updated 6/8/2004 10:42:32 AM ET 2004-06-08T14:42:32

Guests: Ken Duberstein, Patrick Rogers, Dr. John Hutton, Larry Sabato, Yogi Berra

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over):  Once his journey was from obscurity to the heights of fame and power and responsibility.  Tonight, he lies in repose in the state in which fame and power and responsibility found him.  The final journey of Ronald Reagan has begun.  If a death can be lovely, his was.  And life‘s end, privacy was maintained, but through his daughter‘s writings, we now know of Ronald Reagan‘s last moments. 

The last moments of the Soviet Union, attributed tonight, to Ronald Reagan by the foreign leader who will give his eulogy and recount it today by the man who led, what once Reagan called “the evil empire.” 

While he was far from perfect, this, too, was the “Teflon President” and the Iran/Contra president and the man who couldn‘t hear questions when he didn‘t want to.  Sorting Ronald Reagan out historically. 

And a world full of news continues to spin, including more D-Day commemorations and our visit with the most unlikely, most famous veteran of Normandy. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  Twenty-two years ago today, he was the visitor.  On June 7, 1982, Ronald Reagan had an audience with Pope John Paul II, the survivor of one assassin‘s bullet communing with that of another.  Then the 40th president of the United States left the Vatican for England where he again was the visitor.  A formal state trip in which he met Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Thatcher. 

Our fifth story tonight on the COUNTDOWN: Today it was Ronald Reagan who was visited, visited by hundreds, soon to be thousands of Californians, some famous, most not.  As what will be a week of national mourning began in the state where his acting fame and his political career both began.  Ronald Reagan, lying in repose on catapult at his presidential library in Simi Valley, California.  After the first in a series of formally solemn days in memory of the great communicator. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The members of the council convey their condolences to Mrs. Nancy Reagan, to the bereaved family and to the government and people of the United States of America. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How many towns of this size can say they‘ve raised a young man to become president of the United States? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We Hearse depart now, making its way toward Simi Valley, followed by another Hearse which is carrying the Reagan family, Nancy Reagan, Patti and Ron. 

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Grant, oh, Lord, God, that our hearts would be deeply moved and touched by the wonderful memories of this very special human being.  Thank you for the partnership that he and Nancy have shared together, for the wonderful example that they have been to us all and to the nation.  And we thank you for the pride that he instilled, for reminding us of the great nation that under your guidance, we are. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  At Simi Valley, will the casket remain until Wednesday morning, then the trip east for the state funeral and the national funeral service.  Our correspondent, James Hattori has been at the Reagan Library throughout the day, he joins us from there now. 

James, good evening. 

JAMES HATTORI, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.  For the past five hours, the buses have been arriving steadily.  We are told mourners are arriving, perhaps, at a rate of about 1,800 per hour, an outpouring of support among Californians and even those from other states who have traveled here.  Taking a look at the live picture inside the rotunda of the library now, you can see mourners filing by the flag draped casket.  Just a brief quiet moment they get.  Inside their, a military honor guard, posted nearby.  Among the mourner today, California‘s governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger and wife Maria Swiver—Shriver rather. 

Prior to the public viewing, there was a private ceremony for family and close friends, but primarily this day and tomorrow has been set aside for ordinary people to pay their respects to the former president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I felt it was a closure to know that he is now with the Lord and that just—it just made me have to be here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I knew if I didn‘t come, I would regret it.  I just had to come. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He was a great man.  It made me feel proud to be an American again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HATTORI:  At the base of the hill here, where the library sits is a makeshift assembly of flowers and cards and signs, we saw a man earlier who had a sign that said simply, the country—rather, “The country admired him, the world respected him,.”  and also a sign that said, simply, “Nancy, we loved him, too.”

The casket will remain here lying in repose until tomorrow at about 6:00 in the evening.  And that means the visitors will be welcome here throughout the night and into the early morning hours, in all 30 hours of visitation allowed here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  James Hattori reporting from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  Many thanks.

The schedule of events for the rest of the week is now complete.  The lying and repose, as James just mentioned, ends at 6:00 p.m. Pacific, tomorrow. 

The ceremonial departure from Simi Valley begins at 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday.  Arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.  And after the ion to the U.S.  Capitol, they will lay the body of Ronald Reagan in the rotunda, the state funeral there, at 7:00 p.m.  Eastern time Wednesday night. 

The lying in start to start at 8:30 p.m. Eastern and to continue all night and all day Thursday.  The national funeral service at the National Cathedral in Washington will be at 11:30 Eastern time Friday morning. 

And then the return to California for the interment ceremony at the Reagan Library, back where we have begun at 6:15 p.m. Pacific time, Friday night. 

The only living ex-president expected at that ceremony, Mr. Reagan‘s vice president, George H.W. Bush.  Most American flags, not already at half-staff, were lowered to that point today.  As President Bush confirmed, Friday will be a formal national day of mourning.  Mr. Bush urging American to gather in their places of worship on that day in memory of the 40th president. 

President Bush will attend the national funeral service at the cathedral and with the exception of programs being essential for national defense, federal offices will be closed that day. 

That Mr. Reagan‘s personal popularity, if not all of his politics, crossed party boundaries was underscored by an unlikely announcement from the campaign of the democrat‘s presidential nominee presumptive.  Senator John Kerry has canceled all of his public campaign events this week out of deference to the Reagan family.  Included among them, a pair of million-dollar fundraising concerts, despite the fact that Kerry is down to about 53 days left to build his war chest. 

Kerry, who first gained prominence in the Senate while leading the investigation into the Iran/Contra affair, appeared to shed his considerable differences with the republican icon, calling him a quote, “modern giant.”  And while he credited Reagan for helping to end the Cold War, he also praised him for something that seems to have all but banished from Washington.  Quoting again, “he taught us that there was a difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship.”

And when, as we mentioned earlier, Ronald Reagan arrived in England 22 years ago for a state visit, it was not the first time he had met Prime Minister Thatcher.  They had known each other since 1975.  Had already developed the first close working relationship between an American president and a British premier since FDR and Churchill. 

It continues even after Reagan‘s death.  According to the “London Daily Telegraph,” the now Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven has already taped a 10-minute eulogy.  Something President Reagan requested of her long before his death.  Believed to be the first-ever eulogy for a U.S. president from a foreigner.  Thatcher will be at the service, but has been given orders not to speak in public any further, on the advice of doctors.  President Reagan once called Thatcher, “the best man in England.”  In fact Reagan had been known to surreptitiously switch place cards around at international conferences so they could sit together. 

Thatcher‘s statement today:  “Ronald Reagan had a higher claim than any other leader to have won the Cold War for liberty and he did it without a shot being fired.”

Her selection, as at least one of the eulogists is as best appreciated in context.  Richard Nixon did not get a state funeral, but his eulogy was delivered by President Clinton.  Before him, Lyndon Johnson eulogized by his secretary of state, Dean Rusk.  And Dwight Eisenhower was eulogized by his vice president, Richard Nixon.

More remarkable still perhaps, than the remarks from Thatcher.  A guest editorial in the “New York Times” praising Mr. Reagan by Mikhail Gorbachev.  The last leader of the Soviet Union, commended Reagan, writing that he understood that quote, “it is the peacemakers above all who earn a place in history.”

And as we try to assess the shape of that place, we‘re now joined by a man who has been part of that history.  Ken Duberstein served as Mr.  Reagan‘s last chief of staff in the White House. 

Mr. thank you for joining us again, tonight. 

KENNETH DUBERSTEIN, PRESIDENT REAGAN‘S CHIEF OF STAFF:  Keith, it‘s a pleasure to be with you as always. 

OLBERMANN:  If the day he took office, someone had told you when he dies, he will not only outlive the Soviet Union, but the last leader of the Soviet Union will eulogize justifies him warmly in the “New York Times,” would you have thought that person who told you that was insane or a visionary? 

DUBERSTEIN:  Well, I think Ronald Reagan would have thought that, “hey, if I can convince Gorbachev, if I convince the leader of the Soviet Union, so be it.”  That was his optimism, his drive, his ambition to say, you know, we can work together and we can find peace, and ways to reduce nuclear armaments.  This was a vision of Ronald Reagan and he finally got somebody in the Soviet Union he could work for and work with. 

OLBERMANN:  On the subject of the Russians, I haven‘t heard very much, certainly not enough in the last 48 hours about the letter Mr. Reagan wrote to the then leader, Leonid Brezhnev, after the assassination attempt in Washington in 1981.  Was his sense of urgency about trying to peacefully resolve or forcefully resolve matters with Russia, was that all hastened by the assassination attempt? 

DUBERSTEIN:  I think he felt he was placed on this earth in light of the assassination attempt, and his getting better, to do good and to find peace.  And so I think he was energized by that assassination attempt to say, “I‘m going to make every effort possible.” 

You know, Ronald Reagan was criticized during his first term because he wasn‘t making enough peace overtures with the Soviet Union.  And Reagan, in that characteristic smile, used to say, “Yeah, but they‘re all dying on me.”  And it wasn‘t until Mikhail Gorbachev that he found somebody he could work with, and he did that so well.  The chemistry between the two of them, as I‘ve often said, is Gorbachev almost looked up to Reagan as an older brother.  And Reagan would, in summit meetings and in gatherings with Gorbachev always explain to Gorbachev that the key to governing was to get the people on your side.  And that‘s the only way that you could overcome the bureaucracy.  The so-called no man culture (ph) in the Soviet Union.  But, I remember distinctly, Reagan talking about “if you only get people on your side, that‘s the way to win, and that‘s the way we can make peace” to Mr. Gorbachev. 

OLBERMANN:  One broad question, his admirers and critics alike, I think, would have agreed that no president looked more respectful, reverential about and during the ceremonies and the public rituals of the office.  What would he have made of this week of ceremony and mourning that has already begun today out at the Library? 

DUBERSTEIN:  He would have said, “Aw, shucks.  You know, I‘ve only done my best.  I only tried to make a difference.  And look at this outpouring.  I don‘t deserve this.”  And yet, he would have welcomed the pageantry and the patriotism, and he would have welcomed the country coming together, republicans and democrats, George W.  Bush and yes, even, John Kerry, in saluting, “let‘s get things done together.”  But, if you have one more minute, your Margaret Thatcher line to set up, reminded me of a great Reagan story that he used to tell about his first economic summit. 

When he arrived and all the other leaders criticized him about his economic package, and the only person who stood up for him was Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher.  And on the way out of the dinner, he grabbed Maggie Thatcher and said, “thank you for coming to my defense.  Thank you for all of your help.  I didn‘t need it, but I appreciate it.”  And Maggie Thatcher turned to him and grabbed him by the elbow, and as Reagan used to say, all she said to me was, “well, don‘t worry about it, Ronnie.  It‘s just boys being boys.” 

OLBERMANN:  Ken Duberstein, among many titles, Ronald Reagan‘s last White House chief of staff.  And for the second time in three days sir, we greatly appreciate your thoughts, tonight.

DUBERSTEIN:  My pleasure, Keith.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Take care.

COUNTDOWN beginning today with the opening of the ceremonies honoring President Reagan. 

Up next, inside the Reagan home as the end came.  The touching final moments between Ronald and Nancy Reagan as reported by their daughter Patti. 

And later, the president‘s place in history:  An assessment of the highs and the lows of Ronald Reagan‘s eight years in the Oval Office. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Next here on COUNTDOWN:  Ronald Reagan‘s final gift to his wife Nancy.  Their last moment together after 52 years of marriage, as reported by their daughter.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We know all too well the final moments of the life of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, just as our great-great grandfathers knew all to well the final moments of the life of President Abraham Lincoln. 

In tonight‘s fourth in the COUNTDOWN:  We have now been given an account of the last moments of Ronald Reagan.  In an essay, collected and published in next week‘s edition of “People” magazine, his daughter Patti Davis recounts, in detail, her father‘s death. 

Patrick Rogers is a senior editor of “People,” he has spoken with Ms.

Davis throughout the ordeal. 

Mr. Rogers, good evening to you. 

PATRICK ROGERS, “PEOPLE” MAGAZINE:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  This is somewhat atypical, I would suggest, the account of the passing of the leading public figure by a family member.  What are the “why‘s” and the “how‘s” involved? 

ROGERS:  Well, Patti told us that the family knew that the end was coming and had known for a matter of days that President Reagan had pneumonia and the doctors told them this was probably the illness that, in the context of his Alzheimer‘s, would actually lead—would actually be the cause of his death.  And so there were days when it looked like it would happen, when his breathing would just get so labored, but he—but the president would always revive, he kept coming back.  Finally on Saturday afternoon, they knew that the time had come and five people were in this room.  The office, the president‘s former office at his house in Los Angeles, the same place where he had written his letter to the nation announcing he had Alzheimer‘s.  And just after 1:00, as Nancy Reagan held his hand, the—Ronald Reagan opened his eyes, hadn‘t opened them in five days, opened them and looked right at his wife of 52 years, closed his eyes and that was his last breath. 

OLBERMANN:  The exact quote from Ms, Davis, let me read it, “At the last moment when his breathing told us this was it, he opened his eyes and looked straight at my mother.  Eyes that hadn‘t opened for days, did and they weren‘t chalky or vague.  They were clear and blue and full of love.  If a death can be lovely, his was.” 

From what else his daughter wrote, the moment seemed to be described as a liberation for Nancy Reagan, too. 

ROGERS:  Well, certainly after these 10 years—you know, after the diagnosis which came with a death sentence, if you will, 10 years before this long journey had come to an end.  Nancy Reagan, we know, was exhausted, here in the last days, by this vigil that they were keeping and by the emotional roller coaster that it was.  So there had to have been—

I mean, there was—there was relief and there was release for this family.  And also, these are people of faith, there‘s a certainty, on their part, that President Reagan, his last earthly look is at his wife, his next look is at the face of God.  This is what Michael Reagan told us.  So, there‘s consolation there. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Rogers, Peggy Noonan, one of Mr. Reagan‘s speech writers, was on the air with me, perhaps four hours after he died, and she said the surprise for this in—for her in all of this was that, despite a decade of what amounted to notice, that this still felt like such a blow, a shock.  Do we get that from his daughter‘s writings and your conversations with her? 

ROGERS:  Absolutely.  Patti describes how her mother, in these last days, cried and sobbed and how Patti held Mrs. Reagan in her arms, as we know, this tiny woman.  And yet her sobs, Patti said you felt that even if you‘re at the center of the earth, you could have felt the shaking.  So, even after 10 years, when the moment arrived, when death is at hand, you know, it‘s terribly traumatic.  It‘s heart breaking. 

OLBERMANN:  Patrick Rogers, senior editor of “People” magazine, recounting Patti Davis‘s essay that will appear in the next magazine. 

Great thanks for you time tonight, sir.

ROGERS:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Patti Davis wrote more about that last flash of recognition from her father to his wife, quoting her mother as calling it, “The greatest gift he could have given her.” 

“In his last moment, he taught me that there is nothing stronger than love between two people, two souls...it was the last thing he could do in this world to show my mother how entwined their souls are...and it was everything.”

Dr. John Hutton was the personal physician to the president and Mrs.  Reagan‘s during their second term in the White house, during which time he became a close family friend.  He will be one of the president‘s pallbearers on Friday.

Dr. Hutton, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

DR. JOHN HUTTON, PRESIDENT REAGAN‘S WHITE HOUSE PHYSICIAN:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to get too spiritual here, but what Patti Davis describes in “People” is a familiar story of clear-headedness just before an individual passes away, no matter how sick.  I know we would all like it to always be true.  Medically, can it?  Could it have been, in essence, that he awakened even from Alzheimer‘s for that final moment? 

HUTTON:  Well, it‘s the type of thing, I wouldn‘t really like to comment on, because it has to do with the belief of people and their faith.  Whereas one could not explain it on any medical or physiological terms, I think there must be something to this.  And I really don‘t think it‘s appropriate to comment on it, because it‘s something, if you believe in it, you should take great joy and happiness in your belief. 

OLBERMANN:  I think that was the perfect comment on it.  Your own mother died of Alzheimer‘s, so when you learned about the president‘s battle, were you able to help prepare Mrs. Reagan, not from the perspective of the physician, but from that of a friend? 

HUTTON:  Yes.  I do think that a number of us were able to guide her along and what to expect, and she‘s a very, very alert individual and she fully understood this, simply because she‘d gone through it with her own mother. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not surprising, as we speak of issues of health involving them, that this has not been at the forefront of the discussions in the last three nights.  But both Mr. and Mrs. Reagan were cancer survivors.  You were the one who had the awful task of having to tell each other about the others‘ illness?  What was that like? 

HUTTON:  Well, it‘s interesting.  Once we discovered what we had, there was no hesitation, no question about the fact that we simply had to make a disclosure.  And something we had to have a plan of execution for, for a surgical procedure in both cases.  Now, in the president‘s case, we initially told Mrs. Reagan and the president was still under enough sedation that we—it was not the time to tell him.  We waited a bit and Mrs. Reagan looked at us very appealingly and said “let me tell him.”

Once again, a communication—I have not had very many wives say “let me be the one to tell.”

At any rate, the way she went in and sat at the bedside, and put an arm on either side of him and said, “Ronnie, the doctors have found something and it is too large to get out through tube,” which was the colonoscope, and she said, “and they recommend that we move right along and get an operation, and remove this polyp, what they think is a cancer.”  And at this time, he could sense the uneasiness in all of us and this is where his genius was most evident, always.  And he added humor into this, and he looked at her with a frightened look, but then had this little quip, and he said, “You mean tonight I don‘t get any supper?”  Like that was the bad news.  And of course, we all couldn‘t help but laugh.  And with that, we explained everything that was ahead of him, and he was probably one of the most extraordinary patients that I‘ve ever had anything to do with. 

OLBERMANN:  It sure sounds like it.  Dr. John Hutton, a physician of the Reagan‘s, to be a pallbearer at the funeral on Friday.  You‘ve been most gracious with your time tonight, sir.  Thank you. 

HUTTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead us here, tonight:  How history will grade President Ronald Wilson Reagan.  His tenure in the White House from the fight against communism to Iran-Contra. 

And later, the day‘s other headlines, including word of another possible terror warning coming from an al-Qaeda linked Web site, purportedly, anyway.  Stand by for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

President Ronald Reagan. 

Up next, the No. 3 story, the legacy of the 40th president of the United States, from the summit with the Soviets, to economic woe here at home.  How will Reagan be remembered in the history books? 

And later, living history today; 60 years ago, the brave battle to free Europe from the Nazis, my conversation with, of all the men who fought on D-Day, the one who would become the most famous.  Those stories ahead. 

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of the day.  No.  3, the firefighters of Santa Barbara, California.  As if there were not enough pressure on them fighting the wildfire that had burned 6,500 acres along the Gaviota Coast, today, with some help from the weather, they were able to stop the fire in its tracks just two miles from the gates of Rancho del Cielo, which served as the Western White House during Mr. Reagan‘s two term. 

No. 2, the Jelly Belly candy company, the maker of President Reagan‘s favorite jelly beans.  It expressed its profound sadness at the passing of the former president, invited the public to take its factory tour and see the huge portrait they have of him made out of jelly beans. 

And, No. 1, Sergeant York, a retired New Jersey race horse, he will be serve as the riderless horse in President Reagan‘s funeral procession, walking just behind the caisson bearing the Reagan‘s flag-draped casket. 

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OLBERMANN:  They have not all been candidates for Mount Rushmore, but neither have the presidents of this country since the Second World War all been duds either.  Yet, when Ronald Reagan left office in 1989, his public approval rating was at 66 percent, the highest since FDR. 

Our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, now he belongs to the ages.

And, as Andrea Mitchell reports, the first historical heading you will find him under is communism, end of, in Russia and Europe. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Did one of the 20th century‘s leader cold warriors help hasten the end of the Cold War? 

In his first term, Ronald Reagan was confrontational.  He was reinforced by his defense secretary, Cap Weinberger.  Reagan called his strategy peace through strength, an unprecedented peacetime military buildup and a lot of tough rhetoric.  The Soviets, he said famously, were an evil empire. 

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They reserve under themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat. 

MITCHELL:  And predicted their collapse. 

REAGAN:  The march of freedom and democracy, which will leave Marxism, Leninism on the ash heap of history. 

MITCHELL:  Condoleezza Rice recalls that critics were horrified. 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I was a young Soviet specialist at the time.  And there were people who said, oh, my God, how undiplomatic that is. 

MITCHELL:  Even more alarming to many, his strategic defense initiative, known as Star Wars, billions for a proposed missile shield. 

REAGAN:  Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MITCHELL:  But in his second term, spurred by Secretary of State George Shultz and wife, Nancy, Reagan reached out to a new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.  In an interview with NBC News, Gorbachev said when they first met, they had to overcome years of mistrust. 

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER SOVIET PRESIDENT (through translator): 

After the meeting, I told my team, he is a real dinosaur.  And he said that I was a hardheaded Bolshevik. 

MITCHELL:  In Gorbachev, Reagan found a pragmatic leader struggling with a collapsing economy, a rising number of dissidents, but open to ideas on free markets and human rights. 

MICHAEL MCFAUL, RUSSIAN EXPERT:  This was mostly an internal political transformation that happened in the Soviet Union, but fostered by the ideas of Ronald Reagan, but mostly this happen within the Soviet Union. 

MITCHELL:  Still, former Reagan National Security Adviser and Defense Secretary Frank credits Reagan. 

FRANK CARLUCCI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  He saw it as a corrupt system and he believed that, if you just opened it up, it would fall of its own weight.  And it did. 

MITCHELL (on camera):  In Gorbachev‘s words, Reagan wanted to finish his time in the presidency as a peacemaker.  And he did. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The Reagan presidency also saw the advent of the shout-and-hope news conference, reporters often drowned out by the din of a helicopter trying to get president to answer questions on the fly, since he didn‘t hold many news conferences. 

There was the Iran-Contra affair, the near tripling of the national debt, the fact that 30 -- count them, 30 -- of his administration staffers would serve time in jail for bribery, corruption and influence-peddling. 

And continuing our third story, we come not to bury Reagan, not in terms of history, but nor also is it appropriate only to praise him. 

Joining me now to discuss the teflon presidency, Reagan historian and director of Center For Politics at the University of Virginia, Dr.                 Larry Sabato. 

Larry, good to talk to you again. 

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  First, seldom has been heard the proverbial discouraging word here.  Is this golden glow a common effect for a departed president and if so how long does it last? 

SABATO:  Keith, it really is.  Just to prove to you, it actually even affected Richard Nixon, who was probably the most criticized and unpopular president of the second half of the 20th century. 

How long does it last?  It lasts a few months.  And then historians go back to work and they do what historians do, uncover the truth in pieces, gradually over the centuries. 

OLBERMANN:  Give us a head start on that.  Put Iran-Contra into the context of the entire presidency.  At one moment, Mr. Reagan was saying, we did not, repeat, did not trade weapons or anything for hostages, nor will we.  And the next, he had to admit we had.  Did that not cripple his presidency because of the subsequent speech that acknowledged responsibility for? 

SABATO:  It hurt it badly, but it didn‘t cripple it, because, remember, we were in an economic boom.  And if you‘re in an economic boom, it covers lots of things. 

So I would say he got out of that very nicely.  If I had to pick one major problem with the Reagan presidency that will loom large in future histories of it, it would absolutely be the tripling of the national debt.  Look, Reagan had a great deal with the Democratic Congress.  They both had their deal with the devil.  Reagan got his 600-ship Navy.  He got everything he wanted on the defense side.  And the Democrats got everything they wanted on social spending. 

The only losers were generations to come with this massive increase in the national debt that continues to plague us today. 

OLBERMANN:  As that goes into the history books, will also the Star Wars defense system go in there?  This drew huge criticism at the time.  And, of course, as we know, the reintroduction of this was a higher priority in 2001 than was counterterrorism.  Is that going to be an awful legacy or is there going to be a different context for that? 

SABATO:  Well, the 2001 reintroduction may be a problem for President Bush, serving now. 

But for Ronald Reagan, no, I would defend him on that.  I don‘t believe Reagan ever truly grasped that idea.  But it worked.  It worked in terms of pushing the Soviet Union into a corner.  There is no doubt at all that the Soviet Union and the empire in Eastern Europe collapsed perhaps decades sooner than it would have otherwise because we simply bankrupted the Soviet Union.  We had more money than they did and maybe we could accumulate more debt than they could. 

OLBERMANN:  The high-stakes poker game.  And it was won. 

Larry Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, as always, sir, from many years ago and again now, thanks for sharing your insights. 

(CROSSTALK)

SABATO:  Thank you, Keith.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  That concludes the third story on the COUNTDOWN, the legacy of President Ronald Reagan. 

Up next, what we might loosely call the other news, like how Martha Stewart‘s latest bid for freedom has in fact bought her some freedom.  And later on COUNTDOWN, continuing our commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-Day, meet one of the veterans, the one who survived to say, it ain‘t over until it‘s over. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ahead on COUNTDOWN, the rest of the day‘s news, including a reputed new threat against American airliners from al Qaeda, and our visit with the most famous of the veterans of D-Day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The death of Ronald Reagan has dominated the headlines and will so do throughout this week.  But tonight, there is much else happening and we bring it to you now in the form of our No. 2 story on this COUNTDOWN.

We start with a warning supposedly from al Qaeda targeting Western airlines.  It appeared today on the same Web site that carried the video of the murder of the American Nick Berg.  The statement was attributed to a cell in Saudi Arabia.  It warned of strikes in the near future on Western airlines, military bases, and residential compounds.  The authenticity and authorship could not be confirmed. 

It goes on to warn Muslims to stay away from American and Western crusaders and all nonbelievers in the Arabian Peninsula.  A State Department spokesman noted that travel warning already exist regarding commercial airlines in Saudi Arabia. 

There‘s no pause for remembrance in Iraq today, one American soldier killed, two more injured.  A roadside bomb went off just south of Baghdad.  Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council is reviewing a revised draft of the proposed resolution on Iraq, the U.S. and Britain rushing to get an updated version to the council this afternoon.  That would be four of them in the last two weeks.  There are still hopes for a unanimous approval tomorrow. 

The resolution promises close coordination between multinational forces and the interim Iraqi government, but denies the Iraqis veto power over military action. 

Also today, a federal judge has delayed sentencing for three weeks to consider Martha Stewart‘s request for a new trial.  It got her three weeks.  The motion will be filed later this week.  It will argue that the high doyen of household hints was wrongfully convicted because a government witness who happens to have is same last name as she does lied on the stand as to whether or not he conducted ink tests on documents crucial to the test.  Not making that up. 

Next, our No. 1 story.  In one part of this world, it is memorial upon memorial, Normandy in France.  From 19-year-old sailor to D-Day veteran, to fame so transcendent, he is in the crossword puzzle today. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN. 

And it is searingly ironic that Ronald Reagan passed away over the weekend of the 60th commemoration of D-Day.  Reagan was himself a World War II veteran, but in what was later a closely held truth, if not a secret per se, he had vision poor enough to disqualify him from combat.  There you see him with his first wife.  He began as cavalry lieutenant in the reserves and was transferred to the Army Air Force Public Relations Division , where he starred in a film called “Air Force.”

His major contribution to D-Day was his speech at the 40th anniversary in 1984, a speech still recalled and often quoted in these three days since his passing.  Even in death, the breadth of Ronald Reagan‘s popularity and impact was such that he obscured in part the somber D-Day remembrances.  And that is ironic in its own way. 

The simple eloquence of Ronald Reagan, the brief, but unforgettable quotation like there you go again and Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall, seem to be the polished cousins of the quotations of the man who was probably the most famous of all of the veterans of the invasion of Normandy; 60 years ago this minute, that man was bobbing up and down in the English Channel, a 19-year-old kid who didn‘t know enough to be scared. 

Today, today, he is in “The New York Times” crossword puzzle.  He is the answer to 35 down.  He‘s been in movies, TVs, commercials.  He‘s had an equally famous cartoon character named after him.  He is in “Bartlett‘s Familiar Quotations” and in baseball‘s Hall of Fame.  But that day, he was just Seaman 1st Class Berra.  You can call him Yogi. 

Yogi Berra and I sat down at his museum on the campus of Montclair State University in New Jersey. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YOGI BERRA, WORLD WAR II VETERAN:  Well, being a young guy, I thought it was like the Fourth of July, to tell you the truth.  I said, boy, it looks pretty, all the planes coming over.  The battleship opened up on the beachhead.  And I was looking out and my officer said, you better get your head down in here, if you want it on.

OLBERMANN:  You went across straight up to get the view. 

BERRA:  Yes, I wanted to see the view, I really did.  Being a young guy, didn‘t think nothing of it until you got in it.  And so we went off 300 yards off beach.  We went in before the—what do you call the—we protect them.  If they ran into any trouble, we would fire the rockets over. 

We had a lead boat that would fire one rocket.  If it hits the beach, then everybody opens up.  We could fire one rocket if we wanted to, or we could fire off 24 or them, 12 on each side.  And it was pretty good.  And we stretched out 50 yards apart.  And that was the invasion.  And nothing happened to us.  That‘s one good thing.  Our boat could go anywhere, though.  We were pretty good, flat bottom, 36-footer. 

OLBERMANN:  But that was called an LCSS.  What—LCSS stands for? 

BERRA:  Landing craft support small, but we used say landing craft suicide squad. 

(LAUGHTER)

BERRA:  We had the nicknames for all.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

BERRA:  An LSD we call a large stationary target.

A lot of our guys wanted to get off to go on the beach.  I said, no, I‘m staying on the boat.  And so I didn‘t go on the beach.  I didn‘t care what happened.  But we didn‘t have anybody but one guy.  We lost one of them.  He went on the beach and lost his life. 

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Yogi Berra and the five other sailors and the Lieutenant J.G. Tom Holmes (ph) stayed on that LCSS for 12 days.  They continued to run interference for the Army personnel ships.  Seaman 1st Class Lorenzo (ph) Pietro Berra loading and firing his rocket launcher, softening up the German defenses as necessary, running messages from Omaha Beach to Utah Beach when told to.  It all went like clockwork for them—well, most of it. 

BERRA:  We had orders one day that—I think it‘s funny, but it isn‘t funny. 

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Sure. 

BERRA:  But we had orders to shoot anything that came below the clouds.  And one of our own planes came down over the clouds and we shot it down.  And we were the closest to him to pick up the pilot.  And you should have heard the words he was saying. 

OLBERMANN:  Pretty happy with you. 

BERRA:  Oh, boy.  He said, if you guys shoot down as many planes before, the war would be over a long time ago.  He was really mad. 

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  That‘s right.  Some time in the last 60 years, an American pilot must have suddenly realized that, during the war, he had been shot down by a 36-foot boat filled with seven other Americans, one of whom turned out to be Yogi Berra. 

Just like thousands of others, Seaman Berra simply did his job, a job as he‘d been trained to do it back at Little Creek Base at Norfolk, Virginia, and while sailing to Boston, then to Halifax, then to Ireland, then to England, and then to Omaha Beach.  Berra would later serve in Italy and in a second attack on southern France and then, for the man who would later famously say, it ain‘t over ‘til it‘s over, it was over.  He went home, too young and too grateful to be scared. 

BERRA:  We came back on an LSD, same way we went over.  It took us 19 or 20 days to get over and same way going back and went back to Little Creek.  They took us in to see the doctors.  You know, guys, were you scared, and, you know, going overseas and all that?  I said, well, it was a little bit.  I said yes, it was scary.  Later on, when it sinks in for you..

OLBERMANN (on camera):  I was going to say, it wasn‘t scary at the time, but later. 

BERRA:  Later, you do get a little scared.  You see the people.  And I‘ve seen guys drown.  We would pick them up and everything. 

OLBERMANN:  You know, people my age, people who weren‘t there, people who weren‘t alive during the Second World War, we see it as a book.  You see the beginning.  You see the end.  You know how it turns out.  You know it.

Did you know, and how did you know if you did know, that we had won at D-Day?  Did you sense that from being there, that it had been a success? 

BERRA:  Well, I thought we were going to win because I‘d never seen so many planes in my life that came over for the invasion of Normandy.  And we got better.  I guess that‘s it. 

OLBERMANN:  Everybody I know who fought in that war is pretty modest, and not modest necessarily about what everybody did, but what each person did, as if it was no big deal. 

BERRA:  Well, maybe I might have been more talkative about it if I was in the Army, if I had really seen the real gunfight.

OLBERMANN:  Blood and guts, yes? 

BERRA:  Now I sit and I thank the good lord I was in the Navy.  We ate good, clean clothes, clean bed.  You see some of these Army men, what they went through, that‘s the one I felt for. 

OLBERMANN:  But you were part of it.  Nonetheless, you were

(CROSSTALK)

BERRA:  No, I never went on land, though.

OLBERMANN:  Does it seem possible it was so long ago? 

BERRA:  Yes, it is.  I can‘t believe it was 60 years ago.  I‘m getting old. 

OLBERMANN:  You went into the Navy and you got out.  You can‘t argue with getting old. 

BERRA:  Oh, no.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s better than the alternative. 

BERRA:  It is.  I‘m grateful, you know.  I see some of the pictures, the war pictures and what they go through.  Like yesterday, they had the invasion of Normandy on TV last night. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, “The Longest Day.”

BERRA:  “The Longest Day.”  I watched it.  What them soldiers had to go through to climb that—that was on Utah Beach, where they had to go up them rocks.  See, I saw that.  They had them -- 88 firing up there. 

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Thus, just turned 79, a legend in baseball, a legend of the American language, Yogi Berra remains humble about what he did on D-Day.  He has a medal from the French government.  He stayed in touch with many of the men with whom he served.  He gets invited to all the reunions and all the remembrances.  And he wants to see the new World War II memorial in Washington.

And he never doubted how it would all turn out. 

(on camera):  Last question.  What would happen to all of us if D-Day had failed, if it hadn‘t worked, if the Germans had held the invasion off?  Have you ever thought about that, what our lives would have been like? 

BERRA:  No.  No, I never did think about it.  I thought we had good generals there.  Eisenhower was great, what he thought about it.  Everyone said, go ahead on the invasion. 

OLBERMANN:  But you went in. 

BERRA:  We went in. 

OLBERMANN:  And you got it done. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations. 

BERRA:  All right. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, Yogi. 

BERRA:  Thank you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Yogi Berra did, indeed, go in that day. 

But there is one thing he has never done and never wants to do, go back to Normandy.  Of that terrible place, he says, in the grimmest of tones and with the commonsense simplicity of his eloquence, I‘ve seen it. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this evening.  Thanks for being part of it. 

For continuing coverage of the events surrounding the national farewell to President Ronald Reagan, stay with MSNBC. 

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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