Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, T.J. Quinn
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The country opposes a surge in Iraq, 61 percent to 36 percent, in the latest poll.
And with anger and eloquence, Ted Kennedy demands a congressional second bite at the president‘s conduct of the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Our bill will say that no additional troops can be sent, and no additional dollars can be spent, on such an escalation, unless and until Congress approves the president‘s plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But House Majority Leader Hoyer says he thinks the president can send more troops without congressional approval. Yet in 1973, Congress passed a Vietnam War spending freeze. A year later, it capped the number of troops who could be in Vietnam.
When is President Bush going to get the troops who are in Iraq the protection they need? The Army says it can‘t use an Israeli system that shoots rocket-propelled grenades out of the sky, in part because the Israeli system cannot reload automatically. Lisa Myers has found out it can too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: So this is the auto loader.
COL. DIDI BEN-YOASH, RAFAEL: Absolutely. This is an auto loader.
MYERS: The U.S. Army says you don‘t have an auto loader.
BEN-YOASH: Well, this is an auto loader.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Her exclusive report tonight on the Army‘s willful refusal to protect our troops.
What kind of refusals does the president anticipate if he‘s bringing in Fred Fielding as White House counsel? We‘ll ask Mr. Fielding‘s old boss from the Watergate-era Nixon administration, John Dean.
Tabloid time. It‘s England and kiss me, Kate, as rumors swirl of a royal engagement ‘twixt Prince William and Kate Middleton.
And guess who isn‘t baseball royalty, who didn‘t get elected to baseball‘s Hall of Fame today? Besides you and me.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Today was not the first time Senator Ted Kennedy evoked Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s call “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,” the Massachusetts Democrat quoting the poem in the keynote address he gave at the 1980 Democratic convention in New York City, having unsuccessfully opposed incumbent Jimmy Carter in the presidential primaries.
This afternoon, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Senator Kennedy again quoting Tennyson, again opposing an American president, only this time the stakes could not be higher, nor the outcome more uncertain, Mr. Kennedy introducing a bill that would require President Bush to come back to Congress for authorization of any further troop escalation in Iraq.
Details of the president‘s address to the nation, set to begin just 24 hours from now, leaking out tonight, continuing to leak out tonight, the Reuters News Agency not alone in reporting that the latest draft of Mr.
Bush‘s strategy calls for an increase of more than 20,000 troops, the plan
also envisioning that security for all of Iraq‘s provinces would be turned
over to Iraqi forces by November, most Americans saying no to the buildup,
whatever it constitutes, those surveyed by Gallup for “USA Today” opposing
the idea of increased troop levels by 61 percent to 36 percent, approval of
the job Mr. Bush is doing about Iraq sinking to just 26 percent, the all-
time low, some Democrats, however, continuing to insist that they are
powerless to stop the president, House Majority Leader, or House minority -
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer echoing Senator Joe Biden in telling reporters today that as a matter of constitutionality, his own view is that the president does not need to come back to Congress, historical precedent suggesting otherwise.
Recent Congresses have enacted legislation on several occasions that limited funding and set troop caps on the deployment of American troops, most significantly in Vietnam in 1973 and late in 1974, Senator Kennedy seeking to do just that in the legislation he introduced today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: Our system of checks and balances gives Congress, as the elected representatives of the people, a central role in decisions on war and peace.
Today, therefore, I am introducing legislation to reclaim the rightful role of Congress and the people‘s right to a full voice in the president‘s plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Our bill will say that no additional troops can be sent, and no additional dollars can be spent, on such an escalation, unless and until Congress approves the president‘s plan.
Let us hear the arguments for it and against it. Then let us vote on it in the light of day. Let the American people hear, yes or no, where their elected representatives stand on one of the greatest challenges of our time.
Our history makes clear that a new escalation in our forces will not advance our national security. It will not move Iraq towards self-government. And it will needlessly endanger our troops by injecting more of them into the middle of a civil war.
Some will disagree. Listen to this comment from a high-ranking American official. “It became clear that if we were prepared to help stay the course, we could help lay the cornerstone for a diverse and independent region. If we faltered, the forces of chaos would smell victory, and decades of strife and aggression would stretch endlessly before us. The choice was clear. We would stay the course, and we shall stay the course.”
That‘s not President Bush speaking. It‘s Lyndon Johnson speaking 40 years ago, ordering 100,000 more American soldiers to Vietnam.
Echoes of that disaster are all around us today. Iraq is George Bush‘s Vietnam. Are we going to repeat that again at this present time, particularly when we have a resolution for authorization which is completely inconsistent with what the current situation today? Is the co-equal branch of government supposed to hide itself and pretend that the greatest challenge that is facing this country and its role in the world is going to remain silent? Is that what our founding fathers intended?
If we can‘t do what is morally right today—morally right—and that is, to try to protect our service men and women, that is the moral issue at our time. We can‘t retreat from that. We don‘t deserve to be successful if we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn to our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If there is precedent for what Senator Kennedy was proposing here, if there are concrete examples of when past Congresses have legislated deployment caps, even spending caps, if the war authorization that was passed in October 2002 to some degree or completely no longer applies, why are Democrats like Steny Hoyer, Joe Biden over the weekend, reluctant to back a plan like Kennedy‘s? They are saying they‘re constitutionally hamstrung from doing that. Given the mandate of the last election, what is holding Democrats back from being able to unite behind this?
WOLFFE: Well, the short answer is, politics, of course. The calculation is, from those Democrats that you‘ve cited, and also inside the White House, that although dissatisfaction with the war is undoubtedly high, people are disappointed and alarmed at the war, people are not ready to accept withdrawal, because withdrawal means failure and defeat, and it‘s a very brave president and a very brave Congress that says that accepting defeat is the better of the options, the worse option being to stick with it.
So failure is difficult politically, and Kennedy is very smart here. He is nothing if not a smart tactician. And what he‘s laying out here is not a proposal for withdrawal or cutting funding, but a proposal to oppose what he calls an escalation. That‘s smart framing. It‘s stopping the war from getting bigger, as opposed to bullying the troops home. That‘s good politics.
OLBERMANN: And the other end of this, of the more than 30 Republican senators who went to the White House yesterday and talked to the president about this, only one of them, Senator Cochran of Mississippi, by his own description of that meeting, expressed support to the president for his plan to escalate. That would seem to indicate that there are still literally dozens, a couple dozen, at least, Republican senators who remain unconvinced of escalation. Does that matter to this president?
WOLFFE: Oh, yes, sure it does. I mean, this is something that the White House is deeply concerned about. They think it‘s job number one in many ways to pull back the Republican supporters within their own ranks from this speech. That‘s what he‘s really trying to do. Of course he‘s aiming for a broad audience in the nation.
But, you know, it—we talked about how Senator Kennedy‘s playing smart Democratic politics. Smart Republican politics with this speech right now is to take a wait-and-see approach. Again, if you‘re a Republican, you‘re trying to get elected, you need the base out there. And in spite of the fact that Democrats and independents have turned against the war, Republicans are still broadly supportive.
That means you don‘t want to be outside of your base, you don‘t want to be opposing the president. You (INAUDIBLE) you‘ve got to keep those loyal people on your side, and try and also say you understand the concerns of independents and Democrats.
OLBERMANN: The timing of a debate on a war resolution, Tony Snow, the press secretary, advocating that people wait till the president lays out his plan before they debate it. But under the plan, apparently the first wave of additional troops would be in Iraq before the end of this month. Is the plan here that the—that this could get rolling before the Democrats get organized?
WOLFFE: Well, I know you won‘t want to have sympathy for Tony Snow here, but let‘s try and imagine ourselves in his shoes for a minute. There‘s been a vacuum of what he can say and what they‘re putting out there for the last couple of months. He can‘t really talk about stuff, because the policy was changing all the time. And, of course, they want to have the clear speech to go out there and sell to everyone once it comes out.
So he‘s in a difficult position now. White House sources tell me pretty clearly that, in fact, this won‘t be a rush to deploy. And the reason is that they are very cautious, not just about putting more troops there, but about the performance of the Iraqi government. They want to see that these people are, for once, going to live up to their commitments to show up for duty when it comes to these security operations.
So, you know, Tony Snow is in a hard position here. Of course, the troops are in a much harder position. But let‘s wait and see. I think it‘s going to be a more cautious, more measured speech than maybe the word “surge” implies.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s see how it turns out. There‘s many hours left to change it. Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent for “Newsweek.” As always, thanks for your time tonight.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: Tomorrow night, MSNBC will carry the president‘s speech live in its entirety, starting at 9:00 Eastern time, 6:00 Pacific. Join us for our special coverage of the speech, as well as reaction and analysis. “HARDBALL” at 7:00, “COUNTDOWN” at 8:00, Chris Matthews and I then joined by Joe Scarborough for the speech and 9:00. And afterwards, I‘ll be joined live for reaction from Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.
Tonight, the questions are about the safety of the men and women already in what Senator Kennedy described as “the cauldron.” Lisa Myers with an exclusive follow-up on an infuriating story, a system that could virtually immunize our soldiers from the kind of weapon that has already killed at least 134 of them, a system the Pentagon refuses to install.
And the White House installing a veteran. Why did the president reach all the way back to the Watergate era to find a new lawyer to protect him from congressional oversight? Answers from that lawyer‘s old boss, John Dean.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: According to Department of Defense figures, by September 2006, 132 American military personnel had lost their lives in Iraq due to attacks using rocket-propelled grenades, RPGs.
That month, our senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, revealed that the Army was opposing efforts by a Pentagon office to let U.S. troops test a new Israeli anti-RPG device called Trophy. The Army said Trophy still had problems.
The Army was also paying the military contractor Raytheon $70 million to develop a totally new anti-RPG system from scratch that would be ready around 2011.
In our number four story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, while we might extrapolate how many more American troops will be killed by RPGs before Raytheon‘s system is ready, the Defense Department reports that since September, two more Americans have been killed by RPG attacks. They are 29-year-old Sergeant Brent W. Dunkelberger (ph) and Sergeant Mario Nelson, who was 26. Both were killed by RPGs fired at their vehicles.
Now, Lisa Myers has gone to Israel to confirm the Army‘s claim that Trophy‘s problems are so bad that soldiers, like the late Sergeants Dunkelberger and Nelson, were better off without it. Guess what? They weren‘t.
MYERS (voice-over): In response to urgent pleas from commanders in Iraq, the Pentagon‘s Office of Force Transformation, OFT, found Trophy.
Developed over the last decade in Israel, Trophy, mounted here on a combat vehicle, first detects an RPG, then intercepts it before it hits the target.
Pentagon testers found Trophy 98 percent effective, and OFT, set up to cut through red tape, wanted to battle-test the system in Iraq this year, hoping to save American lives.
But the Army blocked that testing, arguing, in this interview for our first report, that Trophy simply is not ready.
COL. DONALD KOTCHMAN, U.S. ARMY: The Army is opposed to deploying a system before we assure that it‘s safe, effective, suitable, and supportable. Trophy is not there yet.
MYERS: In letters to Congress since our first reports, the Army says the best proof Trophy is not ready is that the Israeli Defense Forces have yet to integrate and field Trophy.
To check out the Army‘s claims, we went back to Israel. We found that the Israeli military has indeed begun to integrate and field Trophy on tanks, buying at least 100 systems.
Brigadier General Amir Nir (ph) leads that effort.
(on camera): Some say that Trophy has not been sufficiently tested, that it‘s not ready to be deployed.
BRIG. GEN. AMIR NIR, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: It‘s the most mature, and it can do the job.
MYERS: So you‘re satisfied that Trophy has been sufficiently tested.
MYERS (voice-over): Last fall, after our first reports aired, Major General Jeffrey Sorenson gave Congress a laundry list of reasons why the U.S. Army opposes Trophy.
First, 360-degree coverage. Can Trophy handle attacks from every direction?
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY SORENSON, U.S. ARMY: From the standpoint of providing 360-degree coverage, we have issues.
MYERS: What does General Nir say?
(on camera): Will Trophy be able to engage targets from all directions?
NIR: Yes, 360 degrees.
MYERS: Three hundred sixty-degree coverage?
MYERS: You‘re sure.
MYERS (voice-over): Second, can Trophy reload automatically, or would soldiers have to climb out of the vehicle and manually load the weapon, perhaps under hostile fire?
SORENSON: From the standpoint of an autoloader that‘s not yet developed, we have issues.
MYERS (voice-over): We went to Trophy‘s manufacturer, Rafael, to see if there is an autoloader.
(on camera): So this is the autoloader?
BEN-YOASH: This—absolutely. This is an autoloader.
MYERS: The U.S. Army says you don‘t have an autoloader.
BEN-YOASH: Well, this is an autoloader.
MYERS (voice-over): Third, what‘s the collateral risk to troops when Trophy intercepts an RPG? After our first report, the Army told Congress it has serious concerns about soldier safety.
The Israeli Army‘s view?
(on camera): How much additional risk do you believe there is to the troops?
NIR: As far as we tested, it added, at most, 1 percent.
MYERS: So not a significant risk?
NIR: Not a significant risk.
MYERS (voice-over): In fact, the Israelis argue that Trophy, while not perfect, will provide much-needed protection for troops and save lives, the same conclusion reached by Trophy‘s backers in the Pentagon.
(on camera): We wanted to ask the U.S. Army about all this. General Sorenson first agreed to an interview, then canceled it. The Army also refused to answer any of some 30 specific questions we submitted.
(voice-over): The Army did give us a statement saying, “The U.S. Army is dedicated to ensuring our soldiers deploy with the best force protection capability,” and is working on a system to counter RPGs.
When will that system, being built by Raytheon, be ready? The Army previously told us it could get to the troops in four years, by 2011, but now declines to say whether it is still is on course to meet that deadline.
MYERS: Later this week on “NIGHTLY NEWS,” we will reveal new internal Army documents that show just how far the Army actually went to block Trophy, even from further testing, and why, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Lisa, we mentioned Sergeants Dunkelberger and Nelson, the recent RPG fatalities. They were both in the Army. Hard to understand viscerally what the Army has to gain by going by Raytheon here, off in the distant future. The Army will be out about $70 million. Who knows what the human price will be? Is it off base, is it out of bounds to wonder whether some politician is doing Raytheon‘s bidding here?
MYERS: Keith, we have found no evidence that a politician is involved in this. Based on all our reporting, Pentagon sources, congressional sources, the Army‘s own documents, it seems to be that the Army officials consider Trophy a threat to their crown jewel, the $160 billion future combat system, which is the largest procurement program ever in the Army. Under FCS, it‘s under FCS that the Army is paying Raytheon to build an RPG defense system from scratch.
Now, Trophy‘s backers say, Look, guys, build your system. Go ahead and hire Raytheon. But let us battle-test Trophy, because in the next four years, we could save a lot of lives.
OLBERMANN: Is there something that would have to change politically, legally, whatever, in order to give U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan exactly that chance you just described?
MYERS: Well, the new secretary of defense could order that this system be battle-tested. Congress also has ordered a review, a Pentagon review of all the anti-RPG systems, to see which one works. Congress could order that—could step in and order that this be looked at more seriously.
OLBERMANN: Lisa Myers, our senior investigative correspondent. We look forward to the further report later on this week on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, and we‘ll run it here on COUNTDOWN. Great thanks, and great work.
MYERS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, for Charles, the burglary was going very well, until he fell into that big vat of grease.
And the paparazzi leaving us all feeling kind of greasy again in the shadow of Diana. Now they are hounding the young woman who may shortly be engaged to Diana‘s eldest son.
That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: We spoke of the odd juxtapositions of historical birthdays yesterday. But none is odder than this, January 9, the birthday of President Richard Nixon and of baseball outfielder Otis Nixon. What more needs to be said?
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin today‘s Oddball with the bounty off the Internets, and a quick and simple demonstration of basic physics from a foreign land. If the stuff in the cart weighs more than your extra small donkey, that‘s what happens. The animal does not seem to be too uncomfortable. Probably just appreciates the time out there. Kind of like a harness for him. Clearly, the humans in this story are the bigger jackasses.
Nice. Either make a second trip, or invest in something larger than a Shetland pony to do your heavy lifting.
To Romania, north of Bucharest, where we find out what may be the world‘s only church in an igloo. Located 6,000 feet up in the mountains of Belack (ph), the Ice Church has become a popular tourist attraction, but it is also home to regular Catholic masses. I don‘t think I‘m sitting on an ice pew for an hour.
Ah, OK, good, pads, excellent.
And then to Florida. Yet another one of those guy tries to rob restaurant by climbing in through the chimney stories. What are you looking to steal anyway, sir? Dinner rolls? Charles Grant did not get stuck in the ventilation system like most of our dumb criminals. He just fell into a giant vat of cooking grease in the back of the kitchen before he escaped for a few hours on the lam. Greasy lamb, ahahahaha.
But cops quickly wrangled this slippery suspect, and now this Crisco Kid will be easy to find. He‘ll be the one who smells like French fries in the Big House.
Trying to keep the president‘s men out of the Big House, it was Fred Fielding‘s job late in Watergate, then again during the Reagan administration, now for President Bush. An analysis ahead from Mr. Fielding‘s old boss, John Dean.
And the votes are in, and Mark McGwire is not. We‘ll talk with one of baseball‘s Hall of Fame voters about decisions.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Danny Robert Villegas, a rather disinterested holdup man, walked into a South Daytona, Florida, credit unit—union, rather, told the teller it was a robbery, and then he sat down. When officers arrived, Villegas explained that after another bank robbery, he‘d spent six years in prison in Arizona, and he really had enjoyed it and wanted to go back.
Number two, New Jersey‘s state senate president, Richard Cody, wants a change in the state constitution written more than 150 years ago so it no longer reads, quote, “No idiot or insane person should be able to vote,” to clean up the language to refer instead to “those who lack the capacity to understand the act of voting.”
You know, Mr. Cody, Jersey voted against Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and 1864. Maybe that word “idiot” was in there for reasons different than you think.
But number one, Charles Sturcken, of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. This about the city‘s big stink yesterday. Brushing aside theories that an inversion layer had trapped the ordinary piquant odors of Big Town, wouldn‘t let them escape. Mr. Sturcken today said today the city believed the cause would be found along the industrialized docks on the other side of the Hudson river. Quoting him, the way we track the dispersion of the smell and the prevailing winds indicates that it came from New Jersey, somewhere near Secaucus.
Where do we work again? What‘s the name of that city?
OLBERMANN: Some presidential personnel choices resonate and some actually resonate with irony. As the new Democratic Congress takes power, including subpoena power, the White House has chosen a new White House counsel. Rather an everything old is new again counsel.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, he is a veteran of the Nixon administration from Watergate. President Bush‘s pick as chief White House counsel, Fred Fielding. The highly respected attorney, who was deputy counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, under Nixon‘s then chief counsel John Dean, who will join us presently.
Mr. Fielding was also White House counsel during the first five years of Ronald Reagan‘s presidency, and who most recently served on the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. But the 67 year old lawyer is best known for qualities which likely moved his name to the front of the list, savvy political skills and a sophisticated record about executive privilege.
Mr. Fielding will replace Harriet Myers, the current White House counsel and ill-fated Supreme Court nominee. After the Democratic sweep of Congress, White House chief of staff Joshua Bolton reportedly making a second, and this time successful, bid to president to replace Miss Myers with someone more seasoned.
Joining us now, as promised, Nixon White House counsel, also author of “Worse Than Watergate,” and “Conservatives Without Conscience,” John Dean. John, thanks again for your time tonight.
JOHN DEAN, FMR. NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Can we read backwards on this? Does reaching out to Fred Fielding give us any idea of what kind of trouble President Bush thinks he‘s going to face in the next year or two?
DEAN: Well I think it does. There was a lot of pressure put on Fred to take this job. I‘m sure he didn‘t really want to jump into this post. But they leaned on him. And that would indicate they think there is problems. If they don‘t, they are probably the only people in Washington who would not.
OLBERMANN: Is Fred Fielding the right guy to continue this administration‘s, sort of, standard answer to any and all inquiries. Namely, you will get our answer in the president‘s next signing statement, or is there a different course suggested by his return to the White House?
DEAN: I think that depends upon how Fred sees his representation. Is he representing Bush or is he representing the presidency? If he is representing Bush, I‘m not really sure he‘s the right guy. If he is representing the presidency, I think that‘s very healthy, because I think there is going to be some real contests between Dick Cheney‘s chief of staff and counsel, David Addington, and Fielding, on what should be turned over and what shouldn‘t. And they are very different personalities.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Fielding was such a dynamo during his previous times in Washington, that just a few years ago, as you and I both well know, the investigative course at the University of Illinois championed him as the likeliest candidate to have been deep throat. Not the case, obviously, but is there something bizarre, just on the face of it, about reaching back to a member of the Watergate legal team during an administration which you have aptly described as being worse than Watergate?
DEAN: Well, as far as his being deep throat, I won 100 bucks on that from Bill Gains in Illinois. But I also lost 100 bucks to Tom Brokaw on Mark Phelps. So, as far as reaching back though, Keith, I think that Fred wasn‘t tainted by Watergate. He learned a lot about what not to do during those years. I think he will bring that experience to play. There is actually some wisdom in it, given the fact that I do think we have an administration that is worse than Watergate, and he‘s going to be tested severely in this post.
OLBERMANN: The president, John, has set himself up, seemingly, to be challenged in a lot of different areas, potentially domestic eavesdropping, the treatment of detainees, these presidential signing statements, war powers, but as these congressional investigations get fired up, will Fred Fielding be more subsumed with process here? Is it going to be subpoenas and executive privilege and possible negotiations about those things, or is he going to be substantive on this?
DEAN: Well, I think there will be a lot of question about who he is representing. If he is representing the president, and the presidency, as opposed to the Bush philosophy of turning over nothing, it will determine how much time he spends in process versus more substantive areas. But pretty much it‘s all process when you get to this phase, when Congress wants information and the White House is deciding whether or not to turn it over. So, it‘s going to be primarily process and he‘s going to be spending a lot of time negotiating.
OLBERMANN: Do you see him as factoring into this story about the White House and the Secret Service signing an agreement last Spring that says the visitor logs for the White House are actually presidential records, even though the Secret Service is the one keeping the records? I mean, this is a complicated story, but it obviously has to do with the White House dragging its feet in the Jack Abramoff investigation. Slow to admit even the fact of Abramoff‘s repeated visits there.
With this agreement with the Secret Service comes the element that it‘s been after the fact, it‘s been described as a way for the White House to manufacture evidence in its favor. Is this the sort of stuff—could this be the sort of stuff they brought Fred Fielding in to work on?
DEAN: Well, I would hope not, because there is a very bad taint to the way they presented this in court, sort of after the fact. As a substantive matter though, Keith, I think they are probably right. Most presidential records, as entry and exit to the White House, have been a part of the presidential paper collections. I think the timing on this wreaks. They just realized that very late, but all prior presidents actually those records and they have gone with presidential papers. So, it was not an unwise move, but the timing of it and the way they have done it, I hope Fielding is a lot smarter than that.
OLBERMANN: Last question about not intelligence, but moral fiber. Is it going to be tested for him in this role, do you think?
DEAN: Absolutely, absolutely. And I wish him well. I was curious as to who would take that post. He‘s a very able lawyer. He‘s very savvy. But he‘s also been sipping some of the cool aid lately, so I‘m not sure how exactly he is going to come out on this.
OLBERMANN: We will find out. John Dean, his latest book is “Conservatives Without Conscience.” His columns are at FindLaw.com. As always, John, special thanks for joining us tonight.
DEAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: From the old pro to the young victim. Rumors that Prince William of England is about to get engaged to that girl, not those photographers.
And how the White House press secretary tonight earned the honors of Worst Person in the World, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Kate Middleton turned 25 years old today. If you don‘t know who she is, you may have shaken the insipid grasp of British royal fever, Prince William‘s girlfriend.
Our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, multiple reports in the English media that they will get engaged this year. And here we go. The parallels drawn between her and her boyfriend‘s late mother are multiplying. Our correspondent in London is Dawna Friesen.
DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As she steps from obscurity into the spotlight, the scenes are eerily familiar. Kate Middleton, turning 25 today, brings flashbacks of a very young Diana Spencer. After she died, Diana‘s brother said she had always been hunted.
EVE POLLARD, JOURNALIST: They are desperate for that photograph on the front page, because it will sell papers. But you‘ve got to worry about what you‘re doing to this girl in between.
FRIESEN: William hasn‘t even popped the question, but what Middleton does, where she goes, even getting a parking ticket, the paparazzi snap it. She only gets police protection when she is with William.
ROBERT JOBSON, ROYAL REPORTER: At the moment, what they need to do is to protect her, to bring her under the royal wing, so that she is not over-exposed.
FRIESEN: They met and shared a house at St. Andrews University, where Middleton studied art history and at first kept a low profile. Four years later, he is an army officer, she has got a job as a fashion accessories buyer, and they are often seen leaving London‘s hottest night clubs.
JOBSON: When someone asks her is she lucky to be going out with Prince William, her response was he is lucky to be going out with me. I think that‘s the appealing side of her to someone like Prince William, is that she is not in awe of him.
FRIESEN: Middleton grew up in this small Barkshire village. Her ancestors were coal miners. Her parents self-made millionaires who own a mail order business.
(on camera): She now lives in a luxury flat here in London‘s posh Chelsea neighborhood. But to use the language of royals, she is a commoner. Royal watchers say what she lacks in proper pedigree, she makes up for in poise, refinement, and reserve.
(voice-over): In a magazine spread called “25 Things You Didn‘t Know About Kate Middleton,” the most shocking was her favorite drink, Jack Daniels and Coke. William watched the paparazzi hound his mother. Tonight his spokesman said all the prince wants for Kate‘s birthday is for her to be left alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you say to people who say you‘re a parasite? I agree with them.
FRIESEN: Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: Returning to our side of the puddle for our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, and our own equivalent of royalty, TV stars, one of whom tonight is looking for a new place to live, owing to a fast-moving wildfire in Malibu, California. The blaze broke out near Malibu County Road last night and high winds quickly pushed the fire towards the million dollar homes on the ocean front. Five houses destroyed, another six substantially damaged before firefighters managed to quell the flames.
Among those whose homes were burned to the ground, Suzanne Somers, former star from “Three‘s Company,” who had lived there for seven years, was clearly upset by the loss when she visited her still smoldering home today, but she showed some admirable perspective.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUZANNE SOMERS, ACTRESS: It‘s not a death in the family, and, you know, we will rebuild, and I really think that we‘ll learn something great from this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No comment on the Malibu fires from Mel Gibson. Speaking of something great, the move to Sirius radio beginning to seriously pay off for Howard Stern again. Amid rumors of a merger between Sirius and X.M., Stern‘s satellite operation just gave him an 83 million dollar stock bonus as a reward after an unexpected boost in subscriptions to its service. That‘s on top of the five year, 500 million dollar pay package he already signed for joining the company, all of which totals up, according to our calculations, to a supply of strippers to last his family through the next 11 generations.
Speaking of calculations, the Hall of Fame ballots are in. Mark Mcgwire 128 votes. Minimum required for election to the baseball Hall of Fame, 409 votes. Too bad there were not enough steroids to help him out with those details and formula 409. Details ahead.
First, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze tonight to the guy who called up the Starbucks at the Masconi (ph) Center in San Francisco today and ordered 4,000 Lattes to go and then hung up. Lord knows what kind of havoc he unleashed there, he being Steve Jobs of what is now Apple Inc, unveiling the new iPod phone today with that prank call. Of course sir, I could take you off this list in exchange for, you know, a couple of those—well, you know.
Our runner up, James Turner, a private security guard at a public facility in Anderson, South Carolina. Probably not to return to that public facility again. A customer set off a security alarm while leaving, so Turner chased her into the parking lot and as she drove away, he fired his gun at her car. The public facility in question was the local library and the crime, if any, was stealing one of the books.
But our winner tonight, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. Look, obviously honesty is not part of this job, no matter the president, no matter the party, I‘m giving you that. But to fully B.S. a question about the president‘s infamous dress up day as commander flies a lot, May 1st, 2003. Quoting Mr. Snow, you know that the mission accomplished banner was put up by members of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and the president, on that very speech, said just the opposite, didn‘t he?
Tony, my god, you‘re just bald-faced lying. Even your predecessor Scott McClellan said the White House made the banner and sent it to the Lincoln to be put up. Even Donald Rumsfeld said he talked the president out of saying mission accomplished, but he couldn‘t get the banner pulled down in time. Even the president himself said in his next radio speech that on the Lincoln, quote, I delivered good news to the men and women who fought in the cause of freedom. Their mission is complete and major combat operations in Iraq have ended.
I mean, you were hired to lie. At least do it well. We‘re not all third graders out here. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Given that baseball‘s obsession with the home run has now lasted about 87 seasons, it‘s counter-intuitive that you probably won‘t recognize most of the following names, Litman Pike, Charlie Jones, Harry Stovey, Ned Williamson, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Mark Mcgwire. They are the seven men who, since pro baseball‘s second season, have broken the record for most home runs in a season.
They are also seven men who, minus Babe Ruth, have never been elected to baseball‘s Hall of Fame. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, as of today Mr. Mcgwire has been added to that list. The cloud of steroids has its first true victim, at least in terms of immortality, with the Hall of Fame election results revealed today, and Mcgwire falling remarkably short.
In a moment we will talk to one of the sports writers who had a vote, first the details. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn will be the 279th and 280th members of the Hall, men who, coincidentally, each spent his entire career with just one team. The nominees needed to be named on 75 percent of the 545 ballots. Ripken received 98.5 percent, Gwynn 97.6 percent.
Reliever Goose Gossage was denied induction for the eighth time, 71 percent of the vote. Other notables not making the cut, Jim Rice and Andre Dawson, at 63 percent and 56 percent, respectively. And then there‘s the steroid group. Jose Canseco and the late Ken Kameniti, the only two players ever to have admitted doing steroids, and have their names land on the Hall of Fame ballot. Kameniti, once the National League MVP, died of a drug overdose in 2004. He got two votes.
Canseco, an American League MVP, the man credited, or still in some quarters blamed, for kicking the bee‘s nest that is steroids, with his tell all book “Juiced,” last year, received six votes. And then there‘s Mcgwire, who in 1998 ended Roger Maris‘ 37 season hold on the single season home run record, but who also in 1998 was found to have the dubious steroid precursor Androsterein Dion (ph) in his locker, and who nearly two years ago testified to a Congressional hearing that, quote, I‘m not here to talk about the past, and then proceeded to ignore everything that had happened before that hour, except to verify that his name was Mark Mcgwire.
Mcgwire appeared on just 23.5 percent of the ballots, meaning 417 baseball writers didn‘t not vote for him and he missed election by 281 votes. One of those saying no, our next guest, T.J. Quinn, sports writer for the “New York Daily News.” Good evening T.J., thanks for coming in.
T.J. QUINN, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: Would you have voted for him, if it hadn‘t been that testimony to Congress that way, or was he borderline to you with or without steroids and Andro?
QUINN: Well, three days before, when the “Daily News” did a pretty big story with our sports investigative team about what he had been doing. That kind of nailed it for us. Seeing him—Sitting two rows behind him at the congressional testimony, that was as much confirmation as you could ever get, but we had former drug dealers who were cut up in an FBI sting tell us about who had supplied Mcgwire with drugs, what drugs he had been given. And this wasn‘t just Andro. This wasn‘t Aspirin or flax seed oil. This was the heavy stuff, Winstrol V, Equipoise (ph), drugs that were created to help horses recover from injury and illness.
He was taking the heavy duty stuff. So, for me, no, the decision was made a little before that.
OLBERMANN: It‘s probably ridiculous to focus on Mcgwire when two baseball legends and generally 100 percent good guys were rewarded today. We‘ll get to Ripken and Gwynn in a moment, but A, does Mcgwire ever get in? And B, is there a lesson in this for guys like Bonds, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro?
QUINN: I don‘t know if he ever gets in. But I think his vote total will go up quite a bit. I‘m just kind of guessing, but I would ballpark that maybe as much as double next year. I know a number of my brethren and sisteren (sic) in the Baseball Writers Association have said that they wanted to punish him. They wanted to make sure he was not going to go in on the first ballot. I think a number of people are going to feel maybe that was enough and they are going to think that his numbers were enough to get him in, no matter what he was taking. But I still don‘t think that is going bring him to the 75 percent threshold that you need to get in.
I don‘t know if he‘ll ever get. I know if he never steps forward and does some kind of mea culpa, some kind explanation, I doubt he will get in. I think that is the lesson for guys like Bonds and Sosa and Palmeiro, people who are out there, you know, we‘re, as baseball writers, people who are a pretty forgiving group. What they want is contrition. They want accountability, somebody who is going to say, you know what, I did this. It was a mistake, I apologize. I‘m sorry for the message it sent to kids. This was what was going on at the time. I still wouldn‘t vote for him, but I think a lot of people might.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t know that you‘re going to get that from Bonds, maybe you might get it from Mcgwire. Who knows how he‘s going to respond to this, but about the guys who got in, Ripken and Gwynn, there were two blank ballots submitted, just empty lists, protests of some sort, who knows what those guys were thinking. But it never ceases to come up in these elections how come six guys didn‘t vote for Cal Ripken, 11 didn‘t vote for Tony Gwynn. I‘m just reading now that our friend Bill Shannon, who we see all the time in the press boxes in New York, one of the great veterans of sports writing, explained he knew Gwynn and Ripen were going to get in anyway, so he wanted to vote—to devote two of his votes to other guys who might not get the attention.
Is that why there‘s never been a 100 percent vote for the Hall of Fame.
QUINN: Not unless you can give Bill Shannon credit for all of them. He‘s the best official scorer in the game, I think and if that‘s he‘s reasoning, fine. I like somebody who‘s got their ballot closer to the ten names you‘re limited to, as opposed to my very stingy colleagues, who go for one or two a year. I had eight on mine.
You know, if that‘s Bill‘s reason, that‘s fine, but for the most part, there‘s been this kind of attitude that if it‘s a Hall of Fame, well we should keep everybody out. You know, Babe Ruth wasn‘t a unanimous choice, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb. The greatest names in the game weren‘t unanimous choices, which is mind boggling to me. I‘m hoping that as sports writers, we may be a little slow on the evolutionary curve, but it seems to be getting better.
The vote totals are getting higher. I think at some point people are going to realize, look, a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer. You know, it doesn‘t say on anybody‘s plaque whether you were the first ballot or the 15th, or what your percentage was. Somebody is a Hall of Famer or he is not, and that‘s what I‘m voting on.
OLBERMANN: All right, I‘ll wrap this up with my own opinions. I think there were nine other Hall of Famers on that ballot, Gossage, Blyleven, Dave Concepsion (ph), Andre Dawson, Tommy John, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Jim Rice, and Lee Smith. And I‘m sorry that we put these guys through this torture every year, but I don‘t get to vote, so it‘s your fault.
QUINN: I got just about all of those except Concepsion and John, maybe he‘ll go in as a pioneer, because of his elbow.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll give you a pass then. Baseball Hall of Fame voter and “New York Daily News” sports writer T.J. Quinn, as always, great thanks for your time.
QUINN: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,347th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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