updated 7/27/2010 9:40:21 AM ET 2010-07-27T13:40:21

Guests: Mark Mazzetti, Ezra Klein, David Weigel

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
(MUSIC)
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will be you talking about tomorrow?
A criminal act—that‘s what the Obama administration calls the publishing of thousands of secret Afghanistan war documents on the Internet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  Tonight, the story of the documents.  How did they surface and what they say about the war effort with Mark Mazzetti, who broke the story in “The New York Times.”  Also, Richard Wolffe, on the new pressures in the commander-in-chief and how this, again, knocks the White House off message.
Forget safety first.  It‘s P.R. first for BP, as Tony Hayward prepares to be banished to Siberia, literally, what about the man responsible for actual safety for the company?
Will “no” win big in November?  The GOP is counting on it, but Democrats say Republicans are putting their jobs ahead of yours.
(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA:  They don‘t want the jobs bill because they don‘t want people to get jobs before—before the election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  Over repentant.  Formerly anti-gay preacher Ted Haggard decides he‘s been to sorry about his very pro-gay massage and wants to take back some of his apology.
And a big Tea Party take-back:
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KEN BUCK ®, COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE:  Would you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I‘m on the camera?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  Will the Tea Party get the last laugh on Senate candidate Ken Buck?
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUCK:  I can‘t get that message through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC)
(END VIDEOTAPE)
O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from Los Angeles.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann.
The documents revealed day by brutal day the truth about the nine-year conflict.  The war in Afghanistan is deteriorating and has been for many years now.
Our fifth story: the situation in Afghanistan is being widely debated tonight in the wake of one of the biggest leaks in U.S. military history.  Nearly 92,000 secret documents were released by the whistle blower Web site WikiLeaks.  Most of them field reports covering the years 2004 through 2009.
The trove was given first to three international news outlets, each of which spent weeks researching the findings.  All three concluded that the documents were real, even if the intelligence they provided didn‘t always pan out.
What the leaked documents show isn‘t completely new information to anyone who has been paying close attention to the conflict, but they do supply a new level of detail to points war critics have been making for years.  For example, it is not news that Afghan civilians have been killed in the crossfire, but until this leak, we did not know that more civilians had been killed by secret Special Forces than the government has acknowledged.
It is not news that Pakistan appears to have been supporting the Taliban, but until now, we did not know the explicit details of how the Pakistani intelligence service met directly with Taliban leaders and helped them plan attacks against allied forces, a charge that Pakistan denies.
And it is not news that American and NATO helicopters have been shot down, but until now, we did not know that the Taliban has been using portable heat-seeking missiles against allied aircraft—a fact that American commanders concealed.
The founder of WikiLeaks said the documents provide evidence of war crimes and talked about how allied forces are being bled by many small cuts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS:  This is the story of the war since 2004, and like most of the accidents that occur on the road, they‘re as a result of cars, not of buses.  Most of the deaths in this war are as a result of the everyday squalor of war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  The administration, meanwhile, honoring White House tradition, called the leaks harmful to national security.  The reliable refrain of all White House spokesmen about all military leaks during all wars.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIBBS:  I said there weren‘t any new revelations in the material.
ED HENRY, CNN:  So, how does it harm our national security if we‘ve known this already?
GIBBS:  Well, because you‘ve got—it‘s not the content as much as it is, there are names, there are operations, there‘s logistics, there‘s sources.  All of that information in a public way has the potential, Ed, to do harm.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  “The New York Times” was one of the three new organizations to which WikiLeaks gave an advance look at the leaked documents.  Their coverage co-written by national security correspondent Mark Mazzetti, who joins us now from Washington.
Mark, to the White House point, is this reporting harmful to national security?
MARK MAZZETTI, NEW YORK TIMES:  We took very great care over the last few weeks to sift through the documents, and when we decided to ultimately publish the documents and the content to make sure that they didn‘t contain information that we thought was directly harmful.  For instance, the names of Afghan informants who have been working with coalition troops, the names of specific officers who are working in Afghanistan and Pakistan—and we approached the White House late last week and told them what we had had and had a dialogue with them over the last few days before we published, and they were quite aware that what we were going to publish—not in specific content—but we took very great pains to make sure that specific sources and methods of information were not—were not revealed.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, it is hard to choose the hottest news here, the most disturbing revelations in these documents, but to the point of the Pakistani intelligence service actually helping the Taliban, working with the Taliban, planning missions with the Taliban, we do not have documentation on that prior to now, do we?
MAZZETTI:  No, we don‘t, and, you know, “The Times” and other news organizations for a couple of years have talked about and written about how Pakistan‘s spy service, the ISI, is believed to directly help out not only the Taliban, but groups like the Haqqani network and a group led by (INAUDIBLE).  And this is the belief among the U.S. intelligence community even—and they even are believed to have been involved in the 2008 embassy bombing, the Indian embassy bombing in Kabul.
But these documents have actual named operatives.  They talk about meetings on specific dates and specific locations in Pakistan to plan attacks.
We looked through these documents.  Some of them we threw out because we did not think that they were credible, but that we took them to various U.S. officials, and what we did present in the story—we do think, if not each individual attack we know was carried out, this is something that the U.S. believed to be legitimate.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, we helped Afghanistan in the 1980s use stinger missiles against the Soviet forces.  We discover in these documents that they are now using those missiles against the U.S.
Is there something in here that you would say is the most important news?  We could just go on and on listing these kinds of things, but what do you see as the most important news in these documents?
MAZZETTI:  I think what‘s important about these documents are that the totality, the fine grain detail of life in war—and it‘s the good, bad, and ugly.  It‘s how the military sees the conflict, and we‘ve never really had this fine grain picture of war since 2011, and I think this is something that people will look at for months and years to come in terms of how—of how the conduct of war has gone on.
I think there are individual headlines, some of them we‘ve mentioned.  I think we devoted a whole separate story to the Pakistan angle because we do believe that this is such an important part of the conflict, and it raises this—the complexity of this war.  You have an ally that you are funding with more than $1 billion a year in military aid, and, yet, the American intelligence community believes they are actually helping the enemy.
And, yet, the—both—two successive administrations, the Bush administration, and the Obama administration, have seen Pakistan as a critical ally, and necessary for any kind of eventual victory in Afghanistan.  So, it is such a dilemma for the United States in how it deals with Pakistan.
O‘DONNELL:  Mark Mazzetti of “The New York Times,” there‘s 92,000 documents, I‘m sure you haven‘t finished reading all of them.  We expect you back with more of what you find in there.  Many thanks for your time tonight, Mark.
MAZZETTI:  Thanks a lot.
O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s turn to our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe, author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”
Richard, does President Obama‘s new strategy in Afghanistan now come into more doubt and risk of funding with these kinds of revelations?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it doesn‘t look like it for now, and, remember, that much of the picture that these documents paint in Afghanistan is of a mission that was severely undermanned and under-resourced for many, many years.  And the new strategy is really designed to address some of that.
There are also trip wires in this strategy which Republicans, remember, were not happy about.  Those trip wires were specifically the review that‘s going to happen at the end of this year, and then the promised drawdown of troops this time next year.
So, there are—there are certain checks and a healthy degree, I think, of skepticism about what can be done in terms of the military operations, in terms of what the Pakistanis can deliver.  But really, the key here is do these documents change the politics, because one thing is to have a strategy that has checks and balances and everything else, and the question is: is the politics shifting in Washington and in the country in general?  It‘s too early to say right now.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, the White House and others today tried to insist that these WikiLeaks on Afghanistan are nothing like the Pentagon papers.  It does seem that they‘re somewhat like the Pentagon papers, but how would you compare the two?
WOLFFE:  Well, these are frontline reports, so we‘re not seeing strategy.  We‘re not seeing the decision makers and how they‘re thinking.
And the White House has been spending much of the day saying this isn‘t whistle blowing, OK?  They say that this is the activities of an anti-war political activist.  So, you got to take all of these things with a grain of salt.
And actual fact: whatever Julian Assange‘s motives here, the documents are not really in question.  They are pretty authentic.  Some of them may be relying on too much information that cannot be verified elsewhere.  But, still, they‘re authentic documents.
It‘s a massive breach of security.  It‘s unprecedented.  It‘s all of those things.
But does it change the fundamental dynamic in terms of what people understand of this war?  I‘m not sure it does.  What it does do is raise questions in the public‘s mind.  If the frontline troops maybe have doubts about whether this is winnable, whether this is the right strategy, how does that translate back into public support for the war?
O‘DONNELL:  Well, one of the similarities to the Pentagon papers is that these papers and the Pentagon papers referred to the past.  They were the recent past—things that had already happened in the Pentagon papers case and the Vietnam War here and the Afghan war.  But they served—they have both seemed to serve to undermine confidence in current strategy, because we find exaggerations—we find the military exaggerating in the past about certain success rates for certain exercises.  And that is the kind of thing that undermines strategy going forward, isn‘t it?
WOLFFE:  Well, it does, but you got a president who actually has also questioned his leadership.  Now, we have the second new leader coming in to run this war—the guy who promised that he could figure out counterinsurgency.  So, the rosy picture that the military has presented time and time again in Afghanistan has actually come under scrutiny from this administration.
The question is: are they going to be able to report now that they own this war in some respects, and they should be skeptical, as they have been before?
O‘DONNELL:  How much of a political bump in the road is this for the White House?  This is yet another day when they‘re not talking about how they‘re going to try to create jobs and how to appeal to midterm congressional election voters in the fall.
WOLFFE:  That is the biggest threat.  In the short-term, that‘s the bigger threat for this White House.  Every day they‘re not talking about jobs, they‘re not talking about the contrasts with Republicans, is a wasted day for this November‘s midterms.
You know, they have to go out and talk about the war and defend the war, but, you know, the Republicans are not going to try to make a dividing line on Afghanistan.  They‘re going to go to the economy, and say this administration is not focusing on it enough.  And that‘s what we‘re seeing today.  They cannot say about the economy while they have to talk about WikiLeaks.
O‘DONNELL:  And the war supplemental bill is coming up for vote in the House this.  Surely, there will be some mention on the House floor of these documents.
WOLFFE:  There surely will.  But, you know, I think a lot of it will be focused on: we must stop the leakers.  We must prosecute whoever is responsible and capture them.
The tough questions about: are they fighting the right war against the right enemy?  Are they dealing with Pakistan in the right way?
I don‘t think that‘s going to come up in the supplemental debate.
O‘DONNELL:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and author of “Renegade”—thanks, Richard.
WOLFFE:  Thanks, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: As BP gets ready to ship Tony Hayward off to Siberia, why is the company doing nothing about Steve Flynn?  Steve who?  BP‘s VP in charge of safety.
And later, John Boehner is hoping to turn his title from House minority leader to speaker of the House—all thanks to the power of the word no.  And Democrats say that strategy is completely ignoring the needs of the American people.
That and much more—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, BP fires the CEO, but lets the safety team keep their jobs?
And the GOP obstructionism in the Senate is at an all-time high.  Are the Democrats ready to change the filibuster rules?
And Sarah Palin wins another straw poll, but this time, it‘s probably not one she‘s going to be happy about.
That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  Amid reports of BP CEO Tony Hayward‘s imminent departure, new details tonight about where he is going and we ask: why just him?  Why not the BP executive in charge of safety?
Yes, they have one—and in our fourth story tonight: we have that man, Steve Flynn, and some of his exchange with a Senate committee coming up.
We begin with Hayward, reportedly, out at BP to run instead the company‘s joint venture in Russia, TNK-BP.  COUNTDOWN confirmed today that TNK-BP has multiple operations in Siberia.  So, BP is not just sending Hayward to Siberia, but putting him in a job so dicey that his predecessor had to flee the country.
Congressman Ed Markey yesterday revealed that Hayward‘s testimony last month about drilling mud was untrue.  Hayward testified that the drilling mud used by BP was not toxic.  BP used tens of thousands of barrels to try to close the gusher back in May.  Most, if not all, of that drilling mud went into the Gulf.  Hayward testified that it was, quote, “water-based with no toxicity whatsoever.”
Late Friday, BP informed Markey that was not true.  The mud contained lye, appropriately enough, and ethylene glycol.  And while that alone might qualify as cause for dismissal, what about the BP executive whose job title is “vice president of safety”?
In hearings Thursday, Steve Flynn was asked whether, given his job title, he feels responsible for the safety of BP‘s employees.  His answer was not yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN:  You are the vice president of health safety, security and environment, is that correct?
STEVE FLYNN, BP VICE PRESIDENT OF SAFETY:  Yes.
FRANKEN:  So, you‘re in charge of all this, right?  You are responsible?
FLYNN:  My role is to set standards, to advise executive management and those that are implementing those standards, and then to monitor trends and give advice to the executives if it‘s needed.  But in BP, we‘re clear that the business line is accountable for delivering safety along with business, and safety is the first priority.
FRANKEN:  OK.  I‘m not sure what that answer meant.
Do you feel responsible?  Do you feel you have a responsibility to the safety of people working for BP?
FLYNN:  Sir, I have a part to play, and my role is to establish standards that extend company-wide and programs.
FRANKEN:  I just think that it‘s very disturbing to me that no one from BP had made any attempt to get in touch with the families.  Maybe you‘re right.  Maybe they don‘t want to hear from you at this point.  Maybe it‘s just been too long.
But just speaking to you, man-to-man, I just don‘t get it.  I don‘t—
I don‘t get your—I don‘t get BP.  I don‘t get its lack of remorse or the way it expresses it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  In the face of an unprecedented pummeling by the committee Democrats, Mr. Flynn lamely tried to defend his company‘s safety record, saying that after BP‘s fatal fire at the Texas City refinery in 2005, the corporate culture of safety changed for the better—a claim Senator Franken destroyed in that hearing, referring to BP‘s number of violations from OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN:  The Center for Public Integrity recently published a report noting that BP is responsible for 760 of the 761 egregious and willful—that‘s what they call them—OSHA violations over the past three years.  This is post-Texas City, of course, when you were going to change your culture of safety.  That‘s a pretty hard statistic to believe.
Do you have any comment on that?
FLYNN:  We were disappointed with the 760 violations, because we believe that we were in compliance with the requirements of those—of those orders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  Mr. Flynn, we‘re all disappointed.  The families and friends of the Deepwater 11 are more than disappointed.
Flynn did say BP continues to try to change, a claim Senator Jeff Merkley found hard to believe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON:  You were testifying that, we are determined to change our culture, we are determined to have situations where we don‘t encourage workers to not report problems and that they won‘t be afraid of reports.  We are going to make sure that we are in a rush to produce and we‘re going make sure that X, Y, and Z happened that will prevent the blow-outs.
I mean, there‘s everything from the failing battery on the—on the blow-out preventer, problems with the hydraulics, the fact that you chose to have a blow-out preventer with only one valve, the fact it wasn‘t tested at the depth, the fact that you replaced mud with light water, even though there had been gas or irregularities—the list goes on and on and on of shortcuts.  And for you to come here today and say, we really are at the top of the world in terms of safety, and it comes before anything else, there‘s nothing—there is nothing in the testimony of any sort that backs up that position.
And I just—I feel on behalf of those who have been injured in your company, you‘d be far better positioned to say, I am going to change this culture rather than to come and tell us all is well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  We invited Steve Flynn to appear on COUNTDOWN, but he declined.
Mr. Flynn, you have a standing invitation to appear on this network with me, and my first question to you will be one that the senators were too polite to ask.  Why haven‘t you resigned?  You‘re in charge of safety, and you lost 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig.  How many more deaths will it take for you to admit you‘re incapable of providing workplace safety at BP?  How many?
Coming up: Reverend Haggard has an epiphany.  He felt too guilty after he got a massage with a very gay ending.  Now, he‘s coined the new term over-repentant.
Speaking of repentant, Ken Buck has been courting the Tea Party in Colorado.  So, now, he‘s got to say he‘s sorry after calling some in the Tea Party “dumbasses.”  Can he ever be sorry enough?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  Ahead on COUNTDOWN: The GOP stood in the way of unemployment benefits, and now, they‘re banking on the fact that their “party of no” will turn them into the party in power.
Sarah Palin in 2012.  The liberals of the Netroots convention in Vegas picked her as the dream nominee for the GOP.
And later, how much guilt is too much guilt?  When it turns into over repentance—so says formerly anti-gay preacher, Ted Haggard, after his massage with a gay escort.  It sounds like one for the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame.”
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(MUSIC)
O‘DONNELL:  Democrats would like nothing more than to saddle the GOP with the label of “party of no.”
And in our third story: it has become increasingly clear that the Republican Party will gladly wrap itself in that banner right through the midterm elections.
But Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, says that Democrats will try to change the 60-vote filibuster rule, which Republicans have been using again and again to block or slow down almost every piece of legislation.  We‘ll ask our next guest, Ezra Klein, if it is possible to change a 60-vote rule with less than 60 votes.
The Republican leadership believes that it will not pay a price for all their “no” votes, even against the extension of unemployment benefits.  Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, is saying, quote, “We think the American people agree with our argument.  The spending issue is resonating.”
And the deputy whip in the House, Congressman Tom Cole, says that the Democrats‘ legislative accomplishments will be overshadowed.  “We feel like we are reflecting a broader mood of dissatisfaction.  Right now, the American people want us saying no.”
But Democratic Senator Al Franken recently suggested that Republican motives have become even more cynical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA:  I mean, sometimes, it would be—it would be a legitimate difference of opinion on something.  But sometimes it was—it‘s been ridiculous, and—but I do think that this whole approach of slowing everything down and in many ways I think it‘s so that they don‘t want a jobs bill because they don‘t want people to get jobs before—before the election.  And it‘s a harsh thing to say and I don‘t want to impugn motives on my colleagues, but I don‘t—I don‘t get what they‘re doing otherwise.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  Meantime, Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, has now said of the 60-vote filibuster rule, quote, “We‘re going to have to change it.  We‘re looking at ways to change what has been an abuse.”
Let‘s bring in “Washington Post” staff reporter, “Newsweek” columnist, and MSNBC contributor, Ezra Klein.
Ezra, the conventional wisdom is that it takes more than 60 votes to change a rule in the Senate.  It takes 67.  It takes two-thirds to change a rule in the Senate.  But David Waldman wrote a thorough piece in “The Daily Kos,” basically saying that there is a way to do this with just a majority vote.
What‘s your reading of the situation?
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  He is right.  And it‘s been done before.
So, what happens here, as you say, normally, it would take 67 votes to overturn a rule.  But when a new Congress comes in, so after an election, we‘re in the 111th right now.  After the election, we‘ll be in the 112th Congress.  When a new Congress comes in, it has to readopt rules.  There are no rules.
And so, it tends to do that, and it does it by a majority vote, because if the rules don‘t exist yet, then there‘s no Rule 22, which creates the filibuster.  So, that is what Tom Udall and others have begun to call the “constitutional option,” that each Senate, each Congress, can create its own rules.  And when it does that, it‘s by majority vote.  And if it‘s by majority vote, that means you can destroy the filibuster or do other things through a majority vote.
O‘DONNELL:  Well, just not to get too technical, if that was tried, there would be a moment where the Republicans would raise an objection, in effect, to proceeding to that, and then the Democrats would have to basically move to table the objection, and that‘s what they can do.  The tabling motion would only need 50 votes.
But we‘ve never seen this move before, have we?  Is this a Senate floor move that‘s never happened, because I don‘t have any memory of anything like that happening?
KLEIN:  My understanding is it has happened, and I don‘t want to go too deep into this because I didn‘t bone up exactly on it.  But my understanding is that three or four times before, there have been rule changes made under this rule.  That, in fact, Mondale and others—in fact, that the 55-vote filibuster, bring it down from two-thirds to three-fifths happened under this rule as well in ‘75 -- ‘75.
So, in fact, the constitutional option has been done in the past, and as often happens with rule changes, it doesn‘t make a huge splash.  People don‘t remember it for very long.  I mean, I think, most people probably wouldn‘t know that until ‘75, that it took many, many more votes to take down a filibuster, and before in 1917, you couldn‘t do it at all.  So, these things do tend to change over time, and then afterwards, it sort of falls into the mist of history and we get used to how it is now rather than how it was back then.
O‘DONNELL:  And, of course, if the Democrats lose the Senate, not only will there be—will they not be making an attempt to change this, but they will be thrilled that there is a 60-vote threshold for filibusters that has to be overcome if they end up in the minority.
KLEIN:  Well, this is—that‘s what‘s—if I could interrupt you—that‘s what dangerous about this right now.  If they don‘t do it, but they put this idea out into the—into the media stream, they have no idea—they have no guarantee, that Republicans, when they come in either next year or in a couple of years, won‘t do it themselves.  So, once people are really talking about doing this sort of a maneuver to kill the filibuster, it does become a question of do you want to be the folks that change the rules or get the rules change on them.  And it does create an impetus to do it quickly.
O‘DONNELL:  It is that there is that Cold War sensation to it all, this mutually-assured destruction possibility -- 
KLEIN:  Right.
O‘DONNELL:  -- that even if you end up in the minority, you‘re going to love that filibuster rule the way it is.
Now, what about the “party of no” and how it‘s working politically?  The Republicans seem absolutely convinced, as they were, by the way, in 1994, that being the “party of no” and just stopping things was good enough to win the congressional elections, and they were right in 1994.  Can that work again?
KLEIN:  Politicians have a tendency to talk about what they‘re doing and assume it‘s what‘s driving the election.  What Republicans have going for them is that they‘re not the party of 10 percent unemployment, and they‘re not the party of the big deficit because they‘re not currently the party in control.
I don‘t believe that their signs will say “party of no” when they go before the voters.  And, in fact, I think they may take some damage from being against unemployment insurance, being against certain jobs programs.  But the reality is and the reality they‘re running on is that the country is in bad shape right now.  And when the country is in bad news, rightly or wrongly, people blame the folks in charge, and the Democrats are in charge.
So, it isn‘t that they‘re going to be the “party of no.”  They‘re the “party of you‘re not blaming us for this right now.”  And they‘ll come in, and then people begin blaming them, but until then, they‘re in a bit of a safer spot in opposition.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, Congressman Paul Ryan is one of those rare Republicans who loves to throw himself into policy and real policy debates, likes offering voters something more concrete.  Any chance that he can lead his party in the direction of offering something concrete?
KLEIN:  Certainly, and I think, you know, Congressman Ryan has become a major force in the Republican Party politics in the past year or two.  Now, the question, though, is whether or not they‘ll sign on to anything he brings in because Ryan has both the good fortune and the bad fortune to be interested in offering pretty large solutions.  And when you try to did a large solution to something like a budget deficit, you‘ve got really unpopular things in there—things like cutting Medicare substantially, turning it into a voucher program, lowering taxes on the wealthy—a lot of different things that are going to be a tough political battle.
So, he‘s not had that many Republican co-sponsors so far, but I think he will be if Republicans come into power one of the folks to look to for intellectual firepower and then actual policy discussion.  The question is whether or not others will line up behind him.
O‘DONNELL:  Ezra Klein, once again bringing intellectual firepower to COUNTDOWN—thanks, Ezra.
KLEIN:  Thank you.
O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: The COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame” gets a new wing, thanks to the little known type of sorry known as “over-repentance.”  Ted Haggard wants a do-over on sorry.
And a Tea Party candidate who thinks the birthers are dumbasses—his word, not mine.
And at the top of the hour, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW,” why Chris Hayes of “The Nation” says the only thing the GOP is running on for 2010 is to get even with Obama.
This is COUNTDOWN, only on MSNBC.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  Ted Haggard thinks he said sorry too much for dabbling in meth and male prostitution.
A Tea Party-backed candidate can‘t say sorry enough to the Tea Party.
And the queen of the Tea Party may be sorry to hear this: Sarah Palin, you won the straw poll at Netroots Nation.  You really did.  I was there.  No kidding.
It‘s all coming up.  This is COUNTDOWN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  In 2006, as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard articled preached about the sinfulness of homosexuality and keeping secrets—while he was smoking crystal meth and engaging in sex with a male prostitute.  Haggard‘s congregation wasn‘t thrilled.  He was forced to resign, and he voluntarily apologized to anyone who would listen.
In our number two story, talking about the fiasco with “The Wall Street Journal” today, Haggard revealed that all the apologies he offered for his sorted scandal resulted in over-repenting.
Trying to get a new all-inclusive church off the ground, Haggard told “The Journal,” quote, “Tiger Woods needs to golf.  Michael Vick needs to be playing football.  Ted Haggard needs to be leading a church.”
Haggard now describes the sex he had with a male prostitute as a massage that went awry, and he says the ensuing apologies for his deception and hypocrisy on “Oprah,” “Larry King” and elsewhere went too far.  According to Haggard, “I over-repented.”
So, the preacher now apparently has some extra sinning to do, that he‘s already repented for, or maybe he can transfer that balance to me, since I have a tendency to under-repent for my sins.
Whatever the outcome, Haggard‘s remarks make his original apology truly worthy of retroactive inclusion into the new over-repenters wing of the COUNTDOWN “Apology Hall of Fame.”
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
TED HAGGARD, FORMER MEGA-CHURCH PASTOR:  It‘s written in the Bible, all right, so we don‘t have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity.  It‘s written in the Bible.
REPORTER:  Do you think you owe gay people an apology?
HAGGARD:  Absolutely.  And I do apologize.  I take all the pain, all the rejection, all the hurt I caused those men and women, gay and lesbians.  I‘m deeply sorry for the attitude that I had.
SHIRLEY SHERROD, FORMER USDA OFFICIAL:  I didn‘t give him the full force of what I could do.
BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS:  Wow.  Well, that is simply unacceptable, and Ms. Sherri must resign immediately.  So, I owe Ms. Sherrod an apology for not doing my homework.
ALEX RODRIGUEZ, BASEBALL PLAYER:  I did take a banned substance, and, you know, for that I‘m very sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A fist bump, a pound, a terrorist fist jab.  I regret that.  It was not my intention, and I certainly didn‘t mean to associate the word “terrorist” in any way with Senator Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The past two years have been hard on all parties involved.  Again, I offer my deepest apology, and I challenge you to read a book.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s get crazy, get some coke, hire a hooker.  If you agree with this, just look at me and say yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m sorry I did it.  I‘m sorry it offended people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Personally, didn‘t think it would have offended anyone.
Ah, hell.
You know, if it did, you know, we‘ll apologize.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am sorry.  So, so sorry that—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For those Iraqis that were mistreated by members of the U.S. Armed Forces, I offer my deepest apology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I apologize to anybody that has been brought into this unnecessarily.
(MUSIC)
ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER:  I feel so bad my band started playing the wrong song, and I didn‘t know what to do, so I thought I would do a ho-down.  I‘m sorry.
JANET JACKSON, SINGER:  And, unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.  I am really sorry.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression.  I misled people, including even my wife.
(MUSIC)
KOBE BRYANT, NBA PLAYER:  I‘m so sorry.  I love my wife so much.
(MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior.  I don‘t feel superior to you at all.  I don‘t believe any man or woman is superior to any—
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you always hold that view?
UNIDENTIFEID MALE:  I think I did.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I feel really bad for Nancy, and I feel really lucky that it wasn‘t me.
(MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What the hell were you thinking?
(LAUGHTER)
HUGH GRANT, ACTOR:  I think, you know, in life pretty much what‘s a good thing to do and what‘s a bad thing.  And I did a bad thing, and there you have it.
GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Yes, that I have behaved badly sometimes.  And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them: I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  If some of my judgments were wrong and some were wrong, they were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interest of the nation.
(MUSIC)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please forgive me.  I have sinned against you, my Lord.  And I would ask that you bless this church.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: sorry may not be enough for the birthers.  Somebody is calling them dumbasses, and that somebody is asking for their support.  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
O‘DONNELL:  He‘s positioned himself as the Tea Party candidate.  He‘s called Tea Party events a great deal.  Tea Party support catapulted him from long shot to frontrunner—but in our number story: A Tea Party favorite running for Senate in Colorado is forced to explain himself after getting caught insulting tea partiers.
Meet Ken Buck, former U.S. attorney, Republican Senate hopeful, and, thus far, Tea Party approved candidate.  He faces a primary next month in Colorado against the state‘s former lieutenant governor, Jane Norton.  Ms.  Norton, once leading by double digits, now finds herself trailing Mr. Buck despite support from national GOP leaders.  That is all subject to change because of recently leaked audio.
At a campaign event last month, Mr. Buck was pressed on the validity of President Obama‘s birth certificate by Tea Party birthers.  Afterwards, Mr. Buck vented his frustration to another person at the event, a Democratic Party tracker, who happened to be carrying a small tape-recorder.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KEN BUCK ®, COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE:  Will you tell those dumbasses at the Tea Party to stop asking questions about birth certificates while I‘m on the camera?  God, what am I supposed to do?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  As “Politico” reports, Mr. Buck‘s campaign says the campaign was aware he was speaking to a Democratic worker and made a mistake.  Mr. Buck, telling KUSA, people fixated on the president‘s birth certificate diverts attention from larger issues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUCK:  If I had to do it over again, I wouldn‘t have chosen those words.  But the point is: that they have had a microphone on me for 16 months.  I was tired and frustrated that I can‘t get that message through that we are going to go off a cliff if we don‘t start dealing with this debt.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL:  The Norton campaign calling Mr. Buck two steps short of a fraud, quote, “He‘s a self-proclaimed tea partier who tea partiers when he thinks no one is looking.”
Meanwhile, the queen of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, is given a vote of confidence from progressives—well, sort of.  A straw poll conducted at this past weekend‘s Netroots Nation Conference in Las Vegas, poll participants overwhelmingly said the candidate they would most like to see running against Barack Obama, the half governor of Alaska, GOP nominee 2012, Sarah Palin.  Palin is scoring 48 percent of the vote.  Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a distant second with 11 percent of the vote.
Joining me now is MSNBC contributor Dave Weigel.
Dave, you‘ve got Ken Buck.  I‘ve got to think he‘s voicing John McCain‘s private thoughts and other formerly mainstream Republicans‘ private thoughts—Republicans who are now in the business of pandering to the tea partiers.
How widespread is that sort of Republican cynicism about the Tea Party?
DAVID WEIGEL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Cynicism about the kind of things he was complaining about, I think, is pretty—that‘s pretty widespread.  I‘ve heard lots of Republicans talk about this as a distraction.  I mean, now, for every Republican who gets into this mess by endorsing birtherism, you know, David Vitter did in a way.  Rick Scott in Florida did in a way.  The rest of them really do think this is a distraction.
And honestly, there are conspiracists (ph) who think Obama is just egging on the people by letting this issue fester, because—well, he‘s not really letting it fester, but letting this issue to hang out there so that they‘ll look crazy or they think it makes them look crazy.  I mean, in Buck‘s case I think he was being very savvy and the walk back of what he was saying was more surprising than anything else.  You know, this is what smart Republicans should stay: Stop talking about the president‘s birth certificate.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, Buck is complaining that he cannot get Tea Party audiences to pay attention to something like the national debt because they want to talk about the president‘s birth certificate.  Now, this starts to make me think—is the mainstream media giving the Tea Party too much credit for being actually interested in the governance of the United States?
WEIGEL:  I don‘t think so.  I mean, I think actually, Jane Norton
comes off a bit worse here because—frame it the way she did, saying that
by telling people to stop obsessing over the birth certificate he was
insulting tea partiers, that‘s kind of patronizing to tea partiers because
sure, some of them will wave these signs and say they‘re obsessed with this.  I don‘t think many of them actually got into this movement because they were obsessed with whether or not Barack Obama was born in Hawaii as he was.

So, you know, what Buck was saying here, I think, is legitimate, and they really do—Republicans really do believe the media and the Obama administration are letting this hang on and throwing these questions out there at their rallies in order to slip them up.  Now, they‘re wrong.  Polls show that there‘s a big chunk of this base that believes this stuff, but they really do mean this.  They want to talk about the deficit.
Now, the second part is they don‘t have a lot to say about how we can cut spending while cutting taxes, but they definitely want to stop talking about the birth certificate.
O‘DONNELL:  Now, I was at the Netroots Nation Conference in Las Vegas this weekend where Sarah Palin was the big winner of the weekend.  She far and away wins the straw poll there for the candidate who these liberals at Netroots Nation would love to see—just love to see—run against Barack Obama, which means they firmly believe that she would probably be the easiest one for him to beat.
Are they right?
WEIGEL:  I think they‘re right.  I think this is actually savvy.  And I think a lot of us in the media that they consume—and the tea partiers consume—sometimes confused celebrity with credibility.
If you look at the data and look at the polls, good example is Greg Sargent of “The Washington Post” pointed out that the last NBC poll on Palin had 52 percent of people saying they were less likely to vote for a Palin-endorsed candidate than to vote for one she hadn‘t endorsed.  We never hear that.  We hear a lot about her rushing in to back the latest mama grizzly or, you know, scribbling something on Facebook quickly about a candidate who served in Iraq.  We don‘t hear about the fact that she‘s not very popular.
So, this—this is something Democrats would love to happen.  And her
her base is actually—I wouldn‘t compare it one to one with birthers at all.  Her base are devoted to her in a way that irritates a lot of establishment Republicans who think that they‘d just—would be ready to take the country back over if they could calm down some elements of their base.  They think Palin‘s base distracts them from a lot of stuff they want to do if they want to win again—same thing with what you saw in Colorado.

O‘DONNELL:  MSNBC contributor, Dave Weigel, thanks for your insight into that side of the world tonight.
WEIGEL:  Thank you.
O‘DONNELL:  That will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for vacationing Keith Olbermann.  You can catch my new MSNBC show at 10:00 p.m. weeknights this fall.
And, now, to discuss how the GOP is only interested in getting even—
I give you Chris Hayes, sitting in for Rachel Maddow tonight.
Good evening, Chris.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
END   
Copyright 2010 Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by
United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>