them to be honest and honorable people, I think they‘re going to vary hard time explaining what went on.

SHUSTER:  Scott Horton, a national security lawyer and contributing editor at “Harper‘s” magazine—and, Scott, thanks for coming on.

HORTON:  Great to be with you.

SHUSTER:  These images of a U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan puts into stark perspective why how we conduct the war on terror is so important.  Professor Jonathan Turley joins us to talk about that.

And later, the Paula Abdul “American Idol” drama.  Would someone just get her more money already?

All that and more—ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The fate of Paula Abdul in a moment.  And 40 years after landing on the moon, where do we go next?

But first, on this day in 1920, Elliot L. Richardson was born.  The cartoonist at the “Harvard Lampoon,” he went to hold four separate cabinet positions more than anyone in history.  He is remembered most for the job he lost, resigning as U.S. attorney general rather than carry out Nixon‘s order to fire the Watergate special prosecutor—an order Robert Bork carried out instead.

Richardson‘s firing became known as the Saturday night massacre.  He later wrote: The second ingredient of Watergate, an amoral alacrity to do the president‘s bidding, was traceable less than to flaws in Nixon‘s own political character than to the political and cultural evolution of 20th century America.

Richardson died on the last day of the last month of the year 1999.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Fayzah (ph), Iran, where state TV captured this footage of an unnamed mountain climber using no ropes or rigging.  Iranian TV reports he made it to the top but since this is the same TV station that brought us the Iranian election results, we can only assume the mountain was actually climbed by Mir Hossein Mousavi.

To Lake Bala, Wales, where they are trying to raise money for the Welsh air ambulance by rowing a canoe made of sheep feces across the English Channel.  Not clear exactly what business plan they‘re using.  The poo was actually turned into paper and then coated with resin made from soya beans, which ironically, can also be used to make poo.

The first test showed good balance and maneuverability but they sent it back to the shop after they found a wet spot.  So, the crossing has been set back for another six weeks.  Of course, no matter when they make the crossing, we already know they‘ll come in number two.

Finally, to London, England, and Queen Elizabeth‘s very first swan upping.  Yet another royal ceremony Prince Charles is burning to do, in which England‘s reigning monarch witness the official annual counting of her swans.  One, two.  Oh, and the official shaking of the hands.  One, two. 

The ceremony dates back to the 12th century when the monarchy claimed all un-owned swans for itself to ensure that there would be enough swan meat for the royal feasts and banquets if not for the royal subjects.  But mostly the monarchy claimed all un-owned swans because it could. 

And yes, if you‘re wondering, she can see Russia from that boat. 

Can we get to mars from the moon?  Forty years after walking on the moon Buzz Aldrin says NASA needs to aim big in manned space exploration. 

But up next, the first U.S. soldier held hostage in Afghanistan.  What we know about where the soldier may be and why his capture helps put into perspective why the treatment of our detainees is so important. 

That‘s next on “Countdown.”   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  It was never an abstract concept that the United States should not torture, not only because it does not work and breaks international law, but also because it would only increase the chances our enemies would torture our own soldiers. 

So in our third story on the “Countdown,” we can only hope that the enemy is abiding by the Geneva Convention as it holds the first serviceman captured in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion in 2001. 

Video of the soldier, Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, was released on the Internet by the Taliban, and the Pentagon confirmed it was him. 

In the video the soldier is no doubt under duress.  He is clearly prompted to speak on several occasions even though it does not appear that everything he says has been scripted, like when he talks about his family. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOWE BERGDAHL, CAPTURED AMERICAN SOLDIER:  I miss them every day that I‘m gone.  I miss them, and I‘m afraid that I might never see them again and that I‘ll never be able to tell them that I love them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The video also shows the soldier eating, but the Taliban‘s exploitation of the soldier is clear, as noted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Our commanders are sparing no effort to find this young soldier.  And I also would say my personal reaction was one of disgust at the exploitation of this young man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Private Bergdahl disappeared on June the 30th.  He had left his small outpost in Paktika, Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officials. 

Taliban Commander Mulvi Sanjeen claims that Bergdahl was drunk when captured, returning back to his car after visiting a military post in the Yusef Kel district.  A U.S. military source denies the claim that Bergdahl was drunk. 

But the lack of clarity on why Private Bergdahl was vulnerable to capture prompted an outrageous comment in the matter from one of our own, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters. 

In a televised interview this weekend, quote, “I want to be clear.  If when the facts are in we find out that through some convoluted chain of events he really was captured by the Taliban, I‘m with him. 

But if he walked away from his post and his buddies in war time, I don‘t care how hard it sounds.  As far as I‘m concerned, the Taliban can save us a lot of legal hassles and legal bills.” 

Let‘s bring in George Washington University professor, law professor, Jonathan Turley.  Jonathan, good evening. 

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi. 

SHUSTER:  We will discuss the other implications in a moment, but first, what on earth did Colonel Peters think he was accomplishing by saying such a thing? 

TURLEY:  I‘m not too sure.  I was shocked when I read the quote this afternoon. 

You know, it‘s a very dangerous thing to tell the enemy that the soldier you‘re holding is not very valuable to us, because they can then use him as a symbol of a different kind.  They can abuse, torture him, because Colonel Peters is suggesting we really don‘t care if this guy comes back alive. 

And what‘s really shocking is his statement, that he goes on to say this guy is obviously a liar.  And the one thing we know is that the soldier is a liar because he made these statements. 

As you know, U.S. soldiers that have been captured have been forced to do confessions and videotapes, including people like John McCain.  And we don‘t call them liars. 

I don‘t know about this Colonel Peters or whether he has ever been in combat.  I personally never made it above weeblow (ph).  But I think that, you know, you really are insulting not just the military but the American people when you say that someone in the hands of terrorists who is shown on films like this, saying statements like this, is clearly a liar who we don‘t necessarily want to see again alive. 

SHUSTER:  ABC News is reporting that Private Bergdahl may have been moved to Pakistan, according to two sources in the U.S. and Afghan military, which could make matters even more complicated. 

So in the short term, what is the best way for military officials to formulate their statements as long as Bergdahl is still detained? 

TURLEY:  I actually think the secretary of defense got it just right. 

The comparison between him and Colonel Peters was remarkable. 

We have to obviously continue to express our support and our need to get this soldier back.  But Pakistan creates a difficult problem for us.  We do have a principle in international law of hot pursuit.  We‘ve used that before.  We pursued Pancho Villa, for example, into Mexico under a theory of hot pursuit.

It‘s actually a theory that comes from the law of the seas.  It‘s actually mentioned in a couple conventions of the seas.  But we‘ve relied upon it. 

But, of course, Pakistan is our ally.  It‘s not just some hostile nation.  And so going into Pakistan with a manned force as opposed to predator drones has always been highly controversial.  And if we do it, we could destabilize the Pakistani government further. 

But it‘s clear that the American intelligence does not trust the Pakistani intelligence.  And that creates a difficult legal question of whether we can go in, in force.  My question is if we find he is on that border they‘ll argue hot pursuit and they‘re going to move in. 

SHUSTER:  The long view of how we should treat detainees is something we‘ve discussed with you many times, the idea that the United States should never torture detainees ever. 

This capture of Private Bergdahl is obviously bad enough for him without having to worry about those other possible consequences. 

TURLEY:  Well, it is.  And this really brings us to the dangers of abandoning our core moral beliefs. 

You know, when we justified torture through waterboarding, we didn‘t just abandon those beliefs.  We abandoned our own sailors and soldiers and marines who may fall in the hands of another nation like Iran or, here, a non-actor—a nongovernment acting force like the Taliban. 

And, of course, we hope to god that the people holding him are going to understand that they fall under international law.  They can be prosecuted for abuse. 

But these are people who are terrorists, for the most part.  They‘re not going to blanch at violating the Geneva Conventions. 

And so when they come and waterboard one of our soldiers, whether it‘s Iran or the Taliban, and argue that we‘re doing nothing that you did not do.  We‘re simply interrogating.  This is not torture, it‘s going to put us face to face with our own hypocrisy. 

And I think that for those people that were not moved by the immorality of our torture program, they must, I hope, understand the impracticality of that program and how it endangers people like this soldier and American citizens held in Iran and North Korea and other nations. 

SHUSTER:  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.  Jonathan, thanks as always.  We appreciate it. 

TURLEY:  Thank you, David. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome. 

Coming up, while NASA tries to return to the moon by 2020, one astronaut says the real goal should be Mars instead. 

And is Paula Abdul and “American Idol” really on the verge of breaking up, or will a fatter contract for Abdul suddenly heal all wounds? 

And Rachel joins you at the top of the hour inside the world of the family.  C Street members begin to speak out.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Maybe they really don‘t want her back, or it‘s a clever and actually quite transparent negotiating ploy. 

In our number two story on the “Countdown,” Paula Abdul has no contract with “American Idol” even though the new season begins taping in less than a month. 

And her fans have started to tweet about it in protest.  In fact, the “Keep Paula” crusade was the second most popular issue on twitter this weekend right after Indonesia unite.  And Abdul‘s manager is at least acting like nothing is in the works.  Poor, poor Paula. 

Our correspondent is Amy Robach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMY ROBACH, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  From the unusual—

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  Touchdown. 

ROBACH:  To the emotional. 

ABDUL:  You‘ve moved me from the beginning. 

ROBACH:  To the confrontational. 

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  Basically what she‘s saying is you‘d make a good rat. 

ABDUL:  I didn‘t say that.  No I didn‘t. 

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL” HOST:  Paula Abdul. 

ROBACH:  Paula Abdul has been a fixture on “American Idol” for the past eight seasons.  But her new manager David Sonnenberg tells “The Los Angeles Times” it appears Paula will not be back on “American Idol” next season saying, quote, “She‘s not a happy camper as a result of what‘s going on.  She‘s hurt.  She‘s angry.” 

SEACREST:  This is “American idol.”

ROBACH:  So what is going on?  Show host Ryan Seacrest has reportedly signed a three-year, $45 million deal, making him TV‘s highest paid reality host. 

There is also talk of a major contract in the works for judge Simon Cowell. 

COURTNEY HAZLETT, ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST, MSNBC.COM:  The timing of Paula‘s “I might not be coming back” headlines is so suspicious because we just heard about Ryan Seacrest striking a three-year deal that nets him essentially $15 million per year. 

If Paula Abdul didn‘t try to put something on the bargaining table, we‘d all think she was crazy. 

ROBACH:  Abdul took to her twitter page over the weekend to thank her fans, saying “I‘m actually moved to tears upon reading the enormous amount of tweets showing me your kindness, love, and undying support.  God bless all of you.  If it weren‘t for you, this specific time and situation would feel a whole lot worse.” 

SEACREST:  Kara, were you happy with last week in general? 

KARA DIOGUARDI, “AMERICAN IDOL” JUDGE:  I was.  You know, there were some that were better than others. 

ROBACH:  Last season “American Idol” changed formats by adding a fourth judge, Kara DioGuardi, whose own future on the show remains in question.  Experts say further changes to the show could jeopardize its future success. 

HAZLETT:  The ratings have been slipping.  They don‘t want to see their ratings gold, Paula Abdul, slip out the door as well. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Amy Robach reporting.

Forty years ago today Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history as the first men to step foot on the moon.  But Aldrin says if NASA tries to just return to the moon and not go to mars, we‘re not really reaching for the stars. 

That‘s next on “countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  July 20th, 1969, less than a decade after John F. Kennedy challenged the nation to reach for the moon, the world watched three Americans do just that, and heard the unforgettable words, “The Eagle has landed.” 

Our number one story, mankind‘s giant leap 40 years later.  Kennedy‘s promise fulfilled, with 600 million witnessing man‘s first footprints on lunar soil. 

Neil Armstrong would later say about his monumental achievement the unknowns were rampant.  But the imagery of Apollo 11 is now iconic.  The American flag planted, the plaque left behind stating, “We came for all mankind.” 

Today the International Space Station marking the anniversary with a spacewalk of its own to do some repair work, while this afternoon the men of Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins met with President Obama. 

Mr. Obama called the trio genuine American heroes and expressed gratitude for what they achieved that historic day. 

Our correspondent is Tom Costello. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s three feet down, two and a half. 

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Even today, 40 years later, we seem to hold our breath when we see it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The eagle has landed. 

COSTELLO:  Through a miracle of 1969 technology, NASA had defied the odds and landed two men on the moon. 

NEIL ARMSTRONG, APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT:  That‘s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. 

COSTELLO:  Six-hundred-million people around the world watched live as Neil Armstrong and then Buzz Aldrin took those first steps. 

BUZZ ALDRIN, APOLLO 11 ASTRONAUT:  Magnificent desolation.

COSTELLO:  Only 12 men ever walked on the moon, the last in 1972.  The U.S. had won a key battle in the cold war. 

Today the Apollo 11 command module sits at the Air and Space Museum in Washington. 

ROGER LAUNIUS, NATIONAL AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM:  By winning that space race we demonstrated to our allies and potential allies, and indeed the whole world, that the United States was second to none when it came to science and technology. 

COSTELLO:  NBC‘s Jay Barbree has covered every U.S. manned mission ever launched.  He is still on the job today. 

JAY BARBREE:  The hardest thing people of knowledge had to try to understand was why did we go to the moon and then abandon it? 

COSTELLO:  Politics got in the way.  Hardly what Stanley Kubrick envisioned in “2001, A Space Odyssey.”

Last year in Cleveland, the normally reserved Neil Armstrong spoke about those first few minutes on the lunar surface. 

ARMSTRONG:  And what we found out was that by the time we had just stood around in the cockpit for a couple hours, we were completely adapted.  And when we walked off of it, off the craft onto the surface, we already were right at home.  And you‘d really like it!

COSTELLO:  Forty years later Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins remain heroes. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  NBC‘s Tom Costello reporting. 

Four decades after that historic journey one of the Apollo 11 men is urging Americans and NASA to be bold and explore the true unknown.  At a news conference earlier today Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step on lunar soil, said the best way to commemorate the 40th anniversary is not to replay the past but make some new history. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALDRIN:  America to Mars is what it ought to be, not America back to the moon.  America can use our experience, great experience, and the last 40 years of experience in detailed preparation for us to go.  We can share that with somebody else.  Let‘s do that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  And in an op-ed in the “New York Daily News,” Aldrin explained the red planet can reap rich rewards, “Mars as our focus can electrify the public‘s interest in science and engineering, give young people something to stimulate their educational goals, and provide a rationale for global American space leadership.” 

Aldrin also argues the moon race was won 40 years ago.  “We‘ve become fixated on the moon, but having been there and stood on its surface, I can tell you that the moon is a dead end for NASA.” 

Joining us now is Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute of Science Museum.  Derrick, good evening.

PITTS:  How are you, David?

SHUSTER:  Good.

Does Mr. Aldrin have a point?  Should we forget the moon and focus on Mars?  And what is the likelihood of us seeing a mission to Mars in the near future? 

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE MUSEUM: 

I think the real way to frame it, David, is that Mars should be the long-term goal we want to achieve.  I mean, it is a long reach out, and it does present all sorts of technological challenges.  But it‘s not to say it can‘t be done. 

The way I would put it is that if we make Mars the long-term goal, what we end up with is a lot of technological development that has to happen between now and then. 

That would probably include returning to the moon just so we can build up our chops for doing the space exploration out on other planets.  It was 40 years ago that we last had people on the moon.

So what‘s the possibility that this is going to happen?  Well, a lot depends on what the national commissions that advised the president tell him we should set as a goal.  And then from there it‘s a question of whether or not the funding is provided to make that happen. 

SHUSTER:  Today astronauts from other Apollo missions referred to the International Space Station as a white elephant.  Is cost going to be the biggest factor in NASA‘s future missions? 

PITTS:  Cost is always a factor no matter how you look at it.  And the reason why is because the only way you can mitigate risk in these very, very high risk situations is to provide the proper backup to try to cut down on the risk.  And that means it‘s expensive. 

But when you really look at the cost of this, David, it‘s not that much.  Everybody always talks about how expensive the space program is, but you have to realize that NASA‘s budget overall is 14th or 15th out of the top 20 items in the U.S. budget.  So it‘s not really a lot.  It‘s one penny of every tax dollar spent. 

So that‘s not a lot for the kind of achievement we get out of it. 

SHUSTER:  Humans haven‘t been to the moon since 1972, as we saw in Tom Costello‘s piece.  Were these moon missions less about science and exploration and more about beating Russia? 

PITTS:  I think at the outset they really were about beating Russia.  But as we realized that Russia was not really going to be able to mount much challenge for this, it really did turn into science.

And it was realized that if we are going to do this as a way to beat the Russians, we can also make hay out of this by going for the science. 

So in the collecting of the, what, 840 pounds of rocks that was the total amount brought back, we learned a tremendous amount about the history of the solar system, particularly about the history of the moon and our earth. 

We also got a chance to look back at earth in a way we never had before that gave us a totally new realization and understanding of how finite this planet and its resources are. 

SHUSTER:  Today President Obama was noncommittal about future space exploration.  No mention of Mars or returning to the moon.  Are our best decades of space shots already behind us? 

PITTS:  No.  They really aren‘t behind us.  But it requires that we identify a goal and that we decide that we really want to pursue these goals so that we can open up this sort of exploration again. 

We always have to remember that the kind of exploration that was required for the missions to the moon really is an inherent part of human experience and human traits.  So we want to explore, and we probably will continue to do so. 

SHUSTER:  Derrick, I wonder if you can put in perspective how much easier the technology is now in terms of going to the moon or going to Mars than it was 40 years ago. 

PITTS:  I would put it like this, David.  There is 64 times the amount of computing power in your cell phone than was in all of the computers used on any of the Apollo missions. 

SHUSTER:  So interesting.  Derrick, we appreciate you coming on.  Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  Derrick, many thanks.  We appreciate you coming on tonight on this historic, historic anniversary -- 40 years since man landed on the moon.  Who would have believed?  Amazing. 

PITTS:  Thank you, David.  My pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome. 

Well, on this historic night, that will do it—at least historic anniversary night—that will do it for this Monday edition of “Countdown.”

I‘m David Shuster in for Keith Olbermann.  You can usually catch me weekdays on MSNBC from three to five p.m. eastern along with my colleague Tamron Hall.

Thanks for watching everybody.  And now to discuss what goes on inside the world of “The Family,” the group of influential Christian lawmakers in D.C., 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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