updated 7/28/2009 10:26:32 AM ET 2009-07-28T14:26:32

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Shannyn Moore, John Ridley, Jonathan Turley

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Former Governor Sarah Palin—she says goodbye to public office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I will be able to fight even harder for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And by “fight for you,” she, of course, means continue her personal battle with the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Is she forgetting that check Keith wrote to the Alaska Special Olympics for every time she lied about the “bridge to nowhere”?

The Gates arrest controversy: As the 911 call that sparked the arrest is released.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I noticed two suitcases.  So, I‘m not sure if these are two individuals who actually work there, I mean, who live there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  A Republican congressman wants the House to officially request that President Obama apologize.

But tonight, I‘ll explain why the president was right to call the arrest stupid and all you need for proof of that is Sergeant Crowley‘s police report—which just happens to be a written confession of false arrest.

The birther conspiracy theorists box in the GOP yet again.  New tape evidence that some Republicans on Capitol Hill are still banging their heads against the hard facts of Barack Obama‘s birth in Hawaii.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) asking Republicans if they believe Barack Obama is born in the United States.  Do you think there is a question here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think there are questions.  We are about to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re kind of afraid to be lunatic fringe base?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And just when you thought Dick Cheney couldn‘t shock you anymore, we learned that he pushed George W. Bush to illegally order U.S.  troops to enter a U.S. city to arrest half a dozen terror suspects.  Forget the Constitution.

Dick‘s justification?  What else?  “Johnny Yoo told me I could.”

And finally tonight: The rise and fall of an Alaskan maverick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  And it was a blast.  Every day was just a blast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  A look back at one of the more bizarre political careers in American history.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Only dead fish go with the flow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

Keith Olbermann has the night off.

This time last year, there was speculation that Senator John McCain might be on the verge of announcing that he had selected a popular Republican governor as his running mate.  No, not that Republican governor.  The governor in question was actually Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

Instead, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator McCain was actually weeks away from even starting to vet the woman who would join his ticket at the last minute, the once obscure Sarah Palin, no longer the governor of Alaska.  Mark her down as officially unofficial news.  Palin handed over the governorship Sunday with more than a year left in her term.

But she did not leave without some measure of fanfare, saying goodbye to Alaskans at a series of picnics across the state.  In fact, she said a lot more than just goodbye but not much that actually made sense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Together, we do stand with gratitude for our troops who protect all of our cherished freedoms, including our freedom of speech, which par for the course, I‘m going to exercise.

(CHEERING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Former Governor Palin has developed an odd love/hate relationship with the media.  Love—that network cameras would even be there to see Palin resign as they would not have been for any other small state governor leaving office for no good reason.  Hate—that with national attention has come national scrutiny.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Some straight talk for some—just some—in the media, because another right protected for all of us is freedom of the press and you have such important jobs, reporting facts and informing the electorate and exerting power to influence.  You represent what could and should be a respected, honest profession that could and should be a cornerstone of our democracy.

Democracy depends on you.  And that is why—that‘s why our troops are willing to die for you.  So, how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Do as she says but presumably not as she does.  The list of fibs told by Sarah Palin has only grown almost exponentially in the 10 months since we first learned she was for Alaska‘s “bridge to nowhere” before she was against it.

Something else the former governor is supposedly against: government largess.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  Alaska, there is much good in store further down the road.  But to reach it, we must value and live the optimistic and pioneering spirit that made this state proud and free.  And we can resist enslavement to big, central government that crushes hope and opportunity.  Be wary of accepting government largess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  You‘d never guess listening to the former governor that for every dollar Alaska residents send to the federal government in taxes, the state of Alaska gets back and spends $1.84.  In short, Alaskans cannot survive without federal money—which was kind of the point of becoming a state in the first place.  Still, Sarah Palin pretends they don‘t need the money that keeps the state alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I resisted the stimulus package and we have championed earmark reform, slashing earmark requests by 85 percent to break the cycle of dependency on a stifling, unsustainable federal agenda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Former Governor Palin would not say yesterday whether she has any plans to develop a federal agenda of her own.  Her husband Todd would say only that she‘s not going to disappear.

As for quitting on her constituents—well, remember, she did that for them, including the heckler who doubted her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  It is because I love Alaska this much, sir, that I feel that it is my duty to avoid the unproductive, typical, politics as usual, lame duck session in one‘s last year in office.  How does that benefit you?

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PALIN:  With this decision now, I will be able to fight even harder for you, for what is right, and for truth.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And for truth.

Lots to talk about tonight with our own political analyst Jonathan Alter.  He is also senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Good evening, Jonathan.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  How are you doing, Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  Jonathan, let‘s talk about the quality of the speech.  Doesn‘t it seem that Sarah Palin had much better writers at the Republican convention?

ALTER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  And has she given a good speech since then?

ALTER:  You know, her speech at the Republican convention was written by a guy named Matthew Scully, who had been a Bush speechwriter in the White House.  And you remember that some of those speeches that President Bush gave, especially around the time of 9/11, were really eloquent, good speeches.  And he wrote her a barn-burner for that convention.  And you‘re right.  She hasn‘t even come close to matching it since.

But I‘m not sure for the faithful who were at that convention if it matters too much.  She is now an icon within the Republican Party, and we can, you know, laugh at her and point out all of her fibs and all of her absurdities, but she has a hard-core constituency within that party that suggests that her career is not entirely over.

O‘DONNELL:  And were there key elements in this speech that appealed to those elements in the Republican Party?

ALTER:  Oh, yes.  I mean, the whole thing was kind of patterned on what you would use as a playbook to try to position yourself for a presidential run.  Rejecting the stimulus, you know, every Republican in the House voted against the stimulus and there were only, what, three in the Senate who voted in favor of it.

So, you know, standing there and saying she‘s against Barack Obama‘s recovery plan, good politics within the Republican Party; attacking the national media, good politics within the Republican Party.  So, there was some reason behind a lot of what she said, even if it, you know, rubs us the wrong way.

O‘DONNELL:  How does yesterday‘s speech compare to Nixon‘s “You won‘t have Nixon to kick around anymore”?  I mean, they both have.

ALTER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  . bitter tones in them, but she delivers her bitterness with a smile.

ALTER:  She does, and it‘s also important and useful to remember that it was only six years after Nixon gave that speech, the one he—on the night in 1962 when he lost for governor of California that he was elected president.

Now, I‘m not suggesting that I think the odds are good that Sarah Palin is going to be the next president, but it‘s really important not to count people out in American politics.  People love a comeback.  And she is very, very good at what Nixon called the mobilization of resentments.

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Jonathan, speaking of predictions and political futures, I want you to leave us tonight with a prediction.

ALTER:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  What are the chances that Alaska Governor Sean Parnell will be picked as a Republican running mate in 2012?

ALTER:  I would say, those chances are zero.  Much better odds, Lawrence, that Sarah Palin will—since she‘s not going to go the fancy speech, substantive speech route back—that she‘ll get a reality TV show of her own and cook moose stew on the air.  That‘s speculation, but you heard it here first.

O‘DONNELL:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—thank you for your time tonight.

ALTER:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  For more on Sarah Palin, let‘s bring in radio host Shannyn Moore from KBYR in Alaska.  She is also a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com.

Good evening, Shannyn.

SHANNYN MOORE, HUFFINGTON POST:  Good evening, Lawrence.

MOORE:  You know, we know that Sarah Palin has resigned.  But we get the feeling she‘s not going away.  What does it feel like in Alaska?

MOORE:  Well, I was watching closely yesterday during her last stop on the Quick Stop, to see if she would maybe quitting and pulling a mavericky move and decide to stay.  It was so up in the air what was really going to happen.  None of the reasons have really stuck.  In fact, they‘ve been—basically, every reason she‘s given has been overturned by the media here.

So, you know, she‘s not going away.  We have a lot of political shrapnel caused by the McCain-Palin campaign that started last fall and just continued throughout this past, you know, seven months.

O‘DONNELL:  So, is Alaska suffering from Palin fatigue?

MOORE:  I don‘t know if it‘s Palin fatigue which I‘ve had probably since before you knew her name, but maybe more of a political post-traumatic stress disorder.  This is a really small state and, you know, the conditions here can get really rough.  She went over those in great eloquence yesterday.

And you can‘t afford to have this sort of bitter divides when someone‘s broke down beside the road at 10 below.  You really, you don‘t look at their bumper stickers.  You just stop and help them.

And the division and the bitterness and the nastiness here—you know, all of her allies were thrown under the bus.  Everyone that helped pass her legislation, ACE and Energea (ph), were all really just thrown under the bus last year by the McCain campaign.  So, you know, there is a lot to recover from.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, she‘s very angry at us and the national media for - as she puts it—making things up.  But isn‘t that something she was doing in Alaska for a long time, and you guys knew about it long before we did?

MOORE:  Yes.  I mean, she‘s classic.  That‘s part of Palin.  It‘s—she‘s not interested in the truth to tell a lie.  She‘s just going to say whatever as long as it benefits her.

And there have been so many things—you know, she‘s come out just recently with her whole “Washington Post” piece on cap-and-trade.  Well, our own—all of her advisors were saying that was going to actually help her gas line.

So, if she‘s doing this for Alaska, it‘s really hard to see that.  And if she just wants to leave and go make a lot of money and not be pestered by the silliness of government, then just say it, but don‘t, like, get on the Alaska cross and say that she‘s doing it for us.  She simply isn‘t.

O‘DONNELL:  And are any of those irritating investigations going to be following Sarah Palin wherever she goes now?

MOORE:  Well, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know if people realize this, but for two years, up to two years starting from yesterday, people can continue to file ethics complaints.  The most recent one, the Daniel report that came out last week is very damaging—basically said that she wasn‘t allowed to keep using her name and stature as the government or as the governor to raise money for slush funds.  She said she wasn‘t and then it‘s come out that she was actually signing “thank you” cards to people who had donated.  That‘s—you know, she was offered the chance to give the money back.  She didn‘t want to do that and the report was leaked.

So, I think that one particularly is going to be problematic for her.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, we‘ll follow it.

Shannyn Moore, radio host and blogger, thanks very much for your time tonight.

MOORE:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on COUNTDOWN: We‘ll open up our Sarah Palin time capsule and take a priceless look back at the best year ever in politics.  Set your TiVos.

Also, a House Republican wants to actually introduce a resolution to force President Obama to apologize to the police sergeant who arrested Henry Louis Gates.  But up next: I‘ll explain why that arrest was in fact stupid and the actions of the officer amount to nothing short of false arrest.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The Gates arrest.  As a congressman tries to get the president to walk back his remark that the arrest was stupid, I‘ll explain why when you examine the police report, you can only reach the conclusion that the arrest was indeed stupid.

And later: Dick Cheney wanting to use U.S. troops on U.S. soil to arrest terror suspects.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  The controversy over the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates lingers, in part because it begs for an opinion from each and every one of us.

Full disclosure: I was arrested for disorderly conduct by Boston police a long time ago.  As in the Gates case, the charges had to be dropped immediately because I had done nothing to provoke the arrest.  I then sued the police in federal court for false arrest and civil rights violations.  I won, including attorneys fees.

So, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: As a Republican congressman goes to the ridiculous extreme and formally calls on President Obama to formally apologize.

As the two principals prepare to meet with the president, and as the 911 call just released proves that all kinds of last week‘s assumptions were just that, assumptions—let‘s consider President Obama‘s original remarks.  Though not the most clever politics in the country where police unions demand fealty from politicians, the president‘s words were exactly right.

The “beer summit” of Professor Gates and Sergeant James Crowley is likely to occur within the next several days—according to the White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.  A footnote: Professor Gates doesn‘t actually drink beer.  But that probably will not hamper these three men, the president included, from moving forward.

Not something we could easily ascribe to those Republicans who want to juice this for maximum political profit.  Like congressman Thaddeus McCotter, the Michigan Republican who evidently doesn‘t have enough to do what with his home state suffering a 15 percent unemployment rate.  The congressman has introduced a resolution calling on President Obama to formally apologize to Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley.

Meantime, the Cambridge Police Department has released the 911 call that led to the arrest of Professor Gates.  In this excerpt, the caller suggests that the people going into the house might actually live there.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, 911 CALL)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And they kind of had barged in and they broke the screen door and they finally got in, and when I had looked I went further closer to the house a little bit after the gentlemen were already in the house.  I noticed two suitcases.  So, I‘m not sure if these are two individuals who actually work there, I mean, who live there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  The caller is asked if the men are white, black, or Hispanic.  She says one might be Hispanic but she was not sure.  She does not identify either suspect as African-American.

Police have released the recording between police dispatch and Sergeant Crowley.  In this excerpt, Sergeant Crowley suggests that the gentleman is being uncooperative.  But seconds later, the sergeant is able to report that gentleman‘s identity.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, POLICE DISPATCH CALL)

SGT. JAMES CROWLEY, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT:  The gentleman says he resides here, a little uncooperative, but keep the cars coming.

DISPATCH:  Copy.

CROWLEY:  Have an I.D. of Henry Louis Gates.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Sergeant Crowley‘s union defenders last week suggested that the dispatch tape would prove how out-of-control Professor Gates was.  But, big surprise, they were not telling the truth.  None of the yelling or tumultuous behavior described in Crowley‘s report can be heard on the tape.

As I recently noted in “Time,” there is no crime described in Crowley‘s official version of the way Gates behaved.  Crowley says explicitly that he arrested Gates for yelling, nothing else, not a single threatening movement, just yelling on the steps of his own home.

Yelling is not a crime.  Yelling does not meet the definition of disorderly conduct in Massachusetts.

Everyone who is defending Crowley‘s decision to arrest Gates needs to read his report.  The only violation of law in there is false arrest.

Let‘s bring in John Ridley, author of the blog “That Minority Thing” and a contributor to NPR and “The Huffington Post.”

Good evening, John.

JOHN RIDLEY, HUFFINGTON POST:  Lawrence, how are you?

O‘DONNELL:  John, everyone brings their personal perspective to this.  I‘m sure you have experience and personal perspective that you brought to it as soon as the news came out.  What was your reaction?

RIDLEY:  You know, my reaction was, here we go again.  I mean, this is the kind of thing that you see far too often in the black community.

Just recently for example Ryan Moats, who was a running back in the NFL, was stopped when he was trying to get his wife to see her dying mother and a police officer detained him in the parking lot of the hospital, despite the fact that hospital staff were coming out saying, “His mother-in-law is dying.  Let him go.”  The officer took his time in writing him up.

So, I think there are a lot of people who are surprised by this or think, “We have a black president, why is this thing happening”—was not surprised, was not shocked, was disappointed but the kind of thing you expect to see unfortunately.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, the president has talked about this being a teachable moment.  What do you think the teachable moment is here?

RIDLEY:  You know what?  I‘m not exactly sure.  I understand what he‘s trying to say, that all of us should not prejudge and things like that but what is the teachable moment here, that if you are a black man in your house, you should not not commit a crime?

He wasn‘t doing anything, you know?  People can say he may have reacted badly but he didn‘t over-react.  He didn‘t hit the cop.  He didn‘t threaten the cop.  He didn‘t do anything bad to the officer.

The officer on the other hand made the choice, as you say in your article, to essentially say, “I‘ll show you who‘s boss.”  And take a step beyond the law because no law was broken.

O‘DONNELL:  Now, I actually think the teachable moment here is that we‘re all human, is that even good cops.

RIDLEY:  Yes.

O‘DONNELL:  . and Crowley may very well be a good cop, we‘re all capable of the stupid moment.  We‘re all capable of the bad decision.  And I didn‘t hear anything in what the president first said to indicate that he thought Crowley or any of those police officers on the scene were stupid.  He thought that what happened was stupid.  That seems to be a distinction that is completely lost on the president‘s opponents.

RIDLEY:  Well, yes, I think, absolutely.  I mean, he said that they acted stupidly.  Again, I think you make a good point.  There‘s no reason to believe that this cop is stupid in and of himself.  He goes out, he does his job every day.

But the reality is, is that people can make mistakes and they can learn from them.  And, by the way, would say, an example of that, if you talk about teachable moments, the president who then came back and said, “Look, I calibrated my words incorrectly.  I‘ve invited both of these individuals to sit and talk and maybe we can all learn something.”

There are other people who not only don‘t want to apologize or take a step back.  They want to introduce legislation—because, apparently, we‘ve solved all the other problems in America—that the president should apologize despite the fact he has apologized.

O‘DONNELL:  What do you think or what do you hope to come from the beer summit at the White House?

RIDLEY:  You know, I know it‘s not going to solve any big issue problems.  My hope would be that all of us, the next time we‘re in a situation where we don‘t really understand all that‘s going on and we‘re seeing people through our own myopic viewpoints sometimes, that we‘ll take a step back.

You know, again, I think, Lawrence, as you point out, again, in your article, we can all make these kinds of mistakes.  But the reality is, is what do we do the next time when we find ourselves in one of these situations?

O‘DONNELL:  And you see some linkages in this event to some of the other developments in our news world—from Sonia Sotomayor to other issues—don‘t you?

RIDLEY:  Yes, I wrote about this on “Huffington Post.”  I mean, for me, one of the issues here is that sort of proven mentality.  One of the deals that‘s made with people of color and with women is if you work hard, if you don‘t complain, if you do the things you‘re supposed to do, you get a slice of the American pie.

But over the last few months, we‘ve seen the best and brightest of us.  As you mentioned, Sonia Sotomayor, the President Obama with the birther movement and in this case, Henry Louis Gates.  That idea that it doesn‘t matter what you‘ve done, it doesn‘t matter about your accomplishments, it doesn‘t matter that you‘ll have spent more time on the bench than anyone else who sits on the Supreme Court—prove it.  Prove you can think like the white male perspective, prove that you really are an American, prove that this house belongs to you despite the fact the caller says that you have suitcases, you may live there, never having said to the police officer that they were black gentlemen or anything like that.

That proven mentality, I think, is getting tiring for a lot of us who try to live by that, but it‘s never enough.

O‘DONNELL:  John Ridley, author of the blog “That Minority Thing” and a contributor to the NPR and “The Huffington Post”—thank you for being with us tonight.

RIDLEY:  As always, Lawrence, thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  The other controversy hounding the president—the persistent claims that despite all the evidence, he was not born in the USA.  Some amazing tape from Capitol Hill you have to see to believe.

And, up next in “Oddball”: Yet another tribute to the memory of Michael Jackson from his number one fans, the inmates of a Filipino prison.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL: On this day in 1940, a hunting trip gone awry, starring an accident-prone hunter and his clever foil.  The world is introduced to Bugs Bunny.  Warner Brothers debuting its signature rabbit in the feature “Wild Hare.”  The cartoon would later provide inspiration for real life theatrics, with Dick Cheney, of course, rephrasing the role of Elmer Fudd.

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin at Sloppy Joe‘s Bar in Key West, Florida, where beer soaked beards can only mean one thing—an Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest.  In fact, it‘s the Ernest Hemingway look-alike contest held annually at one of the writer‘s old haunts.  The competition is stiff and so are the drinks, but with 139 participants vying for the title, there can only be one winner—David Douglas of Texas, crediting his wool fisherman‘s sweater for his victory.  Mr. Douglas says his literary ambitions are limited to check writing. 

To the Philippines, time to check up on the prison population there, as Oddball‘s celebrity tribute Monday continues.  These convicts obviously have way, way, way too much time on their hands, since they‘ve choreographed yet another homage to Michael Jackson.  With multiple cameras and costumes, complete with sequined gloves, it lacks some of the original whimsy their first hit “Thriller” garnered, but in a very literal interpretation, here now are a bunch of outlaws performing “Dangerous.”

(SINGING)

O‘DONNELL:  Does being forced to line dance to Michael Jackson qualify as cruel and unusual punishment?  The prisoners aren‘t sure what song they will perform next, but a reasonable guess would be “Smooth Criminal.”

Coming up, we‘ve seen the last of that turkey obviously.  But have we seen the last of Sarah Palin as an elected official?  In 332 days, she goes from governor of Alaska to vice presidential nominee to resigning her office as the head of her state.  We‘ll look back at a year even Hollywood, even I couldn‘t have imagined. 

And yet another shocking headline from deep inside the mind of Dick Cheney.  He wanted to send U.S. troops into an American city to arrest U.S.  citizens.  How many ways is that wrong?  Jonathan Turley joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Playwright Robert Bolt said, in “A Man For All Seasons,” “the land is planted thick with laws.  If you cut them down to get to the devil, who could stand the wind that would then blow?”  For our third story in the COUNTDOWN, former Vice President Dick Cheney, either utterly ignorant of or eager to override our laws and Constitution, actually wanted to use the military to arrest Americans in America. 

In late 2001, Vice President Cheney wanted to send troops into the Buffalo, New York suburb of Lackawanna to arrest a group of six Yemeni American men for allegedly belonging to an al Qaeda sleeper cell.  So Cheney asked then Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo to create the legal justification to do this. 

If the president decided to do what Cheney wanted, he‘d have to somehow get around not only the pesky Bill of Rights, but also the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that limited the government‘s power to use the military for law enforcement. 

No problem.  John Yoo, who created the legal justification for torture when the Bush administration asked him to, crafted a memo saying not only does the president have the right to deploy the military inside the U.S., but also “we further believe that the use of such military force generally is consistent with Constitutional standards.”  And here‘s a nice flourish, “that it need not follow the exact procedures that govern law enforcement operations.” 

The president ended up using the FBI to arrest the men.  But the incident marked the beginning of Mr. Cheney‘s numerous attempts to trample the Constitution and illegally expand the power of the presidency. 

Let‘s bring in a professor of Constitutional law at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley.  Thanks for joining us tonight. 

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Why would Cheney want to go this route, instead of just doing it the old fashioned way, using the FBI to bust these guys, which is exactly what they ended up doing? 

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s rather transparently an act of opportunism.  Many people in the administration, including John Yoo, were known long before 9/11 to hold very extreme views of executive power.  And they saw 9/11 as an opportunity.  There was no reason to use the military to go after these rather low grade alleged terrorists.  In fact, that‘s what they proved to be.  They had no difficulty in the FBI arresting them. 

But putting aside Cheney, what‘s really surprising is that—you know, we hope as academics, as law professors, that people who are raised within our freedoms, our liberties, our traditions, particularly those who are trained in the law, will be naturally inclined to oppose these ideas.  But this is sort of like a dormant virus that lives within our democracy, that there are people who seem to long for authority, control, even domination. 

They‘re the people that tend to cheer at all the wrong times at movies like “V.”  And, you know, the ones that seem to relish in the idea of executive control.  That‘s what we have here.  It‘s a combination of not just ambition, but people who seem to desire a level of control. 

We came remarkably close to an act that fits every definition of tyranny.  The act of an executive power setting aside the Constitution, saying in this memo that the 4th Amendment wouldn‘t control, and literally sending active troops into a U.S. city. 

And that came within one vote.  That one vote was George Bush, who is not exactly people‘s choice as a defender of civil liberties. 

O‘DONNELL:  If Cheney had won this argument in the White House, and they had actually done this, sent troops into Lackawanna to make an arrest, what would the legal ramifications have been? 

TURLEY:  You know, Lawrence, you know this very well, that these people are rather adept at gaming the system.  They know if they went into Lackawanna, the courts probably wouldn‘t stop them or shut them down immediately.  What you saw in this period was, across the board—this was the same period where they were ramping up the torture issue, where they were ramping up enemy combatant. 

It was a full court press on the Constitution.  They were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power.  Congress, in fact, did give them a lot of power.  The short term is they probably would have gotten away with it.  A court would have been reluctant to enjoin them. 

In the long term, I think a court would have found this was unlawful.  This argument by John Yoo is laughable.  It‘s the same type of argument they made in other areas, by the president simply declaring someone an enemy combatant, simply declaring his motivation is national security, he transcends the constitution in our laws.  That can‘t be true in a nation committed to the rule of law. 

O‘DONNELL:  Jonathan, let‘s go back to what you said about President Bush, the one man standing in the way of this.  Doesn‘t it seem the hero of this particular episode of Dick Cheney‘s assault on the rule of law was no one other than George W. Bush? 

TURLEY:  I mean, this is really, for a civil libertarian, like the final scene of Darth Vader, saying take my helmet off, son.  I‘m with you.  You know, whether he—you know, there is some question of why George Bush did this, whether he viewed this as politically too unpredictable, or whether he did it truly out of Constitutional concerns or traditional concerns, or whether he simply didn‘t want to override the FBI. 

What‘s clear from his history is that George Bush had very little understanding of the limitations of the Constitution.  What understanding he did have, he had a very antagonistic relationship to it.  I think maybe George Bush the politician realized that all this stuff was ramping up so fast that he was risking a serious backlash.  I mean, consider the fact that in his office at that time, he already knew about these other unlawful programs.  And now you have Dick Cheney coming in and saying, why don‘t we start sending soldiers into cities, rolling down the streets? 

I think that perhaps George Bush realized that could be a bridge too far. 

O‘DONNELL:  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, thanks for joining us. 

TURLEY:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, GOP dementia on Capitol Hill.  A surprising look at just how much credence Republican Congressmen are giving the rumors that President Obama isn‘t a U.S. citizen. 

Also, first came the big rollout, then came the interviews with the media.  We‘ll take a look back at a year like no other in the political life of Sarah Palin. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Our number two story tonight is an age old story, really.  Boy meets girl, but their love is forbidden.  So boy and girl marry and flee to Kenya to have a baby.  Boy and girl plant fraudulent birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers, and forge fake birth certificate so that boy and girl‘s son can grow up to be president, and turn America socialist by saving its enormous banks. 

Now, in the latest chapter of our story, story itself threatens entire U.S. political party, as story‘s fans try to suck party‘s leaders into story‘s fictional world, leaving Senator James Inhofe telling “Politico,” quote, “they have a point.”  And Congressman Pete Hoekstra urging focus on bigger issues, but adding, quote, “not that this isn‘t important.” 

How important?  Mike Stark of Fire Dog Lake and the “Huffington Post” surveyed Republicans to see just how far and powerfully this little story has spread. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE STARK, “HUFFINGTON POST”:  If Barack Obama was a natural born citizen of the United States and he is constitutionally permitted to serve as president? 

REP. MIKE COFFMAN ®, CO:  The courts have said so. 

STARK:  You do believe that.

COFFMAN:  Yes.

STARK:  Thanks very much. 

What do you believe personally? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘d like to see the documents.  

REP. CHARLES BOUSTANY ®, LA:  It‘s certainly being looked at. 

STARK:  What do you personally believe?  Do you think there‘s a question here?

BOUSTANY:  I think there are questions.  We‘ll have to see. 

STARK:  You do believe there are questions.  That‘s good enough. 

Thanks very much. 

We‘re on the Hill asking Republicans if they believe Barack Obama was born in the United States. 

It doesn‘t matter to you?  But you swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. 

REP. AARON SCHOCK ®, IL:  That‘s a question he needs to answer, not me.

STARK:  You can tell me what you think.  Do you think he was? 

SCHOCK:  He was my US Senator.  So he said he was.  I believe he was.

REP. DAVE REICHART ®, WA:  We‘re in America.  We are free.  We allow people to say—people stand on the sidewalk and this gentleman gets to show his—

STARK:  Can we pan over? 

REICHART:  He gets to stand for what he believes in and the way that he decides to, because we‘re Americans. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was born in Mombassa, Kenya.

REICHART:  There we go. 

STARK:  That wasn‘t planned.  You know that. 

REICHART:  My point is—

REP. THADDEUS MCCOTTER ®, MI:  Nothing to talk about. 

STARK:  Not to Republicans.  I do today.  

MCCOTTER:  I haven‘t changed.

STARK:  Let me ask you.  Do you believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?  Is he Constitutionally permitted to serve as president of the United States? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m focused on health care. 

STARK:  You‘re focused on health care?  You can‘t give a yes or no? 

REP. JEFF FORTENBERRY ®, NE:  Do you have some evidence that he is or isn‘t? 

STARK:  Chris Matthews held up his birth certificate on “HARDBALL” the other night. 

REP. GREG HARPER ®, MS:  Well, obviously, the Constitution speaks for itself, and those requirements need to be met.  That will be up to others to look into that. 

STARK:  So you won‘t say whether or not you believe he was born in the United States? 

HARPER:  I‘ll say we have requirements for that and that‘s up to others to determine. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There was a process that was gone through and I think the process—

STARK:  You refuse to say what you believe. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I just told you what I believe. 

REP. TRENT FRANKS ®, ARIZONA:  Actually I think Barack Obama was born in Hawaii. 

STARK:  In the United States. 

FRANKS:  Born in Hawaii, a state in the United States.  Therefore, he is a Constitutionally natural born citizen of this country. 

STARK:  That‘s the clearest expression from a Republican I‘ve heard yet.  It seems like—

FRANKS:  I‘ll be quite honest with you, that when the information came to us that put that into question, there was a lot of very fascinating information that put that in question.  My office did some in-depth research.  And we found birth records in the newspapers in Hawaii that couldn‘t have been forged. 

STARK:  Exactly. 

FRANKS:  You can‘t go back and rewrite those.  So that is my perspective. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  A quick epilogue to our tail; Congressman McCotter, who hustled away from the camera, saying he had to focus on health care, was focusing today on introducing a resolution demanding President Obama apologize for calling the very stupid arrest of Henry Louis Gates stupid. 

Coming up, the birth of Sarah Palin‘s national political career came when Senator John McCain hand picked the former Alaskan governor to be his running mate.  Hard to believe that was less than a year ago.  The amazing rise and fall of Sarah Palin next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.  One of the most bizarre career trajectories in American politics now in intermission.  Our number one story, Sarah Palin‘s curtain call. 

Yesterday, the end of act one for the ex-governor of Alaska.  After a year‘s worth of fancy convention clothes and musings on dead fish, Ms.  Palin now heading toward that higher calling.  While she remains coy on what might come next, time now to look back at what was the year of Palin. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sarah, Heath is here with sports, other news besides Iditarod, right? 

SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA:  Right.  There was some good college basketball today.  I‘m going to show you highlights.  I‘ll show you all about that next.  Stay right there. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  She is exactly who I need.  She is exactly who this country needs. 

PALIN:  Senator, I‘m honored to be chosen and to run. 

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Who the heck is she?  The 20 month veteran, the term mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 9,236?  A governor who was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it? 

PALIN:  I told Congress thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere. 

OLBERMANN:  As of tomorrow, every time Senator Palin (sic) repeats one of her standard lies, I will donate 100 dollars to charity. 

PALIN:  I did tell Congress thanks but no thanks. 

Thanks but no thanks. 

Thanks but no thanks.

OLBERMANN:  A check to the Alaska Special Olympics is in the amount of 3,700. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And the next vice president of the United States, Sarah Palin!

PALIN:  I love those hockey moms.  You know, they say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?  Lip stick. 

OLBERMANN:  People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like. 

MCCAIN:  Don‘t you think we made the right choice for the next vice president of the United States? 

OLBERMANN:  I went to an anti-Palin rally and a hockey game broke out. 

The Sarah Palin interview. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And the Iraq—everywhere—such as. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sorry.  Wrong tape. 

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC ANCHOR:  Do you agree with the Bush doctrine? 

PALIN:  In what respect, Charlie? 

GIBSON:  The Bush—what do you interpret it to be? 

PALIN:  His world view? 

OLBERMANN:  All political gaffs will now, by necessity, have to be put in historical context, BP or AP.  Before Palin or after Palin. 

PALIN:  You can even play stump the candidate, if you want to. 

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR:  What other Supreme Court decisions do you disagree with? 

PALIN:  Well, let‘s see.  There is—of course, in the great history of America there have been rulings.  There‘s never going to be absolute consensus by every American. 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Governor, are you a feminist? 

PALIN:  I‘m not going to label myself anything, Brian. 

COURIC:  Do you consider yourself a feminist? 

PALIN:  I do. 

Our next door neighbors are foreign countries.  They‘re in the state that I am the executive of.  If Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go?  It‘s Alaska.  It‘s just right over the border. 

COURIC:  What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this? 

PALIN:  I‘ve read most of them, again, with a great appreciation for the press, for the media. 

COURIC:  But what, specifically?  I‘m curious. 

PALIN:  All of them. 

COURIC:  I‘ll just ask you one more time, not to belabor the point, specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation. 

PALIN:  I‘ll try to find you some and I‘ll bring them to you. 

OLBERMANN:  And now it belongs to the ages: Palin v. Biden.  That was not a Supreme Court verdict. 

PALIN:  I may not answer the questions the way that either the moderator or you want to hear. 

Say it ain‘t so, Joe. 

Barack Obama and Senator O‘Biden (ph). 

Drill, baby, drill.  Nuclear.  Nuclear.

Clean, green, natural gas. 

Team of mavericks. 

Maverick.  Maverick.  Maverick.

What do you expect, a team of mavericks? 

I think that‘s what John McCain meant.

I‘m going to keep pushing him on Anwar though. 

My dad was in the audience today. 

Joe six pack.

Hockey moms across the nation. 

How long have I been at this, like five weeks? 

One of Barack Obama‘s earliest supporters is Bill Ayers, a domestic terrorist. 

Domestic terrorist. 

Domestic terrorist. 

Domestic terrorist. 

Domestic terrorist. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In the name of Jesus, every form of witchcraft—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I must say to the Palin, I love the document that you made on your life.  You know “Hustler‘s” Nailing Palin?

PALIN:  Good.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  It is useful to recall the conventional wisdom regarding vice presidential picks: first, do no harm.  Governor Palin, eight weeks after her selection, seems to be continuing to do harm. 

PALIN:  The clothes are not my property.  My favorite shop is a consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska called Out of The Closet. 

OLBERMANN:  Based on multiple reports from multiple sources, Sarah Palin is a rogue GOP elephant. 

PALIN:  I‘m glad now that Elizabeth brought it up, because it gives me an opportunity, without the filter of the media, to get to tell you the whole clothes thing. 

OLBERMANN:  Palin, quote, “is a diva.  She takes no advice from anyone.”  Hasselbeck. 

MCCAIN:  My friends, we have come to the end of a long journey.  The American people have spoken and they have spoken clearly. 

PALIN:  I don‘t think it‘s changed me at all.  I have the same values and convictions and positions on policy.  So just a greater appreciation I think for what other candidates go through.  It was pretty brutal.  And it was a blast.  Every day was just a blast out there on the trail. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Sarah, it was a blast for us, too.  We can never thank you enough.  I mean it. 

That will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.  Tomorrow‘s guest host, former Governor Howard Dean.  Have a good night. 

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

END   

Watch Countdown with Keith Olbermann each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

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