Guest: Steve Clemons, Jeff Goodell, Mark Potok, Eugene Robinson
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you
be talking about tomorrow?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are reducing the role and
number of weapons in our arsenal while maintaining a safe, secure, and
effective deterrent to protect our nation, allies and partners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The secretary of state announces the new Obama doctrine:
no nuclear retaliation by this country to a non-nuclear attack. No such
rules will apply to Iran or North Korea, or any other nation on having
signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How will the world respond—
with Steve Clemons. How domestic politics will respond—with Howard
Disaster at the Upper Big Branch: 25 dead, recovery operations
suspended, rescue operations effectively over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: The train rails that go back in
looked like they‘ve been twisted like a pretzel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The mine had 458 violations last year. Owners assessed
$900,000 in penalties. Why? Because that‘s cheaper than keeping the
Threats and blackmail or bribery on health care reform. “Kill the
senator,” the man under arrest said on Patty Murray‘s answering machine.
“Hang the senator. I hope somebody puts a bullet between your eyes.”
And why is the Democratic attorney general of Louisiana joining in the
frivolous lawsuit against reform‘s constitutionality? Because he had to
cut a deal with the Republican governor.
“Worsts”: Of course, they didn‘t know he was dead when they tried to
wheel him on to the flight—the day after he died.
And, the natives are restless—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republicans originally thought that FOX worked for
us, and now, we‘re discovering we work for FOX.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So don‘t catch yourself being biased by FOX News,
that somebody is no good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The last guy is a sitting U.S. senator.
All the news and commentary—now on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
If not throwing it fully into reverse at high speed, it is at least a
step back from the nuclear break.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Under this president, the United
States will never use a nuclear weapon against a nonnuclear state. There
are exceptions for places like Iran and North Korea.
And this is less than some in his administration wanted, such as a
declaration that we would never again use these weapons first. But
especially against the context of the current political climate, President
Obama has affected a bold and even startling policy change. The Obama
administration‘s Nuclear Posture Review officially unveiled today, the day
after the president had outlined in an interview a strategy that limits and
substantially narrows the conditions under which the U.S. would deploy
Under the new policy, the U.S. would not use them against non-nuclear
countries. A clear contrast with previous administrations which have left
opened the possibility of a nuclear strike against a non-nuclear state in
retaliation for a biological or chemical attack. But the president carved
out a significant caveat for, quote, “outliers like Iran or North Korea”
that have either violated or renounced nuclear non-proliferation treaties.
And in presenting the new policy today which sets the nation‘s nuclear
framework for the next five to 10 years, the defense secretary, Robert
Gates, made plain the U.S. posture regarding those two nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If there‘s a message to Iran and
North Korea here, is that, if you‘re going to play by the rules, if you‘re
going to join the international community, then we will undertake certain
obligations to you. But if you‘re not going to play by the rules, if
you‘re going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And Secretary Gates stressed that the new policy is to be
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GATES: The United States reserves the right to make any adjustment to
this policy that maybe warranted by the evolution and proliferation of
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton underlying the very
point that critics may find the most objectionable, that the United States
is removing the deliberate ambiguity of its previous nuclear policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: The United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear
weapons against non-nuclear weapon states.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: According to “The New York Times,” the president had to
personally adjudicate among advisers who believed he was not changing U.S.
policy enough and those who feared a reaction from allies if the policy
made too great a change too soon. The new strategy precedes a nine-day
nuclear summit in Prague where the president will sign, along with the
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, a new arms control agreement.
Secretary Clinton addressing the overall vision underlying both
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We are reducing the role and number of weapons in our
arsenal while maintaining a safe, secure and effective deterrent to protect
our nation, allies and partners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senate Republicans John McCain and Jon Kyl today expressed
concern about the Nuclear Posture Review. They issued a joint statement
taking issue with the policy‘s departure from what they called, quote,
“longstanding policy embraced by administrations of both parties to retain
all options to respond to a nuclear attack.” They also said the new
posture appears to limit the options available to enhance the reliability
of the current nuclear stockpile.
Policy and politics. Policy first—for that the director of the
American strategy program at the New American Foundation and author of the
foreign policy blog, “The Washington Note,” Steve Clemons.
Steve, good evening.
STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: Hey. Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is this change indeed truly significant? And if so, how?
CLEMONS: I think it‘s hugely significant. I think this is real
legacy stuff for the Obama administration. They‘ve checked off a box
that‘s so important because it‘s shown that this president can say
something, say they‘re going to do something and show to the world they can
achieve their objectives.
I also think what‘s really important is that they‘ve simultaneously
shown that they‘re rewriting the kind of global social contract with
nations like Russia and China, bringing other stewards of the international
system together and trying to create greater stability while still keeping
pressure on outlier nations. And I think it‘s a very depth move.
OLBERMANN: But, the devil‘s advocate question pertaining to those
outlier nations. If you say, we don‘t use nuclear weapons to respond to a
non-nuclear situation and then you caveat out North Korea and Iran, which
are obviously the likeliest possible perpetrators of a nuclear situation—
did you really change anything?
CLEMONS: Well, I think they‘ve changed a lot. I think they‘ve made
it culminate (ph). And I think you heard it in Defense Secretary Gates‘
comments that in one case, with negotiations with North Korea, we want to
bring back into the non-proliferation treaty. This was a treaty that John
Bolton, you may recall, spent a lot of time trying to undermine and to
basically break that apart.
With Iran, which still remains part of the NPT, but not in compliance,
we‘re also keeping the door open there. And we‘re making—they‘re making
a comment that I think broadly, this global social contract, this weaving
of nations together, back to work together, and to reverse what otherwise
would be, I think a very likely nuclear weapons breakout around the world,
particularly if Iran does acquire a weapon, this is showing that America is
serious about trying to hold a common good of security and balance and
putting muscle behind it.
So, I think it‘s both a blunt force instrument with North Korea and
Iran to some degree, and also, a soft way to bring them back.
OLBERMANN: But to the other end of the global social contract as I
phrase it, Steve, that sense I described earlier from perhaps some of our
allies, that we might still be moving too far and too quickly—is that
likely to be a prevalent reaction worldwide?
CLEMONS: Well, I talked to some senior members of the administration
this evening and they have briefed China. They briefed Russia. As best we
know right now, they are quite onboard with what‘s going on. Countries
like Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, that could be possible nuclear follow-on
countries if Iran were to move forward, are largely onboard.
And so, I think what the president has done is really done a masterful
job of communicating that we want to reduce the footprint, if you will, of
nuclear weapons in America‘s defense posture, but at the same time, we
don‘t want to narrow it recklessly in such a way that takes the pressure
off some nations that are still on a very disconcerting nuclear track.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, this is not happening in a vacuum. What is it
that President Obama wants out of that nuclear summit in Prague that he
throws down this gauntlet the week before?
CLEMONS: He is showing that the United States is back in action and
that we are sculpting the global order in positive ways again, and working
with allies in a multilateral sense on both overtly and behind the scenes.
We‘ve changed the tenor of the U.S./Russia relationship. We have a nuclear
materials lockdown conference next week as well that Vice President Biden
and Secretary Clinton and Gates have been working so hard on.
And then in May, we got the MPT review conference, which I mentioned
that John Bolton and his fellow travelers spent so much trying to wreck in
the past. So, we‘re showing that we‘re rebuilding the framework of the
international order. And I think, if you take all of those things
together, this is a huge downpayment that I think he deserves a lot of
OLBERMANN: Steve Clemons, the author of “The Washington Note”—we
appreciate your time and insight on this. Greatly helpful tonight. Thank
CLEMONS: Thanks very much, Keith.
OLBERMANN: For the politics, let‘s turn to “Newsweek” magazine‘s
senior Washington correspondent, political columnist, and MSNBC political
analyst Howard Fineman.
Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: All right. Congress is in recess. So, McCain and Kyl are
left to set this tone, at least initially of the Republican response. How
does the Republican response evolve or is this to some degree, because
those caveats are in there about North Korea and Iran—is this a
nonstarter for them?
FINEMAN: Well, I think they‘re acting cautiously. I thought actually
that Kyl and McCain statement was notable for its uncharacteristic of
absence of hysteria. You know, yes, they had some criticism there, they
raised questions about the basic philosophy, deterrence and ambivalence,
but they didn‘t come screaming out of the box.
And I think the Republicans are being a little cautious. I think it
will change when they come back here. I think it depends on events. It
depends on what the Russians say and do, what the Chinese say and do.
But, for right now, especially since they‘re out of town, I find them
OLBERMANN: That seemed to be the overall reaction, but there is and
there has been for some time this drum beat from his critics that this
president, the president‘s party is somehow weak on national defense. Is
the White House, no matter how quite, too quite it is now, is the White
House anticipating that will be ratcheted up? And do you have any idea of
how they intend to respond if they feel that way?
FINEMAN: Yes. They do think it will be ratcheted up. They‘ve been
dealing with the Republicans now in Congress for, you know, well over a
year. They know that. Even on this.
But look at what Obama has done, how he‘s positioned himself and the
decisions he‘s made. He doubled the number of troops in Afghanistan,
largely (INAUDIBLE) from the Republicans. I mean, he‘s not dismantling
totally the nuclear arsenal by any means, even if signs that, and if and
when he signs that agreement with Medvedev next week in Prague, there‘s
still going to be 1,500 American nuclear missiles and warheads.
So, you know, we‘re not dismantling that. But I think the
administration officials that I talk to say that they expect the same drum
beat of attacks from Republicans down the road, that the Republicans are
going to look to pick their spots.
OLBERMANN: Where, in terms of picking spot, where on the political
battlefront would this hit hardest? Because despite, as I mentioned, these
caveats against Iran, despite the fact that this is distinguishably
mentioned response as opposed to any kind of offensive or for some reason,
we go back to the preemptive nonsense from the Bush era—is this going to
register more sharply relative to Israel and relative to that “bomb, bomb,
bomb Iran” club?
FINEMAN: Yes. I think—I think in many ways, this is all about
both politically and substantively, Iran and Israel. It‘s about isolating
Iran. It‘s about changing the paradigm and saying that the Russians and
the Americans and the Chinese and the other members of the nuclear club are
standing together to try to control proliferation around the world, to lock
up loose nukes and prevent other countries from getting weapons. That‘s
designed as a prelude to putting global pressure on Iran. So, that‘s part
And the other part is to put pressure on Israel. Israel has never
directly acknowledged as a member of the nuclear club. Of course, it is.
They‘ve talked about harsh response to Iran if Iran gets nuclear weapons.
The president also is positioning himself in a way to put global
pressure on Israel to come to terms with whatever deal they can make as far
as Iran is concerned.
OLBERMANN: Howard, let‘s close where we began on the—not the
Republican reaction to this, but Democratic reaction to this. Has that
been almost equally as quiet? Is that been your observation as well?
FINEMAN: Yes. So far. I mean, you know, checking around on the
progressive blogs, I mean, there are some disappointments that he didn‘t go
But I think—I think Obama here is playing not so much to the
immediate politics, Keith, as he‘s playing to long-term thinking and
history. When he was in the U.S. Senate, one of the friendships he made
was with Dick Lugar, the Republican senator of Indiana, who really is
probably the dean of people who are concerned about loose nukes in the
world. Lugar is a serious guy. Obama is a serious guy.
And the president is also playing to prevent, he‘s planning and hoping
to prevent catastrophe. And he‘s not going to get immediate political
rewards. Ironically, you know, he‘ll only be rewarded by the absence of
FINEMAN: -- because it‘s loose nukes, both actual and potential, that
is the gravest threat to the world as we know it. And that‘s what every
expert says and he‘s listening to them.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—as always,
Howard, great thanks.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If we are bringing leadership and sanity finally to the
issue of nuclear weapons, when will we bring those qualities to something
as comparatively simple as domestic mining policy? At least 25 dead now at
Montcoal, West Virginia. And any real chance of rescuing four potential
survivors could not have begun until tonight because it‘s all cheaper that
Also, an arrest in Washington State of a man who allegedly threatened
the life of a United States senator over the new health care laws.
OLBERMANN: Death threats against a U.S. senator because of how she
voted on health care reform and how a state attorney general was either
bribed or blackmailed into joining that frivolous lawsuit against it.
Another senator and a top conservative columnist rip FOX News, claiming it
can bias its viewers and that Republicans who thought FOX was working for
them, now have learned they are working for FOX.
New developments tonight in “Worst Persons” in the “Weekend at
Bernie‘s” case—the family that tried to board dad on a flight to Berlin
after he died.
And to West Virginia and the Upper Big Branch mine where 25 are dead
and it will be tomorrow before we know for certain the fate of four others
and where there is no hesitation to price out which is cheaper: paying the
fines for safety violations or actually trying to keep the miners alive.
Next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Rescue efforts suspended, recovery efforts delayed, newly
drilled vent shafts where high levels of methane gas will not be finished
any earlier than noon tomorrow. Meaning for now, that the Massey Upper Big
Branch mine at Montcoal, West Virginia, is a tomb, in a worst mining
disaster in this country in 20 years: 25 dead, four missing. To search for
them before ventilation has begun would simply to endanger more lives.
And in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Mounting evidence tonight
that the mine owners had cost-benefited the thing and found it was cheaper
to take the fines and to try to ensure that their employees would have a
chance of making it home from work alive.
The president this morning opening an Easter prayer breakfast by
expressing deepest condolences to the families of the workers killed in
yesterday‘s explosion. That‘s the scene obviously in West Virginia as some
of the rescue teams arrive.
Here‘s what‘s supposed to happen in coal mines—giant fans supposed
to keep concentrations of methane, the colorless, odorless gas below
certain levels. But if those concentrations are allowed to build up, the
gas can be ignited by almost any kind of spark, the kind of static even
created merely by walking across a carpeted room in wintertime could be
enough to cause an explosion.
The cause of yesterday‘s explosion is still unknown, but safety
officials saying that Massey Energy, owners of the mine, have frequently
been cited for safety violations, including for about 50 citations at Upper
Big Branch just in the last month, poor ventilation of methane and dust
among them; and for 458 violations in the preceding year with just $900,000
in fines. And since 2005, for more than 1,300 safety violations overall at
Upper Big Branch with $2 million in proposed fines. And it gets worse.
Massey Energy leaving it to government officials to inform family
members that their loved ones have died. Michelle McKinney who lost her
father Benny Willingham, 62 years old and due to retire in five weeks. As
McKinney telling the “Associated Press,” quote, “They‘re supposed to be a
big company. These guys, they took a chance every day to work and make
them big, and they couldn‘t even call us.”
At a news conference, the West Virginia governor, Joe Manchin,
described what the initial search crews saw at the site of the blast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MANCHIN: When the rescuers that were in the mine and saw what they
were able to see until they had to come out, and the type of damage that
was done, that it had to be a horrific explosion to cause that kind of
REPORTER: For instance?
MANCHIN: For instance, rails that cars buggies and heavy equipment,
train rails that go back in looked like they‘d been twisted like a pretzel.
That‘s horrific. That‘s an explosion that is just beyond proportion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time to turn now to Jeff Goodell, the author of “Big Coal:
The Dirty Secret Behind America‘s Energy Future.” His new book is called
“How to Cool the Planet.” He‘s also a contributing editor to “Rolling
Mr. Goodell, thank you for your time tonight.
JEFF GOODELL, AUTHOR, “BIG COAL”: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Paying the fines imposed for these violations or paying to
improve the conditions there and hopes to keeping the mines safe and the
miners safe, which one is actually cheaper at this point for a company like
GOODELL: Well, that‘s sort of a no-brainer. I mean, it‘s much
cheaper for them to just take the fines. You mentioned that since 1995,
they‘ve had about $2 million in safety—in fines for safety violations,
but less than half of that that they‘ve actually paid.
And, you know, if you average that out over 15 years or so, we‘re
talking about, you know, $50,000, $60,000 a year, which is nothing. I
mean, that‘s peanuts.
I think the really important thing to understand about the way the
coal business works is that it‘s a commodity business. And it‘s all about
getting the stuff out of the ground as cheaply and quickly as possible.
OLBERMANN: A quote I‘d like to read you from Mr. McAteer, who was the
head of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration during the
Clinton administration, the “Associated Press” quoted him as saying, “There
are mines in this country who have operated safely for 20 years. There are
mines who take precautions ahead of time. There are mines who spend the
money and manpower to do it.” And he added, “Those mines haven‘t been
Is this—does this pertain to drilling these ventilation shafts at
this hour to release some of those gases? Couldn‘t those shafts be in
place in advance? Is that the issue? Is that the thing that‘s not being
done because it‘s too prohibitively expensive from a profit-making point of
GOODELL: Well, that‘s only one thing that could be done. But, it is
expensive. And they don‘t really want to do it unless they are forced to
I mean, look, there are certain coal mines that are more dangerous
than others because of the geologic conditions, because they‘re gassy,
because they have weak grooves, they‘re more prone to caving in. Now,
there‘s infinite variety of situations and there are also different kinds
of coal operators. Some coal operators are very safe and very thoughtful
about their employees; and some coal operators are not. And Massey Energy
certainly has a reputation as being one of the companies in the industry
with a very poor safety record.
OLBERMANN: What do you think is the likeliest and the most productive
and the most immediate impact of the possibilities to relieve us of this
situation where every three or four years we all look at West Virginia and
hear about some tragedy there or elsewhere in the country, but principally
in that part of the nation. Is it—is it weaning off coal as a resource?
Is it doubling, tripling, making 10 times as much the fines or changing the
status of what happens to these companies if somebody dies in the mines to
where the people could be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter? What‘s
the best way to change this the most quickly?
GOODELL: The best way to change this is to stop mining and burning
coal. I mean, I think that that is the only way that you‘re going to
eliminate mining deaths. Mining in these deep underground mines especially
is simply a dangerous thing to do. And certainly, tougher enforcement
During the Bush administration, the federal Mine Safety and Health
Administration, the agency that is in charge of overseeing mine safety was
sort of notoriously gutted and weakened. Now, under the Obama
administration, President Obama gets a lot of credit for putting in a
really tough administrator who is in charge of the safety administration
So, I think this is going to be a big challenge for him—his first
real big test to see how he is going to handle this.
OLBERMANN: What happen? What would happen to this country if we
stopped mining coal?
GOODELL: Well, we obviously can‘t go cold turkey from coal right now.
We get half of our electricity from coal. No one is suggesting that we
stop burning coal immediately.
But, you know, it‘s very clear in the big picture that the sort of era
of fossil fuels is over, that we‘re moving away from coal in general. And
more importantly, this is happening in West Virginia anyway. It‘s not
because of environmentalists or something like that; it‘s because they‘ve
been mining coal for 200 years there. They‘ve mined out all the good coal.
The stuff that‘s left is increasingly difficult to get at,
increasingly dangerous. And unless you have really tough regulatory
oversight, which is difficult in a state like West Virginia where you have
politically powerful coal operators, it‘s not going to happen.
OLBERMANN: Jeff Goodell, the author of “Big Coal,” the new book is
called “How to Cool the Planet”—thanks for your time and for insight
GOODELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Two incredible developments now from health care reform.
A United States senator threatened with death over her vote. A man is
And a state attorney general threatened with the firing of some of his
employees unless he joined the frivolous lawsuit of the unconstitutionality
or constitutionality of the new laws.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Ahead in “Worsts”: we didn‘t know he was dead. We just
thought he was exhausted at the thought of flying to Germany.
First on this date in 1941 was born Zamfir, the master of the pan
flute. And on April 6th, 1813, Napoleon was captured and sent into exile,
but he had the presence to mind to speak in a Palindrome as they dragged
him off, “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” No, he didn‘t say that. He wouldn‘t
have been talking in English for any good reason. Zamfir said that.
Let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin in Greece, where this spectacular use of pyrotechnics is how
folks on the island of Phios (ph) know that it‘s Orthodox Easter. It‘s the
annual rocket war. Two rival churches mark the holy occasion by causing
structural damage, as 60,000 rockets line up the night sky. It is fun and
almost no one gets hurt, except that one time. Which reminds me of the
Biblical proverb, one man‘s celebration of the lord‘s resurrection is
another man‘s excuse to blow the crap out of the property of the next guy.
Twelve blocks north of here, hello. Finally, a way to make Hummers
more environmentally friendly, remove the engines and drag them around
Central Park. This Hummer, fueled by horsepower, is actually art. The
artist, Jeremy Dean, rides it around the park with the help of horses, Dean
and Diesel. The monster car features the chrome rims, the booming audio
system. Mr. Dean hopes his masterpiece makes a statement about
sustainability and energy resources.
Meanwhile, marketing execs hope it tests well with Amish with
something to prove, because they have a lot of these clinkers to sell.
Finally, to Tokyo, where a tough economy has gotten people down. What
these commuters need is a cheer. Aya Saito (ph) brings her one-woman pep
squad to the Shin Ju Qu (ph) train station every morning, hoping her spirit
fingers will help downtrodden workers feel better about the job market.
Most are grateful for Saito‘s work, except, of course, any of them who have
recently been fired from their jobs as cheerleaders.
How do you get a teetotaler to agree to agree to give the keynote
speech to the national convention of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of
America? It‘s easy. It‘s Sarah Palin. Just pay her money. Ahead on
OLBERMANN: More than a dozen phone calls were made, the voice
messages left ranging from profane to misogynistic. “I hope you realize
there‘s a target on your back now,” one of them said. “Kill the senator,
I‘ll donate the lead,” said another.
In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Charles Allen Wilson, age 64, of
Washington State, arrested, accused of having left those messages for
Senator Patty Murray of that state, because she was supporting health care
reform. Wilson was arrested after the FBI obtained phone records, and
confirmed his voice was the same as the one heard on the messages at the
senator‘s Seattle office. Court documents detailing that the first
threatening message recorded and saved by Murray‘s staff was on March 22nd,
the day after the House had approved health care reform.
Mr. Wilson allegedly called five times the following day when the
president signed the bill into law. Wilson said in one of those calls,
“since you are going to put my life at risk, some bureaucrat is going to
determine my health care, your life is at risk, dear.”
On April 1st, a federal agent posing as an opponent of health care
reform called Wilson, engaged him in a 14-minute conversation. Mr. Wilson
agreed to have the call recorded and told the agent that he hated the law,
admitted to repeatedly calling Senator Murray‘s office to complain, and
said that Murray and the Democratic senator from Washington, the other one,
Maria Cantwell, quote, “need to be strung up, and I mean put in the
Joining me now is the director of the intelligence project for the
Southern Poverty Law Center, Mark Potok. Mark, thanks for your time again
MARK POTOK, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER: Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: Wilson had allegedly been calling the office of the
senator‘s for months. But the overt threats did not come until the health
care bill passed. A lot of members of Congress received threatening calls
about this. What, in your opinion, and your assessment, makes this case
POTOK: Well, it sounds like this man actually carried out what is
known in case law as a true threat. In particular, from what I was able to
read of the messages, when he said that he would help other people to kill
the senator, you know, that is a very believable, sort of concrete threat.
This is what I‘m going to do.
You know, a true threat in the law is a threat that a reasonable third
party would take to be a real threat. That is quite real. That is
different than saying, for instance, you deserve to die for this terrible
vote you made, or it would be good to kill you, or I wish you were dead.
This actually kind of laid out a plan, we will kill you. I will help other
people kill you. I think that pretty clearly does amount to a real threat.
OLBERMANN: The suspect is apparently, from his claim and from
investigation, not affiliated with any particular group or party, claims to
be politically neutral. Does that reduce the anxiety over this? Or should
it increase the anxiety over this?
POTOK: Well, I think that, in a very real sense, it tells you just
how far this anger, this rhetoric, this incredible polarization of the
political debate has gone. You know, it is one thing to be in a group that
is very politicized and interested and focused on anger over an issue like
health care. It is quite another to be simply out there in the general
public absorbing what I think has become the white-hot rhetoric of the
general political debate. I‘m saying, in a sense, it is worse.
OLBERMANN: How does this—or how would you expect this to resonate
inside the communities in which violence or threats of violence or, more
realistically, fantasies about violence are considered acceptable in a
political context? Does this sober anybody up or exaggerate their
POTOK: One would hope it would sober some of these people up. This
is the culmination of a few weeks of quite incredible news, bricks being
thrown through congressmen‘s windows, gas lines cut to what was thought to
be another congressman‘s house, and so on, real death threats, coffins
dragged on the lawns of another congressman‘s office, and so on.
On the other hand, I‘ve got to say it is remarkable how people on the
right are now coming out with the kind of theory that this is all put up
somehow, that this has been created by the, quote/unquote, liberals in
order to attack conservatives. So we‘ll see. I think probably the most
radical among the angry people will take this as part of a plot, sort of a
setup by the government. But as I say, hopefully more responsible heads
will prevail, at least in some quarters.
OLBERMANN: Those people, certainly, if everything were somehow
repealed tomorrow, they would think that is a setup, too, to pass a more
changing law. Ultimately, Mark, just for this topic, the idea of threats
and the idea of the white-hot rhetoric of health care reform, what calms
this situation down, in your opinion?
POTOK: I think it is obviously high time, long past time for the
leaders of both parties, but in particular the party that has been leading
the charge on putting out this rhetoric, to try and say something that will
calm the situation down.
You know, we‘ve discussed it before. This is a very difficult genie
to get back in the bottle. It is one thing to pump people up like this,
and quite another to then say, you know, I was only just kidding. This was
really rhetoric. Let‘s calm it down and return to some kind of real
Democratic discourse. The upshot though is real damage is being done to
our democracy and to the democratic process.
OLBERMANN: And to the individuals involved as well. Mark Potok of
the Southern Poverty Law Center, as always, we appreciate your insight and
your time. Thank you, sir.
POTOK: Thank you so much.
OLBERMANN: Senator Tom Coburn and conservative columnist David Frum
rip Fox News. I‘m not kidding about this. Gene Robinson joins me to
assess the implications.
New developments in the case of the two women accused of trying to
take dad on an airline trip after he died. Worst persons ahead.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, California‘s
investigation of the James O‘Keefe Acorn tapes, the truth behind what was
edited out, like the Acorn employee calling the cops to turn in O‘Keefe the
OLBERMANN: Worsts ahead. First, tonight‘s comment. Nothing is
sadder than watching a formerly prominent politician self-destructing in
the bid to survive at any cost. Senator John McCain is trying to fend off
a primary challenge by Tea Partier J.D. Hayworth from Arizona. He tells an
interviewer from “Newsweek,” quote, “I never considered myself a maverick.”
So far in this campaign, Mr. McCain has denied everything except
having run for president. He sold out his principles, lied about where he
stood on the bank bailout, climate change, Don‘t Ask/Don‘t Tell, and on his
election night promise, the noble climax to that campaign, to work with the
But to try to convince people that he never ventured towards the
center or away from GOP by saying I never considered myself a maverick
borders on the delusional. You need only to see the very start and the
very end of the McCain/Palin TV ad that was launched on September 7th,
2008, to get the gist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The original mavericks.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I‘m John McCain and I approve this
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This is better suited for a one of our Friday night
Thurber readings. But McCain‘s embarrassing denial of self recalls the
Thurber fable about the bear who became a drunk and would, as a result,
knock over everything in his home. His wife was greatly distressed and the
children very frightened.
Then the bear sobered up and became an exercise freak and would, as a
result, knock over everything in his home. His wife was greatly distressed
and his children were very frightened.
Thurber‘s moral applies as much to Mr. McCain as it did to his
reformed alcoholic bear. Moral? You might as well fall flat on your face,
as lean over too far backwards.
OLBERMANN: One right wing pundit says Republicans thought that Fox
News worked for them, but it turns out they work for Fox News. And a
sitting Republican senator warns constituents against, quote, being biased
by Fox News that somebody is no good.
Also, this just in, hell freezes over.
That is next, but first tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Gita Jerant (ph) and Anka Antik (ph) of Oldem (ph), in
England, wife and stepdaughter of Curt Vili Jerant (ph). All three, plus
two kids, were to fly from John Lennon Airport in Liverpool to Berlin. The
two woman told an airport worker they needed help with the 91-year-old man.
The employee got them a wheelchair. As the women wheeled Mr. Jerant toward
the check-in counter, that employees was the first one to suspect that the
man slumped in the chair wearing the sunglasses was dead.
In fact, he died the day before. Ms. Antik, the stepdaughter says
“they would think that for 24 hours we would carry a dead person? This is
ridiculous. He was moving. He was breathing. Eight people saw him.”
The women have been arrested, with investigators thinking they were
trying to cut the extra costs when someone dies in one country and has to
be buried in another. Plus, the in-flight movie was “Weekend at Bernie‘s.”
I made that up entirely. I apologize.
Our runner up, half Governor Sarah Palin. She was scheduled today to
give the keynote speaker at the National Convention of the Wine and Spirits
Wholesalers of America, for money, at least 75 grand. The Pentecostal
Church the governor has claimed membership in for nearly three decades has
one of its core beliefs abstinence from alcohol. Now the ballot initiative
group Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws has offered Mrs. Palin 25,000
dollars to speak at one of its events.
Our winner tonight, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Odd that
Louisiana‘s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, a Democrat, is one of those
debasing his office by joining the frivolous lawsuit against the
constitutionality of the health care reform laws. Well, the small
newspaper in the Eunice, Louisiana, the “Eunice News,” appears to have the
answer. Listen to this, it writes, “in a subsequent address to the
employees of his office, the attorney general said the decision was made
out of the necessity of saving jobs in his agency than any real hope or
desire of overturning the health care law. One employee said Caldwell, in
a candid admission, claimed that a deal was made with Jindal. Under the
terms of that agreement, the governor would not make additional cuts in the
attorney general‘s budget if Caldwell joined in the litigation. Caldwell
agreed to be the token Democrat, he said, so that he might save additional
job cuts by an administration whose state goal is to reduce the number of
state employees by as much as 5,000 per year over three years.”
In other words, Governor Jindal either blackmailed Attorney General
Caldwell or bribed him. Support this moronic, pathetic, partisan, legally
flimsy lawsuit on behalf of the insurance companies or we‘ll fire your
employees. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, blackmailer or briber,
depending on your point of view, but either way today‘s worst person in the
OLBERMANN: They are two inescapable tenets of the modern Republican
party, Nancy Pelosi devil, Fox News God. In our number one story,
Republican Senator Tom Coburn bucked his party‘s talking points and leveled
with the crowd at an Oklahoma City town hall meeting last week. According
to Coburn, Nancy Pelosi is nice, and Fox News can be biased, and uses its
own set of facts. And one conservative columnist says Republicans thought
Fox worked for them, but have discovered, to their horror, that they work
First, the Coburn town hall event was held on March 31. The website
Capitol News Connection uncovered the relevant audio clips, which happen to
have been recorded by an Oklahoma NPR station. During the hour long
meeting with Coburn, a woman complained to the senator about the
unconstitutionality, in her opinion, of the new health care reform laws.
The woman was worried she would go to jail for not buying health care
Coburn was put in the position of defending the health care bill he
voted against because of the Fox News misinformation campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They can put us in prison, take away our
liberty. Are they not trampling on our Fifth Amendment rights by putting
it under the IRS?
SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA: The intention is not to put anybody in
jail. That makes for good TV news on Fox. But that isn‘t the intention.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Coburn went on to discuss his position on letting
unemployment benefits expire for hundreds of thousands of Americans. He
placed the blame for that on Nancy Pelosi. But he also reserved some kind
words for the speaker of the House, to the amazement of the crowd.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COBURN: I‘m 180 degrees in opposition to the speaker. She‘s a nice
lady. I don‘t think we can wait. Come on now. She is a nice—how many
of you have met her? She is a nice person.
Just because somebody disagrees with you doesn‘t mean they are not a
good person. What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this
country so that you can see what‘s going on and make the determination
So don‘t catch yourself being biased by Fox News that somebody‘s no
good. The people in Washington are good. They just don‘t know what they
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Coburn would end this gathering by imploring his
constituents to consider various sources for their information, not just
right-wing media. He then appeared to suggest that what Fox News was doing
was, in fact, bad for America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COBURN: I want to tell you, I do a lot of reading every day. I‘m
disturbed we get things like what this lady said and other have said on
other issues, that are so disconnected to what I know to be the facts.
That comes from somebody that has an agenda other than the best interest of
our country. And so please balance and be careful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I‘m shaking here. Let‘s bring in the associated editor
and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the “Washington Post,” MSNBC
political analyst Gene Robinson. Good evening, Gene.
EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Evening, Keith.
ROBINSON: I, too, am almost speechless, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I know. It‘s like suddenly I‘m going to turn into Sally
Field here, you know, they like me. Do we expect now the response to this
is some sort of Glenn Beck expose on how Tom Coburn is a socialist or he‘s
a democratic plant or something?
ROBINSON: I think Beck is going to go to the blackboard, and he‘s
going to write out the name “Tom Coburn” and show how if you rearrange the
letters and actually substitute some other letters, it is “common tern” or
something like that, and it‘s all part of this kind of “Da Vinci Code”
OLBERMANN: You‘ve got a few left over, but it does spell com-but.
That‘s sort of a Beckian level of analysis.
ROBINSON: It also spells Root McBun, but I digress.
OLBERMANN: He was a noted communist in Scotland. Between what Beck
said and what David Frum—what the senator said about this and what Frum
had said, about the Republicans thinking that Fox worked for them, only it
turned out they work for Fox. Is there an iceberg there? Are
conservatives, elected or otherwise, sort of secretly chafing at a bit? Or
are these isolated opinions?
ROBINSON: Well, some are. Look, David Frum famously lost his post at
American Enterprise. You know, I heard that a lot of people at the
American Enterprise Institute were basically cheering on the Obama health
care plan because it‘s so based on Republican ideas on things that they‘ve
been advocating for years. So, you know, they are out there, these
mythical creatures, these reasonable Republicans and conservatives, these
moderate Republicans. And maybe they‘ll come out of the forest.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, but, if you are a Republican and you will not say
Democrats or liberals are evil and they should be hated, and you will, in
fact, say, look, you won‘t go to jail for not buying health insurance, and
Fox News exaggerates and manipulates and demonizes—what does happens to
you politically if you won‘t do these things? It seems like, of all the
threats we think of to the overall political spectrum and to democrats and
threats against Senator Murray in a literal sense—but if you look at it
just within the Republican party, it is a purity purge. It is as bad as
anything you could see in a political party anywhere in the world.
ROBINSON: Yeah. What happens depends on your situation, basically.
If you are David Frum, you lose your job. If you are Tom Coburn, if you
are a sitting U.S. Senator, in pretty good shape, maybe you lose some
contributions you wouldn‘t have gotten. Maybe you lose some Tea Party
people. Maybe down the line, if you keep saying this sort of thing, maybe
you get some Tea Party challenge in a primary. We‘ll see how this purity
purge works out over the next months and years.
OLBERMANN: One last thing, Frum also suggested something in another
interview that‘s somewhat counter-intuitive. Decode it for me. Here is
the quote: “Fox, like Limbaugh, has an interest in pushing the Republicans
to the margins, making people angry. When people are angry and alienated,
they don‘t vote.” Isn‘t that the opposite of the premise of the tea party?
And if so, who is right?
ROBINSON: David has a point historically. When voters are alienated,
they stay home from the polls. One of the reasons that campaigns go
negative and go massively negative is to depress turnout. It‘s to keep
people home, because they say it is all a cesspool. I‘m not going to vote.
Now, is the Tea Party a special case of this? Does the anger
transcend this alienation of depressing turnout? I don‘t think we‘re sure.
But historically he has a point.
OLBERMANN: By the way, you can take—go back to the Beck blackboard
here. You take David Frum‘s name, you have something left over, but you
can spell “Avid Dum F.” There you go, right?
ROBINSON: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” and when we‘re
lucky, MSNBC. Thank you, Gene.
ROBINSON: Good night.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,532nd day since the
previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I went to
college to be able to do something like that. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good
night and good luck.
Now that the unedited James O‘Keefe Acorn tapes, having been analyzed
by the state of California, and they clear Acorn, ladies and gentlemen,
with that, here is Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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