Guests: Tom DeFrank, Stanley Brand, Richard Wolffe, Paul Lepiane
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The interview is over, the questions are just beginning. The sheriff‘s report on the vice presidential shooting of Harry Whittington doesn‘t address why the sheriff didn‘t inspect the scene nor talk to the vice president until day two. It doesn‘t contain the affidavits of the witnesses. It doesn‘t explain how Mr. Cheney‘s favorite witness, Mrs. Armstrong, saw everything from 100 yards away.
President says that‘s good enough for him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought the vice president handled the issue just fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The press secretary says this story is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The American people have heard the answers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The sheriff says, If you‘ve got any questions about the report, read the report again.
We have questions, on the politics with Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News,” on the investigation with former congressional general counsel Stanley Brand, and on the Oh, by the way, vice presidential announcement that he has the right to declassify secret stuff, with Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek.”
Also tonight, the Jack Abramoff link to Karl Rove, deeper than we have been told?
A plea in the Massachusetts murder mystery.
A top pooch from the dog show disappears.
And they have Viagra for this now, sir. Please do not use a pencil.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
It is a tradition literally older than the nation itself, the government telling you what news you are and are not interested in, sometimes telling you what news you are and are not allowed to know.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it goes back, in fact, to the governor of the colony of New York arresting the publisher John Peter Zenger for sedition, for what he wrote in the newspaper, “The New York Weekly Journal,” in 1734.
And it continues, in much less blunt form, with White House press secretary Scott McClellan insisting today 11 separate times that the American public is no longer interested in the vast holes in Vice President Dick Cheney‘s explanation of how he accidentally shot a man last Saturday, nor the vast holes in local in—law enforcement‘s investigation of that shooting.
The delay in merely interviewing Mr. Cheney more than 14 hours after the event underscored anew today when the sheriff of Kenedy County, Texas, Ramon Salinas, issued his formal report. And when asked by journalists about the interview drag time, told them if they had any questions, they should go back and read the report again.
That report concludes what the local authorities had apparently determined even before they went to the Armstrong Ranch last Sunday that it was all an accident, there was no alcohol involved, that they could tell that without any interviews or tests of any of the principals.
Back in Washington, on the day after Mr. Cheney‘s only public statement about the event, more indications of a political divide, reports of a plan the White House supposedly thought was in place to have the vice president speak to reporters at the hospital where Harry Whittington was and is being treated last Sunday morning, a plan that obviously did not come to fruition.
The only silence that lasted longer than Mr. Cheney‘s was that of the president. It ended late this afternoon. It echoed what Mr. McClellan had said earlier in the day, that Mr. Bush was perfectly satisfied with the vice president‘s explanation, except, perhaps, for that pesky detail about him waiting 95 hours to make it public.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: And so I thought his explanation yesterday was a very strong and powerful explanation, and I‘m satisfied with the explanation he gave.
The vice president was involved in a terrible accident. And it, it, it, it profoundly affected him. Yesterday, when he was here in the Oval Office, I saw the deep concern he had about a person who he wounded.
And now our concerns are directed toward the recovery of our friend...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The McClellan version of that statement had come during his press briefing in between the 11 separate declarations in which he spoke for the American people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
MCCLELLAN: And I think most Americans believe that this issue has been covered thoroughly.
The American people appreciate the answers to the questions that have already been asked.
The American people have heard the answers.
I think the American people look at this and appreciate the fact that the vice president went out there and thoroughly responded to all the questions relating to this issue.
Again, if you want to continue to pursue this, that‘s your business.
We‘re going to continue to focus on the priorities of the American people.
I think the American people are looking at this and saying, Enough already.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Ahead here, the political reverberations as assessed by Thomas DeFrank, Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News,” the streamlined investigation, and the problem of the eyewitness Mr. Cheney kept quoting, who saw everything from 100 yards away and thought Mr. Cheney was down, that with attorney Stanley Brand. And what many are judging as the headline hidden in the Cheney interview, his declaration that he has executive privilege to leak classified information whenever he wants, that with Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” magazine.
First, a quick and unscientific answer to what you heard Mr. McClellan say. We asked our colleagues at MSNBC.com to put up a poll question reflecting the press secretary‘s proposition that America does not care about this story at this point.
Yes, you do, 71 percent to 29, with 16,700-plus responses so far. Unscientific, of course, but no more unscientific than the assumptions of a presidential press secretary.
To the moving parts now, this incomplete plan to have the vice president speak on Sunday, Mr. McClellan openly saying the president wished Mr. Cheney had spoken earlier, the masters of the message seemingly off their game.
As promised, Thomas DeFrank, Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News.”
Thanks for your time tonight, sir.
THOMAS DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:
OLBERMANN: By all evidence, this is the most powerful vice president ever. He‘s also supposed to be the most integrated vice president ever. I guess that‘s the right term for it, the one who‘s had the largest function as part of a White House team. Did that train leave the rails over the weekend and this week?
DEFRANK: Well, I think that‘s been the case for a while, in terms of the integration. I would argue that this vice president is not only probably the most powerful in history, but in many respects, one of the more independent in history.
And some White House aides, long before the events of this weekend, were worrying about his independence and were trying to reign the vice president‘s staff back in. And I suspect White House aides who felt that way are going to feel that way even more strongly after all this.
Because basically, this—the vice president was calling these shots, not the president, I think.
OLBERMANN: Does the president feel that way now? I mean, he‘s had these several public events over the last few days, and until he was asked directly about all this today, he had not commented on the hunting accident or anything that happened thereafter. What does that mean? I mean, was the president being petulant towards Mr. Cheney? Was he just avoiding a hot potato? Or is this something of that that you were just mentioning?
DEFRANK: No, I think what happened today is, the White House finally got the damage control game down right after five days. You don‘t want to have the president out in front of the vice president. You want the vice president, who, after all, is the guy who has to explain something, to do his thing, and then the president can pat him on the shoulder and say, Great job, Dick. And that‘s what happened today.
After all, you‘re not going to expect the president of the United States to come out and say, Well, we had breakfast yesterday, I took him to the woodshed, I told him I was none to pleased, and I told him he ought to get his you-know-what—get his fanny, that‘s one of the favorite Cheney words, get his fanny on television.
The president wasn‘t going to say that. So he did what he needed to do, and so today I think they did a pretty decent job of handling it.
OLBERMANN: Do we suspect any of that, that scenario, that imagery that you just used, was literally true, or something like that occur in the last few days?
DEFRANK: There‘s a little about buzz out there from inside the White House that the president was not particularly pleased by the way this was handled. And after all, Keith, this is a problem for the president. They can blame it on the press. That‘s not going to wash, according to your poll.
Whatever is right or wrong about this, whether there‘s something we don‘t know or whatever, the White House has lost five precious days of being off message. And message is critical to these guys. They‘ve been having to deal with other things for five days when they want to talk about the president‘s agenda.
And I think that just shows you that, from a political standpoint, this one was booted by the president‘s staff and by the vice president. But mainly, by the vice president and his staff.
OLBERMANN: What about from a governmental viewpoint? I mean, did this tell us something about who‘s running the store? Mr. Cheney said he talked to Andy Card, he said he did not talk to Karl Rove. Mr. Rove talked to Ms. Armstrong. Mr. Bush talked to nobody, not even Mr. Cheney, until Monday. Mr. McClellan was advocating getting the story out, but they did not do it.
As the hurricane, as Katrina exposed, the—there was a lot of infrastructural problems in this administration in the ability to respond to an actual crisis. Did this incident here expose some infrastructure problems in the administration‘s ability to respond to a political crisis?
DEFRANK: Well, I think it did. I mean, I don‘t think this means that we can‘t have confidence in them dealing with Iran or Iraq. I mean, but the fact of the matter is, this was not crisply handled. This was a clockwork White House in the first term, and for reasons that are not clear to me, the crispness of the first term has not been evident at all in the second term. They‘re just really having a—having trouble getting their act together in this second term.
OLBERMANN: Second term is like you forget where all the railroad crossings are.
Tom DeFrank, the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News,” helping us read the political evidence in the wake of the Cheney story. Great thanks, sir.
DEFRANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And with a day to digest that Cheney interview, it‘s clear that not every I was dotted nor every T crossed. In fact, some of the I‘s may have been crossed.
We mentioned the local sheriff‘s almost extrasensory investigation. Alcohol was not involved, nor malicious intent, nor negligence, nor, apparently, immediate inspection of the accident site, or interviews with the shooter or the witnesses, in particular, the one witnesses more or less deputized by the vice president not only to talk to the police, but to talk to the media, one of the owners of the ranch, Katharine Armstrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I wanted to make sure we got it as accurate as possible.
And I think Katharine was an excellent choice. I don‘t know who you could get better as the basic source for the story than the witness who saw the whole thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But Ms. Armstrong herself told the Associated Press that at the time of the accident, she was in one of the cars in which the shooting party was traversing her ranch. The car was 100 yards away. Mr. Cheney‘s delegated witness got such a clear picture of events that she told the Associated Press that when she saw the vice president‘s security detail running towards the scene, quote, “The first thing that crossed my mind was, he”—Cheney—“had a heart problem.”
What about the condition of Mr. Whittington after he was shot? The vice president said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: I said, Harry, I had no idea you were there. And...
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: What did he say?
CHENEY: He didn‘t respond. He was breathing, conscious at that point, but he didn‘t—he was, I‘m sure, stunned, obviously, still trying to figure out what had happened to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As we are. But according to Ms. Armstrong, from her vantage point, at a distance a football field away, Mr. Whittington was responding the whole time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHARINE ARMSTRONG, RANCH OWNER: But I could see, from where I was, that Mr. Whittington was communicating with the vice president‘s detail, was communicating with the vice president. And being an experienced hunter, a lifelong quail hunter, I knew that was a very good sign, and that Mr. Whittington would probably be fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And what about the question of whether alcohol, to any degree, was involved in the accident? The vice president told Fox News, quote, “I had a beer at lunch. The five of us who were in the party were together all afternoon. Nobody was drinking, nobody was under the influence.”
But Ms. Armstrong had said they had Dr. Pepper with lunch. And she didn‘t see anyone, quote, “drink at all on the day of the shooting until after the accident occurred, when the vice president fixed himself a cocktail back at the house.”
There was even a discrepancy about when, exactly, the Kenedy County sheriff‘s officers showed up, “The New York Times” reporting on Monday, that, quote, “Sheriff Salinas said he sent his chief deputy, Gilbert Sanmiguel, to the Armstrong Ranch that night. He said Mr. Sanmiguel interviewed Mr. Cheney and reported that the shooting was an accident.”
But according to the sheriff‘s report, which was written by Mr. Sanmiguel, he was called on the phone Saturday night, but, quote, “was told by Sheriff Salinas to report to the main house on the Armstrong ranch on Sunday, February 12, at 0800, and I would receive more information when I got there.”
It‘s always easier when the details of an accident lay out so neatly and cleanly.
Joining me now, defense attorney Stanley Brand, former general counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives, and veteran political figure on the scene.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
STANLEY BRAND, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, this investigation does not suggest a well-honed script from “Law and Order.” And it shouldn‘t. It‘s real life. It‘s a small jurisdiction. Details can be imprecise, responsibilities could be blurred. But from the point of view of trying to get an irrefutable picture of what happened here, did these guys in Kenedy County do the job right?
BRAND: I mean, this is not regular order. And if we learned one thing from the Paula Jones-Bill Clinton‘s case, is when you act as a private citizen, even when you‘re the president of the United States, you‘re treated the same way everybody else is for law enforcement purposes. And this was not handled in the way I‘ve seen these kinds of cases handled with other people.
OLBERMANN: Two specific issues about the investigation. How, why, do you wait till the next morning to talk to the shooter, even if everybody tells you it‘s an accident? And how do we all know that there‘s no alcohol, if you don‘t test the shooter, if you don‘t even go to the scene of the accident till the next day?
BRAND: Well, you don‘t. You want two things with an investigation. You want it to happen as close in time to the events, so that people‘s memories are fresh. And second, you want access to these people before they get a chance to huddle and compare their stories and shape their testimony. That‘s the classic number-one rule of Investigation 101 in every level of government.
OLBERMANN: To people who wanted to say, OK, case closed, here‘s an eyewitness, she knows the ranch, she knows hunting, she knows the people involved, she knows an accident when she sees one, Mr. Cheney‘s presentation of Katharine Armstrong must have looked like manna from heaven. But how does she become the authority on this, the person who is relied on publicly, and, apparently, investigationally, when she is literally a football field away, and what she can see a bunch of Cheney‘s staff running towards him, and her admitted first instinct is that the vice president keeled over?
BRAND: Well, again, in a normal course, you don‘t have a designated witness. You talk to everybody who had access to the scene, whether that‘s Secret Service agents or members of the party. And you put the story together from a conglomerate of sources. You don‘t have the benefit or the privilege of designating one person and saying, That‘s the unadulterated story that we‘re going to follow.
Now, I‘m not suggesting anything untoward about that, it‘s just not normal investigative procedure.
OLBERMANN: So legally, what‘s still what here? I mean, the sheriff says the investigation is over, and if there are any questions about the report, we should all go back and reread the report, which sounds like a dare to me. But could other authorities in Texas reopen this, even just to assess the sheriff‘s conduct, if not Mr. Cheney‘s conduct?
BRAND: Well, theoretically, they could. And that happens at the federal level and the state level all the time. The question is now, it‘s stale, and now people really have been able to compare notes and come up with a story. So the likelihood of really getting to the bottom of what happened and resolving all these inconsistencies seems highly unlikely to me at this juncture.
OLBERMANN: So does this just hang here in space, visible to the people who want to see it, and invisible to the people who don‘t want to see it, and from here on in?
BRAND: Yes, I think it hangs. And if people continue to ask questions, and maybe it gets more inconsistent as time goes on. And the question isn‘t, you know, an earth-shattering question of government, but it is emblematic of what this administration has done.
They stiff Congress on Katrina records, they claim executive privilege every other minute on eavesdropping and everything else. They are secretive to the max. They just don‘t think anybody has authority to look at what they do, whether that‘s the Congress of the United States or some sheriff in Texas.
OLBERMANN: Stanley Brand, criminal defense attorney. Great thanks for your insight, great thanks for joining us.
BRAND: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The Cheney interview revealing another extraordinary political point, he has the right to declassify anything he sees fit. Where did he get that power? And how might its revelation affect the trial of Scooter Libby in Plamegate?
And a new measure of the coziness between Jack Abramoff and the power brokers who control access to the Oval Office, details on that.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: As we pointed out last night, assumptions that the Fox News interview with Dick Cheney was the vice president‘s typical choice of the softest landing ground imaginable were not borne out by the facts. It was the 32nd one-on-one interview of Mr. Cheney‘s vice presidency, his fifth with Fox. There have been 10 with conservative radio commentators and 17 with decidedly nonconservative news organizations, a total of six with NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, while the followup questions seemed to be almost nonexistent, it also was not even a total softball interview. A propos of the Scooter Libby indictment, interviewer Brit Hume not only asked Mr. Cheney about whether or not a vice president has a right to declassify secret information on his own, but whether or not he himself had ever done it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHENEY: Well, I‘ve certainly advocated declassification and participated in declassification decisions.
HUME: Have you ever done it unilaterally?
CHENEY: I don‘t want to get into that. There‘s an executive order that specifies who has classification authority. And I—obviously, it focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The executive order to which the vice president refers was originally signed by President Clinton back in 1995. Eight years later, in March 2003, just days after ordering U.S. troops into Iraq, President Bush amended the order to grant the vice president the same authority as the president.
And now, nearly 11 years after the original order, we‘re begging the question exactly how and why should the power be used. And in the case of the vice president‘s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, could it neatly set up his defense in the CIA leak indictment story?
Now to answer those questions, we turn to “Newsweek” magazine‘s White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, WHITE HOUSE, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE”: Keith, good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with the question about Mr. Libby. Could this actually do anything for his defense?
WOLFFE: Well, it doesn‘t seem so. Libby‘s defense so far is to deny any wrongdoing. And saying that the vice president said it was OK or he was following orders is an implicit admission that he, in fact, leaked classified information.
I haven‘t heard anyone say that, Look, the vice president suddenly declassified Valerie Plame‘s identity before the case. In fact, all the evidence points to the contrary. What we saw from the State Department is hat this was still top secret at the time it became widely known in the media.
So I don‘t know that this does provide a defense for him, but it does give you an insight into what was going on in the vice president‘s office at this time.
OLBERMANN: Does it now give us an insight into what‘s going on in Mr. Fitzgerald‘s office? Because obviously Mr. Libby was charged with perjury, charged with obstruction, lying, not actually charged with leaking information of that nature, the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson. Is that, perhaps, that gray area in there, perhaps why the special prosecutor would have left out the leaking part, just to avoid the topic altogether?
WOLFFE: Well, he obviously didn‘t indict Libby under these terms. But one thing that has plagued and perplexed Fitzgerald is the question of motive. What was going on in these people‘s heads at that time? And what I know from my own reporting is that in this period, a couple of months after Saddam is toppled from power, really it‘s only the vice president‘s office that is exercised, excessively exercised about the holes that are being picked in the case for war, specifically about weapons of mass destruction.
And at vice—at Condi Rice‘s office, for instance, the national security adviser at the time, they were worried about that State of the Union speech, about the president making false claims. But in the vice president‘s office, they were much more concerned with bolstering a case that seemed to be falling apart, and that case was about weapons of mass destruction.
OLBERMANN: Which kind of leads us into the larger question about how the authority that the vice president‘s office suddenly got was being used. I mean, this letter that Mr. Fitzgerald wrote to the Libby defense team last week, that became part of a court filing—let me quote it exactly.
“Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information about the National Intelligence Estimate, the NIE, to the press by his superiors.”
I‘m guessing here you would have a hard time finding a lot of people, certainly in the intelligence agencies, who would agree that it was for something like that that Mr. Bush had the right to add the vice president to the class of those who can declassify.
WOLFFE: Well, the shorthand answer to that, and the nonlegal answer, is that they declassify when they feel like it. I‘ve been with senior administration officials who have just decided to declassify something in front of me because it‘s bolstering their argument.
And Iraq is a very special case. The NIE at this point is about a regime that had collapsed. Saddam was no longer in power. And I think people felt emboldened to leak information, to declassify stuff, because the regime was no longer there.
They were also feeling very insecure, because the case was falling apart, and they felt the pressure. So, you know, it does get you inside the mindset a little bit in this period, but it doesn‘t really provide a justification for perjury or obstruction of justice.
OLBERMANN: I‘m just picturing that experience in my mind. (INAUDIBLE) is it, is there a puff of smoke? (INAUDIBLE) is it akin to alchemy when they declassify something?
WOLFFE: There was a sort of frowning, a reaching into a locked cabinet, a filing cabinet, and the sort of, you know, Should we declassify this? Oh, yes, let‘s go do it. Not a very formal process.
OLBERMANN: A careful formal process.
Last thing here, (INAUDIBLE), something in that amended executive order really confused me. Most of it did, but one thing in particular. Wherever it now reads that the president and the vice president may exercise the right to classify or declassify information, it couples the office of the vice president with the phrase “in the performance of executive duties.”
Do you know what that means, executive duties? Does the vice president have his own executive duties? Because I always thought that the term “executive duties” were limited to the executive, who would be the president.
WOLFFE: Well, the assumption is, they‘re all acting under the president‘s authority. And but it does come back to, basically, they can do whatever they like, as long as the president, they think, is going to agree with it. You know, for the most part, the president would agree with that. I‘m not sure about Valerie Plame, though.
OLBERMANN: Perhaps that is why the investigation is ongoing.
Richard Wolffe, the “Newsweek” White House correspondent. As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, from Washington, Jack Abramoff has gotten the cold shoulder from President Bush and from Karl Rove. But now, new details showing just how much Mr. Abramoff bragged about his in with the man known as Bush‘s brain.
And I can‘t wait a minute more. Tell me, Grandma, tae kwan do, kwan do, kwan do? Kicking at old school (ph) next.
OLBERMANN: It was on this date 58 years ago that the infant NBC television network premiered a new program with an uncertain future. 20th Century Fox Movietone News, the first TV newsreel.
Thus it was 58 years ago tomorrow the first charges of bias was made. One by the conservative and one by the liberals. On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”
OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Inchon in South Korea, where fear does not exist in this dojo. Does it? No, sensei. All 23 tae-kwon-do students in this martial arts studio, all grandmothers in their 70s, are students of the master Yun Hee Hoo. The training began as a way for the older women to keep fit. But nearly half the class has since achieved black belt status. Which means they‘re prepared to defend themselves with the strength of grizzly and the reflexes of a puma.
My grandmother could do that. Strike, first, strike hard, no mercy. The women are all now members of the Korean Grandma Tae-Kwon-Do Federation, which focuses on healthy lifestyles for septuagenarians and kicking ass.
To Pataya (ph) in Thailand, where we enter the painting studio of German abstract expression artist Marco Figgin (ph). And this is Marco himself using his Figgin beard to paint a Figgin picture. Well, it‘s Figgin.
Well, they call him the beard painter, for some reason, and he says his unusual method allows him to go straight from the soul to the canvas, via the three and a half foot shrubbery hanging from his chin.
His works hang in some of the famous bars in Pataya, and it‘s a not fame or fortune that Viggin seeks, it‘s the brand of turpenine that will not cause split ends.
OLBERMANN: Being sought at the White House, cover story, Jack Abramoff the reputed middle man in getting a dicey prime minister of Malaysia in to see President Bush for only $1 million.
And for Paris Hilton, make-up. Those stories ahead but first here are
COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day,
Number three, Judge Daniel O‘Brien, on the bench in his courtroom in Michigan, listening to the county fire chief testify in an arson file, when the overhead light fixture suddenly burst into flame, showing the judge, the fire chief and the accused arsonist with sparks. Everybody was OK and neither side tried to get the event admitted as evidence.
Number two, Erin Lashnits, she is the student who portrays the mascot at Stanford University, the Stanford Tree. She has been suspended because after a fracas at halftime at the game against Cal, they gave her a breathalyzer test in her little costume and her blood alcohol content came back 0.157. Talk about wood alcohol.
Speaking of that topic, number one, Zeljko Tupic, he‘s from Belgrade in Serbia. He had to go to the emergency room to get his pencil removed from his bladder, he had been having—what was it Bob Dole called it in those Viagra commercials? E.D?
Only Mr. Tupic, didn‘t know about Viagra, so he tried to treat his E.D. with a thin pencil. OK.
Well, we‘ve all heard of pencil-necked geeks, but this is ridiculous.
OLBERMANN: First it was the emails sent to “Washingtonian Magazine” by the disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, saying he met with the president nearly a dozen times and not just for photo ops. Then came the results of one of those photo ops, the first of a series of images of Mr. Bush and Mr. Abramoff in the same place at the same time, finally published.
Now perhaps inevitably, in our number three story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, evidence of Abramoff‘s possible influence with the president, the link here, Karl Rove. The near 2002, the interested party, the government of Malaysia. Its goal, meeting between the president and its prime minister at the time, Mahathir Muhammad. No easy task, since that prime minister had already been chastised by the Clinton administration for anti-Semitic comments and for having jailed political opponents.
So the Malaysians hired Jack Abramoff and Mr. Abramoff contacted presidential adviser Rove at least four times in an effort to arrange that meeting. This according to the “L.A. Times” citing a former associate of Mr. Abramoff.
The prime minister got in to see the president May 14, 2002. Shake hands. The White House says it happened through normal staffing channels. The Malaysians, though, paid Mr. Abramoff was made more than $1 million for his services in 2001 and 2002 according to that same Abramoff associate quoted in the Los Angeles paper. So mounting evidence that the White House and Abramoff may have had closer ties than previously acknowledged and today 31 Senate Democrats expressing concerns about ties between the Justice Department‘s investigation of Abramoff and the previous White House counsel, namely, Alberto Gonzales, who now happens to be attorney general Alberto Gonzales. Those 31 Senate Democrats asking him to recuse himself from this investigation. The Justice Department rejecting that call, saying the attorney general has followed all departmental guidelines.
Trying to judge the significance of all of this, we turn once again to MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Washington. Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: Do the Abramoff-Bush meetings begin to look different through the prism of a some kind of Abramoff-Rove relationship?
SHUSTER: Well, the Abramoff-Rove relationship helps explain that when the president says he doesn‘t know Jack Abramoff, doesn‘t remember meeting him, it just seems so implausible. First of all, Jack Abramoff and Karl Rove got to know each other in the early 1980s when they were both leading up the young College Republicans. Then when George W. Bush was governor of Texas, Rove and Abramoff saw each other and talked to each other again because Abramoff was lobbying the governor of Texas on an education issue. And then more recently the White House has acknowledged that Jack Abramoff went into the white house for what officials at the White House describe as staff meetings. And when you look at all of the people that Jack Abramoff might know on the White House staff, the one staff member it seems would clear him in would be his long time friend and associate, Karl Rove, a close second might be Karl Rove‘s personal assistant, who, by the way, was Jack Abramoff‘s personal assistant.
OLBERMANN: Yet this same story in the “Los Angeles Times” is quoting a Justice Department official who is said to be familiar with the inquiry saying that the Abramoff-Rove relationship, quote, “had not been a matter of any great significance.” How do those two statements jibe?
SHUSTER: Well, there are two issues here. First of all, as the “L.A. Times” points out, as far as Malaysia is concerned, if the Justice Department was going to prosecute Jack Abramoff or look after whether he registered as a foreign agent, the law is a little bit complicated and filled with holes. But as far as Karl Rove is concerned, remember, Jack Abramoff has been dining out Republicans he has been diming out Republicans that he extended favors to, whether it was money or trips or luxury skyboxes.
And the difference between Karl Rove and some of these congressmen who might get indicted is obviously Karl Rove didn‘t attend some of these same sort of functions, but also this was the sort of relationship where, because Jack Abramoff was able to get into the White House and brag about it, Jack Abramoff appears to have gotten more than Karl Rove than Karl Rove got from Jack Abramoff.
OLBERMANN: It would seem natural, David, for Abramoff to brag about, perhaps to even exaggerate his calls to and from Rove, but doesn‘t this move that entire issue from the world of characterizations and boasts and inflations and deflations and into a more mundane and more reliable world of records and sign-in sheets and all that?
SHUSTER: Absolutely. That‘s one thing that reporters including this one have been asking the White House for. We‘ve all asked for the records, these Secret Service logs, to find out exactly when was Jack Abramoff at the White House, who was he meeting with, and how many times it he meet with that person. The problem is that the White House knows that at the moment they‘re not facing any legal exposure on this issue, and the way for the White House to win this politically is to simply bury the story. That‘s why they‘ve buried these records about Jack Abramoff‘s visits to the White House and at least for the foreseeable future I wouldn‘t expect the White House to give these records to reporters, because then it becomes a big story all over again.
OLBERMANN: Now the White House has another issue to fight, even if they‘re going to win it, the Senate Democrats, the 31 Democrats who asked that the attorney general recuse himself from this investigation. The Justice Department says career lawyers are handling the case. Are the Democrats grandstanding here? Are they just opening up another front or is there something to it?
SHUSTER: There is a little bit of grandstanding there. It‘s true that Alberto Gonzales as White House counsel might have been aware of Jack Abramoff‘s access or maybe even Jack Abramoff‘s access through Karl Rove or others, but the issue is that the public integrity section at the Justice Department, these career prosecutors, by most accounts are doing a pretty good job and the Democrats have to be careful, as far as if their wish was actually granted and if the Justice Department were to say OK, we‘ll give you your wish, we‘ll give you a special prosecutor, that tends to slow down an investigation, because special prosecutor, then, or special counsel would then have to go outside the Justice Department, assemble a staff, recruit FBI agents to be detailed to that investigation and usually that slows down an investigation by six to eight months. So I‘m not sure that‘s exactly what the Democrats necessarily want.
OLBERMANN: As we see from the start of the Libby trial, January 2007, dating to events from spring 2003.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC‘s David Shuster, with the latest on Mr. Abramoff and company. Great thanks.
SHUSTER: You‘re welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A new phase also in the Entwistle murder drama in Massachusetts. Nearly a month after the murders of his wife and his baby, Neil Entwistle, the survivor, the suspect, back in Massachusetts and entering a plea. And Paris Hilton, her public flowering. I said flowering, not—COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: It‘s 96 years ago this month, since one of the most infamous international murder cases began to unfold. An American born doctor Holly Harvey Crippin (ph) murdering his wife in London and taking off by steamship to Canada with his mistress disguised as a boy at his side. Captured when Scotland Yard found a faster ship that beat the pair to North America.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, some of the international dynamics are the same now, the outcome sadly reminiscent. But as Michelle Franzen reports, there was little of the drama when British-born Neil Entwistle got his first day in court in Massachusetts today.
MICHELLE FRANZEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wearing a bulletproof vest, Neil Entwistle stepped out of a police car and walked into a Massachusetts court to face murder charges. At his arraignment, Entwistle remained silent, his court-appointed attorney entered a plea of not guilty to charges Entwistle killed his wife and baby.
One day earlier the 27-year-old returned to the U.S. in federal custody, after being extradited from England. Authorities said Entwistle fled the States after shooting his wife Rachel and nine month old daughter Lilian in their suburban Boston home on January 20. Entwistle‘s attorney says the international case has drawn so much publicity, he will push to have the trial moved.
ELLIOT WEINSTEIN, NEIL ENTWISTLE‘S ATTORNEY: I don‘t know that Mr.
Entwistle will ever be able to get a fair trial.
FRANZEN: Court documents say he was dissatisfied with his sex live, visited Web sites for escort services and searched the Internet for ways to kill people and commit suicide. Prosecutors said mounting debt as a possible reason for the killings. Following the arraignment, a spokesman for Rachel Entwistle‘s family says feels betrayed.
JOE FLAHERTY, SPOKESMAN FOR THE FAMILY OF RACHEL ENTWISTLE: We‘re now only coming to realize the level of his deceit. We are astonished and devastating to learn of the hidden life of Neil Entwistle.
FRANZEN: Entwistle was ordered held without bail. If convicted, he would receive mandatory life in prison without parole. Michelle Franzen, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: Law and order less tragic, leading off the nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” Michael Jackson‘s lawyers in court, this time look losing. The California 2nd District Court of Appeals ruling in favor of Jackson‘s ex-wife Debbie Rowe, saying her parental rights were improperly relinquished, having previously given them back. Rowe now seeking custody of the couple‘s two children, son Prince Michael and daughter Paris.
The latest ruling leaves the door open for further litigation. No comment from the Jackson camp. Jackson currently vacationing in Italy with all three of his children.
Of course, for a moment it looks like we saw a little of Michael in Paris—Paris Hilton. Modeling. Actually working during London‘s fashion week. Walking for the pro-fur designer, Julian McDonald. Uh-oh. Pro-fur. This isn‘t going to end well.
PETA pelting Ms. Hilton and a designer and a companion outside a post show party with a flower bomb. A witness saying all three were covered by white powder, Ms. Hilton the least so, adding, quote “Paris couldn‘t stop laughing.”
And she was almost as pasty as Michael Jackson.
Tonight a manhunt in New York City, more correctly a dog hunt. One of the champs from the dog show bolts at the airport.
That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” The bronze to Detective Inspector Steven Clay (ph), of Scunthorpe in England, he pulled up to a traffic light alongside motorist Valerie Smith. She could see he had something in his hand. Detective Inspector Clay says it was his mobile phone. Mrs. Smith says it was a part of his anatomy. Clay claims he was just scrolling through the calendar. I‘ve heard a lot of euphemisms for that, but that‘s a new one for me.
Tonight‘s runner up, part of a Dick Cheney fallout min-theme. Deerhunters in Germantown, Maryland who were called in to cull the herd in a 206 acre piece of property. A hunting club? No, no. The grounds of a local nondenominational Christian Church of the Savior, whose members are committed to the environment.
But our winner, Josh Kaiser (ph) of Lafayette, Colorado. He was reflecting on the Cheney incident and said, “How can you shoot your friend with your gun?” It was at that point as they hunted raccoons on his family‘s property that his 17-year-old girlfriend accidentally shot him in the head. Superficial injuries. Fortunately, from her ranch in South Texas, Ms. Katharine Armstrong saw the whole thing so there will be no charges.
Josh Kaiser, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: Rarely do you hear of a linebacker on the winning team disappearing on the way home from the Super Bowl. Seldom does the divisional champ at the Wimbledon tennis championships vanish two days later at Heathrow Airport.
But in our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, one of our top dogs is missing. Champion Bohem C‘est la Vie, nicknamed Vivy. Award of merit winner at the 130th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show which ended Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. She is missing. The three year old brown and white whippet somehow got loose from her crate and she was being loaded on her flight home to L.A. at New York‘s JFK Airport. The dog was spotted darting across the tarmac and through a fence and into the marshland that surrounds the airport.
For 24 hours the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey formally searched for her. The called that off at noon today with the airport‘s 45,000 (ph) employees asked to remain on alert. Paul Lepiane and his fiancee Jill Walton are Vivy‘s owners. Mr. Lepiane joins us now. Thanks for your time tonight.
PAUL LEPIANE, HAS MISSING DOG: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: As I mentioned, the authorities declared the official search over. That doesn‘t quite mean what it seems, right? Everyone‘s still looking for her?
LEPIANE: Correct and the standard procedure at JFK is they have patrol cars patrolling the perimeter fence every few minutes so they‘re just keeping their eyes open for Vivy, if they see any motion.
OLBERMANN: Do you have a plan for tomorrow? For the next few days?
How long are you going to keep looking?
LEPIANE: Well, we‘re going to keep looking. Often dogs, when they get lost like this are frightened and they kind of hunker down in a secluded area and stay still. And sometimes it‘s not until the second or third day that they get up and start moving around, when they really get hungry. So we‘ll hope she‘ll make an appearance tomorrow.
OLBERMANN: Is that sort of the timeframe we‘re talking about for whippets, how long the can fend for themselves, is a couple of days?
LEPIANE: They can go longer. The main concern here is the weather. If it gets cold tomorrow night, she doesn‘t have a protective coat. And a body weight of about 35 pounds can‘t withstand a lot of extreme cold.
OLBERMANN: What has the airline told you about what happened?
LEPIANE: They really haven‘t said anything. All we know is we checked her in at 9:45 and everything was fine. And when the plane was ready to take of at noon, she wasn‘t in her crate. And that‘s all we know at this point.
OLBERMANN: All right. To the possibility that somebody who‘s watching us spots her running around, what can you tell people they have about how to get her to come to them and trust them enough to come to them?
LEPIANE: Well, the most important thing is for them to contact Port Authority at JFK or animal control, that there has been a sighting. That‘s the most important thing. Secondly if they do think they can get her to come to them, is to kneel down, get down low, and just call her name but don‘t chase her, don‘t run after her. And she might come up to them. She‘s normally very friendly, but right now she‘s probably running scared.
OLBERMANN: And you‘re not going to outrun her, if she does run.
LEPIANE: Absolutely. So try and get her to come to you, but the main thing is to contact Port Authority.
OLBERMANN: And for people to really make sure they‘re identifying the right dog, is there is not likely to be a lot of stray whippets running around Queens but people will see dog missing and think any dog who looks vaguely like her is this. Is there an identification? A collar? How do you know her?
LEPIANE: The last she had a real sturdy, thick leather collared. And on the identification tag there was a cell phone number. That would be it. But whippets are pretty unique looking, so there‘s not much confusing her with other dogs.
OLBERMANN: Paul Lepiane, one of the owners of the missing show dog, Vivy, which should have been one of the great weeks. Obviously our best wishes and we hope you find her real quick and thanks for your time tonight, sir.
LEPIANE: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1022nd day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with RITA COSBY, LIVE & DIRECT. Good evening, Rita.
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