Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Turley, Dana Milbank, Clarence Page, Christian Finnegan
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Waterboardinggate, the investigations begin, the comments stop.
Senate Intelligence convenes tomorrow. House intelligence Wednesday. Senator Biden wants a special prosecutor. The White House has relocated its convenient excuse for stonewalling.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: Because there‘s a similar inquiry that‘s been started, and to avoid any appearance of trying to prejudice that inquiry, it‘s appropriate and better for us not to comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Two guys who shouldn‘t have commented. Governor Huckabee reeling after the resurfacing of his 1992 comments on AIDS, asking then why the quote “carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated,” unquote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That‘s exactly what I said. I don‘t run from it, don‘t recant from it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And Rudy Giuliani on MEET THE PRESS meets the enemy—himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Would it be appropriate for a president to provide Secret Service protection for his mistress?
RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would not be appropriate to do it for that reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So it would be appropriate to do it for some other reason?
Putting the pain back into the campaign. Putting the camp back into the campaign. Barack Obama for president starring Oprah Winfrey!
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I have no cars, no refrigerators. Not going to sing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The woman Karl Rove says “has a really sharp eye.” “Is one of the most talented professionals I‘ve seen” and “displays fine judgment” admits on national radio she‘d never heard about one of the key events in the last 50 years of American history.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PERINO: I got asked about the Cuban missile crisis and I was panicked a bit because I really know nothing about the Cuban missile crisis.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And we debut a new feature tonight, the top three Bush administration scandals you‘ve probably forgotten about because of the latest Bush administration scandals. All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PERINO: Wasn‘t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Monday, December 10, 330 days until the 2008 presidential election. The White House has had its press secretary symbolically button up her lip again. It will say nothing about the CIA‘s destruction of its torture tapes even though we‘re told to believe the president did not know that there had been any tapes until last Thursday morning.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, breaking on top of that logical disconnect a resounding refutation of CIA director Hayden‘s stated rationale for erasing the tapes. The agent who led the team that interrogated Abu Zubaydah going public tonight calling that interrogation torture even though General Hayden had insisted the tapes would be destroyed to prevent public identification of and possible reprisals against that agent and his colleagues.
Another cone of silence descending as yet another investigation into yet another Bush administration scandal begins. Over the weekend, Michael Mukasey‘s Justice Department and the CIA‘s internal watchdog unit announcing a joint inquiry into the spy agency‘s destruction of those torture videotapes. Not an actual investigation, per se, but a review to determine whether a full investigation is warranted.
They might want to talk John Kiriyaku, the CIA officer now retired in charge of the team that waterboarded al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah on one of the destroyed tapes. Mr. Kiriyaku telling ABC News tonight that although the waterboarding was successful, from that day on he said he answered every question, he has come to believe that waterboarding is torture.
“We‘re Americans and we‘re better than this,” he told investigative reporter Brian Ross, and we shouldn‘t be doing this kind of thing.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers launching their own investigations, real ones. CIA Director Hayden to testify tomorrow to the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session to the House Committee in another closed session on Wednesday. At least one senator in the race for president saying that‘s just a good start. Joe Biden, chairman of Foreign Relations calling for the appointment of a special counsel. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, House Republican Leader John Boehner and Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee in the Senate all rejecting the need for a special counsel.
In doing so, Senator Rockefeller would seem to be rejecting the need to investigate himself to some degree. The West Virginia Democrat‘s story about when he first learned of the CIA‘s destruction of the torture tapes changed over the weekend. On Thursday he had said he had known about the destruction for one year since November 2006. By Friday he was saying he had not been told of the tape‘s destruction in November of 2006. Yesterday on CBS‘s “Face the Nation” he said both, stating that he had learned about the destruction of the tapes last fall but also that he first found out about it by reading a newspaper this week.
Skills like that perhaps the envy of the White House press secretary. Dana Perino this morning explaining why her boss is not allowed to have an opinion on a scandal in which he purportedly is not involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERINO: I‘m not allowed to characterize the president‘s reaction to this, but what I can tell you is that he—as I said Friday, he has complete confidence in General Hayden and that remains.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I don‘t understand why his reaction is somehow .
PERINO: Because there‘s an inquiry that‘s been started. To avoid any appearance of trying to appear to prejudice that inquiry it is appropriate and better for us not to comment.
BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: Isn‘t there a concern here that going into a defensive crouch might look a little bit .
PERINO: I don‘t think that we‘re defensive. I think that we‘re being supportive of the efforts of the DOJ.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time now to bring in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This breaking news from ABC tonight, that the leader of the CIA team that interrogated Zubaydah spoke out publicly, had no fear of reprisal because he‘s angry the tapes have been destroyed which seems to be a complete inversion of what the CIA director had as justification for erasing the tapes, that he was trying to protect the CIA employees involved. This man doesn‘t care about that and says it was wrong to do both the torturing and the destruction of the videotapes to begin with.
WOLFFE: In the words of the former head of the CIA, this would appear to be a slam dunk. What you have here is a complete collapse of Hayden‘s argument that this was about protecting the identity of those involved. It was always really about protecting the CIA and CIA officials from prosecution.
And on the broader point, it does raise questions about the spy agency‘s abilities to cover up its own tracks. That‘s the essence of spying. And yet here they can‘t get their story straight.
OLBERMANN: We didn‘t learn about the involvement of the then-White House counsel Harriet Miers that she knew and told the CIA, don‘t destroy these tapes. That didn‘t come out till late Friday afternoon, early Friday evening.
But conveniently, before the White House could make a comment about it, the traditional wall of silence drops behind the standard ongoing investigation line. In other words, do something wrong, somebody else investigates, now we can‘t comment because somebody else is investigating. Do we add this to the list of things the White House is trying to run out the clock on?
WOLFFE: There is an interesting contrast, of course, or rather comparison with how they‘ve approached the whole Scooter Libby case, and of course that came up today because he‘s dropped his appeal. The White House has shifted the goalpost on what they can and cannot comment on, whether it‘s an investigation or a legal proceeding. And a very interesting construction you heard in the clip earlier from Dana Perino, I‘m not allowed to characterize the president‘s reaction to whatever it was. I‘m not allowed to characterize. We‘re talking about the facial expressions and the verbal tone of the president in a conversation with her several days after this story broke. I mean, that‘s the lawyers coming down, bringing the wall down on the press secretary.
OLBERMANN: Well, now, you understand though where that comes from? That‘s after the remarks about Ahmadinejad last week where he was listed as saying that you can write down that I chuckled. They are actually worried to that degree there was any kind of reaction, he raised an eyebrow, this would apparently be headline news in their opinion?
WOLFFE: Right and frankly it does make the mockery of the whole idea of what a press secretary does. You may as well not have a briefing if that‘s the position you‘re going to take.
OLBERMANN: Send up a tape recording, a little cassette player that somebody comes on and switches on that plays the official statement, we are not going to have any comment. How bad is it going to look if the attorney general and the CIA‘s internal watchdog who are communing on this ultimately conclude that there‘s no need for a full investigation?
WOLFFE: Well, it‘s very hard to see how they can avoid a full investigation. Look, they can stop short of having a special counsel. They still hold all the cards in terms of the decision-making process. But there‘s so much to look into here.
Look, you can have a legal debate about whether it‘s obstruction of justice because was it clear that there were legal proceedings, did they have to keep evidence. But really given the number of warnings both from the White House counsel‘s office and members of Congress not to destroy these tapes, for them to go to and do so anyway at least warrants a full and thorough investigation.
OLBERMANN: What do those members of Congress do now, briefly, what do those member of Congress do now? Harmon, Pelosi, Rockefeller? Is it full disclosure immediately or if they don‘t do that, will the lawmakers look as bad as and perhaps as compliant as the White House does right now?
WOLFFE: Normally they have to comply by rules of confidentiality.
This is top secret information, they‘re not allowed to divulge anything. But there has been preemptive leaking by the administration about what they were shown and what they said in 2002, 2003 about this program. That would suggest they have the freedom to talk about it themselves. And they should.
OLBERMANN: If General Hayden can mention it and talk about it, you would think Senator Rockefeller could do it fully as well. Richard Wolffe, at MSNBC and “Newsweek,” as always great thanks for not saying no comment.
WOLFFE: No comment.
OLBERMANN: For more on the legal fallout let‘s turn now to constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley, professor at George Washington University. As always, sir, thanks for your time tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As I mentioned earlier, Senators Rockefeller and Hagel, Congressman Boehner all said this does not meet the bar for a level of a special counsel investigation. Well, if this doesn‘t, what does?
TURLEY: Well, that‘s really the question. I mean, I can‘t imagine a better case. I mean, first of all, the suggestion that the president‘s not involved is ridiculous. I mean, the underlying crime, the original one, was the torturing of suspects. That‘s a crime under U.S. law. That‘s a war crime, according to past U.S. courts. But more importantly, you have the CIA—there‘s people there involved from the general counsel to the highest echelons. You have at least one White House counsel who was notified. I can‘t imagine anyone would suggest that this isn‘t a need for an independent review.
OLBERMANN: And the leader of the Zubaydah interrogation team saying tonight it was torture, we shouldn‘t have done it. I didn‘t view it as torture at the time, but it clearly was torture. The man broke at 35 seconds on the waterboard. How does that impact this whole investigation, Jon?
TURLEY: Well, it‘s enormously important. First of all, it undermines obviously the argument of General Hayden, which nobody I think including General Hayden truly believed. I hate to be that uncharitable. But there was loud snickering throughout the city when Hayden said he was just trying to protect the identities of these employees. This is a classic move to prevent prosecution. It is a crime to torture people, it is a crime to destroy evidence. And the suggestion, by the way, that we weren‘t sure whether there was really a request for this information, this information was requested by the 9/11 commission. It was relevant to a host of different cases. But putting all those aside, these two individuals would have wanted these tapes. They would have demanded it.
So it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that this is not a compelling case of obstruction of Congress, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy and, of course, the torturing of suspects.
OLBERMANN: Now, the relevancy bar for obstruction of justice is clear even to me and I took one law course at Cornell.
This broke—the destruction of evidence particularly. But this broke on Thursday night. Neil Cutshaw (ph) who was one of the Hamdan attorneys was on here Friday night and said that he was dismayed, made a great point, dismayed that the attorney general had not done even what Ed Meese did as soon as the Iran-Contra scandal broke, order all federal employees, make sure no other documents or materials are destroyed in this case. The instruction didn‘t go out until over the weekend sometime.
Dana Perino trying recollect it, couldn‘t remember what the letter she received said. Should we be concerned about what else might have been shredded, erased, dropped into the Potomac between Thursday and mid-weekend?
TURLEY: One always has to be concerned. This administration has been accused on numerous occasions of the destruction of evidence in various fields, but more importantly, you have a scandal now with at least six identifiable crimes that have been alleged. And at least a dozen people that are likely targets. There are a lot of people who need to get lawyers right now. And that‘s a dangerous situation in terms of the preservation of evidence.
OLBERMANN: Right now this concerns only two tapes. Apparently there are others of other interrogations. We don‘t know what‘s on them. It could look more like “To Catch a Predator” than a snuff film. But how damaging will it be for this administration, for this country if they get out via unofficial means?
Working backwards, wouldn‘t it have been better if the Abu Ghraib images had somehow been released by the government with an apology from the government or some sort of explanation, some sort of mea culpa, would that not be the case now?
TURLEY: Well, the most important thing for this country, the thing that will strengthen this country through years of weakness is if we come to account on the question of torture. The fact that Democrats may have known about this since 2002 is a shocking revelation. But at some point we need to follow the truth wherever it may be. There‘s a lot of people in this city who would be embarrassed by an independent investigation, that is true. But we need to find out that truth and we need to find it out now.
OLBERMANN: The government is not run to save people who live in Washington from embarrassment. And by the way, it usually turns out that they‘d like to avoid being embarrassed, they shouldn‘t work for the government or live in Washington. Jonathan Turley, constitutional law professor at George Washington University, listening to me blow off steam here, great thanks, Jon.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Big night here. New feature ahead. Bushed. COUNTDOWN‘s list of the top three Bush administration scandals you may have forgotten about because of the latest Bush administration scandals.
And there‘s the Giuliani scandal. We‘re still trying to figure out what his answer actually was to that question about the Mistress Protection Program.
And who is the opening act and who is the star? Oprah, Obama, Obama, Oprah?
You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Twenty four days until Iowa. And the candidates are finally facing tough questions about their pasts and doing a pretty poor job of explaining them. Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Mike Huckabee tries to defend his 1992 position on locking AIDS patients away, one that sounded more like it came from 1982.
And Rudy Giuliani attempts to portray the spending of taxpayer dollars on the protection of his mistress as the police‘s fault. Giuliani insisting on MEET THE PRESS that it was the NYPD which insisted Judy Nathan was in danger because she was getting death threats after their relationship became public knowledge 2000. Giuliani‘s assertion that it was all a legitimate use of taxpayer money prompting this very logical and tough response from our own Tim Russert.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Would it be appropriate for a president to provide Secret Service protection for his mistress?
GIULIANI: It would not be appropriate to do it for that reason, Tim. And that isn‘t the right way to analyze this or to say this. The reason it‘s done is because somebody threatens to do harm, and the people who assess it come to the conclusion that it is necessary to do this.
The reality is that it all came about because of my public position, because of the fact that when people are public or celebrities, these kinds of threats take place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now you know why some candidates stonewall. That does raise the questions, who were the threats from? Assuming that there were threats.
First, though, the current front-runner in Iowa, Mike Huckabee also has some explaining to do after the Associated Press dug up a questionnaire he filled out for it when he was running for Senate in Arkansas in 1992. In answer to one of their questions, he wrote, “If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS,” Mr. Huckabee said in 1992, “it is the first time in civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population and which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.”
Huckabee says this was nearly 20 years ago before everybody knew how AIDS was spread. Actually it was 15 years ago, just months after, for point of reference Magic Johnson‘s announcement. Apparently only Mr. Huckabee didn‘t know how AIDS was spread. Now he is trying to claim that the key here is he never said that people should be quarantined. No, no, he used a synonym, isolated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUCKABEE: I didn‘t say that we should quarantine. I said it was the first time in public health protocols that when we had an infectious disease and we didn‘t really know just how extensive and how dramatic it could be and the impact of it, that we didn‘t isolate the carrier. That was exactly what I said. I don‘t run from it, don‘t recant from it. Would I say it a little differently today? Sure, in light of 15 years of additional knowledge and understanding I would.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s turn now to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.” Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As if this initial position on AIDS and patients and victims in 1992 was not egregious enough, Mr. Huckabee is now trying to say that nobody knew just how it was transmitted back then. The CDC report that it couldn‘t be transmitted by casual contact was issued in 1985. He wasn‘t calling for a quarantine, now, he was just calling for isolating the carriers of a plague. Is anybody buying this?
MILBANK: Well, not exactly. But as anybody who survived the Terry Schiavo debate, as I have, will realize that science is frequently a victim of these political debates. And just to put Huckabee in perspective, Bill Frist, a medical doctor, when he was Senate majority leader in 2004, raised the possibility on national television that AIDS could be transmitted by sweat and tears. As a result, I‘ve not played basketball since then.
OLBERMANN: And as a result, also, from that and other thing, Mr. Frist has gone back to the doctor business. There‘s a new MSNBC/McClatchy poll about Mr. Huckabee. He‘s well ahead in Iowa, he‘s 32 percent. Romney at 20. Do the GOP voters know what they‘re getting because his clearest, strongest support is coming from born-agains, from weekly church-goers, not that there‘s anything wrong with those things, but are they reacting to deficiencies of other front-runners or a groundswell about him?
MILBANK: Well, there‘s some of each. I don‘t know if they‘re reacting to deficiencies so much as they‘re reacting to basically this circular firing squad between Giuliani, Romney and to some extent Thompson and McCain. While these guys are going at each other in the debates, occasionally with attack ads, Huckabee has been able to skate right through there. You are seeing that change a bits today with these developments and also Romney coming out with just a slashing ad in Iowa against Huckabee, but it is getting awfully late for that sort of thing.
OLBERMANN: And speaking of awfully late, 24 days to go, Giuliani at five percent, that‘s less than Thompson or John McCain. Yesterday on MEET THE PRESS, he had to defend himself not just against the mistress protection program with Judy Nathan but also the championing of Bernie Kerik, the company client list that has people linked, obviously at considerable distance with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Kim Jong-Il, is there anyway of identifying if those problems have caused the fall in the polls for him?
MILBANK: Well, it seems that no one of those problems has caused it.
But Giuliani has basically been defying gravity for a very long time now. He‘s sort of a poor match for the Republican primary voter, and he‘s got all of these personal issues. Not one of them seems to be bringing him down. But they all seem to be reaching some sort of a critical mass here. Now, he‘s benefiting from their being the Romney/Huckabee fight. So there‘s no clear alternative just yet. But clearly this has all had a cumulative impact.
OLBERMANN: Dana, one last particular from Giuliani. The one with Tim Russert yesterday, the answer he gave about a president providing security for a mistress, that hypothetical. I‘ve heard the answer a couple times, I‘ve read it and reread it, I don‘t still fully get it. But am I right, the tone of that answer put him somewhere on this topic of presidential infidelity considerably lower on the list than, say, Bill Clinton was.
MILBANK: I think you may be giving him too much credit for that answer. I heard it more, you know that one on YouTube about Miss Teen South Carolina where she went on about the U.S. people. It didn‘t make a whole lot of sense. I think he was stalling for time there. And this is a good—would be a good time for him to say that is a hypothetical question. He certainly could have taken that cue from the current president.
OLBERMANN: Yeah, hypothetical would have been a big help right in there. Might have saved him a little trouble. Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post” and MSNBC, of course, great thanks as always.
MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Now, I know what you‘re going to think this is. A tough politician without his makeup. I swear, it is not.
This, sadly, is a politician without his good media. There‘s more to Mike Huckabee‘s foot in mouth history than just AIDS, if you can believe that. Something worse? He‘s in tonight‘s worst persons coming up.
But first time to premier our newest feature, “Bushed.” COUNTDOWN‘s list of the top three Bush administration scandals you may have forgotten about because of the latest Bush administration scandals. Number three, the U.S. attorneys firing scandal. Haven‘t heard much about that lately. Fredo kind of took that one with him.
Number two, the when the hell are we going to get body armor to the troops in Iraq so they can stop protecting their vehicles using corrugated metal they found by the side of the road in Iraq scandal. Important if you‘ve been shot at lately. The Marines last month cut their order of armored Humvees by one-third.
And number one, an honor we‘ll reserve for a scandal in which there has been a new development that you might have missed because of all the other scandals. The commutation of Scooter Libby‘s sentence scandal. Today Libby dropped his appeal. So the case is closed.
And finally the White House can answer questions about it, right?
OLBERMANN: On this date 96 years ago at Caldwell, Montana was born Chester Robert Huntley. A veteran radio newsman, in fact a key west coast reporter for CBS for 14 years, he became in 1956, the co-anchor of the first full fledged network newscast, “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” on NBC. The pair won most of the ratings battles with Walter Cronkite until Huntley retired in 1970. One note, for those who hanker for the days of newsmen who didn‘t do cameos as actors or appear on “Saturday Night Live” or Sunday night football, while anchoring for NBC, Huntley was a guest star on the “Jack Benny Show” and on “Batman” in the same episode as Paul Revere and the Raiders. Chuck Huntley died in 1974. On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”
We begin in Mongolia‘s Gobi Desert. This here is the long-eared jerboa. The long-eared jerboa is rare, it is endangered, and it is ugly. The jerboa has the ears of a donkey, the hind legs of a kangaroo, and the self-esteem of a Martha(ph) dump truck. The Zoological Society of London released the first-ever video of this animal in the wild, hoping to stir up some sympathy for the endangered rodent. And, we wish them lots of luck on that.
Let‘s head to Pushkar in India. Ponce de Leon was looking for the fountain of youth, we have found the well of death. Stuntmen riding motorcycles and driving compact cars rip around a rickety old wooden barrel structure as the gathered crowd “oohs” and “ahs”. I think, there would be more fire and pure Toyota Tercels in the well of death, but that‘s neither here or there. The men used no safety devices. They do not wear helmets. They put their lives on the line for about 200 bucks a month. It‘s dangerous work and “Oddball” is doing our part to ensure the safety of the driver by sending our love down the well—all the way down.
To the Democratic campaign trail: what happens when they find out that Oprah is not the one running for president?
And for a woman who spends everyday denying everything, she sure made a startling admission over the weekend: “Cuban missile crisis? Never heard of it.”
These stories ahead: it‘s time to count our best three persons in the world Number three, best collector: Larry Fritsch died Saturday in Wisconsin. He was one of the giants of baseball card-collecting. One of the first people to make a living off of it in 1970 which was when I first got to know him. One of the nice things about him is he never stopped being more interested in the cards than the money, and he never changed. Whether I was an 11-year-old kid or an ESPN sportscaster, he always treated me the same, as an equal, as just another collector. Larry Fritsch was 71 years old. Good-bye.
Number two, best in science: Dr. Torkel Klingberg. Leading a Swedish team that has discovered what appears to be a filter in a brain that blocks out irrelevant information. The irrelevance filter that might explain why some people can focus better or remember better or have an attention deficit disorder or—what was I saying?
Number one, best lost in translation: British opera singer Tony Henry sang the national anthem of Croatia before a Croatia-England soccer match at Wembley Stadium. The line he was supposed to sing, “Mila kuda si planina,” which translates as, “You know, my dear, how we love your mountains.” The line he actually sang, “Mila kuras si planina” which translates as, “My dear, my penis is a mountain.”
The Croatians were not offended. They laughed and then went out and beat England. Some say they want Henry to sing before all their games now. Plus, Mr. Henry is reportedly finding it much easier to get dates.
OLBERMANN: It‘s the kind of crowds normally seen in, say, Led Zeppelin reunions. Nearly 70,000 people packing into arenas and stadiums across three states, ostensibly to rally for Barack Obama but, in reality, to see his opening act, Oprah Winfrey. And in our third serial in our COUNTDOWN, what if that ostensible billing is wrong? What if he was her opening act? Tailoring her speech slightly from place to place like a veteran politician, joking to Iowa that she was not there to recommend a book or give away appliances; sharing with New Hampshire that she talks politics with her girl friends; using church metaphors on Sunday in South Carolina; but throughout it all, Oprah Winfrey stayed on message equating herself with the audience, emphasizing her general dislike of politicians, and her delight in finding in Barack Obama a candidate that called her on to the campaign trail for the first time in her television career.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TELEVISION TALK SHOW HOST: You got sense enough to recognize that the amount of time a person spends in Washington doesn‘t mean a thing unless they‘re accountable for the judgments they made with that time. Experience in the hallways of government isn‘t as important to me as experience on the pathway of life. It‘s what you do with your life. And I challenge you, because the people are trying to tell you, that this experience issue is the reason why you shouldn‘t vote for Barack Obama. Let me tell you, I challenge you to see through the people who try and convince you that experience with politics as usual is more valuable than the wisdom won from years of serving people outside the walls of Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The candidate that was in reference to taking her own special guests on her campaign trail this weekend bringing her 88-year-old mother and 27-year-old daughter on stage with her in Des Moines while her husband went head-to-head with the Oprah-Obama tour in South Carolina;
President Clinton attending a church service at the Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston. Joining us now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and editorial writer of the “Chicago Tribune”, Clarence Page. Pleasure to speak with you again, sir.
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST AND EDITORIAL WRITER, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: You, too, Keith. Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: You thought before that Oprah Winfrey would not matter on this but now you think she will. Why?
PAGE: Yes, I‘m a convert. You know, she does have that magic there, Keith. But, what‘s really important here is getting that huge chunk of voters out there, Democratic voters and caucus-goers in Iowa who haven‘t made their minds up yet or who are kind of on the fence. They like Obama, they haven‘t looked at him that closely. You know, it is almost Christmas now—people are starting to take this seriously. I think Oprah reaches out to a lot of folks who haven‘t been paying much attention so far. What is important about her campaign was the large percentage of people at these rallies who have never been to a political rally before or have never been engaged during this campaign so far. They got everybody to fill out forms with their e-mail addresses and all. And they‘re going to follow up with those folks. I think, Oprah can make a difference along with the ground game that Obama‘s campaign is running.
OLBERMANN: So, she gets new people into the tent which is the obvious way to grow any business, campaign, friendship, whatever you want. But what about the question of who is the star here? Did they to any degree get overshadowed by her? Because, not one bit of the coverage seems to have been about what he said at any of these rallies at which she appeared.
PAGE: Well, I think really, it is Oprah who is taking the risk here, actually, because she is coming out as a political figure. Up till now, she has avoided that, been very neutral. Whenever you take one side in a political clash, you run the risk of angering those on the other side. For Obama, you know, I feel like if I were a book author, I‘d love to have her just endorsing my book and the big issue here is: can she do the same magic for a political candidate? Something Bruce Springsteen wasn‘t quite able to pull off for John Kerry.
OLBERMANN: And obviously, Bruce Springsteen, with a certain kind of translatable fame, but there‘s nothing—is there anything—have you thought of anything in American political history that involves a celebrity who is that—perhaps, not that as popular as any other in American history—but with the people who she‘s popular with, she‘s popular in capital letters. Is there anybody like her getting involved in a presidential campaign before?
PAGE: It‘s hard to recall anybody quite on this scale. You know, you were talking earlier about how it was kind of a rock concert atmosphere. Here I was thinking having Obama and Oprah on stage these days is kind of like Aretha Franklin and James Brown at his peak, you know. And those were straight-out performers. Both Oprah and Obama have a tremendous curiosity factor in their favor. When they show up at newspaper offices, people pour out into the hallways just to get a peek, as jaded as we are in this business. So, it‘s very hard to make a comparison. The TV age really only goes back to the Kennedy-Nixon race, so there‘s not much history to look at.
OLBERMANN: The curious question, since we have no history on this, we don‘t know if there‘s anything to hit in history as a guide on this, but what does your gut tell you about this? Is it going to translate into votes as opposed to just voter cards? And the fear was when you send a celebrity or somebody outside your campaign to campaign for you, that they might go off message and commit you to things that you don‘t have any interest in being committed to? Is that possible?
PAGE: I don‘t think that will happen with Oprah. She‘s very good at staying on message. Usually, it‘s her own message that she‘s pitching. But, as far as the timing of this, Keith, I think is very important. It‘s ten days before Christmas. The candidates don‘t want a campaign during the holiday season for fear of getting a backlash from voters. So this is a great little pre-Christmas boost for Obama as far as publicity goes and this is, remember, after months of him languishing about 20 points behind Hillary Clinton in the polls.
In the last ten days or so, we‘ve seen him catch up in the polls to where it‘s a dead heat in these three critical states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. So, people have got over the next ten days now. Hillary Clinton can try to come back in some way. As you mentioned, she got her mother and daughter out there. But this is a nice boost for him. We will see in the polling numbers over the next week how much of a difference it makes.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll see if the Democratic nomination turns into Oprah Winfrey versus Bill Clinton.
OLBERMANN: Clarence Page, the columnist of the “Chicago Tribune”. As I said, a pleasure to talk to you again, sir. Thanks for your time.
PAGE: You, too.
OLBERMAN: Coming up, the Germans are really steamed at Tom Cruise and his favorite religion. The Minister of the Interior there is asking that he be banned as unconstitutional.
And in “Worst”, the message to Hugh Hewitt and to other conservative bloggers from the man who used to be their liaison at the White House, quote: “They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them.” Oh, nice. And it‘s next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: If you are among the eight percent so of fantasy football league players who still own the rights to Michael Vick, you might want to consider getting rid of him. A judge decides he will miss next season and, probably, 2009.
The official liaison between the White House and the media apparently missed that day in school at college when they taught the ancient history that was the 1962 American Cuban missile crisis. A special interview tonight with the author of a special comments book and battling for worst person on earth is Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt and Governor Mike Huckabee. That‘s next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Our number two story, “Keeping Tabs”, begins with news from a Virginia courtroom that means even with an early release, Michael Vick will not play in the National Football League until the 2009 season, if even then. Vick, as late as last year, starred as a young troubled quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, today sentenced to 23 months for his part in what the judge called “a cruel and inhumane” dog-fighting ring. The low end of the sentencing guidelines was a year, so he did not get off lightly. Good behavior would see him from prison in the spring of 2009. He might then still face a suspension from the NFL for having lied to its commissioner about the dog-fighting.
And, a celebrity interview tonight in “Keeping Tabs”: his new book, “Truth and Consequences”, special comments on the Bush Administration‘s war on American values is number one on Amazon sales list on books about the presidency; number two about its books about journalism; number three, about its books about American politics.
Keith Olbermann is in our studios in Washington, which is rather unfortunate, since we‘re all up here in New York. It‘s an old Monty python joke, but it‘s a good one, I think.
Ready to party to celebrate being selected one of the top fascinating people of 2007 and then you find out you haven‘t been selected one of the top ten most fascinating people of 2007.
That‘s ahead but time, first, for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World”. The bronze to David Ignatius of “The Washington Post”. Voters are still grappling, he writes, with their, quote, “nagging uneasiness” about have these two complicated Clintons back together at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “The Washington Post‘s” own poll in September found that 60 percent of voters of all parties personally feel comfortable with the idea of Bill Clinton in the White House. I‘m still grappling with columnists using terms like “voters are still grappling”, unless they mean to leave the impression that it is many voters when it might be, like, eight of them.
Our runner-up, lunatic fringer Hugh Hewitt, former White House communications director, now corporate crisis strategist Dan Bartlett talking new media with “Texas Monthly” magazine. Explaining the Bush Administration had set up a new apparatus to deal with conservative bloggers to try to choose among traditional news media blogs or the powerline blog or Hugh Hewitt. Quote: “That‘s when you start going, “hmm,” because they reach the president‘s base,” Bartlett answered. “I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It‘s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them.”
Hugh? Apparently, the White House has been regurgitating on you and the other conservative bloggers for quite a while now.
But, our winner: Mike Huckabee liked the idea to quarantine aids victims, with him not understanding how aids is transmitted in 1992. Another piece of history just bit him in the butt. In August 1998, he signed a full page ad in “USA Today” affirming a statement on the family that had been issued by the Southern Baptist Convention. That statement? “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” Okay, ladies, step right up. Everybody who votes for Huckabee gets a free burka. Again, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”!
OLBERMANN: Now that White House Press Secretary Dana Perino has been instructed not to speak about the CIA‘s destroyed interrogation videos, the tortured tapes, the powers that be might want to consider other banned subjects, like anything involving a baseline knowledge of recent American history—presidential history, history they‘ve made two movies about, plus, that it was in all the textbooks. Miss Perino recently and giddily drawing attention to her ignorance regarding the Cuban missile crisis on national public radio. In our number one story in the countdown, if that easily qualifies as bad press for a press secretary, we‘ve got another classic from a different quarter: Larry Birkhead, of Anna Nicole Smith fame, gathering friends to his home to watch TV because he very mistakenly believed he had been chosen as Barbara Walters‘ most fascinating person of 2007. Not even close.
But first, Miss Perino. She appeared on NPR‘s afternoon quiz show, “Wait, Wait, Don‘t Tell Me”, over the weekend, relating the story how she was recently caught off guard when, at a White House briefing, she was asked about President Putin of Russia comparing the U. S. missile defense system to the Cuban missile crisis.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, I got asked about the Cuban missile crisis and I was panicked a bit because I really know nothing about the Cuban missile crisis.
MALE INTERVIEWER: It was just last week.
PERINO: It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I‘m sure. I came home and I asked my husband, wasn‘t that like the Bay of Pigs thing? And he said, “Oh, Dana.”
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Thus, a new refrain for the last throes of the Bush Administration has been born: “Oh, Dana.” The same Dana Perino, by the way, was recently described as Bush‘s—or by Bush‘s brain Karl Rove as having, quote, “a really sharp mind, fine judgment.” and being, quote, “one of the most talented professionals I‘ve ever seen”. One of our great American treasures.
But, at least, she didn‘t throw a party for herself, as did Mr.
Birkhead. Having been approached by ABC as a possible candidate for Ms. Walters‘ Ten Most Fascinating People of 2007. He heard nothing further and when ABC released all the names, except number one, when he was not on the list, he thought the top spot was his according to the “New York Daily News.” Instead, it was J. K. Rowling as his gathered guests found out.
Let‘s turn now to comedian Christian Finnegan. He‘s also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever”. Christian, good evening.
CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN: Good evening, sir.
OLBERMANN: As you heard there, Dana Perino did not know that the Cuban missile crisis had something more than to do with just Cuba and missiles and a crisis and it wasn‘t the Bay of Pigs. Are we being too hard on her?
FINNEGAN: Well, yes, especially since her lacking historical perspective is how she got her job in first place. She put it right there on her resume, “not encumbered with facts” is in the special skills section.
OLBERMANN: So, now we know why she‘s good at not knowing what‘s happening in Washington or international relations or denying knowledge or playing dumb even, right?
FINNEGAN: Exactly. She actually thought the Bay of Pigs was when U. S.-backed forces swept in and stole Castro‘s super secret Cuban sandwich recipe.
OLBERMANN: And the corn on the cob, too. What I don‘t get is this—maybe, she really is dumb. But you still have to work on admitting nothing. Head down, run into wall, refuse to admit there was a wall. Why, of all things, did she admit to not knowing one of the pivotal pieces of American history rather than admitting something else?
FINNEGAN: Who can say? You know, it‘s a riddle wrapped inside a mystery, wrapped inside—oh, Dana.
OLBERMANN: Yes, that‘s it—you‘re about to quote the famous French politician Churchill, I think. She‘s also been credited for coining this phrase “once a Bushee, always a Bushee.” So we‘re expecting like, a 12-volume set on the “History of the Bush Administration” by Dana Perino or a book of poetry, or—what—pop-up book? What is she going to produce at the end of this?
FINNEGAN: We can only hope. It is funny because “once a Bushee, always a Bushee” sounds more like an excuse, like: “Hey, sorry, I signed on early. I have no idea. Don‘t blame me.” And, if it is true that you‘re always a Bushee, then I encourage Bushees to wear a scarlet “B” around so they can easily be identified in the future.
OLBERMANN: Well, this would seemingly be a different topic. But in some sense they‘re kindred souls here. Poor Larry Birkhead. His pals sitting through the “Ten Most Fascinating People of 2007” for which they should have gotten a medal of some sort. Do you think they were seriously expecting him to be number one?
FINNEGAN: You know, who can say? Ironically, this incident is the first time I‘ve ever been vaguely fascinated by Larry Birkhead. You have to doff your cap to this level of self-delusion. It is nearly “Zoolander-esque”.
OLBERMANN: Maybe, he will be all due for next year for this one moment. He is getting himself into the race early. He got word to the paparazzi that he would be out shopping after the fascinating people show so everybody would get a new picture of him. I mean, did he think of making a call to see if he was still being considered for the thing?
FINNEGAN: Or, maybe, a call to say, “Hey, you people, do you realize I‘m Larry Birkhead,” right? “The Anna Nicole guy? OK, hey, it‘s your network. Do what you want.”
OLBERMANN: And one more topic: another instance of bad press for Tom Cruise and Scientology: the German interior minister is pushing to have it banned, called unconstitutional, saying it threatened the peaceful democratic order of the country. A weekly publication there is blaring this headline, “How dangerous is the Cruise cult?” What does Tom Cruise need to do to catch a break in Germany?
FINNEGAN: Are you kidding me? Tom loves this. Now, Scientology can play that whole oppressed minority card which is better than the other cards in their deck: the prestigious phone card, the celebrity closet card, or the creepy Amway salesman card. Yet, you have to remember Germany—they‘re very touchy about this whole personality-driven movements thing. I think, Tom didn‘t do himself any favors when he promised to make the trains run on time.
OLBERMANN: OK, Christian Finnegan, comedian and contributor to VH1‘s, “Best Week Ever”, throwing in the Mussolini reference at the end there. Many thanks, Christian. That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,685th 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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