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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 23

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: E.J. Dionne, Dana Milbank

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The president has a secret.  He claims Osama bin Laden was setting up a terror cell in Iraq from which to strike America.  Of course, this was in 2005, two years after Mr. Bush kindly opened up Iraq so terrorists could go there.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   Today I‘d like to share some information with you that attests to al Qaeda‘s intentions.


OLBERMANN:  I‘ll take self-fulfilling prophesies for 100, Alex.

Compromises that aren‘t really compromises for a billion, Alex.  The Democrats reeling after their congressional leadership gives away the Iraq store to the president.  What do the actual antiwar Democrats do now?

Why did Senator Clinton and other presidential hopefuls remain silent today?

Tonight, a special comment, the Democrats‘ Neville Chamberlain moment.  The president‘s political triumph coming on the backs of the service men and women in Iraq, and the political earthquake most of the politicians can‘t even hear because they are too busy congratulating themselves too loudly.

The testimony of Monica Goodling, a gift from the gods of satire.  What exactly did she think were her qualifications for her job at the Justice Department?


MONICA GOODLING, FORMER GONZALES AIDE:  Putting aside college, where I was student body president.


OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  We‘ll see you later in the swimsuit competition.

And speaking of competition, Rosie O‘Donnell turns to her friend Elisabeth Hasselbeck for support against her critics.  Bad turn.


ROSIE O‘DONNELL:  I asked you if you believed what the Republican pundits were saying.


O‘DONNELL:  You said nothing, and that‘s cowardly.

HASSELBECK:  No, no, no.


OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s more honest debate on Iraq than we‘re evidently going to get out of the House and Senate.

All that, and a special comment on Democratic leadership joining President Bush in just not listening to the people, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Perhaps emboldened because he got the Democratic leadership of Congress to cower in fear over a fantasy that if they don‘t give him the money, the troops will have to walk home from Iraq, President Bush decided to resume trying to strike that same kind of fear in the hearts of the American public.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Bush yet again selectively declassifying intelligence, to yet again shift attention back to 9/11, to yet again make the claim that Iraq is the central front in the war against terror.  The only problem, the facts do not back up the rhetoric, yet again.

Ahead in this newshour, my special comment on the compromise struck between the Democratic leadership and the White House over the latest troop funding bill.

But we begin with Mr. Bush today, his backdrop a commencement address at Connecticut‘s Coast Guard Academy, his contention that according to two-year-old previously classified intelligence from Iraq, in January 2005, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had enlisted his top operative in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to establish a terror cell in Iraq capable of launching attacks against the U.S.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  To help Zarqawi in these efforts, our intelligence community reports that bin Laden then tasked one of his top terrorist operatives, Hamza Rubiya (ph), to send Zarqawi a briefing on al Qaeda‘s external operations, including information about operations against the American homeland.

Intelligence community reports that a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, went further and suggested that bin Laden actually sent Rubiya himself to Iraq to help plan external operations.

Fight in Iraq is tough.  But my point today to you is the fight is essential to our security.  Al Qaeda‘s leaders inside and outside of Iraq have not given up on their objective of attacking America again.


OLBERMANN:  To recap the president‘s claims, it apparently did not occur to Osama bin Laden that Iraq could be used as a safe haven until nearly two years after the Bush administration had paved the way by removing Saddam Hussein and installing chaos.  The terrorists cited by Mr.  Bush, other than bin Laden, are all either dead or in U.S. custody.

Let‘s turn now to “Washington Post” E.J. Dionne, also a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

E.J., thanks for your time tonight.

E.J. DIONNE, COLUMNIST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In that very same speech, the president today telling us we‘re fighting in Iraq so the terrorists will not follow us here.  That may be something new from his point of view.  But he cited intelligence that also was aimed at scaring us into believing terrorists are already following us here.  Which is it, E.J.?  Can the president expect us to believe that both of these scenarios are currently operative?

DIONNE:  Well, as a matter of fact, most people aren‘t believing him on Iraq at all, a significant majority.  I—there was a striking line in the speech where he said, It‘s tempting to believe that the calm here means a dangerous path.  Then he says, I see intelligence every day the danger is not past.  Well, what does that mean?

I think, you know, Roosevelt said there‘s nothing to fear, but we have nothing to fear but fear itself.  Fear is really the only argument left in the president‘s arsenal on the war.  He used it before, he‘s using it now.

But what was really striking is how often those words, al Qaeda, appeared in that speech.  Now, if you were polling for a good American enemy, it‘s al Qaeda.  But you made precisely the right point, I think, that, A, they weren‘t there before, and it was the chaos that allowed them to come in, and I don‘t think people believe this war is primarily a war about al Qaeda.  In fact, even the antiwar amendments, like Congressman Jim McGovern‘s, said we‘re willing to support some troops to fight al Qaeda as we‘re going out of the country, but we‘re not there to be in the middle of the civil war.

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, if there‘s al Qaeda reference, there‘d be a bin Laden reference, and a lot of them in that speech today.  Do you think the rhetoric would have had a greater chance of succeeding if, one, the president had not already disbanded the CIA‘s bin Laden unit, and two, if these reports over the weekend had not come out that indicated that the actual center of al Qaeda operations these days is in Pakistan?

DIONNE:  Well, you know, that second point is really important, because I‘ve talked to people on the Hill who say there are a lot of problems with our presence in Iraq, one of which is that the real al Qaeda problem is in Pakistan and on the Afghan—on the other side of the border in Afghanistan.

But I think this use of al Qaeda has become his last card that he can play.  And, you know, support for this war has not only dropped over time, but it‘s really stayed very low.  The president‘s got with him now about 75 percent of the Republicans in the country, and that‘s about it.  Most Democrats are against the war, most independents are against the war.  So there isn‘t, really isn‘t that much support left.

OLBERMANN:  So why did he do it today?  Politically, the Democrats already caved in on the supplemental bill.  Why now, why this?  Was this coincidental?

DIONNE:  Well, because even though a lot of antiwar folks are very angry today, if you went online and looked at some of the blogs, your fingers burned when you put some of them in.  I think this was not the end of the battle.  It was an important skirmish.  Bush triumphed here.  Democrats couldn‘t muster a majority in either the House or the Senate to cut off funds for the war, and so they were not going—they were going to end up at a point like this, I think, inevitably.

But that‘s not going to last.  And I really do believe that when you look at the—what Republicans are saying, including very loyal Republicans like Mitch McConnell, they really seem to be saying, We‘re going to revisit this all in September.

So I think it‘s a setback, but I don‘t think it‘s the end of the effort to change the policy.  And there are already signs that the president is saying today that they‘re coming up with a new plan, that the surge is not having the effect they wanted.  So I think we‘re going to fight this fight again in the fall.

OLBERMANN:  New plan.  Well, of course there‘s a new plan.  It‘s another week.  There‘s a new plan once a week.

“Washington Post” columnist E.J. Dionne.  As always, my friend, great thanks.

DIONNE:  (INAUDIBLE), good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s rhetorical equivalent of an oldies radio station still also includes in its playlist the war in Iraq, with General David Petraeus reportedly working up the new U.S. strategy that E.J. just mentioned, described as more political than military, but which calls for elevated troop levels into 2008.

The classified document, due out the end of this month, is a joint effort between General Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, along with about 20 military officers, State Department officials, and other experts.  This according to “The Washington Post.”  The strategy stresses political pressure on an increasingly unreliable Iraqi government, which is itself struggling with a civil war.  The plan recognizes the need to somehow remove militia and corrupt officials from the Iraqi government, who are, according to a source, quote, “part of the problem.”

Meantime, after yesterday‘s cave by congressional Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton offered a tangent, calling on the Pentagon to produce a troop withdrawal plan and asking for an explanation if no such contingency plan already exists.

Then there are the troops, the other part of the American populace that seems far ahead of the curve here.  In interviews with “The Los Angeles Times,” soldiers in Baghdad freely described their effort there as, quote, “The Alamo,” a captain in the 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry, saying of the insurgents, quote, “I sometimes worry that this period will end up going down as their surge, not ours.”

Let‘s turn now to the national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst Dana Milbank.

Dana, good evening.


Hello, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll backtrack for a moment from the troops reference. 

The compromise.  Senator Dodd says today he will not vote for it tomorrow. 

Senator Biden said he will.  Senator Clinton would not address her vote. 

She‘s already has this inquiry about a contingency plan.

Were the presidential contenders surprised by this deal?  Is that why they seemed to have been so flat-footed?

MILBANK:  Well, give them some credit.  They were able to keep almost all of the pork in this bill, even while losing any sort of benchmark whatsoever.

But, you know, if they are surprised, they shouldn‘t have been surprised.  Look, even we‘ve been discussing this for a couple of months, that this is likely where it‘s going.  There were all the signs that the Democrats were going to make their point and then cave in, which is exactly what they did.

Now, what we‘re seeing now is this sort of absurdity of profiles in courage, Clinton and Obama refusing to say how they‘re going to vote on it, Nancy Pelosi saying it‘s a great step towards ending the war, but she‘s going to vote against it anyway.

So not a very proud moment for the Democrats.  And, of course, they deserve all the heat that they are getting from the base now, and it looks like they‘re going to get a whole lot more.  Groups like MoveOn are now talking about targeting Democrats.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there‘ll be a little more heat in about 40 minutes from now.

These war strategies, this latest idea, they overlap seemingly as much as the actual troop deployments are overlapping.  There‘s a new one in seemingly before every old one is finished.  The president‘s surge was supposedly ushering in the new plan, progress to be assessed by General Petraeus in September.  But, you know, all of a sudden we have a new new plan that will be rolled out end of this month.

So, so what, what is the Democratic Congress giving more time for?  Is it—is this not just an endless sequence, a daisy chain of old plan sort of fading away, new plan coming in before we find out how the old plan might have worked?

MILBANK:  Well, there is some of that.  And in fairness to this new new plan, this isn‘t some sort of a Karl Rove PowerPoint presentation.  This is, from what we understand of the details, a fairly serious look, somewhat of a recalibration, but actually doing some of the things, the political settlements, negotiations, that were part of what the Democrats have been talking about, and what the Baker-Hamilton Commission was talking about.

So this new new plan may actually make some more sense than the other plans.  But basically, the Democrats didn‘t have a whole lot of choice, from their point of view, and they‘re saying, you know, We‘re confronted with—be—we‘re stuck between our base and reality here, and they‘re just hoping that the climate of the next 90 days gives them another shot at this.

OLBERMANN:  I—that‘s been the general response from Democrats today, just sort of shrug their shoulders And say, say, We‘ve done everything we can do.  But the, but he premise of this, and the, and the president‘s intransigence on this, is it not based on a flat-out falsity, that if there were no supplemental funding, that all of a sudden, what the troops would have would be naked in the field, would have to swim home from Iraq?  I mean, is that—we‘ve, we have, we, there have been defundings of wars before.  This isn‘t even a defunding.  Isn‘t the, the premise that the president sold this on, and to which the Democrats capitulated, false on its own value?

MILBANK:  Right.  It‘s not as if they‘re going to be having bake sales in Fallujah.  But look, there are two calculations here.  One is, do you want to end the war in Iraq, or do you want to win the election in 2008?  What the Democrats have done here is clearly not the best move towards ending the war in Iraq, if that is the goal.  It‘s an excellent move towards winning the elections in 2008.

As you‘ll recall, the moderate Republicans have been pleading with Bush to find an end to this.  This essentially strings out the war, increasing the Republicans‘ liability down the road.  But, of course, what is politics about, if not to actually effect the policies that you believe in?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we were talking about dead bodies.  So I don‘t know.

Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “The Washington Post.” Great thanks, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A special comment on the war supplemental.  How could this commander in chief play a political game of chicken with our troops?  And how could the Democrats lose it?

Monica Goodling certainly blinked.  Today, she says the attorney general was not truthful to Congress.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Once again, the presidency has a problem.  Once again, her name is Monica.  This is where I came in.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Ms. Monica Goodling, former White House liaison for the Department of Justice, who just essentially called the attorney general a liar, and of whom there is now new imagery, pictures, testifying with immunity to Congress today, acknowledging under questioning that her former boss made inaccurate statements, both publicly and under oath.


REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA:  The attorney general testified that he was not involved in any discussions about the U.S. attorney firings.  Do you believe that to be accurate, or inaccurate?

MONICA GOODLING, FORMER GONZALES AIDE:  He was certainly at the November 27 meeting.

DAVIS:  So you believe that to be another piece of inaccurate testimony, don‘t you, Miss Goodling?



OLBERMANN:  And Alberto Gonzales was not the only person Ms. Goodling nudged, if not threw, further under the bus.  She also stated that the exiting deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, was not candid when he testified to Congress that he knew about White House involvement in the firings, and that her boss, Kyle Sampson, is the one who knows why the nine U.S. attorneys were fired, while she had little to nothing to do with the choices.


GOODLING:  I did not hold the keys to the kingdom, as some have suggested.  I was not the primary White House contact for purposes of the development or approval of the U.S. attorney replacement plan.  I‘ve never attended a meeting of the White House Judicial Selection Committee.  The attorney general and Kyle Sampson attended those meetings.

To the best of my recollection, I‘ve never had a conversation with Karl Rove or Harriet Miers while I served at the Department of Justice, and I‘m certain that I never spoke to either of them about the hiring or firing of any U.S. attorney.


OLBERMANN:  So apparently, despite her title of White House liaison, L. Woods here left the actual liaising to others.  As far as what she did do at the Justice Department...


GOODLING:  I do acknowledge that I may have gone too far in asking political questions of applicants for career positions, and I may have taken inappropriate political considerations into account on some occasions.  And I regret those mistakes.


OLBERMANN:  As to the legalities of putting political leanings ahead of prosecutorial conduct...


REP. ROBERT SCOTT (D), VIRGINIA:  Do you believe that those political considerations were not just inappropriate, but, in fact, illegal?

GOODLING:  That‘s not a conclusion for me to make.  I know I was acting...

SCOTT:  No, what—do you believe that they were legal or illegal for you to take those political considerations in mind?  Not whether they were legal or illegal, what do you believe?  Do you believe that they were illegal?

GOODLING:  I don‘t believe intended to commit a crime.

SCOTT:  Did you break the law?  Did you break the law?  Was it against the law to take political—those political considerations into account?  You‘ve got civil service laws, you‘ve got obstruction of justice.  Were there any laws that you could have broken by taking political considerations into account, quote, “on some occasions”?

GOODLING:  The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account on some occasions.

SCOTT:  Was that legal?

GOODLING:  Sir, I‘m not able to answer that question.  I know I crossed the line.

SCOTT:  What line?  Legal?

GOODLING:  I crossed the line of the civil service rules.

SCOTT:  Rules, laws.  You crossed the law on civil service laws, you crossed the line on civil service laws.  Is that right?

GOODLING:  I believe I crossed the law—lines, but I didn‘t mean to.


OLBERMANN:  Well, that‘s all right, then.  As to just how often she crossed the legal rule lines...


REP. LINDA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA:  How many applicants did you block or delay on the basis of what their potential political leanings might have been?

GOODLING:  You know, I wouldn‘t be able to give you a number.


OLBERMANN:  And as if her whole part in this saga were not material enough for a “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” sketch, or special, there was the piece de resistance of the testimony, when she was asked what prior qualifications she had which warranted her being in such a position of authority over personnel of any kind.


SANCHEZ:  Before you joined the executive office for the U.S.  attorneys in the spring of 2005, did you have any experience in making personnel decisions involving the hiring or the firing of employees?

GOODLING:  Yes, in putting aside—putting aside college, where I was student body president, we actually did hire people to work on various organizes.

SANCHEZ:  In a professional capacity, outside of college.

GOODLING:  At the Republican National Committee, I was the deputy director there of research and strategic planning, and we had...

SANCHEZ:  You did hiring and firing, there?

GOODLING:  I did some in the research department (INAUDIBLE)...



OLBERMANN:  Nice to see somebody in the administration with some real presidential experience.

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC‘s own David Shuster.

Good evening, David.


OLBERMANN:  Give us a damage report.  How much did she do, and to whom did she do it?

SHUSTER:  Well, obviously, a lot of student body presidents tonight are none too pleased.

But she did a lot of damage tonight to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and thereby President Bush, who continues to stand by the attorney general.

First, with McNulty, Goodling basically portrayed him as somebody who

intentionally lied to Congress.  And even though McNulty denies that, he is

and even though he is still leaving the Justice Department, McNulty is now leaving under an even darker cloud than he had before today.

As for Gonzales, he was trashed in a couple of ways by Goodling.  You saw the clip there, where Goodling was able to recall the crucial meeting that Gonzales allegedly attended just before the prosecutors were fired.  Gonzales, of course, could not remember that.  Gonzales could also not testify or not recall a conversation that he had with Senator Pete Domenici about U.S. Attorney David Iglesias.  Goodling was able to remember that.

Goodling was also able to remember, unlike Gonzales, that there were several levels of White House engagement and involvement in this issue.

So there you have a 33-year-old lawyer, who has very little experience, who has no courtroom experience to speak of, and she has been able to provide a more detailed account of all of this than the United States attorney general.  And so even some Republicans tonight, Keith, are saying this was a very bad day for the Bush administration.

OLBERMANN:  And something in particular that she revealed was enough to provoke the attorney general to issue a statement tonight.  She said that after Congress had originally asked her to testify in March, she had a meeting with the attorney general.  He brought up what he recalled about the attorney firings, asked her if she had—and this is a quote here, “any reaction to his recollection.”

Now, he says he was just comforting her in a stressful period in her life.  But is—could this be the real bombshell in here?  Was that—might someone make passive-aggressive witness tampering out of that?

SHUSTER:  Yes, it certainly has struck a lot of people, even at the Justice Department, as very curious.  I mean, in most cases, that could be a case of witness tampering or obstruction of justice, simply because of the timing.  In other words, here‘s Congress, already indicating they want to talk to Gonzales, they want to talk to Goodling.  And then the conversation between Gonzales and Goodling takes place.

And a lot of career prosecutors at the justice Department would tell you that is a no-no to even have that sort of conversation.

Now, tonight, as you mentioned, Gonzales has issued a statement saying he never attempted to influence the testimony.  And as you mentioned, that these statements were only intended to comfort Goodling in a very difficult period of her life.  But if you‘re trying to comfort somebody, you don‘t usually say, Hey, by the way, how would you react if I testified to the following, or if my reaction was this, what would your reaction be?

That‘s not exactly the way you comfort somebody.  And furthermore, the Gonzales statement tonight points out that Goodling called for this meeting, but again, it doesn‘t really matter who called for the meeting if, in fact, you are trying to tamper with a witness or trying to obstruct justice.

OLBERMANN:  And Senator Leahy said of the testimony today that it, quote, “confirms our worst fears about the unprecedented and improper reach of politics into the department‘s professional ranks.”  Did she confirm that today, or is that statement a little strong?

SHUSTER:  Well, the fact is that Monica Goodling did have hiring and firing power over career-level Justice Department officials.  And, again, so when Goodling acknowledges that she asked people their political views and took that into account, that is something that is usually considered illegal.  Sometimes it happens at other government agencies, where somebody will use political orientation as an excuse not to hire somebody, but it‘s not supposed to happen at the Justice Department, the agency that is supposed to enforce the laws.

And, again, that sort of questioning is usually illegal.

The other reason, Keith, that so many people are so infuriated with all of this is that a lot of people that Monica Goodling was overseeing, these are people who had worked their entire careers to get where they were in the Justice Department.  And for somebody like Monica Goodling to then come in, make the decisions that she did based on political orientations or her own political feeling, that has infuriated career officials at the Justice Department and their supporters, like Senator Leahy, who, again, says that this is such a—something to be condemned.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll wait for news as to whether or not Reese Witherspoon has, in fact, bought her story for “Legally Blonde: The Disbarment.”

David Shuster, many thanks, and have a particularly great weekend.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith, I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  Speaker Pelosi said benchmarks without consequences were meaningless. and that‘s exactly what the Democrats just gave the president.  A special comment on a bipartisan refusal to listen to the people.

And if you need to celebritize the Iraq debate, Rosie O‘Donnell versus Elisabeth Hasselbeck.

That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1969, the BBC told five comic actors and an illustrator that they were indeed getting a commitment for a series of 13 half-hour comedy shows that would start just five months later.  Management was under the impression that the six performers were a longstanding comedy troupe.  In fact, they consisted of one pair of writing partners and four other guys who knew each other, but had only met the other two 12 days previously.  Thus was born Monty Python‘s Flying Circus.  Let‘s play Oddball.


OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin in Kau Sung (ph), Taiwan with the COUNTDOWN orangutan rampage of the week.  And this one has a real problem with mopeds.  Kong hate stupid Vestpa.  The 330-pound beast broke out of his cage and ran amuck in the tourist park today, trashing some furniture, charging police officers.  He chased one woman through the park and then had a fist fight with a trucker named File Bedo.  In the ends he was not strong enough to fight off the tranquilizer dart in his back.  He‘ll wake up tomorrow morning with a serious hangover, probably feeling pretty remorseful about the whole mess.  I trashed a moped.  I was out of my mind last night.  Nice braids.

In an unrelated story, say hello to Briz Manga Sinj (ph), an 85-year-old wrestler in Jan Ship Pour (ph), India.  He‘s the heavyset guy in the diaper surrounded by half naked teenage—are you sure we‘re playing the right tape?  Man, I hope so.  Mr Sinj won the gold medal for wrestling in India‘s 1945 national games.  He‘s been teaching and competing every since.  He‘s the father of 10 children.  Sinj says he keeps himself fit and says there‘s no special secret behind his good health, just dedication and twinkies. 


Days away from negotiations with Iran, the U.S. Navy displaying a major show of force in the neighborhood.  And the lack of force from the Democrats.  My Special Comment on how the new leadership on Capitol Hill turned its back on the voters.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers  of this day. 

Number three, Jhymy Mhiyles, who not only lives in a virtual paradise in Australia, right above the Bondy Beach in Sydney, but he‘ll continue to do so.  A local council has stopped its eviction proceedings against Jhymy after international protests.  See while most of his neighbors in the cliffs above the beach live in houses valued at about 10 million dollars American, Jhymy lives in the cliffs.  He‘s homeless.  He won‘t interact with anybody, for better or worse.  They say he can stay there, provided he keeps his part of the cliff tidy. 

Number two, an—try that in English—an unidentified American tourist visiting Nuremberg in Germany.  He went for a walk through town, police stopped him.  He thought, evidently, he was observing a local custom as he took his constitutional.  He was naked. 

Number one, the unidentified M.C. at the start of the event that kicked off former Vice President Gore‘s book tour last night in Beverly Hills.  Mr. Gore was to be interviewed on stage by our pal Harry Shearer.  As the event started, your master of ceremonies reportedly introduced the two of them as Al Shearer and Harry Gore.  And if you think they were surprised, how do you think one of the guys from MTV series Punked must have felt?  His name is Al Shearer.


OLBERMANN:  It is an excruciating fact that while Washington is consumed with the politics of war, Iraq is consuming more American lives.  Tonight reports that one and possibly two bodies found south of Baghdad may be those of the American troops missing since the May 12th ambush.  Those deaths have yet to be confirmed, but the military did announce seven more soldiers and nine more Marines killed in Iraq, a total of 80 so far this month, putting May on track to quickly replace April as the worst month yet this year. 

And with all the real war in the Mideast, today war games were added to the mix.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, U.S. policymakers again struggling to confront and understand yet another Middle East adversary, one that really does have nuclear material.  Our chief diplomatic correspondent is Andrea Mitchell. 


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Only days before the first diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Iran, the administration put on a major show of force in the Persian Gulf today.  Two carrier groups, including nine war ships and 17,000 sailors and Marines.  The Navy called it routine, but the signal to Tehran was unmistakable. 

FRANCIS TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE COUNTER-TERRORISM OFFICIAL:  Iran‘s interference both in Iraq and in countries around the world is unacceptable.  And so what we want to see is a change in behavior.  But as the president and the vice president have said repeatedly, all options are on the table. 

MITCHELL:  And as the U.S. flexed its muscles, U.N. inspectors reported Iran‘s startling progress toward producing nuclear fuel, openly defying the U.N.  In California, Secretary of State Condi Rice appeared to be almost pleading with Iran to negotiate. 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I find it very hard to understand why the Iranians are not attracted to a way back into international—the international system, rather than continuing to deepen their isolation. 

MITCHELL:  But Rice is pushing diplomacy, while the vice president is rattling sabers. 

SEN. JACK REID (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  And then at the same time, we‘re demonstrating our conventional nuclear power in the Persian Gulf.  So it‘s confusing, to say the least. 

MITCHELL:  In fact, with the U.S. military tied down in Iraq, the president has opted for secret, non-lethal operations against Iran, economic measures to support Iranian dissidents and undermine the regime. 

KENNETH POLLACK, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL:  Most American efforts to try to melt covert operations inside of Iran have ended very badly. 

MITCHELL:  Tehran‘s response, it has locked up at least four Iranian-American academics.  Most recently, 45-year-old Kian Tajbakhsh of Columbia University. 

(on camera):  Tonight the United States is hoping that a combination of economic pressure and covert operations can bring Iran to the bargaining table. 


OLBERMANN:  Andrea Mitchell in Washington.  We may need U.N. sanctions against “The View.”  It is a celebrity fight and an Iraq war debate.  I don‘t know who we call about this.  Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes contemplating expanding the family.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  Before you dismiss the feuds of daytime TV fare like “The View,” consider the daytime ratings of “The View,” 3.5 million people, and who knows what percentage may not get anything else in their daily diet even resembling the, quote, news, unquote.  Thus in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, when Rosie O‘Donnell and Elizabeth Hasselbeck debate the war, as today, scream about it, they may be reaching those who have never heard of Harry Reid or John Boehner. 

Last week Miss O‘Donnell said, quote, 650,000 people have died in Iraq.  Who‘s the terrorists?  It seems like an obvious reference to President Bush, but not on Fox noise, which decided she meant American troops.  On Monday the question came up again. 


ROSIE O‘DONNELL, “THE VIEW”:  Rosie O‘Donnell thinks our troops are terrorists. 

ELIZABETH HASSELBECK, “THE VIEW”:  That‘s because you asked the question who are the terrorists if 650,000 Iraqis are dead after we came in there and invaded a sovereign nation.  I‘m just trying to—


HASSELBECK:  Maybe they drew the link there. 

O‘DONNELL:  They drew the link or they misrepresented what I said in order to twist it to make it seem what they want? 


OLBERMANN:  That was just a warm-up today.  When O‘Donnell and Hasselbeck went at it again. 


HASSELBECK:  People were criticizing you for saying that because it suggested something, OK?  So I said, look, take your opportunity now.  You have a show right now.  Tell the world what you think. 

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t want to take my opportunity to tell the world.  I want to know what people like you, but you are my friend, since September, do you believe that I think our troops are terrorists?  And you would not even look me in the face, Elizabeth, and say, no, Rosie.  I can understand how people might have thought that.  Why don‘t you take this opportunity like I‘m six? 

HASSELBECK:  Because you are an adult and I am certainly not going to be the person for you to explain your thoughts.  They‘re your thoughts.  Defend your own insinuations. 

O‘DONNELL:  I defend my thoughts. 

HASSELBECK:  Defend your own thoughts. 

O‘DONNELL:  But every time I defend them, Elizabeth, it‘s poor little Elizabeth that I‘m picking on. 

HASSELBECK:  You know what?  Poor little Elizabeth is not poor little Elizabeth. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s right.  That‘s why I‘m not going to fight with you anymore, because it‘s absurd.  For three weeks you can say all the Republican crap that you want.  I‘m not going to do it. 

HASSELBECK:  It‘s much easier to fight someone like Donald Trump. 

Isn‘t it?  Because he‘s obnoxious. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘ve never fought him.

I asked you if you believed what the Republican pundits were saying, you said nothing, and that‘s cowardly. 

HASSELBECK:  No, no, no, do not call me a coward, because, number one, I sit here every single day, open my heart and tell people exactly what I believe.  Do not call me a coward, Rosie.  I do not hide.  It was not cowardly.  It was honest. 

JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”:  Is there no commercial in this show? 


OLBERMANN:  Poor little Elizabeth.  Any hard feelings you ask? 

According to Rosie‘s blog, she‘s taking tomorrow off.  It‘s her partner‘s birthday.  Hasselbeck says they‘re still friendly.  So there‘s no slow boil anger between them, quote, just two people having a moment of heat. 

Coincidentally, being in heat just happens to top off the tabs, our nightly look at entertainment and celebrity news, beginning with another possible runt in the liter of TomKat.  “Life and Style” magazine reporting this couple is already turning one of the seven bedrooms in its Beverly Hills mansion into a nursery.  A friend says Cruise is head over heels about their first child, Suri, and both are ready to do a little TomKating one more time. 

As a matter of fact, the magazine says Cruise is approaching it in his typically enthusiastic fashion.  I don‘t know what they mean by that.  But it could mean the baby will be conceived while they jump up and down on a sofa. 

Not jumping, not skating, but dancing has brought Apollo Anton Ohno his latest prize.  Emerging victorious on “Dancing With the Stars.”  I won a dance competition and all I got was this crappy disco ball.  Mr. Ohno actually said, quote, I feel amazing.  On the last performance show, the crowd loved Ohno‘s rhumba with professional dancing partner Julianne Hough.  And the couple‘s free style dance received a perfect score from the judges.  Former N‘Sync member Joey Fatone came in second place.  Boxer Laila Ali was third. 

The president fabricates a myth that if the war isn‘t funded, the troops will be endangered.  He somehow convinces Democratic leadership.  It probably means it‘s time for new Democratic leadership.  Special Comment next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze goes to the late Robert Comer, executed yesterday in Florence, Arizona for a 1980 murder.  His last words before the lethal injection started to kill him, go raiders!  Presumably referring to Football‘s Oakland Raiders.  They won two and lost 14 last year.  They don‘t even need his help. 

The runner-up, continuing the sports theme, rookie outfielder Elijah Dukes (ph) of the Tampa Bay, Devil Rays.  He and his schoolteacher wife are splitting.  He‘s not taking it well.  In fact, he burst into her classroom one day.  She says he has repeatedly threatened to kill her and even her children, even going so far as to leave her a voice mail saying, hey, dog, it‘s on, dog, you dead dog.  He also sent a text message to her cell phone complete, as a helpful reminder, with a photo of a handgun.  Devil Rays‘s manager Joe Madden benched Dukes tonight, explaining that the outfielder would probably be too upset to play after the allegations, but he expects Dukes will be back in the lineup tomorrow.  Want to bet? 

But our winner is the government of the state of Virginia.  Samuel David Cheney was born there today, eight pounds, six ounces.  His parents are Vice President Cheney‘s daughter Mary and Heather Poe, Mary Cheney‘s partner of 15 years, is not permitted any legal connection to the child whatsoever, can‘t adopt as a second parent, doesn‘t legally exist. 

To the folk who keep that law in the books, let me see if I got this right.  Your political or religious beliefs are more important than this one kid having a loving, two-parent home.  Not theory here, not abstractions, this particular little boy, on day one, facing all the crap life has to offer him and everybody else, he doesn‘t get two official parents, and this makes you feel better about yourself how? 

The government of the state of Virginia, today‘s Worst Persons in the World. 


OLBERMANN:  And lastly, as promised, a Special Comment about the Democrats deal with President Bush to continue financing this unspeakable war in Iraq, and to do so on his terms.  It is, in fact, a comment about betrayal.  Few men or women elected in our history, whether executive or legislative, state or national, have been sent into an office with a mandate more obvious, nor instructions more clear; get us out of Iraq. 

Yet after six months of preparation and execution, half a year gathering the strands of public support, translating into action the collective will of the nearly 70 percent of Americans who reject this war of lies, the Democrats have managed only this: the Democratic leadership has surrendered to a president, if not the worst president, then easily the most selfish in our history, who happily blackmails his own people and uses his own military personnel as hostages, to his asinine demand that the Democrats give the troops their money. 

The Democratic leadership has agreed to finance the deaths of Americans in a war that has only reduced the security of Americans.  The Democratic leadership has given Mr. Bush all that he wanted, with the only caveat being not merely meaningless symbolism about benchmarks for the Iraqi government, but optional meaningless symbolism about benchmarks for the Iraqi government.  The Democratic leadership has, in sum, claimed a compromise with the administration in which the only things truly compromised are the trust of the voters, the ethics of the Democrats, and the lives of our brave and doomed friends and family in Iraq. 

You, the men and women elected with the simplest of directions, stop the war, have traded your strength, your bargaining position and the uniform support of those who elected you for a handful of magic beans.  You may trot out every political cliche from the soft soap inside the beltway dictionary of boiler plate sound bites about how this is the beginning of the end of Mr. Bush‘s carte blanche, about how this is the first step. 

Well, Senator Reid, the only end at its beginning is our collective hope that you and your colleagues will do what is right, what is essential, what you were each elected or reelected to do.  Because this first step is a step right off a cliff.  And this president, how shameful it would be to watch an adult hold his breath and threaten to continue to do so until he turned blue.  How horrifying it is to watch a president hold his breath and threaten to continue to do so until innocent and patriotic Americans in harm‘s way are bled white. 

You lead this country, sir?  You claim to defend it?  And yet when faced with the prospect of someone calling you on your stubbornness, your stubbornness, which has cost a 3,431 Americans their lives, and thousands more their limbs, you, Mr. Bush., imply that if the Democrats don‘t give you the money, and give it to you entirely on your terms, the troops would be stranded or forced to serve longer or what, have to throw bullets at the enemy with their bare hands?  It is moronic. 

We have defunded wars before, sir, and this is not even close to a true defunding.  No harm has come to our troops.  How transcendently, how historically pathetic.  Any other president from any other moment in a panorama of our history would have, at the outset of this tawdry game of political chicken, declared that no matter what the other political side did, he would ensure personally, first last and always, that the troops would not suffer.  A president, Mr. Bush, uses the carte blanche he already has not to manipulate and overlap arriving and departing brigades into a second surge, but to say in unequivocal terms that if it takes every last dime of the money already allocated, if it takes reneging on government contracts with Halliburton, he will make sure the troops are safe, even if the only safety to be found is in getting them the hell out of there. 

Well any true president would have done that, sir.  You, instead, used our troops as political pawns, then blamed the Democrats when you did so.  Not that these Democrats, who had this country‘s support and sympathy up until 48 hours ago, have not earned all of the blame they can carry home.  We seem to be very near the bleak choice between war and shame, Winston Churchill wrote to Lord Moyne in the days after the British signed the Munich Accords with Germany in 1938.  “My feeling is that we shall choose shame and then have war thrown in a little later.”  That‘s what this is for the Democrats, isn‘t it, their Neville Chamberlain moment before the second world war. 

All that is missing is the landing at the airport with the blinkered leader waving a piece of paper, which he naively thought would guarantee peace in our time, but which his opponent would ignore with deceit.  The Democrats have merely streamlined the process.  Their piece of paper already says Mr. Bush can ignore it with impunity. 

But where are the Democratic presidential hopefuls this evening?  See they not that to which the Senate and House leadership has blinded itself?  Judging these candidates based on how they voted on the original Iraq authorization or waiting for apologies for those votes, that is ancient history now.  The Democratic nomination is likely to be decided tomorrow, but talk of practical politics, the buying into the president‘s dishonest construction, fund the troops or they will be in jeopardy, the promise of tougher action in September is falling not on deaf ears, but rather falling on Americans who already told you what to do and now perceive your ears as deaf, as closed to practical politics. 

Those who seek the Democratic nomination need to, for their own political futures, and 1,000 times more solemnity and importance for the individual futures of our troops, denounce this betrayal, vote against it, and if need be, unseat Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi if they continue down this path of guilty, fatal acquiescence to the tragically misguided will of a mono-maniacal president. 

For ultimately, at this hour, the entire government has failed us.  Mr. Reid, Mr. Hoyer and the other Democrats have failed us.  They negotiated away that which they did not own, but had only been entrusted by us to protect, our collective will as the citizens of this country, that this brazen war of lies be ended as rapidly and safely as possible. 

Mr. Bush and his government have failed us.  They have behaved venomously and without dignity, of course.  That is all at which Mr. Bush is gifted.  We are the ones providing any element of surprise or shock here.  With the exception of Senator Dodd and Senator Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidates have, so far at least, failed us.  They must now speak and make plain how they view what has been given to Mr. Bush and what is yet to be given away tomorrow and in the thousand tomorrows still to come, because for the next 14 months, the Democratic nominating process, indeed the whole of our political discourse, until further notice, has, with the stroke of a cursive pen, become about one thing and one thing alone, the electorate figured this out six months ago. 

The president and Republicans have not, doubtless will not.  The Democrats will figure it out during the Memorial Day recess when they go home and many of those who elected them will politely suggest that they stay there and permanently.  Because on the subject of Iraq, the people have been ahead of the media, ahead of the government, ahead of the politicians for the last year or two years or maybe three. 

Our politics is now about the answer to one briefly worded question:

Mr. Bush has failed.  Mr. Warner has failed.  Mr. Reid has failed.  So, who among us will stop this war, this war of lies?  To he or she fall the figurative keys to the nation.  To all the others, presidents and majority leaders and candidates and rank-and-file Congressmen and senators of either party, there‘s only blame for the shameful and bipartisan betrayal.  Good night and good luck.



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