Guests: Sam Seder, Denis Collins, Jonathan Turley, Max Blumenthal
ALISON STEWART, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The verdict on the verdict. One question lingers for a juror who thought Libby was guilty, but...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENIS COLLINS, LIBBY JUROR: What are we doing with this guy here?
Where‘s Rove? Where‘s, you know, where are these other guys?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Tonight, we‘ll talk to that curious juror. Denis Collins joins us to give us the lowdown firsthand.
And that cloud prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald described over the White House? One Republican senator thinks the forecast calls for impeachment.
And then, there were these guys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: This was a case that never should
have been brought
RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: I happen to think that Valerie Wilson and Joe Wilson set out with somebody to set all of this up, and they got their dream realized.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The person who impeded the process, Sean, in this, in my mind, is, unfortunately Patrick Fitzgerald.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Oh, really? Sam Seder will unspin the spin.
The U.S. federal prosecutors removed from their jobs, an unprecedented eight attorneys fired. Why? Well, that‘s what Congress wants to know. That, and was this a political hatchet job?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I felt leaned on, I felt pressured to get these matters moving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: And tonight, in addition, a new wing to the Hypocrisy Hall of Fame. Matt Sanchez, a recently honored member of the conservative movement, also goes by Rod Majors, gay porn star. I don‘t know if that was in Sean Hannity‘s research packet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: Matt, you‘re, you‘re a great American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Or Bill O‘Reilly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR,” FOX NEWS CHANNEL)
BILL O‘REILLY, HOST: You know when that tells me? You are the better person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: And my guess, no one sure as heck told Ann Coulter.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
And good evening, everybody. I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.
His own lawyer called him the fall guy, and apparently Lewis “Scooter” Libby‘s attorney built a pretty compelling case that their client sacrificed himself, his reputation, his job to protect others inside the Bush White House. The lawyers were so good, in the end, the jury bought that argument. The only problem, it also believed the fall guy fell without much grace, smacking around the truth along the way, and ultimately committing crimes.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, inside the jury room. How did the panel of seven women and four men reach a consensus the former aide to Vice President Cheney was guilty on four out of five counts, a potpourri of lying, perjury, and obstruction of justice? Which witnesses and testimony did it really find credible? And most importantly, what was up with those matching red T-shirts that all the jurors wore on Valentine‘s Day?
One member of the jury, Denis Collins, shared some of his thoughts outside the courthouse yesterday. He has also written a lengthy and detail-laden account of his jury service for the Web site HuffingtonPost. And if you read the account online, it becomes clear Denis Collins has done a little bit of writing before. He‘s also a former reporter for “The Washington Post,” and he joins us now from Washington.
Hey, Denis, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
COLLINS: Nice to be here. How are you?
STEWART: I‘m doing well, sir.
Hey, you and the jury, you deliberated for 10 days. You led a lot of people to speculate that you were having possibly trouble reaching consensus on a verdict, visions of “Twelve Angry Men,” or four men and seven women. Was it like that? Or was it just about being overcareful and precise with all the evidence?
COLLINS: I don‘t—they wouldn‘t let us bring in the movie. I think they feared that something might happen.
No, we, you know, we—when I say “we,” the smarter people than me decided to—you know, how to handle this evidence and kind of started way back from the beginning and went through every bit of testimony and, you know, separated it into categories and put up spreadsheets and Post-It notes, you know, two by two-and-a-half-foot-sized Post-It notes.
And it was, you know, a little like mining. You just pull out little things and find a place to put them. And, you know, after about three days, it kind of dawns on you, We‘re not getting out of here for weeks and weeks. And I didn‘t hear anybody complain, but there was certainly no cavalier sort of attitude about, Hey, let‘s just, you know, figure out what looks good and, you know, go for it.
STEWART: You said yesterday, Where‘s Rove? And then you followed it up with, Where are the other guys? That question has had so many people speculating. Who did you mean?
COLLINS: Well, you know, I‘m not going to criticize sound bites. But I think if—I feel like I‘m in one of those testimony things in the trial. If you listened to the whole thing, I said a few times, jurors would be frustrated because of the sympathy for Libby, and they‘d say, you know, Why—we‘re dealing with the sort of guy third down on the list, when we‘ve heard in testimony that Armitage and Rove had, you know, leaked the names originally. So why aren‘t those guys here?
I don‘t think it was, you know, We want to get Rove. It‘s, Why are we starting at the bottom when -- Now, of course, we didn‘t know what the rules were. Maybe there‘d been deals made, and that‘s fine. But (INAUDIBLE)...
STEWART: So it was the testimony, what you said, what you‘re saying is, the testimony that you heard in the courtroom led you to believe that it‘s not just Libby. There‘s got to be other people involved here.
COLLINS: Well, I think, actually, the testimony we heard, once we had gotten into it far enough, we realized, OK, this isn‘t about leaking the anybody—you know, Valerie Plame‘s name. That apparently, someone had decided, wasn‘t a problem. Maybe it turned out she wasn‘t undercover.
But again, we‘re in a spot where we don‘t know that. We‘re kind of buried in a little cave there, just looking at what just filtered in to us.
So we figured, OK, all we‘re asked to do is decide, did Mr. Libby lie to the grand jury, to the FBI? And so we spent all our time doing that. But, I‘m saying, occasionally, a juror would be frustrated, and say -- We had a lot of sympathy for Mr. Liddy. And, you know, that was where that expression came from.
STEWART: And following up on that, earlier on “HARDBALL” today on MSNBC, one of your fellow jurors, Ann Redington, said she would like to see President Bush pardon Mr. Libby. Do you feel the same way?
COLLINS: Well, pretty much anything Ann Reddington says, I would agree with. She sat next to me the whole trial. A very smart, hilarious woman. She helped me get through that. We had a good time. And she—I think from the beginning, she was very careful to call on other jurors who seemed to be looking just for the facts that proved Libby‘s guilt.
And, now, in the end, she voted along with us. It wasn‘t that she didn‘t think Mr. Libby was guilty, but she wanted to make sure we didn‘t get into a mindset of, Let‘s find the gotcha points.
STEWART: So what you think about the pardon, sir?
COLLINS: Well, as I said before, I felt like it was a long, you know, haul to get this jury done. And if some—if Mr. Libby is pardoned, I would have no problem with that. But I‘m not even—that‘s not a question for me. I did my job, which is doing the jury, and I‘ll leave that up to other people.
And, you know, I was one of the people who shed a few tears after we -
the—you know, brought the convictions. And it‘s not that I thought, Gee, we got the wrong man. It was that sitting there watching him for all that time, listening to his eight hours of testimony, grand jury, he just seemed like a very decent, you know, nice person, human being there. And there just wasn‘t any malice in us, I think, that said, Wow, good, OK, we got the guy. I never heard any of that. Nobody expressed any—there was no cheering in the press box, essentially.
STEWART: Libby juror Denis Collins. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us tonight. We really do appreciate it.
COLLINS: You know, if people are looking (INAUDIBLE), I‘m retiring from the show biz tonight, so get Ann Reddington. She‘s next up.
STEWART: All right. Thank you so much, Denis.
STEWART: From the fall guy to the fallout, Scooter Libby wasn‘t the only loser to emerge out of yesterday‘s guilty verdict, his conviction causing big problems for the White House, and for the media, which didn‘t exactly come out of the trial smelling like a rose.
For more on all of that, let‘s call in political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell, a frequent contributor to the HuffingtonPost.com.
Good evening to you, Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be here.
STEWART: I want to tell you a story. This happened to me on Monday night. I was flying back to New York, and I was reading “All the President‘s Men.” And a woman sitting next to me looked at the cover of my book, then turned to her husband—she was in her late 60s—and she goes, Hey, did they decide that Libby thing yet? You know, if she was already equating Libby to a scandal as big as Watergate—because I was reading “All the President‘s Men”—how damaging do you think this Libby verdict could be, if somebody on plane was making that connection?
O‘DONNELL: Well, actually, I think the damage has already been done, in that the president‘s poll numbers are probably about as low as they could go. If the president was currently, you know, riding about a 50 percent approval, I think you‘d see this verdict put a real hit on that.
But he‘s already swung downward. So I‘m not sure that this verdict‘s going to have an impact on the president‘s polls. I don‘t think there‘s anything that‘s going to follow this. Patrick Fitzgerald was very clear that, as far as he‘s concerned, he‘s done with this case. There won‘t be more prosecutions, there won‘t be any more real investigation.
The Congress might make a little noise about getting interested in it, but they won‘t. They will not take up an investigation of it.
So I think it ends here as a story, and the question from this point forward is going to be taken up with the question of, Will Libby get a pardon? I think what you‘ve seen in the last hour on MSNBC is actually a very, very big piece of momentum added to the Libby pardon situation, when you have jurors saying they either have no problem with him being pardoned or would like to see him pardoned. I think that‘s something the president will take very, very seriously in justifying a pardon down the road.
STEWART: Let me bring in what Senator Chuck Hagel has been talking about. He‘s announced he might be interested in running for president. This could actually happen on Monday. He‘s raised the possibility of impeachment in this new interview with “Esquire” magazine. Let me read this quote to everybody.
“The president says,” quote, “‘I don‘t care.‘ He‘s not accountable any more. You can impeach him, and before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don‘t know, it depends on how this goes.”
Realistically, is impeachment even in the realm of possibility, Lawrence?
O‘DONNELL: No, I don‘t think it is. I think there‘s not something here that‘s going to lead to that. There isn‘t a Congress that‘s going to take it up and push it. It‘s not what the Democrats feel they got elected to do.
And this doesn‘t in any way add incriminating evidence about the president of the United States. The president‘s conduct was not on trial here. It got up to the vice president, the testimony in the case, and it left some question marks around the vice president. But it didn‘t get to a point where you could reasonably say, OK, the Libby trial certainly gives us grounds to start moving an impeachment bill in the House of Representatives. That just isn‘t there. There‘s no one in the House who thinks it‘s there. So we‘re not going to see it.
STEWART: One more question before I let you go. The D.C. media elite took a little bit of a beating during this trial. On one hand, some of them looked like, well, stenographers for the Bush administration, as it was building for its case for war. And on the other hand, the investigation itself chipping away at the protections that reporters have enjoyed from having to disclose anonymous sources. Will any of this damage to the media be permanent?
O‘DONNELL: Well, first of all, the press has no protection whatsoever, absolutely none. There is no federal protection. There are some states that give protection to reporters, in certain circumstances, from subpoenas, but there is none in federal court. There never was.
So they didn‘t lose any right here. They never had one. But, in attempting to enforce one, what “TIME” magazine and “The New York Times” did, by fighting their subpoenas for one year, and—but ultimately having to give in, is that they delayed the Libby indictment by one year. If the Libby indictments had come out in October of 2004, I believe that would have affected the presidential election. I think that would have swung votes, enough votes, to John Kerry, the election would have gone the other way.
So in effect, the White House attempt to cover up what actually happened in the Joe Wilson response, run by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, was—that coverup was successful, in that we didn‘t get to discover any of this until well after the 2004 election. And that‘s really all they cared about, was getting this story past the 2004 election.
STEWART: Political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell. Thanks for your time tonight.
Soon after the verdict came a course of pundits and spinsters. There was no real crime, the jury was confused. Cheney doesn‘t even know Libby. All right, I made up that last one. But it could have happened, given what was spun from certain corners in the past 24 hours. We‘ll look at who would support a man convicted of lying under oath.
And big questions looming at the Justice Department. Was it politics or poor performance that led to the forced resignations of eight U.S. attorneys? Congress is asking questions.
And you are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
STEWART: Typically, when a criminal is found guilty, especially a criminal guilty of something as un-American as deceiving the fine men and women of our federal law enforcement, quite often the right wing‘s champions of law and order applaud loudly at the wisdom of the jury, the tenacity of the prosecutor, from Ken Starr to Rudy Giuliani.
But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the case of convicted criminal Lewis Libby, has it caused the party to go soft on crime? Fox News felt it was more important for its viewers to understand clearly Lewis “Scooter” Libby not convicted on one count. Hey, everybody, he got off! The TV banner reading “Scooter Libby found not guilty of lying to FBI investigators.” True in its way, and Mrs. Lincoln was enjoying that play.
OK, when it came time for legal analysis, Fox decided to pose the question in this banner, reading, “Was there even a crime?” Then, there were those who came right out and say—tried to say Libby was kind of guilty, like kind of pregnant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRED BARNES, FOX NEWS: He really didn‘t seriously impede the investigation. He‘s been a loyal and effective member of this administration. There‘s every reason to pardon him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Rush Limbaugh declaring that this crime helps Republicans, and that when Democrats take a hard line against crime, it energizes the Republican base.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: This has the chance to do more for the Republican Party than anything else in the short run, and the more the Democrats gloat, and the more they politicize this, and the more they lie about what this case and this trial was about, the angrier they‘re going to make Republicans and conservatives in this country.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
STEWART: So it was a good crime, I guess?
Joining us now with the tough-on-crime news stance of the left is Air America Radio‘s Sam Seder, whose show airs weekday mornings from 9:00 to noon Eastern time.
Sam, thanks for being with us tonight.
SAM SEDER, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Thank you, Alison, it‘s a pleasure.
STEWART: Help us out with this dilemma. When the right‘s two most influential outlets, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, are defending criminals, slamming prosecutors and juries, are they sincerely going soft on crime? Are they trying to make chicken salad out of chicken other things?
SEDER: Well, I, you know, I think this is indicative of the conservative movement today. I mean, conservatives can‘t do anything that‘s illegal. Anything a conservative does, by its very definition, because it‘s done by a conservative, can‘t be wrong. So therefore, there was no crime committed here, even though he was convicted on four counts.
STEWART: But is Rush right in some way? Will this energize the conservative base somehow?
SEDER: I mean, I have no idea, but if it did, it would be horribly sad, wouldn‘t it? I mean, they‘re going to rally around someone who was obstructing an investigation into one of the central reasons why we supposedly invaded and occupy Iraq? I mean, that‘s pretty sad, although I‘ve seen sadder things from the right wing, frankly.
STEWART: Well, let‘s talk about this a little bit. Is the right defending Loofus (ph) Libby because they like him personally? And hopefully, he‘ll be quiet and remain loyal, not get anybody else in any kind of trouble. Or is it OK to do whatever you have to do, even if it‘s a crime, if it will help sell the war and, in their opinion, provide safety for the country?
SEDER: Well, I mean, I think it‘s somewhere in the middle there. I mean, I think Libby is sort of like a gateway drug for conservatives to truth. And if they accept the fact that Scooter Libby was convicted of these crimes, then they have to ask, Well, why did he lie? Who was he protecting? Well, obviously, we saw on the trial that he was protecting Dick Cheney.
And then the question becomes, Why was Dick Cheney so obsessed with smearing Joe Wilson over these charges that he supposedly thought were real, about yellowcake uranium?
So I think at the end of the day, it‘s a question of conservatives. They just don‘t want to go down that road, because if they come to the conclusion that many Americans have, over 50 percent, certainly, of the country, that the Bush administration lied us into this war in Iraq.
STEWART: I just had that Jack Nicholson moment, where (INAUDIBLE), “All Good, Few Good Men,” or “You can‘t handle the truth” kind of moment? Is that what you‘re saying?
SEDER: Exactly. And they just don‘t want to go down that path. I mean, they‘re terrified. That‘s why you see those—that chyron on Fox News, you know, not guilty of one of five charges. I mean, it‘s like looking at the cup one-fifth full, I guess, or something.
STEWART: Now, when President Clinton was in the midst of the Lewinsky scandal, there were some Democrats who said, you know, This is not ethical behavior, he‘s not honest about it. But there were who said, You know what? He is still the man, as far as we‘re concerned. Now, do both of these parties have problems admitting the sins of their members? Or is there some sort of difference?
SEDER: Well, I mean, I think you can always find people who are in denial. But I think fundamentally, this is not even a question of party so much as it is about a certain ideology. You know, had Clinton been honest about a sexual liaison he had, there would have been no case whatsoever. Had Scooter Libby not lied to federal investigators and not obstructed justice, you may see Dick Cheney sitting in a courtroom right now.
STEWART: Well, as much as the Fox banner that we talked about a little bit was surprising, we‘ll say, deciding Libby not guilty was the lead, because he got off of one of five charges, do they just know their audience?
SEDER: Yes, I mean, I think that‘s it. I mean, I think the right wing, and particularly Limbaugh in particular, what it is for them is just edifying the delusion of their audience. I mean, it‘s almost as if it‘s like some type of deranged theme park, where, you know, it‘s candy-covered mountains and marshmallow skies, and up is down and down is up. And there‘s never a time when a conservative does anything wrong. And this basically makes people feel comfortable if they come from that perspective.
STEWART: All right. And we should make sure people know that‘s Mara Liasson from NPR in that clip that we‘re showing. It‘s not just all Fox folks.
Hey, Sam Seder of Air America. Thanks for being with us.
SEDER: Thanks, thanks for having me.
STEWART: Let‘s see how our Foxy colleagues handle this one. This is Ann Coulter, appearing with Marine Corporal Matt Sanchez, an honoree at last week‘s CPAC. But it turns out he could also be equally honored at the Gay Porn Video Awards under his acting name of Rod Majors. Oh, yeah.
And a (INAUDIBLE) of a much different variety, man versus beast, but man makes sure beast has hit the (INAUDIBLE) before the fights. We‘ll explain it.
More ahead on COUNTDOWN.
STEWART: I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.
And, you know, sometimes we news nerds get so caught up in the inside-the-Beltway political battles that we forget there is some real news out there to cover, real weird. And today, mostly from India, for some reason.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We began in Gakia (ph), India, where it‘s time once again for the religious Hindu festival of Holi (ph). It‘s a mostly solemn event, except for the part where guys climb up a big pole, swing around from hooks stuck in their backs. Thousands show up each year to watch the three selected men scale the 60-foot platform. Euw, euw, euw, metal hooks in their skin. Euw. Then revolve in circles several times. The faithful believe performing this feat will make their wishes come true. I wish you‘d take that hook out of my back, I think.
Elsewhere in India, the country where the cow is supposedly sacred, we had this bizarre event. Hundreds of villagers in Nijaliu Kattu (ph) doing battle with drunk bulls. That seems fair. For the record, the bulls‘ horns have also been sharpened, so some of the taunting men in the crowd do eventually get gored. But overall, still not so good for the bull. No word on how long the bull spent in the bar before the big fight, but I sure hope they don‘t have to pay for their own drinks. Just one more reason to root for the bull.
And finally, let‘s step away from that brutal game into something cute and cuddly. It is the Year of the Pig, and, you know, today we got photos from China of one very special little guy. Sweet little baby, two-faced, kind of gross piglet. He is (INAUDIBLE). Farmer Lu Shu Ping (ph) of northwest China invited photographers to view the little one-headed, two-mouthed, dual-snouted, three-eyed cutie pie, the only pig on earth that can oink in stereo.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, D.C., big questions about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Were the resignations part of some political drama?
And who has this guy been playing with? Lately, he‘s been seen with Ann Coulter, cheered on by Sean Hannity, even Bill O‘Reilly. But will his gay porn past make a difference to his new BFFs?
That and much more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
STEWART: Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, not only did the Bush administration fire eight U.S. attorneys, not only did many of them say they felt pressured, even threatened by GOP officials, not only did the Justice Department claim they were fired for their job performance, then started backtracking, but there is a little-known provision in the Patriot Act that lets the administration put temporary U.S. attorneys in their place without any oversight.
More of that in a moment with constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley. First the firestorm surrounding the firings. Congress is investigating. Here is the back story: In January, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate that, quote, I would never ever make a change in the United States attorney for political reasons. But in February, U.S. attorney Bud Cummins was asked to step aside so that one of Karl Rove‘s former aides could take his job.
Then yesterday Cummins testified in front of Congress about a phone call he got just last month from the deputy attorney general‘s chief of staff.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUD CUMMINS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: He indicated that there was a viewpoint held among people—some people in the management of the department that if the controversy would continue to be stirred up, that more information, more damaging information might be brought out. I am not attempting to quote him here, but the inference was clear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Cummins shared the inferred warning about speaking out in an e-mail to his former colleagues, including fired U.S. attorney Carl Lamb. She was let go while she was in charge of the still ongoing corruption investigation that put Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham in jail. And fired U.S. Attorney John Mckay. Back in 2004 he was called by Republican Congressman Doc Hastings‘ chief of staff, asking about investigations into electoral fraud after a Democrat won the gubernatorial election.
And fired U.S. attorney David Iglesias, a month before the 2006 election, he got a call from Republican Congresswoman Heather Wilson, who was in a tight race, asking him about ongoing corruption cases against Democratic officials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID IGLESIAS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: She had been hearing about sealed indictments and she says, what can you tell me about sealed indictments? The second she said any question about a sealed indictment, red flags went up in my head, because, as you know, we cannot talk about indictments until they are made public, in general. We specifically cannot talk about a sealed indictment.
I was evasive and non-responsive to her questions. I said, well, we sometimes do sealed indictment for national security cases, sometimes we have to do them for juvenile cases. She was not happy with that answer and then she said well, I guess, I will have to take your word for it. And I said—I don‘t think I responded. Good bye. That was the substance of that conversation.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Did you feel pressured during that call?
IGLESIAS: Yes sir, I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Two weeks later, Wilson‘s mentor, Republican Senator Pete Domenici, called Iglesias at home.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IGLESIAS: He wanted to ask me about the corruption matters or the corruption cases that had been widely reported in the local media. I said, all right. And he said, are these going to be filed before November? I said I did not think so, to which he replied, I am very sorry to hear that, and then the line went dead.
SCHUMER: So, in other words, he hung up on you.
IGLESIAS: That is how I took that, yes sir.
SCHUMER: He did not say goodbye?
IGLESIAS: No, sir.
SCHUMER: Did you take that is a sign of his unhappiness with your decision?
IGLESIAS: I felt sick after word. So I felt he was upset at hearing the answer that he received.
SCHUMER: Right, and so is it fair to say that you felt pressured to hurry subsequent cases and prosecution as a result of the call?
IGLESIAS: Yes sir, I did. I felt leaned on. I felt pressured to get these matters moving.
SCHUMER: And, as you say, it was unusual for you to receive a call from a senator at home while you were the U.S. attorney?
IGLESIAS: Unprecedented. It had never happened.
STEWART: Lots of phone calls, lots of curious language. To help us out, Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University. Nice to see you Jonathan.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW PROFESSOR: Thanks,
good to see you.
STEWART: All U.S. attorneys are political appointees, who serve at the pleasure of the president. So what is the subtle, or maybe not so subtle message to U.S. attorneys that these eight prosecutors believe they have been fired for political reasons?
TURLEY: Well the message is quite clear. First of all, it is very uncommon for U.S. attorneys to be fired or asked to resign. To have eight of them put in this position is truly unprecedented. It does send a very chilling message to other U.S. attorneys that, but for the grace of god, go you. These are very successful U.S. attorneys.
And what they‘re reporting about these phone calls is extremely unusual and extremely unsettling.
STEWART: The attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, told Congress the firings were not political at all. Now, has he backed himself into a corner, if it is proven in some way that they were fired for simply not toeing a political line?
TURLEY: Well, this is not the first time that Attorney General Gonzales has been challenged in terms of sworn testimony. He really had to say they were not fired for political reasons. He can hardly say we really needed to use the spot for some kid Karl Rove likes. That would not have gone over very well. What is really getting to a serious point, are the allegations that some of these U.S. attorneys seem to be threatened or thought they were being threatened about speaking to the media or the public.
Also, these calls from politicians really took me back. I have to tell you, I‘m a criminal defense attorney. I have been around the city in the criminal defense system for a long time. I find it shocking that politicians today would feel comfortable picking up a phone and calling the U.S. attorney about sealed indictments. It is other-worldly.
STEWART: Let‘s talk a little bit about the attorneys who testified yesterday. They were subpoenaed by the Senate and after one former U.S. attorney, the one from Arkansas, spoke to the Attorney General‘s Office, he said he was so freaked out by this conversation that he wrote this message to his colleagues.
Let‘s put this up on the screen so people can see. “He, the deputy chief of staff, reacted quite a bit to the idea of anyone voluntarily testifying, and it seemed clear that they would see that as a major escalation of the conflict, meriting some kind of unspecified form of retaliation.” What does this signal to you about the Department of Justice?
TURLEY: Well, I think the signal is quite obvious. Remember, we‘re talking about people here who are Republican appointees. These are not professional whistle-blowers. These are the ultimate team players. These are also people who are quite conservative and showed a great deal of loyalty to the administration. What they apparently did not show was a type of all lockstep obedience that the Justice Department wants.
I have to say that one of the more troubling legacies of the Bush administration has been the politicization of the Department of Justice. U.S. attorneys are supposed to retain an element of independence. They‘re not supposed to be constantly looking over their shoulder to see if Karl Rove is coming on them with a wood chipper.
They are really supposed to be able to conduct themselves in the interest of justice, not just the interest of Karl Rove or the interest of the president alone. It is true, he can fire them for any reason, but they serve justice, not him personally.
STEWART: Let‘s talk about that firing. The folks at Salon.com have another take on this, that it‘s about the Patriot Act, that bypasses Senate approval of justices. This provision allows the Department of Justice to appoint these interim U.S. attorneys, essentially, without oversight and possibly indefinitely. Are we seeing abuse of this?
TURLEY: We are, but don‘t you find it amazing how many senators are saying they had no idea it what is in the bill?
STEWART: Yes, Arlen Specter—It was slipped in, allegedly. That‘s the term they used, slipped in.
TURLEY: Yes, most people would say gosh, this is a pretty good job. You don‘t even have to read the bloody bill to vote on it. It is, I think, an example of how these senators for the last four years have done very little to earn their salary. You know, they‘ve pretty much voted on bills that they did not read and did not understand and constantly say that they are amazed and shocked that this happened.
Well, it happened because Congress has not done oversight in four years. I am surprised they even showed up for these votes at all.
STEWART: And that change was made just last year and you have these eight attorneys being fired this year. Do you believe that is coincidence?
TURLEY: I have to tell you, I don‘t. When you see an administration trying to try to put into legislation something this specific, this tailored, it does not come out of nowhere. It did not come out of the head of Zeus. It came out of the head of someone at the White House who wanted to use it. I think there are serious questions there and this is a scandal that is getting worse by the day.
STEWART: Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University, thanks for all the information.
TURLEY: Thanks a lot.
STEWART: Congress isn‘t done probing. Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee will ask for testimony from five Justice Department officials, including the deputy attorney general‘s chief of staff. If they do not come willingly, the Senate says it will subpoena them.
First daughter Jenna Bush will soon become author Jenna Bush. Her book will contain a call to action to fight HIV, but, yes, you knew there would be a but with this one, there may be some strings attached.
And a possible new contender in the baby daddy derby of Anna Nicole Smith. Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of the day.
STEVEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”: Now, the appeals process should start sometime next week and what are the grounds for appeal?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The jury was so hopelessly confused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were confused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The jury was very confused.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a great deal of confusion in the jury.
COLBERT: Of course the jury was confused. How smart could these people be if they could not get out of jury duty?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The phones are ringing off the hook. People are asking about it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When superman died, we all know how that turned out. He did come back. So most of the time in comic books, death is a temporary thing. So, I wouldn‘t be surprised.
BUSH: I found it very interesting how the executive director describes the programs. He says, quote, these programs—the programs don‘t—the programs, quote—the program, quote, does not—he has a little trouble with the English.
STEWART: For a first-time author whose most well known work of fiction was a fake ID, 25 year-old Jenna Bush has managed to land a pretty sweet book deal for her fall release, “Anna‘s Story, A Journey of Hope.” In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Andrew Mitchell reports that this time the president‘s daughter is trying to get the spotlight for something other than partying hard.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jenna Bush with a book deal she says was inspired by her six months as a UNICEF intern in Panama. After graduating three years ago from the University of Texas with a degree in English and teaching in a D.C. public school, a far cry from the tabloid Jenna of her teen and college years, including a no contest plea for possession of alcohol when she was 19.
JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF GEORGE W. BUSH: We spent the last four years trying to stay out of the spotlight. Sometimes we did a little better job than others. We kept trying to explain to my dad that when we were young and irresponsible, well, we were young and irresponsible.
MITCHELL: Now she told “USA Today” she hopes, very modestly, her story of a 17 year-old teenage mother in Panama with HIV will have some of the influence of “The Diary Of Anne Frank.”
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is a good thing for the Bush family and because of television‘s extraordinary power and the book company publisher‘s relationship with television, it is very likely to become a best seller.
MITCHELL: Is this a do over for the Bush twins image?
KATE JACKSON, EDITOR: I don‘t think this has anything to do in terms of remaking her image. She has grown up. She‘s had a lot of unique experiences. She has done a lot of terrific altruistic things with her time and she has learned a lot.
MITCHELL: But the first-time author will have a first printing of 500,000 copies, an enormous launch.
GOODWIN: She will be talking all over the country and that will be the image that the country has of Jenna Bush, which will far outweigh any of the previous notions that we might have had.
STEWART: And that was Andrea Mitchell reporting. A couple of quick footnotes. Some of the proceedings of Jenna Bush‘s book about a single teen mother with HIV will go to benefit for The U.S. Fund for Unicef. Although Harper Collins calls Anna‘s story non-fiction, a fund spokeswoman told “Bloomberg News” that Anna is not a real name, nor does Anna really live in Panama. Also COUNTDOWN today contacted the U.S. Fund for Unicef and learned that while the fund endorses wide availability of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV, it does not allow any group funds to use the money for the production or distribution of condoms.
Onto a man who never got his book published, O.J. Simpson, and our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Mr. Simpson assuring his low public esteem is secure with his latest pronouncement that he may be the father of Anna Nicole Smith‘s daughter.
According to Page6.com, Simpson joked to one time videographer Norman Cardo (ph) that he was throwing his hat in the ring. Mr. Cardo said, quote, he said he knew Anna Nicole pretty well and he had slow-moving sperm and he might be the father, end quote. And eww. But Simpson said he would never want to be named as Dannielynn‘s dad because then Fred Goldman would come after the money. Stay classy, O.J.
And two new additions to the Keeping Tabs club, America‘s latest kagillion-aires, two winners of that mega millions Lottery, one in Georgia, the other in Jersey. Ed Nabors, a Georgia truck driver today, claimed half of the 390 million dollar jackpot. Nabors said he didn‘t even bother to check his tickets until he had heard that someone from his area actually won. He had bought 10 tickets and he opted for cash, which means he will take 116.5 million dollars, before taxes of course.
Nabors said he is still numb. And the Cape May Herald is identifying a line cook at a tavern in Jersey as a winner, though we cannot confirm if he is one of the big winners.
And the top of the COUNTDOWN, our latest entry into COUNTDOWN‘s hypocrisy hall of fame. This guy was given an education award at the conservative gathering in Washington last week, but this picture is not a modeling job. It is from his porn job, his gay porn job. His admirers include Coulter, O‘Reilly, Hannity and Malkin. That‘s next.
STEWART: That politics creates strange bedfellows is once again uncovered in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight. Most of us have heard now about last weekends CPAC convention in Washington, where conservatives heard speeches from presidential candidates and right wing icons, and where Anne Coulter made a homophobic joke about John Edwards, complete with an anti-gay slur.
At that same conference, an ex-marine Corporal, Matt Sanchez, was also there, seen in this picture with Miss Coulter. Mr. Sanchez was honored with the Gene Kirkpatrick Academic Freedom Award for speaking out about his treatment as a student at New York‘s Columbia University. Sanchez appeared on Fox News‘ “Hannity and Colmes,” saying that at a campus event, because he identified himself as a member of the military, he had been called a baby killer by fellow students, and that the university was essentially doing nothing about how he was treated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You‘re a great American, thank you for your service to your country. And Semper Fi my friend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: Bill O‘Reilly invited Mr. Sanchez on his program to relate the same incident and not only was Sanchez honored at CPAC but other conservative icons have made nice, like Michelle Malkin, Newt Gingrich. But as explored by the “Nation‘s” Max Blumenthal in the Huffington Post, who will join us in a moment, and is revealed by several gay blogs, Mr. Sanchez was once known apparently as Rod Majors, the star of some fairly frisky gay porn.
Several sites also claim he was once a male prostitute. It is not known if the conservatives who often speak out against equal rights for gay Americans new the full biography of Mr. Sanchez. Joining me now, as promised, Max Blumenthal, a contributor to the “Nation,” and a research fellow at Media Matters For America, a self-described progressive organization that takes on conservative slants in the media.
Good evening Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL, MEDIA MATTERS: Semper Fi Allison.
STEWART: So first of all, just to be clear, are you sure these are the same pictures of Rod Majors and Corporal Matt Sanchez. They are one and the same?
BLUMENTHAL: According to several gay bloggers, these are one and the same. I never saw the original pictures, so I‘m just going on these accounts and Matt Sanchez has given an interview, where he essentially confirmed that yes, he is Rod Majors, the gay porn star and, yes, he was a male escort.
STEWART: Now, in a correspondence with the blogger that we contacted, Mr. Sanchez acknowledged the porn work, but he did acknowledge that he wasn‘t exclusively gay. He said, he was, quote, bad at being gay. So, do you think that makes much difference to conservatives, whether you‘re good at being gay or bad at being gay?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I don‘t care what the Corporal Matt Sanchez, AKA Rod Majors says. This is a guy who is supported by two networks at the same time, the first network was a gay sex network, and he sold his service for 200 dollars a pop and 250 dollars if he had to leave his house. The other network was a ideologically homophobic right wing network, that consisted of people like Bill O‘Reilly and Sean Hannity and David Horowitz, who used the Corporal Matt Sanchez, AKA Rod Majors, to advance their campaign to demonize the campus anti-war movement and academics in general.
So he joined up with this right wing culture and he‘s been unmasked by progressive bloggers as a hypocrite. I fully expect the people who supported him on the right to throw him under the bus now, because these authoritarian conservatives treat each other as compassionately as they treat disabled veterans.
STEWART: Well, you know, obviously Mr. Sanchez is entitled to associate with any kind of organization he wants. And if you heard him in these interviews, he‘s really well-spoken, he‘s great looking. So on the surface, you would understand why any organization would want to be involved with him. But do you get the feeling that no one at CPAC or perhaps even over at the other news channel really knew his full biography?
BLUMENTHAL: You know, several gay bloggers, like, for instance, T-Rex and Fire Dog Lake, have talked for years about the existence of a gay Republican underground railroad, that‘s funneled people like Jeff Gannon and Corporal Matt Sanchez from the fringes of the adult industry into the core of the conservative movement and they‘ve played an influential role in the backlash politics of the conservative movement and the Republican party, and that is what is relevant here it.
It doesn‘t matter inherently that he was a gay porn star. What matters is that he‘s a hypocrite who is advancing the ideological homophobia of the right and helping them exploit this homophobia for political gain.
STEWART: Max Blumenthal, a research fellow for Media Matters. You can read his blog on Huffington Post. Thanks for joining us Max.
BLUMENTHAL: Yes, thanks for having me.
STEWART: That‘s it for the Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m Allison Stewart, sitting in for the vacationing Keith Olbermann. Thank you so much for watching. Hope to see you tomorrow, noon Eastern on the most. Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”
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