Guests: Jonathan Turley, Dana Milbank, John Harwood, Paul F. Tompkins
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The deputy attorney general of the United States will resign. Paul McNulty reportedly out, as Gonzales-gate boils over and claim its highest-ranking victim.
And then there were 10. Word of another U.S. attorney whose name was intended for the firing list, and news that Karl Rove, or somebody else in the White House, personally requested half the firings.
Four years of war in Iraq. Four years of the total upheaval of our rights in America. And now, with talks looming with Iran in Iraq, even Vice President Cheney says, “I can‘t predict what precisely will happen,” and “I don‘t want to predict the outcome.”
And while he leans on Iran aboard a battleship, hello, he seem to contradict the secretary of state. She says it‘s time to talk to Iran.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That is not schizophrenic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The continuing search for three U.S. soldiers missing in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe they were abducted by terrorists belonging to al Qaeda or an affiliated group.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Al Qaeda SAYS if the search continues, we will not get our soldiers back alive.
The BBC versus Scientology. A reporter loses control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN SWEENEY, BBC: You were not there! You did not (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE) interview.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But John Sweeney says Scientologists had driven him to the brink.
What drove Bill O. to send out another news stalker? This time, it‘s a Vermont legislator ambushed in the statehouse cafeteria while he was eating oatmeal.
And from statehouse to Big House. Candy Spelling with advice for Paris Hilton. Patty Hearst with advice for those unfortunate enough to be stuck in the slammer with Paris Hilton.
And Michael Jackson reportedly asking Simon Cowell for help with his comeback. Whoo-hoo-hoo.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening from New York.
For the fourth time in three months, a central figure in the U.S. attorney scandal is resigning, and also for the fourth time in three months, it is not Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
In our fifth story tonight, it is instead the highest-ramping figure to go so far in this scandal, Gonzales‘s number two man at the Department of Justice, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. He is the man who triggered all this by telling Congress that performance problems led to seven of the firings, firings McNulty apparently did not know at the time were largely, if not entirely, motivated by the White House, Mr. McNulty also foreshadowing the direction of the investigation, testifying that the eighth U.S. attorney was replaced at the urging of Karl Rove, Justice Department officials telling NBC News tonight that he was angered by being linked to the scandal without knowing the extent of White House involvement in it.
But in his resignation letter, which says he will stay on until late summer, or when a successor is confirmed, McNulty blames his departure on the financial realities of putting two kids through college. No mention of the three other top level departures from Justice in the past two months alone, such as White House liaison Monica Goodling last month, and in March, both Gonzales chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and Michael Battle, who oversaw the nation‘s 93 U.S. attorneys, various reports in recent weeks suggesting that, contrary to Gonzales‘s testimony, McNulty was not consulted, not seriously, anyway, about which attorneys to fire, and that once the scandal broke wide, both McNulty and one of his aides were coached by Karl Rove and the White House on what to tell Congress.
Shockingly, the coaching did not involve how to reveal Rove‘s involvement.
Also reported that Mr. McNulty was specifically kept in the dark one year ago when Gonzales gave Sampson and Goodling, lower-level aides with stronger ties to the White House, the power to hire and fire those in the U.S. attorneys‘ offices, Senator Chuck Schumer, one of the Democrats in the lead of this investigation, today praising Mr. McNulty for at least having tried to level with Congress.
Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams, has been coverage this thing from the start and managed to confirm these details this evening.
Pete, thanks for your time tonight.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You bet.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s clarify this a bit. Is it clear if McNulty is going because he‘s somehow in trouble in this, or is he going to disassociate himself from a scandal in which he sees himself as having played little part?
WILLIAMS: Oh, more the latter than the former. He‘s been saying for several weeks that he was planning to step down because of all this. So really, his decision to say it now doesn‘t come as any shock, and it doesn‘t say anything about whether the attorney general will stay, because he wants to stay on the job, and the president apparently wants him to.
But since this whole thing erupted, Gonzales and McNulty have had a tense relationship. They clashed over how to explain the firings to Congress. He does say, McNulty, that he‘ll stay on for several more months to allow time to find a successor. He said that some time ago, that he didn‘t want to stay on the job more than two years. But Keith, these are clearly not the circumstances that he had in mind when he said that.
OLBERMANN: With all that as context, Pete, does this have any (INAUDIBLE) effect on the investigations, the various investigations that are under way, both the congressional ones and the internal one at Justice?
WILLIAMS: It may have some impact, in this sense. He is clearly someone that the investigators inside the Justice Department want to talk to. But he‘s going to probably stay around long enough for them to talk to him. He‘s already testified before Congress. To the extent that this thing plays out beyond the summer, it might. But he‘s going to be around long enough for, I think, the next several shoes to drop.
OLBERMANN: What should we be expecting to hear from Mr. McNulty, if anything, once that resignation actually takes effect?
WILLIAMS: Well, I think that he will pretty well have said all that he can say or knows of. And yet, it will increase his value to Congress, because they like to bring people back, on—with the assumption that they will speak more freely. Just recently they invited back, and are inviting back a second time, the—McNulty‘s predecessor, James Comey, who had apparently been asked what he thought of some of these U.S. attorneys.
So, you know, Paul McNulty may want to distance himself from this. It may follow him around for a while.
OLBERMANN: What is the thought from the people that you have been able to be in touch with at Justice, is there a sense of these, this thing being a slow-motion implosion? How is this affecting what‘s happening at the Department of Justice?
WILLIAMS: I think that‘s right. I think, though, that this one was something that they saw coming. This was not a sudden shock. He‘s been making no secret of the fact that he wanted to leave the Justice Department over this. He‘s unhappy with how thing have played out. He‘s unhappy that he can‘t sort of get beyond this and work with Congress on some of the things he wants to talk about.
And yet, it all fits into the general sort of malaise at the Justice Department. The attorney general sort of soldiers on. The question, I think, is going to be, if he does step down in the summer, as he says, how soon will the administration be able to nominate someone to succeed him? Because he was involved in this controversy, whether he likes it or not.
I‘m sure the Judiciary Committee will probably say, you know, We can‘t confirm a successor till we get this whole thing answered. So it may make it hard to get a confirmed successor in this position, and it may have to be someone who‘s acting, which is indeed how he started out in this job.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the exit interview may be the story here.
Our justice correspondent, Pete Williams. Thanks for staying late with us, Pete.
WILLIAMS: You bet.
OLBERMANN: If McNulty‘s departure were not sufficient evidence that Gonzales‘s testimony has failed to put this issue to bed, consider that this scandal had already made big news today, even before McNulty‘s resignation leaked out. That due (ph) a report in today‘s “Washington Post” saying the White House and Karl Rove specifically had targeted almost half, five of the 12 U.S. attorneys who were considered for removal because of their position or lack of one on that most serious crime of these post-9/11 times, voter fraud, only voter fraud that would appear to favor Democrats.
Let‘s turn now to constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University.
Jon, thanks again for your time tonight.
PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW SCHOLAR, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll get to McNulty in particular in a moment.
But first, explain why an intense focus on voter fraud on one side of the equation might be a little out of whack for the Department of Justice at the moment.
TURLEY: Well, it‘s not that voter fraud is irrelevant or minor as an issue. It‘s just that this legal, I, priority seemed to dovetail perfectly with the political priority of the RNC and Karl Rove. They were pushing voter fraud in these areas. And they were very unhappy when prosecutors said, Look, we don‘t have a case. There‘s not something here that we can take to court.
And that led to people in New Mexico and other, I, areas saying, We need to get U.S. attorneys that‘ll play ball with us.
So there‘s this uncomfortable convergence of a political strategy coming out of Karl Rove, who is really, really beating this like a rented mule. And also, the legal strategy that was being pushed by the Gonzales administration at the Justice Department.
OLBERMANN: We learned over the weekend that yet another one of these U.S. attorneys is now suggesting he too was fired for political reason. They‘re now, I guess, reviewing the process and going (INAUDIBLE), maybe I might be a victim of this too. Carl Warner from West Virginia went in August 2005, which stretches this thing out back much further than we thought. How badly has the attorney general damaged the department itself, in that now any action it takes can creditably be analyzed and characterized as potentially or certainly political?
TURLEY: Well, I think that‘s how history will not look kindly on Gonzales‘s administration of the department, I, that now we‘re looking at every one of these terminations. And, you know, in fairness to the administration, you know, the government often makes a lot of mistakes. But when you have a serious controversy like this, a pattern does tend to emerge.
This Warner guy‘s a very odd guy. You know, there‘s e-mails, apparently, where he‘s suggesting that he might steer money to the Republicans and use the—some relative so that his name isn‘t attached to it. It‘s all very sordid, but it‘s very, very embarrassing for professionals at the Justice Department.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and citizens, I would imagine, too might be embarrassed by it.
But returning to this departure by Mr. McNulty, you hear Pete Williams say this was internally expected, anticipated, and it‘s not this shock measure internally. It certainly is externally. How does that shock affect Mr. Gonzales? Or does this, just in some sense, clear the decks so Gonzales can move on?
TURLEY: It certainly clears the decks. There‘s no crew left. I mean, he‘s alone in the wheelhouse. He‘s adopting this sort of Captain Queeg persona, I, where all of these people, from James Comey to McNulty to even his closest aides like Sampson, they‘re all gone. And the person that remains is Gonzales. And he is the only person who I think—feels that he can continue in that role, except for the only other person, and the only one he needs, President Bush.
I don‘t—I‘m not too sure how he‘s going to get other people to join him. I would love to be there when they‘re taken into Paul McNulty‘s office, where there‘s, you know, two chalkmark figures on the carpet, and say, Well, you know, the previous predecessors were offed, but we‘d love you to take this position.
OLBERMANN: Yes. Well, apparently that‘s how they got the U.S. attorneys to, the new ones, to come on board, so somebody has some experience with that.
Professor Jonathan Turley at George Washington University. As always, sir, great thanks for some of your time tonight.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Breaking news this hour as well that the problems are only getting worse for another former Bush administration official, Paul Wolfowitz, who was once the deputy defense secretary, more recently running into trouble at his current job as president of the World Bank, for having arranged a promotion and a very big raise for his girlfriend at the bank, a special panel at the bank concluding that Mr. Wolfowitz violated his contract. That‘s their terminology tonight, violated his contract in giving his companion that promotion.
The panel also said there is a crisis in leadership at the bank and said that the board will have to determine now if Wolfowitz is able to, quote, “provide the leadership needed.” Don‘t let the door hit you on the way out.
Now, even the vice president is not sure how things will turn out in Iraq.
And will things turn out on Hillary Clinton‘s tightrope? The former president making an online commercial for the would-be one. How does she balance using without being overshadowed by him?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: For a president who has said that the end of the war in Iraq would not be marked by a ceremony on the deck of a battleship, this White House still seems awfully fond of battleships and, of course, apparently of having wars rather than of actually winning them.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, first the vice president used his own “mission accomplished” moment on board an aircraft carrier to warn Iran that the U.S. is prepare to strike that country. Given our current troop strength levels, presumably Mr. Cheney is going to conduct this attack personally and solo.
But today, the vice president added, he, quote, “can‘t predict what will precisely happen in Iraq,” a far cry from 24 months ago, when he had declared the insurgency there in its last throes.
At the White House, President Bush not even mentioning Iraq today, suddenly concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, of all things. Never mind the five U.S. troops who died today in Iraq, or that three more American soldiers now missing there, the Pentagon saying it believes they have been kidnapped, some 4,000 troops now searching for them south of Baghdad, the al Qaeda-linked group claiming to hold them calling on the U.S. to stop the search, warning that harm could come to the captives if it does not.
Then, of course, there is Mr. Cheney on his way from a Mideast diplomatic mission that ended today with a visit with Jordan‘s King Abdullah, and included, as we mentioned, this stop on board the aircraft carrier U.S.S. “John Stennis,” stationed just 150 miles off the Iranian coast, warning that the country, or warning that country that the U.S. and its allies, if any allies there are left, will keep it from restricting sea traffic, as well as from developing nuclear weapons, the Iranian president responding today that his country would retaliate if attacked militarily.
Contrast that with the mixed message of White House plans for talks with Iran, to be conducted by the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad. At today‘s White House news briefing, reporters were left wondering if the administration policy might be just a little schizophrenic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you explain the contradictory, if not schizophrenic, state of U.S. diplomacy with regard to Iran?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sort of contradictory.
SNOW: No, I don‘t think so. The president has authorized a Baghdad channel at the ambassadorial level for conversations about having the Iranians step back from—to—at least deal with our concerns with their support for activities that destabilize the government of Iraq. But they go no further. This is not only is not schizophrenic, it‘s perfectly consistent with American policy over recent months. But what we‘re saying is, we continue to look for ways, appropriately, for diplomacy to succeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time now to call in our own Dana Milbank, the national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Vice President Cheney does not seem to be a man who often has second thoughts. But did anybody in the White House, in his office, happen to question whether a speech on board an aircraft carrier might not be the best idea? I mean, it must have come up. It was the Pentagon itself which shot that video of it we just saw.
MILBANK: Well, you might want to look on the other side. Isn‘t it a stroke of great luck that they didn‘t have a flight suit in his size? And clearly, no banner-making materials were available aboard the U.S. “Stennis.”
But I think that what‘s happening here, and what we often hear from the White House when a sort of—the officials grumble privately that they don‘t have a lot of control over Cheney. He‘s something of a loose cannon. Now, clearly, they know where he‘s going from day to day. But they can‘t exactly control the words coming out of his mouth. And we may have a case of that here.
So he‘s sounding a little too hot on Iran at just the moment when the secretary of state and others are trying to talk in a conciliatory way.
OLBERMANN: Yes, we might have to turn to that phrase, loose shotgun, as opposed to loose cannon.
But on this—the subject of Iraq, after years of praise, years of hand-holding, years of, Look at the accomplishment the government represents there, suddenly, we‘re seeing Republicans talking tough about the lawmakers in Iraq. The top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell said over the weekend that the Iraqi government is a, quote, “huge disappointment. If they vote to ask us to leave, we‘ll be glad to comply.” Could this be the beginning of a blame-the-Iraqis-and-get-out strategy for the Republicans and the administration?
MILBANK: Well, it‘s an extraordinary statement that the Senate minority leader made there, because he‘s now saying that we‘re not there to protect American interests, we‘re there at the desire of the Iraqis, so if they don‘t want us there, we‘re out of there. But what happened to the whole line about, if we don‘t fight them there in Baghdad, we‘ll be fighting them here in Baltimore?
So I think what‘s happened is, Mr. McConnell has weakened the position on this. They‘re going to have a lot more trouble resisting here. And at any rate, things seem to be headed more and more each day towards more pressure on the president with this funding legislation.
OLBERMANN: And also, there seems to be this ever-increasing ratcheting up of the dialogue about the Iraqi government, using this term, urgency, needed a great of, greater sense of urgency in the government. Had we not been led to believe that they were pretty urgent before?
MILBANK: Well, they‘re even more urgent now. But the urgency seems to be increasing, mostly here in the United States. And, of course, the domestic political pressure is now being felt by the administration. So undoubtedly, when the vice president was there, and when other officials are talking to them now, they‘re expressing a heightened sense of alarm, perhaps causing the Iraqis to have a less lengthy summer vacation.
It‘s unclear whether the Iraqis are, in fact, able to understand just how much pressure is being put on the administration right now.
OLBERMANN: And what explains, under these circumstances, the president‘s sudden concern with greenhouse gas emissions today? Is he hoping for his own Oscar? Or do we add all this up between what McConnell said, this—the various things that have been said about Iraq, are they, is it possible there‘s some sort of change in rhetoric, that we we‘re not going to hear about Iraq every day from this administration?
MILBANK: Well, I‘m not sure that‘s the reason. But one big reason is $3.07, that‘s where gasoline was today, an all-time record, higher even than after—in the days after Hurricane Katrina, so the administration is feeling it needs to address this issue, because even though it‘s sometimes silent to those of us here in Washington, Americans react very strongly to increases in the gas price.
The president was also confronting a decision last month by the Supreme Court that said, You‘ve got to take a look at carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and regulating them through the Clean Air Act. So the president had a couple of very good reasons to come out today.
OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC, of course. Great thanks, Dana.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The Church of Scientology taking issue with a report by the BBC, and the BBC correspondent not only takes issue in reply, he explodes on camera.
And Holy John Belushi! It‘s Samurai Marathoners!
Next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Nine years ago today, the last new episode of “Seinfeld” aired on NBC. Today, at the annual festival for TV advertising called Upfront, Jerry Seinfeld reappeared to announce that a series of very short films he has made will appear on the network this fall, his return, of sorts, to NBC. With his best joke the observation that nine years ago, there was no YouTube, there was us tube, that‘s when those of us from football night in America had to take to the stage, right after Seinfeld announced a TV comeback of sorts. Gee, thanks, Jerry.
Lets play Oddball.
We begin in Japan for the 150-something, the running of the Gun-Ma (ph) Samurai Marathon. First run in 1855 by actual samurai as a test of the honor and resolve of young recruits, it has now become a mockery of that tradition and devolved into yet another drunken costume race. Hundreds of participants dressed in a variety of ridiculous outfits run the full 26.2 miles. It‘s all in good fun and clearly not a thinking man‘s race. Otherwise, this guy might have thought twice about blocking up his pores with face paint while running a marathon in a full kimono. Who wants to go to the hospital?
To India, where these are real police, not men in costumes. In fact, it‘s the entire 1,200-man police force of the city of Jaipur, and they‘ve just been shown my guest appearance on last night‘s “Family Guy.” Yes, it was hilarious, thank you. But actually this laughter is laughter therapy, designed to help the cops cope with the on-the-job stress. It‘s really funny, isn‘t it? While all the police in town were in one place yucking it up, criminals were out looting the city. Ha-ha ha-ha, ha-ha. Just kidding.
Hillary Clinton pulls out perhaps her biggest gun, her husband, the former president using YouTube to sell her candidacy.
And if you thought Tom Cruise got into it with Matt Lauer about Scientology, they looked like best buddies compared to a Scientology spokesman and a BBC reporter.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, another explanation and another apology for the statement he made in the Republican debate that a company should be able to fire an employee simply because that employee is gay. Last week, he told us his hearing aid had gone dead. This week, he says, in addition to that, he was sick with the flu, really needed to go to the bathroom. Quote, “I was just hanging on. I could not wait until the debate got off so I could go to the bathroom.” And, you know, your memory might not be up to snuff either, Governor.
Number two, an unidentified ad agency in Lisbon, Portugal, distributing free maps to the Holy Sanctuary of Fatima to the visiting pilgrims and other faithful. On one side, there‘s a picture of the Virgin Mary, a map of the shrine. On the other side, there are ads for sexual devices and aphrodisiacs.
Number one, this guy, arrested in Hudson Florida, this week. Police say he was growing marijuana in his home, 94 plants ranging from two to three feet high, in his basement. Authorities began to suspect the man when they found he had bypassed his electrical meter in order to power his series of fans and Gro-Lites. However, his name might have been a tipoff as well, Jason Robert Stoner.
OLBERMANN: In the 2000 campaign for president, Al Gore steered clear of appearing with President Bill Clinton, and he may yet be waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night, regretting it. This year, another candidate is taking no such chances. Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN, our nightly update on the 2008 campaign, beginning with Senator Hillary Clinton.
While Senator Barack Obama was getting endorsed by several New Jersey mayors, she was getting the backing of New York Governor Elliot Spitzer and the overwhelming endorsement of the Democratic leadership in her native state, or her current native state. Heretofore Bill Clinton has been a behind the scenes force in her campaign, appearing with her occasionally or at fund raisers on his. But he‘s now taking a bigger role, with an ad that just popped up on YouTube.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When she says, vote for me, and we‘ll pursue a clean, independent energy future that will create millions of jobs, we‘ll finally provide health care for all American, we‘ll build an economy that is more just, we‘ll build a world with more partner and fewer enemies. And we‘ll end the war in Iraq. When she says shows thing, you know that she‘ll deliver, because she has spent a lifetime caring, working and delivering.
I hope you‘ll support her campaign. If you do, you‘ll always be proud you did. As president, she will make you proud every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: While the former president on Youtube, a Republican candidate for the office was on the old tube, going through the more traditional political trial by fire. Mitt Romney, trying to catch up with Rudy Giuliani in the polls, profiled on the CBS News program “60 Minutes” about his many change of heart, from pro-choice to anti-abortion, from banning assault weapons to joining the NRA, and about a hastily arranged marriage to his wife Anne 38 years ago.
Former Governor Romney‘s answer, among the celibate Mormons there was urgent need and a lot of competition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You get all these Mormons out there with strict prohibition against premarital sex. And they‘re young and they‘re attractive and the hormones work very well. And people decide, it is time to get married.
MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Did you have premarital sex?
ROMNEY: I‘m sorry. We don‘t get into those things. The answer is no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Romney also says he supports the troop surge in Iraq for now, regrets that he never serve in Vietnam, and insists he cannot imagine anything more awful than polygamy, even though his own father was born in Mexico after his grandfather had to leave this country because of the issue and his great grandfather had five wives at the same time.
So much for news of candidates who would be president. There are also the one who might. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich telling “Good Morning America” that after thinking of running for president, there is now a great possibility of it. When pressed on that, Gingrich backed off, saying he is focusing on making America successful and selling his new novel about Pearl Harbor.
Another possible candidate, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, one of the few Republicans who says his party has been hijacked by those who try to link Iraq to the war on terror. Hagel thinking out loud now about a possible independent run, and lately meeting with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire whose name recognition fades the farther you get from Wall Street.
Still, a new poll showing New Yorker who voted for both men prefer a Bloomberg to a Giuliani in the White House. Joining us to run the table on the candidates and would be candidates, a pleasure as always to welcome John Harwood, the “Wall Street Journal” senior contributing writer, and CNBC chief Washington correspondent. John, good evening.
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He Keith. Do you think maybe we can cut off this premarital sex questioning with Romney? I don‘t think we want to go there with everybody else.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t want to know a thing about it. We have now, in an interesting segue, Bill Clinton on the campaign trail again. And again, we have this oldest question, how does he help the senator without overshadowing her?
HARWOOD: Look, I think he is going to help her in a very, very big way. The Youtube video reminds all of us, of course, that he is the most talented politician in American life, more talented than anybody in the race right now. But when you talk about the home stretch of this campaign, when there is so much ground to cover, these big early front loaded primary states, to be able to have a second campaign plane, send Bill Clinton out to campaign with those skills and that credibility with a the Democratic primary audience, that‘s powerful.
And It think they‘re going to play that for everything it is worth. More of a mix blessing in the general election because of the strong feelings he creates among those who hate him, including a big swatch of conservatives. But he is going to be a big asset for her.
OLBERMANN: All right, over on to the Republican side, the “60 Minutes” interview and Mitt Romney. Other than that subject we already discussed, what did you get out of that interview? Is where he is going to help him in the poll? Is it going to help him vault Giuliani or does it hurt him?
HARWOOD: Well look, Mitt Romney does well with exposure. The guy looks great. He sound great. Even if Mike Wallace is asking him question after question about flip flopping on the NRA, on abortion or other issues, the guy looks good. I think he‘s been doing very well. He did well in the debate a couple weeks ago. He is moving up.
He has done very well in fund raising, so I don‘t think anything last night hurt him. And I think Mitt Romney has a fairly good path, even though he is ultimately going to have to answer the question for Republican primary voters, is this guy, who has changed positions on so many things, strong enough to be president?
OLBERMANN: The question for Newt Gingrich is, what is he doing here? Is he selling books? Is he selling himself? Is he going to run? Does he its he will be called to run? Where are we standing with the former speaker?
HARWOOD: I think selling books and promoting his agenda is really where it is, Keith. I do not expect, at the he said of the day, Newt Gingrich to run. Much more likely that Fred Thompson gets in. There is a void. A lot of Republican are not happy with this field. They have misgivings about Giuliani and McCain and Romney isn‘t that well known yet.
We saw when we put Fred Thompson in our “Journal”/NBC poll, he got 17 percent. Newt Gingrich was polling about 12 percent before that. But I think, at the end of the day, Newt probably realizes he can‘t be nominated or elected. He probably will end up deciding not to do it.
OLBERMANN: What is the Chuck Hagel, Mike Bloomberg meeting about? Are we seeing the beginning or the possibility of a third party run in 2008, with the two of the some how joining forces?
HARWOOD: Well, it is pretty clear that Chuck Hagel is a work in progress. We saw a few weeks ago when he made a big announcement and the announcement was he wasn‘t going to announce what he was going to do. He is still thinking things through. He doesn‘t quote know where he‘s going to come out. But that‘s not a bad combination for Mike Bloomberg.
When you put together Mike Bloomberg‘s deep pockets, his knowledge of business and financial issues and put that together with some foreign policy credibility, with a guy who is on the right side of an unpopular war, from the standpoint of most of the American people, that is not a bad ticket to try to really shake up American politics. There is an opening for a third party race this year.
OLBERMANN: Who is the presidential candidate? Who is the vice presidential candidate in that duo?
HARWOOD: Well, I think it would be the guy who‘s putting up the money. And Mike Bloomberg has got more of it than Chuck Hagel. So I would expect he would be first.
OLBERMANN: You bring the money, you get to be the president. John Harwood of the “Wall Street Journal” and CNBC. Of course, great thanks for your time tonight.
A reporter at breaking point, literally, screaming at a Scientology spokesman during a documentary filming in England.
And from one jailed heiress to another, Patty Hearst weighing in on the fate of another more recent PH, Paris Hilton. Yes, Simbianese Liberation Army kidnap victim, bad legal advice from her publicist victim. That‘s a good one. But first, a special edition of COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fire a broad side.
CONAN O‘BRIEN, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOST: Here‘s the latest, yesterday in New York, a free Paris Hilton rally was held to protest, to protest her upcoming jail sentence and eight people showed up. Organizers credit the warm sunny weather for the high turnout.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you may be wondering, we already had a strong team and we have added Tiki Barber and Keith Olbermann. And I know some of you are saying, why Keith Olbermann? Well, it is part of an ongoing effort at NBC to see if we can get him to say something nice about Bush, even if it has to be Reggie Bush of the New Orleans Saints. So I hope you‘re ready to do your part.
OLBERMANN: He‘s a great leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: They claim he had an agenda. He claims they were trying to brain wash him. Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, just another day in the Scientology land. A BBC reporter filming a documentary on the church starts screaming at one of its spokesmen. The whole was caught on not one but two cameras, the BBC‘s and the church‘s. Now prominent Scientologists have made a counter documentary saying the BBC report is clearly biased.
And while the network agrees the outburst was inappropriate, it contends the rest of the documentary is fair. In London our correspondent is Keith Miller.
KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The BBC documentary on Scientology airs tonight. But the reporter on the program is already making news on Youtube.
JOHN SWEENEY, BBC JOURNALIST: Listen to me!
MILLER: John Sweeney, a veteran journalist, lost it during an interview, claiming he felt like he was losing his mind.
SWEENEY: No, it‘s your turn to listen to me.
MILLER: Sweeney was reprimanded by the BBC, but not dismissed.
SANDY SMITH, EDITOR, BBC: I don‘t approve of that style of journalism. I want to bring light, not heat to subjects. And I regret the way it has turned out. It was a personality clash between the reporter and the church of Scientologists press handler, if you like.
MILLER: What did I was wrong, said Sweeney. I am embarrassed. The Church of Scientology claims Sweeney had prewritten the documentary. So, according to a statement, members decided to do a John Sweeney on John Sweeney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m angry, real angry.
MILLER: And the clash between the BBC and Scientology is escalating. The actor John Travolta, a member of the religion, complained to the BBC in a letter that Sweeney insulted him and screamed abuse. The BBC says its news crew were victims of something called fair game, a Scientology practice of going after opponents and discrediting them anyway they can.
(on camera): Now the church is claiming that the BBC staged an anti-Scientology demonstration for the program, a charge the BBC is calling outrageous. The Sweeney blow-up occurred at a Scientology exhibition on the evils of psychiatry, a subject that got “The Today Show‘s” Matt Lauer and Scientologist Tom Cruise into a blunt exchange.
TOM CRUISE, ACTOR: Do you know now that Ritalin is a street drug? Do you understand that?
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The difference is—
CRUISE: Matt, I‘m asking you a question.
LAUER: I understand there is abuse of all of these thing.
CRUISE: No, you see, here is the problem. You don‘t know the history of psychiatry. I do.
MILLER: Sweeney stands by his documentary, saying, I ended up losing my voice but not my mind.
SWEENEY: I‘m not an expert on brain washing.
MILLER: Keith Miller, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: Moving from a religion that says human beings are descended from aliens, to perhaps the closest proof we have of that contention, Michael Jackson. The gloved one is apparently struggling to make a comeback and not getting too much support for his planning. Apparently he‘s asked the former manager of the Spice Girls to help him resurrect his career. He was firmly rebuff, possibly because there‘s already been a Scary Spice.
So Mr. Jackson reportedly turned instead to Simon Cowell. The newspaper “The Sun” reporting that he found no help there either. Perhaps he can try again at the auditions for next year‘s “American Idol.”
And speaking of oversold celebrities, Donald Trump‘s baby “The Apprentice” may have been left off the fall line-up of NBC shows, but he has a new addition to his actual family. Fourteen months after his latest son was born, his first son had his first baby. Trump is now grandpa Trump. Kai Madison was born on Saturday to Donald Trump Jr. and his wife Vanessa.
According to Trump Jr., his daughter is name after her maternal grandfather, a Danish musician. As for her paternal grandfather, he seems somewhat taken aback by the new edition, telling the “New York Post” that while being a grand dad is terrific, quote, “it is not something I necessarily had in mind, but it feels very nice.” Not even trying for that world‘s greatest grandpa statuette I see.
As Paris Hilton gets ready to spend some quality time and quantity time in the pokey, she‘s getting unsolicited advice from unlikely sources. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to the teachers and faculty of Scales Elementary School in Murphysburough, in Tennessee. During a class trip, they told the 11-year-old kids that there was a gunman on the loose, that they should take cover under tables as a man in a hooded sweatshirt pulled at a locked drawer. It was a drill. The guy in the hoodie was a teacher. Only they didn‘t even warn the parents, let alone the kids.
Our silver tonight, Ann Coulter, finally cleared now of charges that she falsified her voter‘s registration and voted illegally in Florida. But the newspaper the “Palm Beach Post” reports she was cleared only after the Palm Beach County Sheriff got—their office got a call, unsolicited, from a top level agent at the FBI on Coulter‘s behalf. Now the bureau tells the paper it is looking into whether the supervisory special agent acted improperly and the county supervisor of elections is considering an investigation into what he called the FBI intrusion.
But the winner? Bill-O, again taking that news term stake out way too literally, sending one of his minion producer into the Vermont state house in Montpellier to, with cameras rolling, pull off their third ambush of the year, this time a state legislate who Bill blamed, falsely, of course, for keeping Vermont‘s laws on sex offenders, quote, loose.
The lawmaker was eating his breakfast, oatmeal. The lawmaker and his colleagues had voted to make those laws even tighter the day before. So Bill-O gets the story wrong, calls the lawmaker corrupt and has his people do something so improper and disturbing that if it were done to O‘Reilly, he would be calling for them to be arrested on terrorism charges. Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person in the World!
OLBERMANN: A mother of a C-list celebrity has now given Paris Hilton advice on how to deal with jail, while someone else, a famed figure of recent history, who has actually done hard time herself, says she feels sorry for Hilton‘s future fellow inmates. In our number one story on COUNTDOWN, dear Paris.
An open letter published on TMZ.com, the destination for all serious minded advice, from Candy Spelling, the mother of Tori Spelling. We all know how well she turned out. “Paris, I‘m worried about you. As the real possibility of jail approaches, it‘s time to get real. It‘s time to find a Paris somewhere between heiress and a character on the simple life. I know she‘s there and I know she can be a good citizen.”
Yes, citizen Paris, where are you? Then there was the claim by an entertainment show that Patty Hearst was giving advice to Miss Hilton. Miss Hearst sent her own open letter to TMZ, denying that but saying, quote, “I must say that my heart goes out to the inmates of the Century Regional Detention center. Perhaps they should be petitioning the governor for relief.”
Nice one, Ms. Hearst, nice one. Joining me now comedian Paul F. Tompkins, of course a regular contributor to VH1‘s “Best Week Ever.” Paul, good evening.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Good evening.
OLBERMANN: Does Candy Spelling have a great deal of time on her hands or what‘s the deal here?
TOMPKINS: Well, this is a woman who has a room in her mansion dedicated gift wrapping and gift wrapping accessories. So, I would say yes, she has a minute.
OLBERMANN: The thrust of her open letter to Ms. Hilton is that she needs to stop acting like a spoiled brat. Now, Candy Spelling is, of course, the moral authority on this, or at least she has some first hand experience on the topic?
TOMPKINS: I don‘t know what Candy‘s idea of a brat is. Paris is going to jail for breaking the law. I don‘t know what Tory Spelling did, but she was cut out of her own father‘s will by Candy Spelling. I don‘t know her value system is quite the same as everyone else‘s.
OLBERMANN: Miss Spelling also noted in her letter that Paris Hilton should find something better to do with her time than take self defense classes, which she implied Miss Hilton was going to do to protect herself while she is incarcerated. But trying to find some thread of logic here; shouldn‘t Ms. Spelling be applauding any efforts by Paris Hilton to toughen herself up in any way?
TOMPKINS: Well, you know, unlike Candy Spelling, I have not known Paris since she was a child. I‘m annoyed that I even have to know who Paris Hilton is. But even I will say, yes, Paris, take self-defense class. You‘re going to jail. I don‘t know what Candy is thinking, if this is a sort of girls, you all play nice kind of thing. This isn‘t a I don‘t care who started it situation. It‘s jail.
OLBERMANN: And known her since she was a child, felt like she could communicate with her and give her advice that would be valuable to her on prison, and she does this on an open letter on a website, she doesn‘t have the phone number? What‘s the deal?
TOMPKINS: Well, this is how they always communicated over the years, because Candy has a very popular column in Heiress Magazine, which has a very small but devoted readership.
OLBERMANN: All right, let‘s turn to a past heiress, Patricia Hearst. She was abducted. She was brain washed into participating in a bank robbery. She wound up going to jail anyway. And here is Paris Hilton, whose excuse was my publicist said it was OK. Where does this idea come up that Paris Hilton‘s life has been close to Patty Hearst on the victimization scale.
TOMPKINS: This is a bit of a stretch, but Paris is such a creature of publicity, she‘s one of the few celebrities who never shuns the paparazzi, so, in a way, they are her captors, and she‘s identifying with them by thinking yes, I‘m as privileged as everyone says. It‘s a weird sort of Stockholm Syndrome.
OLBERMANN: To reach that stretch, Paul F. Tompkins, starring in the role of Plastic-Man here. Something else from this letter from Patricia Hearst: like Governor Schwarzenegger, I have many more important things to think about, end quote. All right, so she doesn‘t have Patty Hearst to turn to, doesn‘t have the governor to turn to. Where does Paris Hilton turn to for help, Paul?
TOMPKINS: It is a shame at a time like this that Ms. Cleo is retired. But she might want to talk to Heidi Fleiss, who has said that her time in jail was not pleasant at all. And Heidi Fleiss did not have a reality show that made people want to stab her with a sharpened toothbrush.
OLBERMANN: Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH1‘s “Best Week Ever.” As always, Paul, great thanks.
TOMPKINS: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,475th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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