Guests: Richard Wolffe, Josh Marshall, John Dean, Cenk Uvgar
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Pick a scandal, and pass a buck.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I accept responsibility for what happened here.
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OLBERMANN: What happened was not the firing of a couple of federal prosecutors for pure politics, but a White House scheme to fire all the federal prosecutors for pure politics and to replace them, all 93 of them, without even submitting the names of the replacements to Congress for approval, thanks to a loophole in the PATRIOT Act.
And if the attorney general is accepting the responsibility, how come it was his top aide, Kyle Sampson, who abruptly resigned?
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SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy.
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OLBERMANN: The pressure builds on Attorney General Gonzales to resign. The pressure builds on Congress to try to force the administration to return some form of representative government to the government.
Richard Wolffe on the political maelstrom, Joshua Marshall on who‘s involved and where the smoking guns point, and John Dean on a White House truly in crisis.
And if you don‘t like scandal, there‘s scandal. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs calls homosexuality immoral, akin to infidelity, which the military prosecutes, and he gets defended.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s what Marines go to war and fight for, the freedom to have morals and to have principles and have values.
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OLBERMANN: Like, say, Newt Gingrich having an affair, not under oath, as he sought to have a president impeached for having an affair under oath, part of the latest rich comedy pageant of politics.
Including the current president visiting the Mayan ruins, after which, say the Mayan leaders, they now have to spiritually cleanse the ruins to clean Mr. Bush‘s, quote, “bad energy.”
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE).
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OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening.
Angry claims tonight from prominent members of both parties that, in the Bush administration Justice Department, the scales of Justice were not just weighted, but the president himself may have had his thumb on them.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, while his White House settled for firing nearly eight U.S. attorneys, Mr. Bush‘s lawyer asked at the outset whether all 93 of them could be cashiered, the scandal already costing one high-level official at the Justice Department his job, but not the attorney general, at least, not yet.
We begin with the many moving parts at the very top. The president spoke with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last October, to pass along concerns of Republicans that some prosecutors were not aggressively addressing voter fraud, only in cases where Democrats had won tight races, mind you, not ones in which Republicans had.
Some 20 months earlier, in February 2005, the president‘s lawyer, White House counsel Harriet Miers, first approached Justice Department to ask about the possibility of firing all 93 of this nation‘s federal prosecutors, an idea that was not considered for long, because it was viewed as impractical.
The new plan to hand-pick the U.S. attorneys who had, quote, “chafed against administration initiatives or otherwise failed to show proper loyalty,” not loyalty to the law, loyalty to the administration.
Plan carried out by this man, Justice Department chief of staff Kyle Sampson, who handed in his resignation yesterday, Mr. Sampson having strongly urged in a memo to the White House counsel that Congress be bypassed in naming replacement attorneys, that the administration use a power deftly, quietly slipped into the PATRIOT Act in 2006, that allows the attorney general to name replacements without Senate confirmation, quoting from that memo, “It will be counterproductive to” the Department of Justice “operations if we push U.S.” attorneys “out and then don‘t have replacements ready to roll. In addition, I strongly recommend that, as a matter of policy, we utilize the new statutory provisions that authorize the” attorney general “to make U.S.” attorney “appointments,” Mr. Sampson having told a White House aide, “If we don‘t ever exercise it, then what‘s the point of having it?” three months later, the White House giving the firings a green light.
“We‘re a go for the U.S.” attorney “plan.” White House “leg, political and communications have signed off and acknowledge that we have to be committed to following through once the pressure comes,” administration officials exhibiting some of that commitment and follow-through today, Attorney General Gonzales admitting that mistakes were made, and accepting responsibility. And remember impressionist David Fry‘s (ph) portrayal of Richard Nixon accepting responsibility for Watergate and defining the difference between it and blame, “People who are to blame go to jail. People who are responsible do not.”
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GONZALES: I believe in the independence of our U.S. attorneys. They are the face of the department. They are my representative in the community. I acknowledge their sacrifice, I acknowledge their courage to step into the arena on behalf of the American people.
I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility. And my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here, to assess accountability, and to make improvements so that the mistakes that occurred in this instance do not occur again in the future.
In an organization 100,000 people, I am not aware of every bit of information that passes through the halls of the Department of Justice, nor am I aware of all decisions.
I never saw documents, we never had a discussion about where things stood. (INAUDIBLE) -- what I knew was that, was that there was an ongoing effort that was led by Mr. Sampson, vetted throughout the—through the Department of Justice, to ascertain where we could make improvements in U.S. attorney performances around the country.
I stand by the decision. Again, all political appointees can be removed by the president of the United States, for any reason. I stand by the decision, and I think it was a right decision.
Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Intriguing, how federal prosecutors could be the face of the department, yet the attorney general claims not to have known nor cared which of those faces would be fired, the controversy following the White House south of the border, White House counselor Dan Bartlett speaking with the president this afternoon in Mexico in standing by that attorney general.
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BARTLETT: He absolutely has full confidence in the attorney general. And the reason why he does is for exactly what he said today. He‘s a standup guy, he‘s a person that comes to the job every day doing the best he can to serve the United States of America. He takes that job very seriously. And when he saw problems, he‘s pledged to the American people and to the United States Congress to fix those problems.
So the president has all the confidence in the world in Alberto Gonzales as the attorney general of the United States of America. But make very clear, the decision, the original decision to remove the seven U.S. attorneys who serve at the discretion of the president was the right decision.
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OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, outrage, exceeded only by a sense of deja vu. Republican Senator Cornyn of Texas said, “Appearances are troubling. This has not been handled well.” Republican Senator Sessions of Alabama said, “Mr. Gonzales will have to answer for this.” And Senate Democrats are worried that, as in the CIA leak scandal, the chief of staff to a top official might be facing the music alone.
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SCHUMER: Today‘s staff resignation does not take heat off the attorney general. In fact, it raises the temperature. Kyle Sampson will not become the next Scooter Libby, the next fall guy. Either Attorney General Gonzales knew what his chief of staff was doing, that‘s a pretty severe indictment, or he didn‘t, which means he doesn‘t have the foggiest idea of what‘s going on in the Justice Department.
We now have direct evidence that Attorney General Gonzales was carrying out the political wishes of the president in at least some of these firings.
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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: The focus here first on the attorney general. As we just heard, Senator Schumer saying that either Mr. Gonzales knew what his own chief of staff was doing, or he didn‘t, meaning, to quote him again, “He doesn‘t have the foggiest idea of what‘s going on in the Justice Department.” That‘s not a good set of options here. Is the attorney general finished one way or the other?
WOLFFE: Well, certainly you wouldn‘t want Alberto Gonzales to be your own lawyer, I mean, the number of times he contradicted himself just today. Look, I think his position is actually pretty secure, just because of the friendship he has with the president. The president loves his life story. They go back a long way, all the way to Texas.
But there are so many flaws here. He‘s caught by (INAUDIBLE) his own e-mails. We‘re talking about his own chief of staff here, who was lining calls for him to sell this plan. And never mind the contradiction from his own Senate confirmation hearing, when he said he would not be doing the White House work here, he would be working for the United States of America, for justice in principle. And, you know, he was trying to hark back to the whole idea that they were going to restore honor and integrity to the whole administration. They clearly didn‘t live by these standards with this story.
OLBERMANN: And the effort to restore that dignity and that honor right now, would, would, would Gonzales leaving be enough for the White House to deflect this scandal? Is it irrelevant? Has it already become bigger than Gonzales?
WOLFFE: Oh, it‘s way bigger than that. And these e-mails clearly show that. Now, Dan Bartlett made a valiant effort today to say that the White House wasn‘t involved in putting together the specific plan for who to fire. No, but the president did actually give advice to the attorney general, say, You better do this, you better do that. The White House counsel, Harriet Miers, followed up repeatedly with the Justice Department. All of these various parts of the White House signed off on this whole plan.
But they didn‘t come up with anything specific. No, they just set the direction for the whole thing.
OLBERMANN: The various scandals of this administration, this may be the first one for which there appears to be not merely a smoking gun, but an arsenal full of smoking weapons. There‘s an actual chart showing that while one U.S. attorney who had dragged his feet on the phone-jamming case in New Hampshire got to stay, the one in San Diego had been prosecuting Duke Cunningham and the other prominent Republicans, he‘s gone. Is that the most important difference from the other issues of this administration? Or is it, in fact, the speed with which this thing seems to be growing?
WOLFFE: Well, it‘s all of these things. You know, what you‘ve got different, very, very importantly, from the whole CIA leak case is, this is a narrative that‘s been put together by Congress, as it should do in oversight, but obviously, being led by Democrats now. They‘re putting together the narrative. With a prosecutor as Fitzgerald was, looking at specific charges, you just get a slice of the action here.
So, you know, Congress is doing what it should do, which is to put this in context, and to try and explain what went on, regardless of the legal issues at the center.
OLBERMANN: Is there any sense of people running for high ground here? Because Mr. Gonzales and the White House both stressed today that, that the, that the actions were legal. I mean, I could not count how many times this phrase, “U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president,” was used. It sounded like an episode of “The West Wing.” Does the, does that phrase in, in, either maybe inadvertently or intentionally to some degree throw the president under this bus too?
WOLFFE: Well, look, they can make the legal case again. Think back to 2000, when they said that it was over the Clinton folks, it was Democrats who were playing legal semantics with everything. No, this problem is political, and that politic—the politics of this one enwraps everybody. There‘s no escaping that.
OLBERMANN: And what does this do, lastly, maybe this is the most long-lasting aspects of this, the PATRIOT Act. This might be the first hard, unbreakable evidence that the PATRIOT Act contains political provisions that have nothing to do with counterterrorism, but simply allows one branch of the government to neuter another one. What is going to be the effect on the, on the, on the PATRIOT Act, do you suppose?
WOLFFE: Yes, I mean, this is a complete egregious abuse of the PATRIOT Act. Had nothing to do with terrorism. Now, remember, this was prompted by senators who were saying, Listen, I‘ve got a problem in my district, especially the voter suppression thing. There was a highly partisan edge to this that was as far away from the war terror as it‘s possible to be.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek.” Thanks for some of your time and your insight tonight, as always.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: We continue on this, the who, the how, and the why. We‘ll be joined by the writer who blew Gonzalesgate wide open. John Dean will also join us to try to contextualize this latest crisis and this rapidly self-destructing administration.
And the day after the military‘s top man in uniform calls gays immoral, he is defended by a politician on the make.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: When all else fails, an attorney will tell you, try to bury the other side in paperwork. The House Judiciary Committee asked for records about the eight fired U.S. attorneys, so the White House gave it 144 pages just of the e-mail exchanges.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the aim may have been to hide the forest for the trees by cutting all the trees down and turning them into a document dump, but to anybody who actually reads those documents, there is a trail that can trace the deliberate political process behind the firing decisions.
Not only did the Justice Department, in contradiction to Attorney General Gonzales‘s contention this January that he would never appoint a U.S. attorney for political purposes, get rid of attorneys in part due to how well they carried out the administration‘s wishes, but that the White House, and at least one Republican senator, played key roles in the firings as well, and that it was all done because of the new legislation in the PATRIOT Act that allows U.S. attorneys to be appointed without Senate oversight.
Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com, and a columnist for the Washington publication “The Hill,” has been sifting through this blizzard of details and has come up for air to join us tonight.
Thank you for your time, sir.
JOSH MARSHALL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, TALKINGPOINTSMEMO.COM: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Did you find anything in there that suggests the administration did something patently illegal in the firing of these attorneys? Or is it just unseemly and against code?
MARSHALL: Well, I think what‘s really come out today is, Washington always fixates on whether there are specific statutes that have been violated. Certain things are just wrong, and there are certain things that are so wrong that they even transcend breaking individual laws. A lot of the stuff here—it‘s not clear to me—I mean, I think there‘s a separate question whether—about whether Gonzales and McNulty and a few other Justice Department officials lied to Congress. That‘s separate.
But for the underlying questions, it‘s not clear to me whether specific statutes have been broken. But part of that is because, in a lot of cases like this, it doesn‘t really occur to people to make laws to cover this kind of stuff.
Just to give an example, if the president calls up the attorney general and says, I want so-and-so in Kentucky indicted tomorrow, whatever you‘ve got to do, just make it happen, it‘s not clear to me that that would break any specific statute. It‘s obviously wrong. It would probably be—it would—I think it‘s almost the definition of what the impeachment—you know, the impeachment clause is for.
But is there a specific statute? I don‘t know. And I think if there‘s some—it‘s basically similar here. This sort of stuff, you‘re not supposed to use United States attorneys to basically advance the interests of the Republican Party by indicting as many Democrats as you can.
But in at least a couple of these cases, that is why these guys were fired. So the wrongness of it, the wrongdoing, if you want to call it that, is obvious. Whether there‘s specific statues, I‘m not sure, again, because it usually doesn‘t occur to people to make up laws for stuff like this.
OLBERMANN: None of the previous presidents ever tried this.
In January, the attorney general told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I would never, ever make a change in a United States attorney for political reasons.” Now he‘s denying he ever had any real say in why U.S. attorneys were let go. But the chief of staff, in an e-mail to Harriet Miers in March 2005, made it very clear they were going to categorize these attorneys worth keeping and worth removing.
Let me quote this e-mail exactly that explains the chart of U.S. attorneys, “Bold equals recommend retaining, strong U.S. attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general. Strike out, recommend removing, weak U.S. attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, et cetera.”
Do you have any gathering from what you‘ve read, if, if, if Mr. Sampson, the chief of staff, got those guidelines from somewhere, could they have been from anybody but the attorney general? And what are those, those references to loyalty and chafed? Are they not, if not illegal, simply damning?
MARSHALL: They‘re very damning. And I think if you look at the specific firings, it‘s even a lot more direct than “chafed.” You know, these kind of, these kind of vague code words.
You know, Alberto Gonzales had this line in his press conference today, where he spoke about there being about 100,000 employees in the Justice Department. Well, you know, this is his chief of staff, this is his right-hand man. So it‘s just ridiculous.
I think—I don‘t think anybody believes that, you know, this --
Well, let me back up and just say, this isn‘t something that Sampson cooked up one night and sort of did on the fly. It‘s a conversation that he was having with the White House counsel, Harriet Miers, going back a couple years.
So this isn‘t something that, you know, he just cooked up. I don‘t think anybody believes, frankly, that Alberto Gonzales just had no idea this was going on. And on the extremely improbable possibility that he didn‘t, as Senator Schumer said today, that‘s almost as damning an indictment, if he‘s that out, you know, that out of it in the department he supposedly runs.
OLBERMANN: And lastly, we already heard about the Pete Domenici, Karl Rove, Iglesias stretch there. Is there evidence of any other role for Mr. Rove in all these documents?
MARSHALL: Well, it‘s clear that he did two things. He really wanted a job for this former deputy of his, Mr. Griffin, who eventually became, I guess, the acting U.S. attorney in Arkansas and took over one of the slots for a—one of the fired U.S. attorneys.
I feel like they‘re almost willing to kind of passively admit that particular instance, because it seems less damning than the other cases to say, Well, we weren‘t trying to get these prosecutors to, you know, indict Democrats, this was just—we just had this friend, and we just wanted, really wanted to give them a job.
It‘s very clear from these e-mails that Rove was closely involved in that. There are no actual e-mails from Rove. But it‘s also clear he was passing on these political complaints from Republican operatives around the country, and those had a direct effect on getting Mr. Iglesias fired.
OLBERMANN: The mind reels.
Joshua Marshall, publisher of Talking Points Memo on the Web, columnist for “The Hill.” Thanks for your time, thanks for your work on this story.
MARSHALL: Thanks so much.
OLBERMANN: Meanwhile, the president visits the Mayan ruins. Now the Mayans say they have to clean up the ruins because his bad energy soiled them. Don‘t let the temple door hit you on the way out.
And National Elephant Day in Thailand. Hope you remembered to send a card.
That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1911, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard was born at Tilben (ph), Nebraska. A college dropout, he became a writer for sci-fi pulp magazines, then flailed about in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War, most notably when he claimed he—the ship that—he had sunk a Japanese submarine that turned out to actually be a magnetic deposit in an ocean bed, and then had his crew conduct artillery practice on what was thought was an unpopulated American Mexican island, rather, American island, but was, in fact, a small Mexican town.
And then he invented Scientology. Never has it been more fitting to say, on that note, let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Changmai (ph), Thailand, for the official celebrations of National Elephant Day. Wait, I‘m supposed to get National Elephant Day off. A great chance for more than 70 of the behemoths to take a load off, have a nice meal, play a little tug of war, go bowling, shoot some hoops from way downtown, bang. And just generally celebrate Elephant Day by doing a bunch of people stuff. Next week, of course, it‘s People Day. Men get to do elephant stuff like pull plows and be hunted for their tusks.
To the Internets, where we found this video of a neat snowmobile trick. You know, I had no idea you could cross a river with one of these things. Oh, that might have been expensive. River, no problem. Tree, still something you want to avoid. But don‘t worry, folks, he‘ll be just fine, the tree, we mean.
(INAUDIBLE) form of government be just fine, the mind reels, fire all U.S. attorneys nationwide, use the PATRIOT Act to subvert the Senate‘s right to approve the replacements. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs bashing the military‘s don‘t ask, don‘t tell policy.
John Dean was the first to say it, it is “Worse Than Watergate.”
He‘ll join us for perspective.
The only thing rivalry, rivaling the Bush administration for scandals, “American Idol.” First, the photographic stylings of Ms. Barba, now a same-sex sexual harassment suit.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, now president of the World Bank. Calling in London not just for enforcement of the Kyoto protocol to forestall climate change, but for money to be spent to help the poor people of the world adapt to climate change. That‘s Don Rumsfeld‘s number two guy, confirming global warming. I think we can drop the idea that global warming is some sort of liberal make-believe now.
Number two, traffic officials in the New York City borough of Staten Island trying to correct a slight mistake in a sign along Midland Beach there, “Yeild to Pedestrians,” it reads. Actually “Ye-ild to Pedestrians.” The sign makers misspelled “yield.” It‘s Y-I-E, not Y-E-I.
And number one, a 91-year-old man in Magdeburg in Germany, he‘s OK now after what passersby first thought was a suicide attempt. He decided to repair his own roof by stopping a few leaks by retarring the roof, evidently used a little much, too much tar. Police found him on the roof, on his back, his legs and feet and hands in the air. He was stuck to the roof. He had fallen into the tar. Police say once they pried him loose, he was fine, but his clothes are now very sticky.
And here‘s one more look at those Department of Justice e-mails, by the way.
OLBERMANN: At a different time in our history, it seemed that every generation or even every decade had what was believed to be one big political scandal that enveloped the White House. When Dwight Eisenhower was president, or Warren G. Harding, Even Ulysses S. Grant, a jury convicting the vice president‘s chief of staff on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice might may defined an era. But now in the third story on our COUNTDOWN, only a week later, and so many other White House scandals clamor for the headlines, that the Lewis Libby feels about as current as Mr. Harding‘s Teapot Dome.
If there is a common theme to these disasters, it may well be the Bush administration claim of what it refers to as the unitary executive, in laymen‘s terms, the emasculation of the legislative branch, the Congress. Consider the e-mail of Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to the attorney general, discussing the process for replacing those U.S. attorney, telling the White House, quote, we should have DOJ take over entirely the vetting and appointment. We can give far less deference to home state senators and thereby get our preferred person appointed.”
Then Cartman added, if we had no elections, they would really respect our authority. Let‘s bring in a man who knows scandal, the White House counsel to Richard Nixon, John Dean, more recently author of “Conservatives Without Conscience,” as well as “Worse Than Watergate.”
John good evening.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Good evening Keith.
OLBERMANN: Between the Libby trial and these e-mails, the Gonzales story, are we seeing a White House actively working to literally cut off the other branches of government. And if that‘s the case, to what extent can we no longer accurately call this a representative form of government.
DEAN: Well, I think it‘s a form of representative government. I think, however, it‘s a form that represents primarily conservative Republicans. If you look at why this happened, it really is the six years they spent with the Republican Congress, who just let the executive branch do what it wanted, without any oversight at all. And now there‘s a little oversight, it‘s coming to light what they were doing.
OLBERMANN: Kyle Sampson is gone. Mr. Gonzales says he takes responsibility. We all know what that means, almost nothing. But in one of his own e-mails, Mr. Sampson had said, quote, administration has determined to ask some under-performing U.S. attorneys to move on. The administration has determined. Is, in fact, hidden in this, the fact that the Justice Department may be taking the fall so the White House doesn‘t have to?
DEAN: Well, I think that‘s very possible, if they can have that happen. I think what it really shows though, something that surprised me, is the fact that they are really pushing, and have been, to politicize the Department of Justice. It happened when they had the first attorney general. John Ashcroft was very political. Now we have an even more political attorney general.
This is a department, if there‘s one thing that Gonzales got right today in his press conference, the U.S. attorneys are the face of the department. When you start politicizing down at that level, you really hurt the department and you hurt its many, many public functions.
OLBERMANN: You once held his previous post, White House counsel.
What is your assessment of Mr. Gonzales as attorney general.
DEAN: I was also at the Department of Justice and worked with the attorney general. I have always felt, unfortunately, I think that Mr. Gonzalez has been over his head in Washington. He really didn‘t have much experience when he came in. He tried to get some on the job training at the White House. It‘s really not a good place to learn about how the Department of Justice works. And I think we‘re seeing the consequence of his inability to really administer and grapple with a very large and very important department and do it in a nonpolitical way.
OLBERMANN: And he‘s useful because he does not, as the attorney general, throw the red flag up to the pure politicians in the White House, who say, we want to do this, where an attorney general should be saying, yes, but you can‘t do that. There is a constitution. There are rules. There is a Department of Justice?
DEAN: Well, there are two types of attorney generals, those who are yes men or those that are yes or no depending on what the law says. We have an attorney general here who‘s clearly been sent there to protect the White House. I think that‘s evident. There is much more to come out on this U.S. attorneys story. And we will hopefully get to the bottom of it. And I think Mr. Gonzalez may be in jeopardy.
OLBERMANN: Oh, for the days of Elliott Richardson. If we stipulate that the shear proliferation of scandal perversely helps a White House, particularly this one, by ensuring that no single issue can gain traction, because there‘s always something coming up behind it, what would it take for genuine accountability to take hold somehow of this White House during the last 20 plus months?
DEAN: I think there is only one thing that‘s going to result in accountability of this White House. And it‘s slowly happening. That is the subpoena power of the Congress. Now that they have the ability to actually do some oversight, they are forcing these issues. They have, indeed, because of the Congress forced this issue to the floor. There are others that are coming down through the pipes right now. So this isn‘t the end.
And you are right, we used to have one scandal that marked an administration. Now we have multiple, it seems.
OLBERMANN: You might be able to mark this one by trying to find the longest stretch without a scandal, and I think that might be less than a month. John Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate,” “Conservatives Without Conscience,” as always, great thanks for your time John.
DEAN: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: If you don‘t have your fill of scandal at the Justice Department, how about slipping over to the Pentagon. A day after General Pace calls gays immoral, a politician actually steps up to defend him by dragging the Catholic church into the equation.
Speaking of immoral, from speaker of the House to punchline of the joke, a new Newt Gingrich laugher. The whole hot for teacher episode in his past, details ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you have it, a Las Vegas landmark gone in just a matter of seconds. And impressive fireworks display, followed by the implosion itself. Now, the owners are look forward to the future.
DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: A fascinating new light on that Scooter Libby verdict. Look at this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scooter Libby lied under oath to protect his boss, Dick Cheney. Why would a man choose prison than criticizing Cheney? Dick Cheney, locked and loaded.
BUSH: I‘ve just come from a fantastic visit with the president, President Vasquez, on his Estancio (ph), which is a summer ranch. He loves going there. He was very gracious to host us. Venezuela has got fantastic meats—I mean, Uruguay has got fantastic meats. And we had a wonderful time eating beef.
OLBERMANN: Even before the president‘s escalation in Iraq, the military was scrambling for more troops. Tours of duty have been extended, multiplied. Just this week came word that injured soldiers, previously found medically unfit, are now filling the ranks. And since 2003, the number of felons allowed to join nearly doubled.
But even the military industrial complex has limits, and its biggest limit may be sexual orientation. In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, morality and the military. Reaction to the Pentagon‘s top general ruling out any change in the don‘t ask, don‘t tell policy, because he feels that gays and lesbians are immoral.
Today, the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Peter Pace, refusing to apologize for that remark, instead offering a brief and pithy statement that ended, quote, I should have focused more on my support of the policy, and less on my personal moral views.
But Pace got no salute from the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner, saying, I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman‘s view that homosexuality is immoral.
That was not the case with Republican Congressman, presidential candidate, Duncan Hunter, who confused the Catholic church pedophile problem with homosexuality.
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REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think the American people have some insight and have some wisdom on this subject. And I think that they certainly look at what‘s happened to the Catholic church, and they look at their young men and women going into the U.S military. And I think they want to see those young men and women protected.
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OLBERMANN: Not only that, the congressman also used General Pace‘s morality lesson to discover a new mission for U.S. Marines, making the world unsafe for homosexuals.
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HUNTER: I think that he said that his personal feeling was that that conduct is not moral conduct. I think that‘s what Marines go to war and fight for, the freedom to have morals, and to have principles and have values. And my guess is that that would receive a resounding yes throughout the Marine positions around the world, where they are stationed, defending our rights to have principles and have morals. So I think that‘s a statement of principle that is shared in the United States Marine Corps, and I think probably across the armed services.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Bad guess, he‘s wrong about that too. A recent Zogby poll of troops who actually served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 72 percent said they are personally comfortable serving with gays and lesbians; 23 percent said they did serve with someone who was. The public agrees. A Harris poll, taken just this January, finding over half of those polled feel openly gay and lesbian Americans should be allowed to serve in the military.
Other than that, Congressman, obviously you‘re right, as right as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
And now the comic relief from the intense barrage of political scandal, our celebrity and entertainment roundup, Keeping Tabes, opening with another “American Idol” scandal. Mario Vasquez, a contestant who abruptly quit during the program‘s fourth season, has been sued for sexual harassment by a former production assistant on the show, Mr. Magdelano Omos (ph). According to the lawsuit, the harassment begin in February of 2005, and included an incident where Mr. Vasquez followed Mr. Omos into a rest room and offered him oral sex.
Mr. Omos made is complaints know to Idol executives, and the lawsuit says that is why Mr. Vasquez withdrew, even though he had just reached the final 12. Mr. Omos also claims that he was ultimately fired in retaliation for his complaints, and that even his own supervisor said that no one would believe his account. “American Idol” and its owners are named as co-defendants for wrongful termination.
And with accusations of elicit use of artificial human growth hormone standing against baseball‘s Barry Bonds, boxing‘s Evander Holyfield, and a host of other athletes, who‘s actually gotten charged? Sylvester Stallone. Authorities in Australia have charged the Rocky star with trying to bring 48 vials of an HGH product called Jintropin (ph) through customs at Sydney on February 16th. Importing the drug without a government permit is illegal there. The maximum penalty for conviction is five years in jail, a fine of 86,000 dollars. But Stallone was allowed to leave the country anyway. The 60-year-old actor says it was a misunderstanding. You bet, like that second head Barry Bonds is growing is a misunderstanding.
The president calls it one of the best experiences of his presidency, his visit to Mayan ruins. And the Mayans respond by saying he ruined the ruins. They now need to symbolically cleanse them after his visit. Political punch lines next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The Bronze to Suburban Imports of Troy, Michigan. Although the lady is not entirely without guilt here. Amy Burner takes her car in for an oil change. She comes out with a new 32,000 dollar Mazda. It turns our she is bipolar, has a medical problem resisting sales pitches. She and her husband say the dealer agreed to cancel the sale, then reneged and delivered the car anyway. They are suing.
The silver goes to Dr. Michael Gulai (ph). He has worked at six clinics in Florida, claimed to be a specialist in erectile dysfunction and a psychiatrist, he even hosted a local radio show on the topic. It turns out has no medical license of any kind. And if that photo didn‘t tip people off people that there was a problem, maybe this should have, one of his prescriptions was for passion cream for women, only he had scratched out women and written in men.
But the winner, again, O‘Reilly, for the same thing. He‘s done it
again. Just hours after the hear breaking funerals of nine children and
one mother, who all perished in that horrific New York house fire last
week, last night he‘s on the air again, saying, quote, my opinion is this
another example of people dying because of a chaotic immigration system,
unquote. Then he gives the statistics about the number of crimes committed
by illegal immigrants.
On the day of the funeral he does this. Tonight, he brandished the floor plans of the apartment in which these children died, and spoke derisively on the, quote, compassion crowd. There is no evidence that these dead children were illegal aliens, no sense from Mr. O‘Reilly that even if they were, this is the wrong time to try to turn them into grist for extremist political positions.
No sense at all. Does Bill O‘Reilly have no friends? Is there no one to do what needs to be done for him here? This man is crying out for an intervention of some kind. Someone help him. Today‘s Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: Symbolically, at least, there can be no lower point in a presidency, you visit some ancient ruins and the people in charge of them say you have hurt our ruins. The number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the Mayans in Guatemala are vowing their own exit strategy, a spiritual cleansing of the ruins there, after Mr. Bush has left them. Meanwhile, the president‘s father was apparently hoping for a more enjoyable mouth to mouth resuscitation after he feinted Sunday. And Newt Gingrich is angling for his own spiritual cleansing, offering political confession to offset adultery and hypocrisy.
First, to Guatemala. Mayans leaders there said they would spiritually cleanse ancient ruins after President Bush‘s visit. A Mayan indigenous leader saying the ceremony will restore peace and harmony. And the head of a national Mayan youth movement, Morales Todge (ph), says much of the blame on the Guatemala Civil War, between 1960 and 1996, owes to America‘s involvement in it.
But of the president‘s visit, he says, quote, we will burn incense, place flowers and water in the area where Mr. Bush has walked to clean out the bad energy.
President Bush‘s father, meanwhile, is clearly grateful for the assistance provided him when he feinted under a 94 degree condition on a golf course Sunday afternoon in Palm Springs, in California. But in a speech last night, he did express some reservations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fainted and I was on the floor, and the ugliest part was my dear friend from Las Vegas, Sig Rogish (ph), was giving me mouth to mouth resuscitation. He had about six beautiful girls there, and there was Sig.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: There is also the matter of former Speaker Gingrich‘s mouth to mouth with a woman, not his wife, while he was leading the charge against President Clinton in 1998. All grist for the mill for Cenk Uvgar, the co-host of “The Young Turks” on Air America radio. Thanks for your time tonight, sir.
CENK UVGAR, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: We don‘t have video of actual spiritual cleansing, so, while we talk about this, all we can use as the proverbial video wallpaper is this stuff. So while we bask in a low grade pun, we don‘t have any word yet on actually whether the spiritual cleansing has taken place, but if it works, is it something that the president‘s critics might try here? Is Nancy Pelosi taking notes on this?
UVGAR: Well Keith, I think they might have already tried it. Didn‘t David Kuo do something like this, when he left the office of Faith Based Initiatives. I think when all holy men meet Bush, they just kind of want to take a shower.
OLBERMANN: The president has a remarkably different view of the tour of the Mayan ruins. He said it was one of the great experiences of his presidency. Is this a matter of degrees, that compared to troubles here at home, and the Gonzales thing, and huge protests during a South American trip, the Mayans threatening to do some spiritual cleansing is comparatively a good sign?
UVGAR: Well, he can‘t do any worse down there than he is doing up here. I think actually think he‘s on a mission. I think he‘s going to get Osama bin Laden. It‘s been 2009 days since September 11th, and he hasn‘t gotten him. And if you remember, Doug Feith actually wrote a memo, this is a true story from “Newsweek,” after September 11th, saying we should attack Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina. His reason, because they won‘t see it coming. I‘m not kidding. That was a real memo. So maybe that‘s what Bush is doing down there.
OLBERMANN: Well, all right, they already have ruins in Guatemala. The Mayan ruins are already there. So we could always claim the we had effective air strikes. Let me show you some of the video of some of the president‘s activities in South America, from Brazil, Friday, using a shaker in a performance with children there. And his wife and the secretary of state were really getting into it.
And then, moving on to Guatemala, Mr. Bush helped load lettuce. Is it music that really bonds this president with the locals? Is it his fluency of Spanish? Is it his deftness with the lettuce? What connects him to these people?
UVGAR: I love the idea of Bush excelling at language, and that being his advantage. We see what he does with English. I can‘t imagine what he does with Spanish. Is there a word in Spanish for the decider? I think that basically the people down there are happy, Keith, because he‘s only visiting. If anything bonds them, that‘s what it is.
OLBERMANN: To his father then. He seems like he‘s ready to take this act on the road. Despite the fainting episode, he appears as happy as ever. Does his one term presidency look better and better the long his son is in office? Is that the real strategy of the Bush father and son combo?
UVGAR: I think the first Bush‘s presidency looks great now in comparison. But honestly, I was a Republican back then, and I thought Bush‘s term back wasn‘t bad. I was for the Persian Gulf War, and the guy raised taxes because he thought the country need it. And this Bush would never do that.
But in comparison to Bush and Cheney, Quayle looks great. I mean, if I told you the next day, Keith, that Quayle‘s going to be your new vice president, I think you would say, thank god. I mean, you get Cheney out of there and get Quayle, that‘s a huge win.
OLBERMANN: Now lastly, the one thing about Newt Gingrich admitting that while he was trying to get Bill Clinton impeached for an extramarital affair that somehow got into the legal system, he was conducting extramarital affair that, conveniently for him, was not in the legal system. What was that extramarital affair for Mr. Gingrich? Was that research so he could try to outsmart the president in 1998?
UVGAR: I really wonder if he tried that cigar trick back at home. I guess he went back home to his mistress and he‘s like, you‘re never going to believe what Billy Clinton did. We‘ve got to try this thing. I mean, this guy is the height of hypocrisy. He talks about family values. Not only has he been married three times, but he tried to divorce one of wives while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. I mean, there is no end to the hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich.
OLBERMANN: More value from your family, that‘s what family values means there. Cenk Uvgar, the co-host of “The Young Turks” on Air America Radio. Great thanks for being with us tonight.
UVGAR: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,430th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I am Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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