Guests: Jonathan Turley, Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, Larry Pozner
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Gitmo closed. The most notorious American prison since the Civil War is reportedly to be shut down by the Bush administration after a summit meeting tomorrow, Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Rice, Chertoff, and Pace among the attendees. What happens to the detainees? What happens to the prosecutions? The latest on the bombshell news breaking from Washington.
Gonzogate is back. Take two on the testimony of the attorney general‘s top henchman, and in this scandal about the political homogenizing of the U.S. attorneys, just what have we learned?
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PAUL MCNULTY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have learned that my knowledge, at the time I testified about the replacement of the United States attorneys, was in some respects incomplete.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Incomplete, as in missing a few things here and there, like facts? Paul McNulty testifies again, John Ashcroft testifies in secret on the wiretapping and maybe on the midnight run to his own hospital bedside.
How many branches of our government are there, three? No, four. The executive, the legislative, the judicial, and the Dick. The vice president‘s office refuses inspection by the National Archives in the erased and illegal e-mail scandal, claiming that law doesn‘t apply to it, the fourth branch of government.
The campaign drives onward, but the Romney camp denies its security people pulled anybody over. A “New York Times” reporter says it did just that, and told him it had run his plates, and he should stop following the campaign bus. And all that sounds pretty bad and maybe illegal.
And speaking of maybe illegal, just when the Paris Hilton story peters out and the Anna Nicole Smith judge leaves for Hollywood...
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I gave little antidotes during this case.
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OLBERMANN: ... what could possibly fill the void of tabloid?
Excerpts from the O.J. Simpson confession book. Yaay!
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
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O.J. SIMPSON: I‘m ready for this, boy. This is happening.
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OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
The place was called Andersonville in Georgia. And in the prisoner of war camp there, nearly 13,000 Americans died of malnutrition and disease and inhumanity. When the Civil War ended, the Confederate commandant was tried and hanged as a war criminal.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it can easily be argued that the most notorious, the most damaging prison since Andersonville in American history is the legal black hole the Bush administration opened at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2001, Gitmo.
And tonight comes the astonishing and vehemently denied report that the administration is about to shut Gitmo down, the Associated Press reporting at dinnertime tonight that it had learned from three senior administration officials that the Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the detention facility at the naval base there and move the terror suspects being held there to other facilities, where those other facility might be apparently the major obstacle to any final decision, the Justice Department consistently opposed to moving the detainees onto U.S. soil, because that would trigger a host of constitutional issues, the AP reporting that President Bush‘s legal and national and security teams were expected to discuss the possibility of shutting down the Guantanamo Bay facility at the White House tomorrow, the White House strongly denying to NBC News that any such meeting will be taking place, nor that any decision has been reached.
Quote, “The president has long expressed a desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and to do so in a responsible way. A number of steps need to take place before that can happen, such as setting up military commissions and the repatriation to their home countries of detainees who have been cleared for release. These and other steps have not been completed. No decisions on the future of Guantanamo Bay are imminent, and there will not be a White House meeting tomorrow.”
Saying there will not be a meeting is not the same as saying there was not a meeting scheduled and canceled, just as the three national on-air network evening newscasts were going on the air, White House senior advisers clarifying that the detainees‘ meeting which was scheduled for tomorrow was removed from the schedule recently.
Let‘s turn now to a navigator of the constitutional issues here, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, a scholar of constitutional law.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Based on what you know about what would be involved in shutting Gitmo down and dealing with those 375-some-odd (INAUDIBLE) detainees, which of the scenarios sounds the most likely to you, that the wire service got this utterly wrong, the wire service got it right and the White House is denying the truth, or the wire service got it right in that it was reporting a meeting that had already been canceled or was immediately canceled as soon as the story came out?
TURLEY: Well, I think in the world of Washington, which is a world unto itself, it seems pretty clear this was a tactical leak, that there was a meeting that was going to be taking place, and someone leaked it. I, and they then canceled it.
It‘s well known that they want to close Guantanamo Bay, at least the prison component, obviously. But (INAUDIBLE) what people up there remember is that this has become the very symbol of the United States around the world. It‘s not a good symbol. It‘s the symbol that many people view as an example of our war against the rule of law, it‘s the thing that has made us a rogue nation.
And this administration would like to close it. The problem is that it‘s an enormous admission of one of the great blunders of the administration. They‘ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Gitmo. They have nothing to show for it, except animus around the world.
So it‘s more of a political question than a national security question.
OLBERMANN: All right, so if this was a planned leak, and if the reporting stands now turns out to be correct that there was a meeting, the meeting was canceled, does it then—can we not extrapolate that an administration official who was against the closing of Gitmo might have been the one who did the leaking, I mean, sabotaging the meeting? And if that scenario is true, to extrapolate a third degree, who in the administration has been the most ardent supporter or supporters of Guantanamo Bay?
TURLEY: Well, this is like a Beltway version of Clue, who‘s in the dining room with the butcher‘s knife? And most people would assume that it‘s Dick Cheney, but he‘s the most obvious suspect, because he is believed to be against yielding on this or so many other issues.
But you never know. What I think is we do know is that it seems quite clearly to be a tactical leak. And most leaks in this city are not for whistleblowing, they‘re really for jockeying within an administration.
What‘s fascinating about this is, this is a meeting which a relatively few people would know the subject. I say relatively, there‘s probably a couple of dozen, maybe more. But you also see that people are acting like independent contractors now. I mean, I think it‘s an example of the trouble this president has. People are trying to essentially push him and shove him.
In many ways, this would be perfect for someone who doesn‘t want Gitmo closed. They would unleash the conservative blogs the night before, make the meeting very, very difficult for a president who, frankly, can‘t do any heavy political lifting right now, due to his popularity ratings.
OLBERMANN: That having been said, the possibility, the—in some quarters, the necessity of shutting this place down has been discussed for a long time. After the last Hamdan ruling, one of his attorneys, Professor Neil Katchall (ph), said it was inevitable. The lead defense attorney for the Pentagon said it‘s inevitable.
Taking a look at that seeming inevitability, regardless of whether or not it is imminent, what would happen to the—those detainees? Do they go to Leavenworth? Do they go home? Where do they go?
TURLEY: Yes, well, that is the great concern, because, frankly, the thing that the administration hates about Gitmo is not what makes Gitmo so reviled around the world. They haven‘t questioned their policies. They hate the symbol of it.
And so it‘s more likely that if we got rid of Gitmo, we would create 100 little Gitmos that were less visible, less subject to scrutiny. That‘s much more likely than the president suddenly waking up and saying, Wow, I‘ve denied all these people rights under international law and domestic law.
And so the last thing that‘s going to happen is that this president is going to let any of those people inside a court of law where they can talk about what was done to them, and the rights that they never received.
OLBERMANN: So what, presumably, they spoke of people who‘d been cleared for release, which is an interesting phrase in and of itself. Are there rights? In what region, what venue would those rights be exercised for those people who would pursue grievances who had been released, who would want to somehow deal with the treatment they‘d received at Gitmo?
TURLEY: Well, there‘s an effort, as you know, in Congress to try to restore some procedural rights, so that the court system does what it‘s always done in this country, and looked at people with grievances and made decisions as to whether they were valid.
The terrible tragedy about Gitmo is that these people, some of them, really are guilty, and they should have been tried, and they could have been tried in a real court of law, and we would have lost no credibility and grained—gained a lot of respect that we don‘t have today.
OLBERMANN: The constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. As always, great thanks for joining us, sir.
TURLEY: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Closing Guantanamo Bay would only eliminate one scandal for this Bush administration. On Capitol Hill this afternoon, the number two man at Justice, Paul McNulty, back in the witness chair, and he would still have us believe he was the only man who knew less about the firings of those nine U.S. attorneys than his boss, Attorney General Gonzales.
And the only way we could have learned less at today‘s hearing before a House Judiciary subcommittee would be if Congress had not held the session at all. Today‘s score in the effort to investigate the firings of those nine U.S. attorneys for apparent political reasons, Bush administration stonewalling one, Congress nothing.
At times this afternoon during that hearing, it was unclear who exactly was in the hot—hot seat, Mr. McNulty, who was sticking to the talking points. Take what he had to say about what the role of the White House was in Gonzales-gate.
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MCNULTY: There was a November 7 e-mail that was sent by Kyle Sampson over to the White House counsel‘s office, submitting names and a plan for how the U.S. attorneys would be contacted and how the whole process would proceed.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), CHAIR, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: But over and above that, what did you know about it? I mean, that‘s—we all know that. That‘s public information. Was it through consultation with Harriet Miers?
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OLBERMANN: Harriet Miers? You‘re asking the number two man at Justice about Harriet Miers? Her involvement in the firings, should anybody care—evidently they don‘t—is already fully documented in the only e-mails the Bush administration deigned innocuous enough to release. Any chance, Congressman, that it might have occurred to you to ask that question about, oh, just picking a name at random, Karl Rove?
Not that there were not a few nuggets to be found in a hearing that was largely iron pyrite. Take Mr. McNulty‘s response to another e-mail, the now-infamous one in which White House political director Sara Taylor criticized the deputy AG‘s previous Senate testimony, in which he did not toe the party line, that Arkansas U.S. attorney Bud Cummins was fired for being lazy, all to make way for a protege of Karl Rove.
Today, Mr. McNulty again tempted Ms. Taylor‘s wrath.
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REP. HANK JOHNSON (D): Quote, “McNulty refuses to say Bud is lazy, which is why we got rid of him in the first place,” end quote. Do you remember seeing that in that e-mail?
MCNULTY: Yes, I do.
JOHNSON: Did you believe at that time—at the time that you first read the e-mail—that Bud Cummins was lazy? And did you refuse to testify about that issue?
MCNULTY: I remember refusing. I never have—no one‘s ever described Mr. Cummins to me as being lazy.
JOHNSON: So you did not think he was lazy.
MCNULTY: No, I didn‘t.
JOHNSON: You disagreed with the characterization that Miss Taylor had made?
MCNULTY: As far as I was concerned, there was no issue like that associated with Mr. Cummins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For a closer look at today‘s hearing, and the rest of the day‘s scandal news, let‘s turn to our correspondent David Shuster in Washington.
David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) can we take away from the hearing that Mr. McNulty was, in all cases, looking out for number one? I mean, we just heard him smack down Sara Taylor, smack down the White House. What did he have to say about the attorney general‘s conflicting statements about how large a role he, meaning McNulty, played in the firing of the U.S. attorneys?
SHUSTER: Well, McNulty repeatedly played up the contradictions between the attorney general‘s statements. I mean, at times it seemed like McNulty and the committee members were simply arguing over which Alberto Gonzales statement should be believed.
McNulty continued to maintain today that he, McNulty, was not involved in producing or formulating a list of prosecutors to be fired, and McNulty only came into the process at the very end, when officials were preparing to implement the terminations. When members of the committee noted the statements by Alberto Gonzales that McNulty was actually much more involved, McNulty then pointed to other statements by Gonzalez.
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MCNULTY: The attorney general said, I think in his Senate testimony, that he—one of the regrets he had was not directly involving the deputy attorney general in the process.
REP. WILLIAM DELAHUNT (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Did Attorney General Gonzales call you in and say, Paul, we‘ve got a list of eight United States attorneys. What‘s your opinion? I mean, I would think this is a matter of significant consequence. Did you talk to him about this?
MCNULTY: Not before the phone calls were made on December 7.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Yes, a date that will live in infamy.
Well, in this case, committee Democrats found it unbelievable that McNulty and Gonzales would not have discussed firing eight U.S. attorneys until just days before they were actually terminated, especially since other witnesses have said that names were added to the list over a lengthy period in consultation with the White House. But McNulty continued to maintain that he was not involved.
OLBERMANN: Did we learn anything in this afternoon‘s hearing that we didn‘t already know? Or was the only grilling that took place involving Mr. McNulty putting the Democratic members of that subcommittee over the coals?
SHUSTER: I think that‘s a good assessment, Keith. I mean, McNulty, who is a pretty skillful lawyer, seemed to have a better grasp of the facts, even as he was parsing words. The committee really didn‘t land a—didn‘t lay much of a hand on him.
And McNulty, again, even though his testimony today contradicted previous testimony from other witnesses, the bottom line is that McNulty offered simply no new information, and the committee was unable to pin him down.
The evidence suggests that the attorneys were fired in this case for political reasons, but McNulty shed no more light on that, and he also offered no more light on who actually came up with this idea, although all the evidence that‘s been collected so far points to officials over in the office of Karl Rove.
OLBERMANN: Yes, maybe it was done by invisible weavers overnight. Anything new, any new reports about these alleged efforts to politicize the hiring and firing at the Justice Department by anybody, any high-ranking officials besides McNulty?
SHUSTER: Yes, the (INAUDIBLE), “The Washington Post” reported today that the Justice Department has begun an internal investigation into the former assistant attorney general for civil rights, Bradley Schlozman is his name, allegedly fired three career lawyers in the civil rights division, all had very solid performance ratings, but all three were minorities. And according to a former colleague who has spoken with investigators, Schlozman spoke of making room for some “good Americans” instead.
In testimony to Congress, Schlozman has acknowledged that he boasted of hiring Republicans and conservatives, but he denied taking any inappropriate actions against the staffers. But that account has been undermined, according to “The Post,” by at least six officials who said they overheard Schlozman making brazen political remarks about the employees. Schlozman, who had actually no previous prosecution experience, was named a U.S. attorney on an interim basis a year ago. He was then reassigned to another job in the Justice Department, where he sits pending this internal investigation.
OLBERMANN: Not just the subcommittee here in the House, is there anything from the Senate, and that investigation of the NSA domestic spying scandal?
SHUSTER: Yes, the Senate, led by the Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Patrick Leahy, did vote to authorize today subpoenas for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales‘s documents from when he was White House counsel, all documents related to this NSA spying-wiretap program. And the vote was supported by several Republicans, including Iowa Senator Charles Grassley.
The issue that the Senate is getting at is that Alberto Gonzalez testified under oath that there was no division whatsoever, there were no serious differences whatsoever as far as the legality of this NSA wiretap program. But you have that story from James Comey that, in fact, John Ashcroft opposed it, that Gonzales tried to steamroll Ashcroft while he was on his hospital bed. The committee believes that in fact Gonzales may have lied under oath. They‘re trying to get the documents that might prove it.
OLBERMANN: As the spring of scandal turns into the summer of scandal in Washington, David Shuster of MSNBC. As always, David, great thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And then there‘s the Bush information scandal, and the vice president‘s reaction when the investigators came to ask questions. The law does not apply to him. Thanks a lot, Dick.
Thanks a lot, Mitt. His security people did what to the car of a reporter from “The New York Times”?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Good news, everyone, for President Bush. He‘s beating Democrats in the polls. Bad news, the Democrat he beat is Jimmy Carter, and he beat him to the bottom, a new “Newsweek” poll finding that Bush‘s job approval numbers are now lower than President Carter‘s ever were, 26 percent, to the Carter low of 28 percent. The poll also puts the president in striking distance of Richard Nixon‘s record of 23 percent.
In our fourth story tonight, the president has sunk so low we learned today he cannot even run the vice president. A Bush executive order commands everyone in the executive branch to report on handling of classified material. But Dick Cheney has not done so since 2002.
Today, the House Oversight Committee revealed that in 2004, the Information Security Oversight Office, ISOO, tried to inspect Cheney‘s office but was denied entry. In fact, Cheney responded by trying to destroy ISOO.
Why the lack of cooperation? His office says, quote, “The reporting requirement does not apply to Cheney‘s office, which has both legislative and executive functions.” In other words, his functions outside the executive branch exempt him from oversight by the executive branch.
But if he‘s not the executive branch, and he‘s not a legislator and not a judge, there remains only one possible alternative—Vice President Dick Cheney is a rogue nation.
Despite the recent capture of his top lieutenant, Mr. Cheney continues to defy the rule of law, attempting to destroy ISOO—an office of the U.S. government, after all—and barring inspections in true Saddam style, leaving only one possible remedy—invade him, in order to establish a free and democratic Dick Cheney.
Let‘s turn now to (INAUDIBLE) “Newsweek”‘s senior White House correspondent, and therefore apparently not Dick Cheney correspondent, Richard Wolffe, also, of course, our political analyst.
It is good to talk to you again tonight, sir.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: If Mr. Cheney claims exemption from oversight of the executive branch, is there anything, anybody, any remaining agency whose authority he does recognize? I mean, maybe the NRA?
WOLFFE: Yes, well, it‘s not the first time they have made this argument. There are some pretty innocuous things that the vice president‘s office has tried to avoid using this specious argument. But it was crafted, incidentally, by his chief of staff, David Addington, who‘s a pretty high-powered lawyer himself.
You know, they‘ve denied filing reports on outside travel, which the president‘s own aides have no problem in filing. And their argument is that they‘re not part of the executive branch, which is curious.
I mean, I‘m not a constitutional lawyer, but say I was a strict constructionist, it would it be pretty easy to frame the argument that the founders wanted there to be checks and balances. Obviously it doesn‘t apply to the vice president.
OLBERMANN: And if Mr. Cheney succeeded in legally carving himself out of the executive branch, would he not also necessarily abdicate many of the protections of that branch, the ones that have shielded him in this cone of silence?
WOLFFE: Well, that‘s a very good point. I mean, this is obviously a sort of Guantanamo Bay situation. And it has come up, for instance, in the whole debate about deleted e-mails. If you‘re going to run government business through your private accounts, then you can‘t then claim executive privilege. So your only possibility is, well, deleting everything. This is a very rocky path, and frankly, if it‘s constitutional, then I‘m a banana.
OLBERMANN: We mentioned Scooter Libby in jest, but that too was about classified information. And Congressman Waxman has said now that Mr. Cheney has a poor record of keeping too much secret and letting too much out for political ends. How fair is that charge?
WOLFFE: I think it‘s very fair. And there are strange lines around the secrecy that the vice president operates. I mean, we‘re not talking about consultations on policy formation. It extended, for instance, when he had that unfortunate encounter with his friend, when he was out shooting. They said, the vice president‘s office said that this was private travel. I mean, the very concept that the vice president could be doing something privately is strange. And again, it‘s something that even the president, even the president‘s aides don‘t agree with and don‘t live with.
So why they have ring-fenced (ph) themselves is very, very curious.
OLBERMANN: Is there any sense today—and we mentioned this appalling number of the president‘s approval rate, now down below that of Jimmy Carter‘s and heading into Richard Nixon‘s territory—is there any assessment, any way to tell how much, if, presuming he does, the vice president factors into the Bush approval numbers these days? Or is it just, is it just Iraq dwarfing everything else at this point?
WOLFFE: I think it is Iraq. And that‘s certainly the view of the president‘s closest aides. Remember that the president had this grand surge, and his own faithful had lost confidence in it. You know, it strikes me, when you look at these numbers, everyone says, Well, it‘s reached rock bottom. But then John McCain, who knows something about sliding poll numbers, likes to say, he says there‘s a Chairman Mao quote that it‘s always darkest just before it‘s completely black. And these numbers certainly look that way. They can actually get worse, and they are.
OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, and not a banana. Great thanks, Richard.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of nondisclosure, the New York mayor who says he is not running for president but turns out tonight to have been running a precampaign campaign for two years.
And I‘m no engineer, but I‘m thinking you boys put them window in wrong somehow.
Next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: June 21, another essential day in American history which we do not even observe in passing, let alone celebrate. On this day 219 years ago, New Hampshire voted to approve the new United States Constitution, being the 9th state to do so, out of the requisite nine. The Constitution was therefore officially ratified. Of course, New Hampshire did send along a list of 12 improvements it wanted to see added, such as making sure there were no laws about religion and no Army in peace time.
On that note, let‘s play Oddball.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): We begin in Liverpool in England, where this building appears to have suffered some serious structural damage. Either that or I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue. It‘s actually the work of a sculptor, Richard Wilson, who cut a huge circle in the side of the abandoned building, and mounted it on a giant rotator, creating not only an amazing piece of art, but also the coolest carnival ride since the zipper. The work will be in place until 2008, when the building is scheduled for demolition, for which Wilson will hopefully crank that thing up to full speed, just to see what the heck happens.
To the Internets, where, perhaps spawned by the amazing story of the British cell phone salesman, who‘s become an international sensation after singing opera on the TV show “Britain‘s Got Talent, amateurs are coming out of the woodworks to show their chops. The next sensation is simply one of the most dramatic five seconds of classical acting we have ever seen.
Bravo. Bravo. Let‘s see that again.
Lastly, to the Macalenas (ph) region of Chile, where scientists are stumped trying to determine what exactly happened to the giant lake in Patagonia. It was just here yesterday. Now it‘s gone. Hauled away in pickle jars, authorities believe, or possibly a giant crack in the lake bed just drained the thing. Most upset about this development clearly the fish, who are still trying to figure out whether this is some crazy episode of MTV‘s “Punk‘d.”
OLBERMANN: Mitt Romney‘s campaign, does it have a Secret Service deployment already, or just a bunch of guys who think they are Secret Service? Are we in reruns, O.J. Simpson in controversy over his non-confession confession book. Those stories ahead, but first COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day.
Number three, the unnamed driver in St. Petersburg, Florida who took her boyfriend‘s directions a little too literally this morning. He said she needed to make a quick left. So she promptly did, and slammed directly into a building. Nobody hurt. She said they were late for his probation hearing. It gets better. That probation hearing was actually yesterday.
Number two, Olin Kennedy of Orlando, Florida. He was deep sea fishing about 12 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral when he reached for his fishing rod and promptly fell off the boat into the Atlantic. His boat was in gear. It continued to move on without him. He was in for it. So how do we now this story? How come he‘s not dead? Because he took off his pants, waved them around his head and finally attracted the attention of a crew man on a passing casino boat.
They rescued Mr. Kennedy after he had treaded water for four hours.
Number one, and again it‘s a clean sweep for Florida, Mr. Maurice Stuckey of Dolton (ph), Illinois, who walked up to a police officer in the city of Port St. Lucy to ask for directions and wound up being arrested. The policeman he approached was a former narcotics officer who could not help but notice what Mr. Stuckey was keeping perched above and behind his ear, what they call a blunt, a hollowed out cigar filled with marijuana.
OLBERMANN: It‘s soothing to remember what Will Rogers once said, I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons. On the other hand, there‘s our third story, the COUNTDOWN to 2008, and allegations of pit bull behavior in the Mitt Romney campaign, denying reports in the “New York Times” that his security aides, acting in a fashion very like the Secret Service, ordered the car of a Times reporter following Romney in New Hampshire to pull off the road.
The reporter claiming he was told a check had been run on his license plates and he should veer off. Both actions, or pretending to have the power to do them, would be illegal. The Romney campaign saying it would not discuss security arrangements. But news reports being circulated by Romney opponents claim a top aide to then Massachusetts Governor Romney was once cited for having illegal sirens, lights, and other police style equipment in his car.
Meanwhile, billionaire Michael Bloomberg just yesterday saying he has no plans to run. Now in conflict with today‘s reports, again in the “New York Times,” that his organization has spent studying a potential run. Friend and advisers saying he is intrigued by the possibility, but worried about becoming a spoiler to the campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton, who he described just yesterday as a very good senator.
Joining us now “Newsweek” senior editor and MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter. Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: First, the Romney security detail. Unlike threatening a visit from Fox security, this could be serious. Late tonight—this from Jane Young, the senior assistant attorney general chief of the criminal bureau at the New Hampshire attorney general‘s office: we have received a request to look into this matter. We are, in fact, looking into it. WE have launched an investigation. We received a letter from a concerned citizen, who asked the attorney general to look into it, and we are.
Is this serious for Romney. Have you heard complaints before about his security being a little high hat?
ALTER: I have not, and I don‘t think it‘s particularly serious, but it is creepy. That complaint, by the way, according to the Romney people, was filed by a McCain supporter. But this is a strange story, Keith. He‘s got security people who wear these ear pieces so that they, I guess, look like Secret Service. You‘re not really supposed to do that. They‘re not really supposed to pretend they‘re law enforcement.
And for them to Mark Liebowitz‘s (ph) story in the “New York Times” that he was pulled over, they‘re basically calling Liebowitz a liar, which he is not. So I‘m not quite sure why they would deny the story, since it almost certainly took place. This is the strangest security story in a president campaign I can remember sense 1988, when Jesse Jackson‘s security were made of what were called The Fruit of Islam, which is Luis Farrakhan‘s aides, who then did very creepy security for Jesse Jackson.
OLBERMANN: How to win friends and influence people. What is going on in terms of the stuff that the candidate are trying to throw out. Romney‘s got something going. What does Dodd got going?
ALTER: Well, Dodd, actually, is going to give an interesting speech on Saturday that I got an advance look at. It‘s a very ambitious national service agenda, that would, among other things, expand Americorps to a million members a year, which would be pretty close to universal national service. And this will be controversial, require high school students to do 100 hours of community service in order to graduate from high school.
Now, the particulars of all these plans change. You can say Chris Dodd, he is not going anywhere. But the way these presidential campaign work—first of all, it‘s too early to count somebody like Dodd out. But also, often the ideas that get introduced into the race then become very important and get picked up by other people.
For instance, the Peace Corps, which John F. Kennedy introduced, was originally Hubert Humphrey‘s idea when he was a loser in 1960. So sometimes the conversation changes when the second-tier candidates introduce new ideas into a campaign.
OLBERMANN: And Hubert Horatio Humphrey‘s fans just thanked you for that reference. About Mayor Bloomberg, are we getting a better fix on the what ifs here. Is this correct, the calculus is he might not run if Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, but might run if Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican. I mean, that certainly seems like an odd series of triggers, even if you are a newly ex-Republican mayor of New York. Does it not?
ALTER: You know, I don‘t think it‘s clear. I don‘t think he knows whether he‘s going to run. He‘s just keeping his options open. He has enough money to wait for a year before he has to actually pull the trigger and decide whether he wants to run for president. A lot can change between now and then. He‘s playing a very effective game of footsie with the press, wink, wink, wink, you know, on whether he‘s actually going to do this. And because it will be appealing to be the wild card, he will be able stay relevant for the next year, whether he ends up running or not.
OLBERMANN: And finally, Jon, this confused reporting about a White House summit meeting to agree to close Gitmo tomorrow, a meeting that apparently was canceled. Leaving the particulars of the story aside, even the meeting aside, what does just the fact that this was apparently on the schedule, and it is apparently being considered—what does it do to the Republican candidates who endorsed—embraced Gitmo? I mean, Romney said it should be doubled in size. He must feel like he‘s been hit by lightning tonight?
ALTER: Well, he probably doesn‘t notice. These candidate are all trying to out testosterone each other on the Republican side, and some of them are going to be left high and dry if the White House takes Colin Powell‘s recommendation, which is to shut Gitmo entirely. That would be a good move in the world community, where Gitmo is a big black eye for the United States. But it does indicate that these Republicans are pretty out of step. It‘s kind like on evolution and some other issues. They are really out of the mainstream right now.
OLBERMANN: Well, on the other hand, it just occurs to me, Romney could now then run on a one plank platform, which is to reopen Gitmo. “Newsweek‘s” senior editor Jonathan Alter, as always, great thanks for joining us.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Forget Gitmo for a moment. What about the Giambino (ph)? A New York Yankee‘s star may spill the beans about the juice to baseball‘s steroid hunter.
And Paris Hilton‘s pets reportedly running wild in her absence. What about the Chihuahuas. Won‘t somebody think of the Chihuahuas?
OLBERMANN: Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, and Jason Giambi‘s steroid admission and Paris Hilton‘s pet problem. Hilton first. Not in jail, no pets allowed there. But at her Beverly Hills home, her neighbors complaining that all of her animals roam freely, if the “New York Post” is to be believed.
A next door neighbor, Shelby Segal—Sea gull, Segal—saying that Hilton‘s orange cat actually got run over by a car and died. Hilton‘s Chihuahuas are often on the loose as well. Another neighbor claiming that she found two of the little doggies running up and down the street, so she put them in her bathroom for safe-keeping and then called Miss Hilton. An assistant said that Miss Hilton wasn‘t home and then finally picked them up three hours later.
From Chihuahuas poo to the poo hitting the fan in the baseball steroids investigation. The only star ever to even come close to admitting and apologizing for the use of the drugs will meet with the former U.S. senator trying to get to the bottom of the scandal, and he has come even closer to a flat out admission. Jason Giambi, injured designated hitter of the New York Yankees, becoming late this afternoon the first active player known to be cooperating with George Mitchell‘s inquiry.
Giambi was reportedly threatened with suspension if he didn‘t cooperate, also reportedly negotiated the parameters of his testimony, possibly relieving him of the burden of naming steroid users, or even immunizing him from having his contract voided for having used illegal drugs. Last month, Giambi had said all of baseball owed its fans an apology, which really honked off all of baseball.
Today, he has issued another statement, backing away from that, and seemingly specifically admitting his steroid use: quoting, “I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior. I will continue to do what I think is right and be candid about my past history regarding steroids. I have never blamed anyone, nor intended to deflect blame for my conduct.”
Memo to O.J. Simpson, 114 years ago yesterday it was that Lizzie Borden was acquitted, and history has judged her guilty ever since. The latest evidence of Simpson‘s cultural guilt next. But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list on nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to the new prime minister of France, Francois Fillon. He has told everybody in his cabinet, his office, the president‘s office, the whole government to stop using their Blackberries. Why? His defense minister has told Fillon that governmental Blackberry transmissions are likely to be intercepted by American spies. And the right wing here thought they had a new ally when the conservatives took over in France.
Your runner up, Bill-O. The ultimate right wing water carrier has now announced he is giving the American and Iraqi governments two months to fix things in Iraq or it‘s over. He actually said, quote, I don‘t care about the Iraqis. I‘ll be honest. Well that‘s news right there, I mean the being honest part. He said this yesterday, so we‘re talking about Monday, August 20th. So, let Bill‘s COUNTDOWN begin.
But tonight‘s winners, Michael Graham and good old Glenn Beck of CNN, discussing the Clinton‘s Soprano‘s spoof. Graham, radio yakker and former Republican consultant, mused about wishing to see the Clintons murdered in the video. Quoting Graham, seriously Glenn, didn‘t you at one point want to see like Pauly Walnuts or someone come in and just whack them both right there? Wouldn‘t that the have been great?
And how did Beck respond? Did he tell Graham you don‘t joke about actual violence, whether it‘s against the Clintons or the Bushes or Michael Savage? No. Beck chuckled and said, no, I did not want to see that. And then smiled that little electro-shock therapy smile of his, and let Graham add, let‘s make it happen. Michael Graham and Glenn Beck of CNN, today‘s Worst Persons in the World.
OLBERMANN: The never-ending stain from the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman was despicably refreshed with O.J. Simpson‘s so called hypothetical account of it, “If I Did It.” the rights to that never published book were recently awarded to the Goldman family. But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the entire manuscript was linked from the website TMZ.com for about 10 minutes, according to lawyers for that website.
Now the U.S. bankruptcy judge on the case has granted a hearing after the Goldman family‘s attorney asked that TMZ be held in contempt of court. Attorney Paul Batista claims that the leak may do irreparable harm to the family. He says, quoting, I can‘t tell you how distraught the Goldmans are to hear that this hit the Internet for free.
TMZ also posted excerpts of the manuscript, which are still, legally they say, under the fair use doctrine. But only two things are even remotely illuminating about this garbage that Mr. Simpson has penned. One, he claims a friend was there in the courtyard of Nicole Simpson‘s home that night, a person he calls Charlie.
And two, he portrays the actual murders as having been committed during a blackout. “Then something went horribly wrong and I know what happened but I can‘t tell you exactly how. I was still standing in Nicole‘s courtyard, of course, but for a few moments I couldn‘t remember how I had gotten there. The whole front of me was covered in blood.”
Thus even under the guise of a hypothetical account, Mr. Simpson inserts two elements that might somehow mitigate his culpability. There may be more such nonsense within the pages, who knows. A reminder, as if we needed one, Simpson was found liable for the wrongful death of the Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in a civil court.
Joining me now, the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Larry Pozner. Larry, good to talk to you again.
LARRY POZNER, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Good to be back, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So TMZ has been ordered to turn this manuscript over, and Time Warner/AOL, which owns TMZ, could be forced to pay damage if it‘s found to be in violation of the court order. We don‘t know how TMZ got a copy of this, but won‘t that information be demanded at the hearing.
POZNER: I think the judge is going to say where did you get it. And then we‘re going to get into a world of hurt. Who leaked it? The list of suspects goes on and on in this age where you can purloin an entire book with one flash drive.
OLBERMANN: And obviously Simpson says—has already been asked and says he had nothing to do with leaking it, and claims he has never even seen the final version of the book. And his quote was, if the book is out on the Internet, I wish they would tell me where it is. But how many possibilities do you think there are in this? He would have one. He would have to be, at least, a theoretical one, the publishers, Fox, which was originally going to broadcast a TV interview with Simpson about this. Is there anybody else that comes to mind?
POZNER: Sure. We‘re looking at a very high level, Keith. But it could be a very low level. It could be just a person in the copy department who, at one time, back in November, when they were thinking of publishing the book, kept a copy. And, you know, in this Internet age, you can send a copy of an entire book in seconds. It‘s not like the Pentagon papers, where Daniel Ellsberg had to stand over a photo copier for hours.
OLBERMANN: Oh my goodness, we just compared, in the slightest way, the Pentagon Papers to an O.J. Simpson book.
POZNER: Only the taking of things.
OLBERMANN: But now, there was also, supposedly, a copy of this, briefly—it may have been a fake—on ebay. So there might have been one that escaped somehow.
POZNER: How do you figure out what‘s a fake in a story that apparently is itself a fake?
OLBERMANN: Well, that‘s not the only really disturbing kind of question here. Because the Goldman‘s wrongful death suit against O.J. Simpson earned them—they were awarded 33 million dollars in damages. And they‘ve gotten 2,000 dollars out of this. So the family reportedly wants to release the book under a title called “Confessions of a Double Murderer.” So, despite the obvious legal rights, they‘re in an extremely uncomfortable and bizarre position here, are they not?
POZNER: Yes. In theory, if it is money they are after, then the book was the best way to get it. And the publishing of it briefly may hurt sales. But gee, is that really what they want to do with their lives? And, you know, one could take a view that this is just a glimpse and is just a preview party for an atrocious book about an atrocious crime.
OLBERMANN: Does it still have the fascination, Larry? Is it still going to be—if the book comes out, is it still going to be, whatever title it comes out under, this kind of mesmerizing thing that it would have been in 1997, 1998?
POZNER: Not as much, but America remains fascinated with it. You know, some elements of the story don‘t go away. The children are still dead. O.J. is still free. The crime is still quasi-unsolved. America still wants to hear about it and the lawyers are talking and media is profiting.
OLBERMANN: And, as I pointed out, yesterday was the anniversary of the acquittal of Lizzie Borden, so the story can go on for at least another 110 years or so. Larry Pozner, who‘s the former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, great thanks for joining us. Good to talk to you again, Larry.
POZNER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,513th 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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