updated 9/3/2009 11:59:27 AM ET 2009-09-03T15:59:27

Guests: Clarence Page, Markos Moulitsas, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, John Dean, Craig Crawford

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

The president aims high, the big explanatory speech on health care reform—joint session of Congress.

David Axelrod nails Senator Grassley.  “If you‘re sitting at a table

negotiating in good faith, then you probably don‘t send out mailers saying,

‘Help me stop Obama-care.‘”

The Republicans know just what the president should say to Congress. 

Mr. Gingrey of Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PHIL GINGREY ®, GEORGIA:  Let‘s remove the public option and also, anything that smacked to a public option like a co-op.  And, indeed, I will veto that if it comes to my desk with that in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No, I don‘t think the congressman smokes crack.

The torture investigation—Senator Whitehouse and Congressman Nadler agree it‘s not broad enough.  Investigate both John Yoo and you know who.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK:  My criticism to the attorney general is that he should not limit the investigation to the people in the field who may have committed the torture, but to people who may have ordered it, such as the vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Tom Ridge says he was misquoted in his own autobiography.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” HOST:  I was going to read to you directly from the fly leaf of your book.

TOM RIDGE, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Oh, I know that.

MADDOW:  “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election.”  That‘s wrong.

RIDGE:  Yes.  Those aren‘t my words.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Is the former homeland security secretary backpedaling because somebody told him, politicizing terror alerts was probably a criminal act?  John Dean joins us.

“Worsts”: Michael Steele defends grassroots protests at town halls until he gets grassrooted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  So people go out to town halls, they go out to the community, and they‘re like this.  It makes for great TV.  You‘ll probably make it tonight.  Enjoy it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And he and Mrs. Palin, the almost son-in-law reveals all in “Vanity Fair.”  After she and McCain lost, quote, “She would blatantly say, ‘I want to take this money and quit being governor.‘”  Before they lost, quote, “She definitely thought she was running for president.”

No, I don‘t think she smokes crack.

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH PALIN ®, FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR:  You need a little bit of levity in this job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

After a brutal inglorious August with obstructionists on the right and supporters on the left wondering whether he will lay down markers on a specific plan.  In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The president has chosen as his venue for the big clarifying health care speech—a joint session of Congress one week from tonight.  The White House will not confirm tonight that the public option is sacrosanct.

The primetime address to Congress will come just one day after lawmakers return to the Capitol after their August recess.  It will also mark the first time in eight years that a president has addressed the joint session of Congress, other than the State of the Union or the traditional first address the by the new president.  The last time this happened September 20th, 2001, after the 9/11 attacks.

Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid welcomed President Obama‘s announcement.  They have a prescheduled meeting with him at the White House the day before the address.

But from House Minority Leader John Boehner through a spokesman, “Obviously, we want to hear what the president has to say, but the American people don‘t want a new speech, they want a new plan.  We need to scrap the Democrats‘ government take over of health care and start over on a real bipartisan plan for reform.”

The president‘s new approach will be more active and more prescriptive.  According to the senior White House advisor, David Axelrod, but he was notably non-committal on the public option.  Quoting, “The spirit that led him—that is the president—to support a public option is still very much at play here and so you know he wants competition, he wants choice.”

At least Mr. Axelrod pinned the tail on the elephant of Republican negotiators, like Senator Chuck Grassley, who mailed an anti-Obama fund-raising letter last month.  “If you‘re sitting at a table negotiating in good faith, then you probably don‘t send out mailers saying, ‘Help me stop Obama-care.‘  That‘s just common sense.”

Grassley‘s spokeswoman responding to that, “Attacks by political operatives at the White House undermine bipartisan efforts and drive senators away from the table.”

Yes, sure, then why did Senator Grassley say this just yesterday?  Quote, “There‘s a feeling that the only way to get a bipartisan agreement is to defeat a Democratic proposal in the firsthand and then the Democrats will come to Republican leadership.”

Further evidence that Republicans are still playing games—from Congressman Phil Gingrey of Georgia, who somehow thinks the president might actually take this position.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGREY:  To remove the public option and also anything that smacked to a public option like a co-op, and indeed, I will veto that if it comes to my desk with that in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And then I‘ll resign.

And one more note on timing, the president‘s address will follow by just two days his appearance at a Labor Day event with the AFL-CIO.  That organization‘s likely next president has suggested there will be consequences for Democratic lawmakers who do not support the public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO:  We‘re going to try to get every one of them to vote for it and do our best to pass a bill that really will break the stranglehold that insurance companies have over the health care industry.  That‘s what we‘re going to try to do.  Those that don‘t, we‘ll tell our members.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s call on the Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, editorial board member of the “Chicago Tribune,” Clarence Page.

Clarence, good evening.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Is this going to be a big explanatory speech or a line in the sand speech, or some sort of Kennedy-esque “call to arms” speech, or all of the above?  Do we have any idea?

PAGE:  I go for all of the above, Keith.  I think we‘ve got to go back and look at the president‘s primetime news conference.  You‘ll recall, back over a month ago, at which he was supposed to really hone in on the health care issue and it wound up being overshadowed by police profiling.  You remember the very last question of the evening.  And even so, during the news conference, he didn‘t seem that really focused or engaged in a way that really helped the public to understand specifically what‘s being proposed.

Now, he needs to make up for that lost time over the last month.  There‘s been more confusion out in the land.  But polls show that people still want some kind of reform.  They just aren‘t sure what‘s being proposed.  He‘s got to explain that.

OLBERMANN:  The precise content of what he‘s going to explain is reportedly still being debated within the White House.  What could he—this late in the battle and in that kind of big scale forum—could he get away with not taking a clear stand on any part of this, specifically on the public option, on mandates, on other key points?

PAGE:  Well, he‘s got to be as specific as possible here, and Congressman Gingrey is dreaming if he thinks that Obama‘s going to back off both the public option and the co-op.  I mean, what do Republicans want, do they not want any kind of competition or choice for the public?  And so far as what kind of coverage they want.

But today, a source, who didn‘t want to be named, inside the White House, let some journalist know that they‘ve been talking with Senator Olympia Snowe from Maine who is kind of the last of the “gang of six,” as far as Republicans are concerned, who are still in there negotiating in good faith, looks like.  Although Grassley claims to be, through the spokeswoman, you heard earlier.

And the idea is to possibly propose a two-year delay of public option and meanwhile the insurance companies go along with some reform measures that the administration—let‘s say imposes upon them.  If they don‘t—if they don‘t comply with it in two years, a trigger goes off and a public option comes into play then after we‘re past the midterm elections.

That‘s the kind of thing that Rahm Emanuel‘s been quietly pushing for months now.  And possibly the president might announce something like that next week.  But that‘s down the road.  He‘s still got to talk with the leaders of the House and the Senate.

OLBERMANN:  Wouldn‘t he, though, in doing something like that, only increase the opposition from the left and not really significantly decrease it from the right?

PAGE:  That‘s why he‘s floating that balloon now.  You could say.  That‘s why the administration‘s floating it, because they want to see what kind of reaction they get from House Democrats.  You know, the House bill does include a public option.  But the Senate, there are not enough votes over there for a public option.

So, there‘s some wiggle room for some kind of negotiating.  I think that‘s what the administration was hoping for that they can still hold out that option which will give the public a chance to decide for themselves whether they want to go with the government Medicare-like coverage or stick with the private sector.  And at the same time, you know, have some kind of cost controls here—some kind of competition that would, as President Obama says, keep the private insurers honest.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Clarence, could the president‘s admirable inclination to look at the bigger picture in all situations hurt him here?  I mean, the philosophy and history in speeches, such as the one about race last year, noble—I don‘t think it‘s too strong of a term—informative, pertinent.  But if he goes philosophical or historical here, could he lose his last chance to sell whatever it is he wants, whatever it is he wants to stand up for?

PAGE:  I think there‘s very little doubt that he could, Keith.  We certainly saw that with his primetime news conference where he didn‘t really get specific enough there and he had wandered off into the police profiling issue.

He‘s got to really zero in like a laser now and really focus in on the fact that our health care system is broken.  Most people agree that some kind of reform is necessary.  That money has to be saved or we‘re going to have even more uninsured people.  We‘re going to have even more problems, less coverage and more costs.  He‘s got to hone in on that, and as to how his proposals will address it.

OLBERMANN:  The “Chicago Tribune‘s” Clarence Page—thanks, Clarence. 

Have a good night.

PAGE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Let‘s bring in the founder and publisher of “Daily Kos,” as the technical gods cooperate for once, also author of “Taking on the System,” Markos Moulitsas.

Good evening, Markos.

MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILY KOS:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We just heard Clarence Page and his source inside the White House, delayed, triggered public option coming into effect in two years.  Are you buying that?

MOULITSAS:  You know, compromise is sort of the art of the possible, and if that‘s the best we can get.  I don‘t really buy it, though, because, you know, when we talk about a trigger, what exactly is that trigger?  Is it 50 percent of Americans can‘t get health care?  That triggers a public option?  Or is it something more realistic.

And if we can concede that there is a problem with health care today, why not fix it today?  Why try to push it off into the future what would inevitably be a need for change?

OLBERMANN:  The principles the president had laid down with nothing more.  That‘s part of the reason Democrats find themselves in this current mess.  Is this address next week truly the president‘s last chance to correct that?  Is this the “gunfight at the O.K. Corral” on this issue?

MOULITSAS:  Well, it‘s been an ugly couple of months.  And Republicans with some Democratic enablers have delayed and slowed down this process in order to allow this campaign of lies and fears to take effect and try to slow down or try to remove and erode public support for the public option.  Now, what we‘ve seen sort of ironically is that the public still very much supports the public option, but Democrats are wavering because it‘s sort of what Democrats always seem to do.

So, yes, this is a chance for Obama to sort of right the ship, make clear that he was elected and Democrats were elected on a platform of change and health care was one of the top priorities in that—on that agenda.

OLBERMANN:  Here‘s David Axelrod calling out Chuck Grassley today, probably a month too late, maybe a year too late.  Here‘s Steny Hoyer after having been very jelly-like on this subject for a while, coming out in firm favor of the public option yesterday.

Is the president late to the dance on standing up on this issue?  Is he—has he tried to be too much of a bipartisan?  Has he tried to go for too broad of a mandate on this?  What went wrong in this process?

MOULITSAS:  A lot of things went wrong.  I mean, it‘s kind of hard to think even where to start.  But I think one of the lessons from the ‘92-‘93 process, is that it seemed to be a top-bottom effort.  White House tried to control it and imposed a plan on Congress.  So, I think the Obama administration came in and said, “We‘re going to do it differently, we‘re going to let Congress take the lead, and we‘ll sort of, you know, we‘ll sign what Congress gives us.”  That‘s not working too well, either.

So I think it‘s time to show a little bit of leadership.  I mean, both in the Senate and in the White House because, again, this is what the American public elected them to do in record numbers.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  It may be difficult to herd cats, but it‘s much easier for somebody else other than the cats to herd themselves.

Last point: The president‘s poll numbers have suffered through all of

this, and yet many of the same polls show, as you pointed out, the public

wants public option, still trusts him more than they trust congressional

Republicans, or congressional Democrats on the issue.  These combinations -

combination of polls, does this underscore the frustration on how the president has handled this, but also the opportunity that still exists—as bizarre as this last month has been—he can still pull this out next week?

           

MOULITSAS:  There‘s clearly, I think, a lot of frustration from all sides.  I mean, frustration from the Democratic side that we‘re not getting what the administration promised us, what Obama promised us.  We‘re not asking for the impossible, we‘re not asking for unpopular changes.  We‘re asking for what he campaigned on and what the polls showed to be popular.

So, Obama‘s numbers are stronger than Congress, I think, because people really want to hope.  I mean, they voted for this guy because they hoped for change.  They didn‘t want tinkering around the edges.  They did not want status quo.  They did not want to reward the insurance companies that don‘t like competition.  They actually wanted hope.

And that‘s why, I think, they‘re giving him the benefit of the doubt even though I think they‘re starting to run out.

OLBERMANN:  Markos Moulitsas of “Daily Kos”—as always, great thanks for your time, and great thanks for bearing with us with our technical problems last night.

MOULITSAS:  Oh, a pleasure.  Anytime, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Why do I think that Republican conduct during all this will someday engender a legal investigation?  Could it be because seemingly everything else Republicans have done lately is engendering investigations?

Dick Cheney‘s blowback against the torture probe, claiming it‘s all politics, is disagreed with by a very Democratic Democrat and a very Republican Republican.  We‘ll talk to that Democrat, Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Meantime, could there be a legal investigation into what former Homeland Security Secretary Ridge has written about politicizing of terror warnings?  John Dean here to explain why he thinks there‘s a chance—which would also explain why Mr. Ridge is so adamantly backpedaling from his new book that he wrote.  But he was misquoted in it, and he‘s saying all of the publicity for it and the stuff on the book jacket isn‘t true.  Mr. Ridge caught as it were with his fly leaf down.

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OLBERMANN:  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jerry Nadler both call for the attorney general to broaden the torture investigation to include the former vice president.  The senator joins us.

And the problem with writing an even mildly revelatory book about the Bush administration is that people will assume you meant it—or that you wrote it, or at least that you read it.  Secretary Ridge meets Rachel Maddow.  Secretary Ridge may next meet legal problems.  John Dean explains.

All that ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  In the 48 hours since Dick Cheney called investigating torture an outrageous political act to former prosecutors, one from each party say they disagree.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The torture probe is now getting support not only from former prosecutor Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic U.S. senator who joins us in a moment, but also from the nation‘s former top prosecutor, Republican Alberto Gonzales.

First, the senator, the former U.S. attorney in the “National Law Journal,” laying out the legal foundations that justify that require investigation.  First, the corpus delicti, the body of evidence establishing the possible existence of a crime.  In this case, the Bush administration‘s admission of waterboarding, an act defined as criminal by international treaty and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the fifth circuit in 1984.

Mr. Whitehouse writing, quote, “For there to be investigation now is unexceptional.  The only exceptional is the parties involved: the former vice president of the United States, his counsel, David Addington, Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo.”

Congressman Jerry Nadler making the same case on FOX News where, of course, the emcee was contractually obligated to interrupt as soon as Nadler mentioned Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NADLER:  The law says very clearly that it is the obligation of the attorney general to investigate, to see whether crimes were committed any time there was torture under American jurisdiction.  He must do that, if he didn‘t do that, he‘d be breaking the law.  My criticism of the attorney general is that he should not limit the investigation to people in the field who may have committed the torture, to people who may have ordered, such as the vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But it was Fredo, poor Fredo who grabbed the headlines by going against the family.  He broke their hearts.

Quote, “Let me just say that I have a great deal of respect for General Holder.  I think that the attorney general would have made this on his own and I think as the chief prosecutor of the United States, he should make the decision on his own.  Eric Holder is looking at conduct that goes beyond the instructions given by the Department of Justice.  And if people go beyond that, I think it is legitimate to question, to examine that conduct to ensure that people are held accountable for the actions they take even if it‘s the actions in prosecuting the war on terror.”

With us now, as promised, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Great thanks for your time tonight, Senator.

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

OLBERMANN:  First, your thoughts on Mr. Gonzales endorsing this investigation.  Do you think his approval is sincere here?  Or is it a function of relief that the aim is no higher than the operatives at the interrogative level?

WHITEHOUSE:  Well, at last, he and I agree on something.  I think that this sends a pretty clear signal about how very far off base Vice President Cheney was with his remarks when a loyal Bushy like Attorney General Gonzales recognizes what every prosecutor plainly recognizes, which is that, in these circumstances, an investigation is completely unexceptional shows I think that it‘s pretty much, you know, down the middle of the road here what Attorney General Holder is doing.  That it‘s not a reach of any kind, and that it‘s very consistent with his sworn responsibilities as our chief law enforcement officer.

OLBERMANN:  You wrote that there is “substantial evidence of a back channel between Addington and Yoo.”  Mr. Yoo, of course, that is.  Can you briefly identify those men and the significance—explain the significance of the back channel?

WHITEHOUSE:  David Addington was the legal counsel to Dick Cheney, to the office of the vice president, and John Yoo was the attorney over at the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice, who was the primary author of the opinions that cleared waterboarding and other torture techniques.  And the fact of the back channel between them at least raises the possibility that the opinion by the Attorney Yoo was perhaps as bad as it was because of incompetence, perhaps as bad as it was because of ideology, but also perhaps as bad as it was because of instruction.

And if there was instruction from the White House about this, that raises the whole new set of potential investigative concerns.  We‘re now no longer dealing with the question of a legitimate independent legal opinion upon which people relied in good faith.  We‘re dealing with the example of the mob lawyer who writes the cover opinion to try to provide some shelter for the crime while he‘s in on it himself.

OLBERMANN:  So if—let me just see if I can clarify this for my own understanding.  If you had misled the Department of Justice and the CIA about what was legal and this was at the direction of Addington or at the direction of the vice president, all three men could wind up being prosecuted?

WHITEHOUSE:  Well, if there was a conspiracy to commit torture, one of the predicate acts of the conspiracy, one of the acts that pulled the conspiracy together, could well have been instructions from the office of the vice president to Attorney Yoo, instructing him how to write the opinion.  One could even imagine him saying, “But wait a minute, I found a case on point that says that waterboarding is torture, we can‘t go there,” and Addington saying, “Hey, you know, are you on the team or are you not?  Get with the program, this stuff is all going to be very classified, nobody will ever know.”

Very long shot, I‘m not saying that‘s at all what happened.  But until concerns like that are settled, the only responsible thing for a prosecutor to do is to go about the traditional practice of investigating the facts.

OLBERMANN:  And you also said that as, in your—wearing your former prosecutor‘s hat—that your suspicion has been raised by aggressive claims of executive privilege, by refusal to cooperate with inspectors general, and stories, that you say, can‘t and don‘t withstand scrutiny.  Can you elaborate briefly on those points?

WHITEHOUSE:  Well, if you—if you don‘t have anything to hide, you don‘t often spend a great deal of time trying to hide it.  Under the Bush administration, we saw extraordinary assertions of executive privilege—almost wild assertions of executive privilege to keep Congress from looking at materials within the executive branch of the government.

And you saw what I call the cover story.  You‘ve heard it.  You know it.

It‘s—the al Qaeda guy was tougher than anybody America‘s ever seen.  We tried the FBI and the military interrogators on them but they were too constrained by Miranda and too amateurish to get anywhere.  So, we had to bring in the tough experienced CIA interrogators and then they applied these tough but lawful techniques and then we got information that saved lives.

Well, pretty much every element of that story appears to be untrue.  And so, when you‘ve cobbled it altogether, there‘s kind of consciousness of guilt in putting together a phony story.

OLBERMANN:  And if you don‘t have anything to hide, you don‘t spend a lot of time trying to hide it.  That‘s an excellent point.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat of Rhode Island—as always, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

SHELDON:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And now, we discover the origins of the phrase “blow it out your ear.”  That‘s a funny way to blow up a balloon.

Which shock of shocks is what Michael Steele said when somebody interrupted his to health care town hall and had the audacity to say he wasn‘t listening to the people.  “Worst Persons” ahead.  There‘s tape.

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OLBERMANN:  “Worsts” ahead, and Republicans have now come out against their own kids getting good grades in school.

First, on this date in 1901, at the Minnesota state fair, Vice President Roosevelt, just 12 days before he became president, quoted—apparently for the first time—an old African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”  Or as Glenn Beck repeated it last week, “Walk softly and carry garlic because Obama‘s gone too far.”

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we join you now from India.  It‘s a children‘s birthday party already in progress, the kiddies are restless.  Send in the clowns, and here he is, the Glenn Beck of India—who can, yes, blow a balloon out his ear.  Khem Karam Koli, one-stop shopping for your child‘s endless entertainment.  Except, mommy, why is the balloon or sticking balloons in his ears?  Yes, fascination mixed with horror can be part of your child‘s next get-together.

Although Mr. Koli claims that the ear balloon blowing is a real crowd pleaser—he‘s been doing this for a year—Mr. Koli credits his wife for getting him in the business although she says he‘s always been a bit of an airhead.

Bulgaria, hello!  A new twist on the phrase “burning up the dance floor.”  It‘s the ancient art of fire-walking, known in more contemporary circles as running across hot coals in front of tourists.  Check out these blistering moves.  The ritual is practiced every year.  Performers adhere to a few ground rules, moves to avoid the electric slide and the worm.  And their play list includes Smokey Robinson, Vanilla Ice, Kool and the Gang and of course, crap, my feet are burning.

So you didn‘t say politics influenced the terror threat level, but it says on the cover of your book that you didn‘t say that and it says on your book‘s Web site that you said, does this have anything to do with the chance that laws were broken?

And Sarah Palin once looked at a picture of me and said he‘s evil.  After what happened today I think she now likes me better than she likes Levi Johnston.

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OLBERMANN:  In the new book by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, “The Test of our Times,” America—siege, safe.  Mr. Ridge describes an incident in which he wonders whether politics led then cabinet members Don Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft to try to influence Mr. Ridge.

And now in our (INAUDIBLE) in the COUNTDOWN in response to that claim Rumsfeld and Ashcroft just tried to influence Mr. Ridge, this time anyway it seems to be working and working well.  Ridge‘s new book claims that Rumsfeld and Ashcroft wanted to raise the threat level right before the ‘04 election and that he, Ridge, wondered whether politics might be at work.

Almost instantly a former spokesman for Ashcroft told the “New York Times” now would be a good time for Mr. Ridge to use his emergency duct tape, a terrorism joke and misdirect it.  It was White House pet, David Paulson who sold the duct tape craft.  Stay classy, Ashcroft.

And from a spokesman for Rumsfeld, this theory: the story line advanced by Ridge‘s publisher seemingly to sell copies of the book is nonsense.  Last night on the “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” Mr. Ridge took the hint.  Yes, he wondered then whether politics played a role.  He knows now, it didn‘t.  And pay no attention to his own book jacket or what he wrote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  I am using the book. 

Is there something else here?  What am I missing?  I don‘t get it.

Is it politics, is it security?  What‘s driving this discussion?  But at the end of the day what I say to you, Rachel, is the process worked.  Politics wasn‘t involved.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  I mean, the reason that this keeps coming up.  Is—I mean, I was going to read to you directly from the fly leaf of your book.

RIDGE:  Well, I know that.

MADDOW:  He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election.  That‘s wrong.

RIDGE:  Yes, those aren‘t my words.  Read the book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Ridge, it would appear not sufficiently outraged by his publisher‘s poetic license to ask them to change their Website which tonight still reads “Ridge effectively thwarted a plan to raise the national security alert just before the 2004 election.”

Joining us now a man who has on a couple of occasions seen politics infect national governance, Nixon White House counsel John Dean author of “Worst than Watergate” and the recently reissued classic “Blind Ambition.”  Thanks as always for your time tonight, sir.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Correct me if I‘m wrong, but is it not impossible for Mr.  Ridge to know whether politics influenced the inner thinking of Rumsfeld and Ashcroft and therefore not possible for Mr. Ridge to know that it did not?

DEAN:  It is not possible in any way I know of that he could channel both these people and get their thinking.  It is quite clear when you listen to him on Rachel last night, he‘s saying read my book, read my book.  You read his book and he‘s saying exactly the opposite of what he‘s saying now.  So he‘s clearly back pedaling.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any reason to suggest that that back pedaling owes to political pressure or something like that?

DEAN:  I would suspect the fact that Rumsfeld and Ashcroft came out and hit him pretty hard has affected his thinking on this whole matter.  He doesn‘t seem to be as clear on what he wrote now that they‘ve spoken out on the issue.

And also Keith, he did indeed imply a rather serious criminal charge if this conduct indeed had been undertaken.  So I think there‘s a lot of reasons that he probably has backed off and political pressure from the Bush clan probably is part of the reason.

OLBERMANN:  Do we infer that the prospect that this was a description of possible criminal acts might not have been known to Mr. Ridge before the book was written?  Or would he have been aware at some point, would somebody have said, even just somebody vetting the manuscript have said, “Hey, you know what, I know a lawyer somewhere and he says this might be—this might be a crime you‘re describing?”

DEAN:  Well, I—he‘s a former U.S. Attorney from Pennsylvania.  Theoretically he would know about Title 18371, which is the conspiracy to defraud the government by abusing or misusing its agencies for—in this instance, political purposes would fit perfectly under that description.

It‘s what happened to a lot of people in Watergate, it‘s what happened in Iran contra.  And it‘s difficult for me not to believe he didn‘t know about it.  And I think this is one of those oops, maybe I shouldn‘t have said that.  And so he‘s recalibrating now and backing down from it—from where he actually presently stated in his book.

OLBERMANN:  But he has now managed to paraphrase the famous Charles Barkley allegation, Charles made that he had been misquoted in his own autobiography.

You have written your share of books.  Did you get to sign off on jacket copy, how the book was going to be publicized, what points were going to be emphasized in attempts to gain interviews or reviews or attentions of other kinds?

DEAN:  Keith, fly copy, book jackets, the publicity, it‘s on the site.  That‘s all based on material in the book.  So it was clear they had the impression that he indeed—he had been pressured and that he had dealt with the pressure accordingly, that‘s why they used these as selling points.

All the books I‘ve done, the editors who write these have always sent me the copy in advance for my approval.  It‘s difficult for me to believe that Ridge was not sent this copy and did not approve it before it went on the jacket.

So I‘m kind of baffled by him backing off of it other than the fact he‘s being pressured to back off of it.

OLBERMANN:  Well, and also that leads to the final question here, which is how in the world does that—this whole process not pass the laugh test?  Let alone the sniff test.

DEAN:  It doesn‘t pass easily.

In fact, I think what he‘s done is undercut his book.  I actually was rather interested in the book when I heard—at first that he was going to come clean and say yes, there was pressure and give some examples of it.

But when I got to the book and his actual statements, there‘s now a big gap.

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, columnist for FindLaw.com, author of “Broken Government” and actual real books that he stands behind.  Great thanks as always, John.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Naturally enough, more on Rachel‘s interview with Tom Ridge when she joins you at the top of the hour.  His other jaw dropper in there that he did not regret the lies he told about Saddam Hussein and WMD.

Meantime, not only did Sarah Palin think she was running for president, but just weeks after she and John McCain lost, she began telegraphing her intention to resign, so says her ex-future-son-in-law.

And a woman at Michael Steele‘s town hall claimed her mother died because she could not afford the chemotherapy and insurance would not pay, Mr. Steele blows her off.  “Worst Persons” ahead in COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sarah Palin thought she was going to become her own grandson‘s mother and thought she was actually running for president.  The book of Levi has come out, well the magazine article of Levi. 

First, the “Worst.”

The president has a speech ready for the kids on the first day of school, and lonesome roads and some idiot who is in charge of a state-wide Republican party are claiming this is actually an attempt to indoctrinate the children, or as Beck put it, “grabbing your kids.”

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Levi Johnston‘s revelations about the woman who was nearly his mother-in-law.  After the presidential election, Sarah Palin kept walking around saying I want to just take this money and quit being governor.

That‘s next, but first it‘s time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story.  Tonight‘s “Worst Persons in the World”: The bronze to Eric Cantor.  The House Minority Whip who apparently did not get his talking points from master controller yesterday.  Cantor on CNBC saying the rest of the stimulus program should be scrapped quote, “since we know it‘s been a failure, why not do the responsible thing which is take the $400 billion that has not been committed yet or not been spent but been committed to the stimulus and just pay off the debt and deficits so we can get our fiscal house back in order.”

The headline in the “Wall Street Journal this morning, “U.S. economy gets lift from stimulus.”  “Economists say the money out the door combined with the expectation of additional funds flowing soon is fuelling growth above where it would have been without any government action.”  Wall Street freaking Journal, Eric; Mr. Murdoch is not going to be happy you contradicted him.

Our runners-up, Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida GOP and Lonesome Roads Beck, the “chicken little” of the broadcast world who just lost 11 more advertisers today.

News item: “President Obama announced that on September 8th, the first day of school for many children across America, he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education.  The President will challenge schools to work hard, set educational goals, take responsibility for their learning.  By the way, most of them will sleep through it.”

Naturally Mr. Greer and Mr. Beck used their superior minds to recognize that, in fact, next Tuesday Mr. Obama would use the pretext of hypnotizing the children and turning them into zombie killer socialists from outer space.

“As the father of four children, I‘m absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama‘s socialist ideology.  The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care—they‘ll be fully asleep by that point—banks and automobile companies increasing taxes on those who create jobs and racking up more debt than any other president.  It is not only infuriating but goes against the beliefs of Americans while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.”

He‘s going to talk to them about getting good grades like Bush gave kids in classrooms via TV a speech about not doing drugs; like Reagan gave kids in classrooms a speech when the space shuttle blew up.

Wait, this gets worse.  Beck is pushing for parents to keep their kids out of school that day, so they don‘t have to listen to this brainwashing in which Obama will use the powers he learned on his native planet of Love-Tron to turn them all into fans of the Chicago White Sox.

“Good for you,” Beck told his sheep.  “I‘ll tweet about it myself today.  Sherri, thank you so much, by the way on Tuesday we have a special on Tuesday night about indoctrination and the grabbing of your kids.”

I‘m sorry.  I hate to break this to you, Mr. Greer.  I know you don‘t want to realize this, Mr. Beck, I know you think somehow if you whine long enough and lie long enough you will not have to go through with this.  But whether you like it or not, Barack Obama is the President of the United States.  And even if you usurp him—and that‘s the word for what you‘re trying to do—usurp, there will still be another Democrat who will be President of the United States until at least 2012.

Although, and I‘m sure this will mollify Mr. Beck, somewhat particularly the backup right now would be a white guy.

But our winner—Republican national chair Michael Steele.  Remember please, he has endorsed, encouraged and embraced the protests at the health care town halls.  We don‘t know the identity of everybody who carried a gun to one of these things.  You don‘t know the identity of everybody who carried a Hitler sign to one of these things.  We don‘t know the identity of everybody who interrupted or booed or threatened an elected official.

So we do not know the authenticity of a story of a woman named Amanda Duzak (ph) that she told during Steele‘s appearance at a town hall at Howard University last night.  She said her mother had died of cancer earlier this year because she could not afford her prescription, chemotherapy medications.

I don‘t know independently whether or not that‘s true, but I do know that the threshold that Mr. Steele and the Republicans have set for conduct at town halls is you damn Democrats damn well better believe these are angry Americans and not just hospital workers of former campaign staffers for failed Republican Congressional candidates.  And you damn well better assume their stories are true.

So Ms. Duzak tells her story and Steele comes back with this bit of sleaze-baggery. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, GOP:  You can shout and have people ignore you.  Or you can engage and have them pay attention.

Because you present something that they may not know.  Can they appreciation, (INAUDIBLE).  So people go out to town halls.  They go out to the community and they‘re like this.  It makes for great TV.  You‘ll probably make it tonight.  Enjoy it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let me read you a quote.  “Instead of focusing on the fact that people are genuinely concerned about what is going on, they have the arrogance, the arrogance to look down at my mother, to look down at my co-worker,” an apt description of what Michael Steele just did after Ms.  Duzak‘s story about her mother.

And who gave that apt description?  Michael Steele claiming earlier that had the administration had the arrogance to focus only on the process as town halls and ignoring the plight of those concerned.  Hypocrite, fraud, and con man are gentle descriptions of what Mr. Steele just proved he is.

Morally bankrupt gets closer, I‘m thinking soulless political prostitute or just Michael Steele, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It plays off the Billy Paul one-hit wonder hit of 1972 “Me and Mrs. Jones.  Levi Johnston‘s tell-all article for “Vanity Fair” magazine, “Me and Mrs. Palin.”

Remember one story in the COUNTDOWN.  Honestly if it claimed there‘d been hanky-panky it probably would have been better for the ex-governor than what Johnston actually wrote.  One survivor story in the late summer and early autumn spent with Sarah Palin‘s flying circus.

She thought her job as governor was too hard, she thought she was running for president, she wanted to keep her daughter‘s pregnancy a secret and perhaps worst of all, she doesn‘t hunt for her own food, so she makes her kids go fetch crunch-wrap supremes from Taco Bell.

The aspiring model, Mr. Johnston, gives us his version of planet Palin questioning the ex-governor of Alaska‘s hunting cred.

“She had a gun in her bedroom and one day she asked me to show her how to shoot it.  I asked her what kind of gun it was and she said she didn‘t know because it was in a box under her bed.

As for the Palin home life Johnston claims the Palins didn‘t talk much as a family, the cooking was left up to the kids.  He depicts the ex-governor as lazy and domineering, offering bribes and wielding guilt-trips.

Johnston also alleges that Palin wanted to keep her daughter‘s pregnancy, quote, “a secret.”  She would say, “So are you going to let me adopt him?”  We both kept telling her we were definitely not going to let her adopt the baby.  I think Sarah wanted to make Bristol to look good and she didn‘t want people to know that her 17-year-old daughter was going to have a kid.

And during the weeks before the election, Levi claims Palin thought she was running for president.  She would say things like, “I brought everything to the table and the majority of people were out there voting because of me.”

And after the Republican ticket was defeated, I had assumed she was going to go back to her job as governor, but a week or two after she got back, she started talking about how nice it would be to quit and write a book or do a show and make triple the money.  It was to her not as hard.  She would blatantly say I want to just take this money and quit being governor.

Joining me now—MSNBC political analyst, columnist for cqpolitics.com, Craig Crawford.  Good evening, Craig. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  And in tonight‘s episode of the Wasilla Hill Billies. 

OLBERMANN:  How did it happen that Levi Johnston turns into a Sarah Palin whistle blower? 

CRAWFORD:  Right.  This Smackdown, we haven‘t seen a family Smackdown like this since Candy and Tori Spelling wrote dueling books.

The whistle-blowing aspect, so many people have divided up on her, I would say those who want to believe these things are going to hear the whistle and those who don‘t are going to call him a liar.

OLBERMANN:  Some of his accusations can be characterized as at best as low blows.  He‘s got an axe to grind.  This was almost his mother-in-law.

But even so, even with that context, is anybody who might still fall into that neutral category going to think that these accusations bode well somehow for the former governor? 

CRAWFORD:  No, I don‘t see that happening.  The only thing I can see boding well for her is that it just makes her more famous.  People keep talking about her.  Her political future, though, is another matter.

OLBERMAN:  I named my fantasy football team after her.  I don‘t know if that counts as being famous.  But even some of her defenders have weighed in here.  And David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network wrote, “How much can Palin take before becoming irrelevant?”

And is there a tipping point?  Because I know a lot of us have been surprised, it has not been reached.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, she does seem to be in the sunset hours of her ninth life politically speaking.  But, again, probably for the things that he writes about her ambitions in this article that she wants to make triple the money, write a book, get a show.  For all those things the more she‘s talked about, the better.

As a matter of fact, that‘s one way to test the accuracy, I would say of his article is let‘s see what she does.  If she does go out there and make triple the money, write a book, and get a show, then at least that much of his article would be true, which would corroborate, perhaps some of the other arguments.

OLBERMANN:  Now with the tipping—I think I figured out where the tipping point would be.  If she went to do some reality show or interview show and it was horrible, that‘s the point at which her supporters would turn on her because she failed on TV, correct? 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, if this were a reality show, Keith, about this family, only Seth McFarland could actually produce it, I think. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, he produces everything else, so I supposed that would be the case.

Should she in fact respond to any of this?  She rarely has addressed criticism head on.  It‘s usually some sort of side snark. 

CRAWFORD:  Well, here‘s—we‘ve seen this often in the past.  I‘m sure what we might see if she says anything is that, oh, how sad that he‘s been manipulated by the media and feed that world view of so many of her supporters that those of us in the media get up every morning just trying to figure out how can we get Sarah Palin today?  And feed that.

As for me, I go for days on end without thinking about Sarah Palin until something like this happens. 

OLBERMANN:  Occasionally there‘s a drought and you have to go out and do a rain dance.  But most of the time it just rains on its own.

CRAWFORD:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  There is one interesting point in here that if it resonates might, I think, stick.  Johnston claims the Palin kids did all the cooking and clean, she stayed in her room all day watching wedding shows.  And that she and her husband essentially lead separate lives.  Would that sell well to the conservative family values wing of the party if she ever actually tries to get the presidential nomination in 2012? 

CRAWFORD:  She does in those descriptions sound more like one of Cinderella‘s evil stepsisters than devoted family woman that would be president.  As far as her supporters, she‘ll always have those, you know, those birthers and birchers (ph) out there who are going to believe anything she‘s got to say and hate and disbelieve anything anyone else says against her.

But I do think she is getting down to sort of—not even the full right wing of the party; maybe just holding on to a few feathers of the right wing. 

OLBERMANN:  The birchers stick with her and the birthers head for high ground.  Craig Crawford, MSNBC and cqpolitics.com.  Great thanks, Craig. 

CRAWFORD:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this 2,316th 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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