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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, June 20

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Dana Milbank, John Cusack, John Dean, Jonathan Alter, Chris Kofinis

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

The Friday night polling stunner.  “Newsweek” last month: Obama, 46; McCain, 46.  Newsweek tonight: Obama, 51; McCain, 36, Obama by 15.  Plus, he gets feed (ph) in our time, Senator Clinton to campaign with Obama one week from today.“86-ing the 527.” says its liberal 527 group will go dark, inspired by Obama‘s call that both sides should shutter the unchecked advertising of the groups, not that his holding his breath about McCain -


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE:  You and I both know that 527 pop up pretty quickly.


OLBERMANN:  The Democratic sell-out.  The House votes aye and key senators, Obama included, say they‘ll vote yes if telecom immunity is still in the FISA bill.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) OHIO:  Under this bill, large corporations and big government can work together to violate the United States Constitution.


OLBERMANN:  The McClellan hearings.  Outing Valerie Plame, did the president know it was being done?  Absolutely not.  The vice president?  No comment.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It was wrong to reveal her identity, because it compromised the effectiveness of a covert official for political reasons.


OLBERMANN:  And the ranking Republican Lamar Smith says -


REP. LAMAR SMITH, ® TEXAS:  It‘s hard to take Mr. McClellan or this hearing too seriously.  Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver.


OLBERMANN:  Strong words, Mr. Smith, unless it‘s coming from a man like you who sold out his country.

Worst Persons: Rupert Murdoch‘s latest gaffe, the actual number in question is 2,202,000, the number he reports is 300,000.  Close.

And, he‘s an activist.  He doesn‘t just lay one on TV.


JOHN CUSACK, ACTOR:  You think you can tell President Bush apart from John McCain, really?


OLBERMANN:  John Cusack joins us tonight.

All of that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  This is Friday, June 20th, 137 days until the 2008 presidential election.

Even though it‘s fully deserving the title of “Obama maniacs” did not dare to dream, even though as faithful among the “McCaininites,” did not have such nightmares.  A new addition of the “Newsweek” Poll in which the men were tied a month ago, anything but at the hour, this summer formally begins.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Obama by 15, but the caveat that Michael Dukakis had a similar lead at this point in his race 20 years ago.  The poll shows Obama bounding away from McCain by a margin of 51 to 36.  McCain getting barely more than one out of three registered voters, and Clinton voters, specifically women, the majority of electorate is now backing Obama over McCain by even bigger margin, 54 to 33, that is a 21-point lead.

That 54 percent, of course, now includes Senator Clinton herself.  She will make her first public appearance, we learned today, with Obama next Friday.  Logistical details still to come.  This, following a private joint meeting next Thursday with 100 of her top fundraisers to make them his top fundraisers.

Last night, Senator Clinton held a private conference call with other big fundraisers, telling them to start giving to Obama and asking them to help her with her own campaign debt.

(INAUDIBLE) specifically, Obama‘s money is still an issue of contention for the new frontrunner, he‘s decision to opt out a public financing, still generating questions, at least, among reporters who asked him today to explain what was so bad about the existing system that he became the first major party candidate in decades not to opt into it.


OBAMA:  Well, what we got of the system, as I said yesterday, that where we see 527s, the RNC, or the DNC, outside groups, raising vast amount of money, much of it undisclosed, from special interests, from PACs, from lobbyists, and that amount of money last election cycle dwarfed some of the money that were spent within the system.


OLBERMANN:  A report at today says there are literally no serious anti-Obama 527s yet—the independent groups with no caps on donations, not now in existence, none in the pipeline.  Politico reporting that Karl Rove approached wealthy GOP veterans of past smear campaigns, with none so far opening their wallets, even T. Boone Pickens, the patron of the swiftboats, like others, either sitting out 2008, or focusing on other issues.

Obama, however, said the lack of 527s now does not guarantee a lack of them tomorrow.


OBAMA:  You and I both know that 527s pop up pretty quickly and have enormous influence and we‘ve already seen them—there was an ad, one in South Dakota by Floyd Brown, I think, were it took a speech that I‘d made extolling faith and made it seem as if I have said that America was a Muslim nation.


OLBERMANN:  We should note also that Politico reported—

Republicans believe there will be third-party groups attacking Obama.  McCain, of course, while criticizing such efforts, has also said he will not play referee on the ads.  He also failed to get his own party in North Carolina to stop running anti-Obama ads there in the primaries.

On the left, today shut down it‘s 527, saying it is honoring Obama‘s request, saying it believes it can do better relying on its political action group which is limited, like 527s, unlike 527s, rather, to donations of $5,000 or less.

Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter, also, of course, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.

Thanks for coming in, Jon.


OLBERMANN:  Your magazine‘s poll numbers, they‘re a better sign for Obama than they were for Dukakis for what reason?

ALTER:  Well, you can argue that it‘s baked in the cake more this time.  But we do have to stipulate a few things.  First of all, this is only one poll, even though it is a “Newsweek” Poll.  I‘d like to see some others before I‘m willing to say that this is a super ball bounce.  You know, a huge, huge bounce the way it looks tonight.  But the indications are pretty strong right now that the Democratic Party is coming together behind Obama and independents are moving in his direction.

A lot can happen.  You can have another terrorist attack, return to a fear campaign that really connected, if that were to happen, Reverend Wrights‘ memoirs might be coming out between now and the election.

So, you know, I‘ve covered enough of these to know that it‘s very premature to declare this over, but it is much different than Mike Dukakis‘ race.  First of all, Dukakis wasn‘t anywhere close to the candidate that Obama is.  Second of all, he‘s running against incumbent Vice President George H.W. Bush, who was running for a third Reagan term at a time when the incumbent was very popular.  The incumbent right now to whom John McCain is lashed is extraordinarily unpopular.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s also a danger of looking back as to what this indicates in the past, in the recent past, but a lot of inferring is being done here that this had something to do with, or at least backs up those who say—well, this toughened - the primary season did, in fact, toughen Obama up and this is the result of it, when that finally was sealed over when the waters covered the p-quad (ph), suddenly, it‘s a 15-point lead.  Anything to that?

ALTER:  I think there is something to that and you can make the argument, I think Obama himself understood this, and actually mentioned it to me during the South Carolina primary, that he thought that the tough race with Hillary Clinton could help him long term, puts a little more mileage on him, shows that he can take a punch, and meanwhile, his organization was growing all of these different primary states.  So they got a kind of a dress rehearsal for November by going through these bruising primaries.

Notice that one state that he‘s not doing so well in this is Michigan.  He didn‘t campaign there during the primaries.  So, I think that we all will look back on—if he goes on to win, that the primary season as having actually helped him.

OLBERMANN:  This meeting of the minds next Friday, a week from now, with Clinton and Obama in some kind of joint appearance, Lord knows where the news was so important that the details seem to be irrelevant until we come upon the point.  Is it political reconciliation or is this actually more debt reconciliation?

ALTER:  Well, you know, I think it‘s some of both.  You know, he will go to his fundraisers and ask them to help her erase her debt.  She is getting on board as an enthusiastic member of the Obama team which she did in her concession speech.

So, they have mutual interests here but the bigger Obama‘s lead is in the polls, particularly among women, the less likely it is that Hillary Clinton herself will go on the ticket.  So, I think at this point, we should be starting to talk about the chance of her going on the ticket is something of a long shot.

OLBERMANN:  Which, it almost lends a different air to her support.  Yes, there are financial considerations in both directions because her supporters, her financial supporters can now work for him in ways that they could not even have work for her anymore, especially the big donors, and his supporters can help her out and help her campaign out of that campaign debt, those are givens.

But having said that, there are other ways out for her.  She does not necessarily have to be doing even what she‘s doing now and we‘re all forget that so much has happened.  It‘s two weeks tomorrow since she dropped out, it‘s not like it was six weeks ago.

ALTER:  Yes, you know, the thing that so peculiar about the campaign finance laws is that she can‘t have her own people erase her debt.  He has to have his people do it.  And he needs her people to give what‘s expected to be as much as $30 million for his general election campaign.  So that‘s the twisted nature of our system, which he, today, was just objecting to and thinking that we need to redo when he becomes president.

OLBERMANN:  Well, sincerity and financial self-interest are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  They can both run on parallel tracks.

ALTER:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter, political analyst for MSNBC, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine, as always, thanks for coming in.  Have a good weekend.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.  You, too.

OLBERMANN:  Today‘s news about the disarmed 527s on the right, and the unilateral disarmament of one of the left‘s most powerful 527s,, comes at the same point of the campaign where a last time out the swiftboaters and other mudslingers were already up and running.  It leaves a vacuum of uncertainty about if and when, and from whom the mud comes this time.

Let‘s turn to Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis, whose job was to anticipate the mud, while communications director for the campaign of John Edwards.

Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN:  The political assessment here, are the mudslingers on the disabled list this season?

KOFINIS:  More like playing possum.  I mean, let‘s be realistic.  They are going to unleash, you know, their 527 groups.  It‘s a question of if, not when.

If you read the Politico story, you know, it‘s maybe we will, might do it, could do it.  I can answer the question.  They will do it.  My guess is you‘re going to see it probably closer to the convention as well as after.

The real interesting question for me is why even do they need 527s?  I mean, people forget that John McCain was the first online grassroots candidate.  I mean, he raised $1 million back in 2000, which was an unprecedented number.

What‘s happened?  And what‘s happened if you look at it is his message.  He has none.  He‘s changed who he is as candidate.  He‘s flip-flopped on major issues.  Neither his base nor his supporters know exactly who he is.  And so, I mean, that‘s, I think, become a real problem for him in terms of being able to raise money online.

And so, when you kind of step back, you kind of look at it, the reality is, that John McCain of 2000 would neither donate nor support the John McCain of 2008.  That‘s his problem.

OLBERMANN:  But let‘s turn that on its head here, Chris, with Obama‘s statement about 527s and dropping its, could that be as much about the fact that he has this money spigot available to him?  The number came in from May, $22 million, it‘s $43 million on hand for the general election campaign for Obama.  Is it not just the question of whether or not 527s are right but whether or not they are necessary for the left side of this equation?

KOFINIS:  Listen, you know, in the past, the reason why the 527s and these independent groups were playing such an active role was because, one, the Republicans tended to just crush us in terms of fundraising.  That started changing in 2004 when grassroots fundraising, online fundraising just exploded.  You saw that with Howard Dean, and now, you‘re seeing that with Barack Obama at another level.  It‘s unprecedented.

I mean, I think, the reality is the reason why Senator Obama and his campaign just want to basically shun the 527s is they want to be able to control their campaign and the message and it actually is the right thing to do.  You want to be able to fund your campaign through small dollar donations.  Ninety percent of his donors give $100 or less.  That is a public financed campaign by definition.

The real problem here is John McCain‘s inability to tap the millions of supporters out there that he clearly in theory has.  I mean, if you have 1 million supporters and in theory he does, you‘ve got $100 from them, you $100 million, you have unlimited resources.  What does this say about the McCain campaign that they can‘t tap that?  That‘s a real failure.

OLBERMANN:  So, in a weird way, these “Newsweek” numbers with a 15-point slippage, he goes with a tie with Obama in May to 15 points behind as of tonight in this “Newsweek” Poll.  Is that good news for fundraising for McCann or do people bail out at 15 points, or just, other people say, “Oh, my God, we‘re really in huge trouble, we better get in”?

KOFINIS:  You know, I don‘t know.  It‘s a good question.  I mean, the problem is, if you read that, a Politico story and you read between the lines, at least, one read, I don‘t buy it, but, you know, arguably you can look at it this way.  I mean, the Republicans are almost looking at John McCain as a bad investment for 2008, like why waste our money.

I mean, I‘m not going to bet on that.  And I think any Democrat that‘s going to sit there and pretend that the 527s are not going to come, the Republicans aren‘t going to mobilize to attack Senator Obama and the campaign like crazy, it‘s going to happen.  I think, the problem right now is John McCain is a flawed candidate with a flawed message and that is impossible at a year when people have seen the last eight years and the damage the Bush administration has done.

So, for McCain to go out there and consistently embrace it and change positions that actually made him a unique candidate in 2000, to become a Bush acolyte just doesn‘t make any sense.  That‘s what‘s hurting him.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist, former spokesman for the Edwards campaign.  As always, sir, our great thanks.

KOFINIS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Obama test in the Senate.  Next, the House approves the FISA fold-up.  Obama promises to fight telecom immunity but he may vote yes any way next week.

John McClellan testifies, John Cusack joins us, and Murdoch‘s minions of darkness smear Tim Russert‘s memory again.


OLBERMANN:  By 164 votes, many of them are shifting suddenly just a way a pack of flies will mindlessly (ph) all shift two feet to the left for no apparent reason in summer, the House gave the president what he wanted on FISA.

Later in Worst: John Bolton loses track who was president on 9/11, Chris Wallace loses track of who was anchoring on FOX on primary nights, and the “New York Post” loses track of, well, everything.

Not to oversell it, but also just in tonight, we may have the greatest piece of videotape of George Bush in action ever, seriously.  Press, play, and record now.


OLBERMANN:  It is the last thing a man says before he becomes president, a catechism between him and the chief justice which concludes with him swearing he, quote, “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.”

Nothing in there about ignoring the Constitution or gutting it, yet in our fourth story tonight: There is Mr. Bush doing it again and being aided and abetted by Democrats who outnumber his people on Capitol Hill.  The bill, a bipartisan compromise on FISA was rubber-stamped this morning, 293 to 129, this, after impassioned debate even between members of the same party.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) OHIO:  Let‘s stand up for the Fourth Amendment.  Let‘s remember when this country was founded, Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who give up their essential liberties to achieve a measure of security deserve neither.”

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA:  We have to fight the war on terrorism, the fight against terrorism, wherever it may exist.  Good intelligence is necessary for us to know the plan of the terrorist and to defeat those plans.  So we can‘t go without a bill.  That‘s just simply not an option.

But to have a bill, we must have a bill that does not violate the Constitution of the United States.  And this bill does not.


OLBERMANN:  The bill stands not only to corrupt the Constitution but will immunize telecom communities that spied on American citizens at the behest of President and keep them from any legal liability.  As the Senate prepares to take this up, FISA 2008 is already a campaign issue.  Senator Obama offered qualified support, warning that as president, he would monitor the program closely, which is nice, but not really close enough.  John McCain, after blaming the ACLU and trial lawyers for delaying the passage of this bill, said he will support the measure.

John Dean is White House counsel under Richard Nixon, author of “Broken Government,” joins us tonight from Los Angeles for a comment on this.

John, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  What happened here, do you suppose?  Is this—is this some sort of propellectic (ph) gesture for the election on behalf of Democrats or how did this transpire?

DEAN:  Well, I think, you‘ve got to give one for the terrorists on our Fourth Amendment.  They really did some damage today in this so-called compromise, contrary to what the speaker said that really does hurt the Constitution.  So, it‘s very troubling and it‘s not a good day for civil liberties, particularly.

OLBERMANN:  We have seen before, learned way after the fact that before several critical bills like this and votes, that the Democrats were shown harrowing secrets from the supposed terror threats—terror threats that later turned out to be exaggerated, even fabricated.  I don‘t have any evidence whatsoever that this happened this time or suggesting that.  But given the suddenness of the Democrats fold, does it not feel like this has happened again this time?

DEAN:  Well, it wouldn‘t surprise me if it had happened.  You know, they have used fear very effectively.  This is somewhat sudden in finally reaching a conclusion on what to do with a very troublesome problem that they have been resisting on.

It would not surprise me also if it really is what I‘ve been told, is that the conservative elements of the Democratic Party lean on the leadership and said, “Listen, we‘ve got some really tough opponents from Republicans in closed districts.  We need this.  We don‘t want to have this hanging over our head.  Let‘s get it solved now before it‘s too late.”

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama‘s position on this confuses me.  He loathes the telecom immunity, he says that he would fight it immediately and he would monitor it carefully as president.  The vote though is next week.  He better do that part of the fight quick.

If this gets in through the Senate, there‘s no way to get it out again, is there?  I mean, the history of this nation in terms of lost civil liberties is pretty bad about restoring them.

DEAN:  Well, I spent a lot of time reading that bill today, and it‘s a very poorly-drafted bill.  One of the things that is not clear is whether it‘s not possible later to go after the telecoms for criminal liability.  And that something that Obama has said during this campaign he would do, unlike prior presidents who come in and really give their predecessor a pass, he said, “I won‘t do that.”  And that might be why he‘s just sitting back saying, “Well, I‘m going to let this go through.  But that doesn‘t mean I‘m going to give the telecoms a pass.”  I would love it if he gets on the Senate floor and says, “I‘m keeping that option opened.”

OLBERMANN:  In other words, let the private suits drop and get somebody in there who‘ll actually use the laws that still exist to prosecute and make the actual statement and maybe throw a few people in jail.

DEAN:  Exactly.  And it looks to me, as I read this bill and talk to a number of people in Washington familiar with the bill, some who are involved in the negotiations, and they say, “You know - we just didn‘t think about this issue.”  So, as it goes to the Senate, maybe Obama‘s got a shot to take, you know, a future look at this thing and not let them have the pass that they think they‘re getting.

OLBERMANN:  That would be a nice symmetry to that—that everybody had been so lulled into a sense of complacency because of the Bush success on this that they‘ve left out anything that protected anybody legally, if you had a president who actually believed in the Constitution.  That would be a nice touch.  To that point, Jonathan Turley suggested last night though, that this is as much about immunizing Congress for its complicity with the president as it is about anything else to use the play on (ph) acronyms that I used last night, this is not FISA, it‘s CYA.

DEAN:  I caught your acronym and I listened to Jonathan last night.  And while I—you know, it wouldn‘t be the first time or the last time that there‘s been a CY action in Washington.  That isn‘t what I‘ve heard.  And so I‘m not sure, but it‘s one of the things I know we‘ll never learn the answer to, for this reason—those people were all briefed on a classified basis, so they really can‘t explain it.

OLBERMANN:  How convenient that is.

John Dean, author of “Broken Government,” giving us a little hope in here that perhaps a President Obama or some future Democrat might be able to still pursue this within the courts.  Thank you, John.  Have a good weekend.

DEAN:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There is ice on Mars.  Unfortunately, there doesn‘t appear to be any whiskey.

And, poor Chris Wallace.  We‘re going to have to break the bad news to him.  Apparently, they have told him some people don‘t get to do election night over there, even though they do get to do election over there.



OLBERMANN:  Best Persons in a moment and the greatest piece of non-speaking George Bush videotape ever.

First, on this day, 20 years ago, a brand new camera operator on the game show, “The Price is Right,” put a little too much English on one of his moves, swinging the camera abruptly and forcibly enough to send model, Janice Pennington, flying 10 feet off the stage into the audience and knocking her out cold.  She was OK but thus was born the game “Plinko” (ph).  It sounds she (ph).

Let‘s play Oddball.

To COUNTDOWN to Mars bureau where scientists working on NASA‘s Phoenix Mars Lander think they have found evidence of ice on Mars.  This is a ditch dug by the lander‘s robotic arm.  In a before (ph) picture taken on Sunday, there are diced-size formations in the lower left corner of the ditch.

NASA figured it was ice but they were not sold until they saw this picture taken Thursday, four days later, the formations have disappeared, leaving little doubt the formations were made of frozen water vaporized when exposed to the Martian atmosphere.  Of course, those scientists are unsure of the ice theory, we‘re finally convinced when the lander sent this picture back to Houston.

And now here it is, Raleigh, North Carolina.  A 26 percent approval rating feels like.  Watch the two guys behind the fence waiting for Marine One to land.  As the president disembarks, he waves hello to them and nothing.  So he tries a bigger wave.  Yoohoo, hey.  Nothing.  Eventually he gives us and saunters out of screen.  Next time, give him a couple no-bid contracts.  We‘ll show that to you again later in the hour. 

The Scott McClellan hearing—it is not much but it‘s on the record.  Sometimes the only way to start is to say the truth out loud.  We‘ll ask John Cusack about that after his role in a new ad hammering home the links between John McCain and George Bush. 

These stories, the “Countdown‘s” three best persons of the world.  Number three, best dumb sports fans.  Dutch soccer supporters, visiting Bern in Switzerland to watch their team play.  The railway worker was dumbfounded when he realized the large group of Dutch fans was following him on to the tracks like lemmings as he went to make a repair.  He was wearing an orange safety vest.  Their team‘s official color is orange.  So they followed him.  Swiss rail authorities are temporarily switching to yellow safety vests until the tournament is over. 

Number two, best smack down.  Bernard Goldberg on FOX Noise, as Bill O. went all projection over a European mayonnaise ad in which the mayo is so authentic it temporarily turns a housewife into a New York City deli counter man.  The husband then kisses him briefly. 

It was obviously a gay thing, Bill O. bellowed.  I don‘t know what the message is besides gay people like mayonnaise.  Goldberg‘s response, Bill, if you think a major corporation like Heinz is trying to sell a product like mayonnaise by appealing to gay people—and I say this in the best possible sense—you‘re nuts.  This is not a gay issue.  It‘s a mayonnaise issue. 

Number one best dumb criminal.  The Botox bandit of Port St. Lucie, Florida, has been busted.  A woman was going into the offices of cosmetic surgeons, getting injections and then making excuses about having to go out to her card for her credit card and never coming back and never paying.  23-yeawr-old Kelly Thomas, recognized because she had before and after pictures at one of the clinics.  Apparently, it never dawned on her that somebody might release the photos.  Ms. Thomas, I know you‘re in jail and I know the free Botox treatments are a thing of the past, but still, why the long face?


OLBERMANN:  “Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an ends.  Sadly, they remain silent,” the words of former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, this time under oath, in our third story on “Countdown,” describing the Bush administration‘s overstated and over-packaged selling of prewar intelligence and facing critics like Ranking Republican Lamar Smith, who snidely welcomed McClellan to the Judiciary Committee of the book of the month club.  Appearing voluntarily before the House Judiciary Committee at its request, Mr. McClellan said he did not think President Bush knew about the leak of CIA officer Valarie Plame‘s identity.  As for the vice president, quote, “I do not know.  There‘s a lot of suspicion there.” 

Pay attention to how McClellan‘s own unwitting lie in the matter came about, September 29th, 2003, right after the leak investigation was launched. 


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  That Saturday morning I received a call from the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, and he said that the president and vice president had spoken that morning and they wanted me to provide the same assurances for Scooter Libby that I had for Karl Rove.  I was reluctant to do it but I headed into the White House that Saturday morning.  I talked with Andy Card.  I said I would provide the same assurances for Scooter Libby given that he would give me the same assurance that Karl Rove had.  I got on the phone with Scooter Libby and asked him point blank, were you involved in this in any way, and he assured me in unequivocal terms that he was not, meaning the leaking of Valarie Plame‘s identity to any reporters. 


OLBERMANN:  Also notable that the leak of Valerie Plame‘s name and the distorted prewar intel of which it was a part may never fully be addressed. 


MCCLELLAN:  I think that the problem here is that this White House promised or assured the American people that at some point when this was behind us, they would talk publicly about it.  And they have refused to.  and that‘s why I think, more than any other reason, we are here today and this suspicion still remains. 


OLBERMANN:  So when Congressman Smith says, quote, “Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a piece of silver,” he should consider exactly what he himself was selling and the consequences far more grave than a few pieces of silver.    

Dana Milbank, the national political reporter of “Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst, attended today‘s hearings.

Dana, good evening. 


“WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The reception for Mr. McClellan before judiciary today sounds like it was varying wildly between the book critics and the Democrats and one of the Democrats, at least one of them, invoked impeachment? 

MILBANK:  Actually, three of them invoked impeachment.  One of them was Robert Wexler, who has been a key surrogate for Barack Obama.  Basically, all of that is is invoking impeachment.  The Democratic leaders, as you know, have taken it off the table.  Really, all they can do in this sort of a forum is make some noise.  It really actually did become sort of a book club gathering of where he was getting raves from the Democrats and rather harsh reviews from the other side. 

OLBERMANN:  Those who raved on his behalf, was there any sense there today that this great body of discontent about pre-war intel, about selling the war, about the lies, the attacking of the critics of the war, that all of this is going to be in some mysterious way resolved after Mr. Bush leaves office or is it going to sit there like an historical exhibit of the Smithsonian? 

MILBANK:  Yes, it will be an exhibit in the Smithsonian and Joe Wilson will donate his body to the exhibit.  Usually this sort of thing would come out.  The National Archives would get the note and they‘d eventually be released for the benefit of historians.  But as we know, a lot of the crucial e-mails and things will have been deleted by that time any way.  There‘s not a lot of hope here, either, that this committee will get anywhere, since it‘s an actual prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, could not get any further than this.  Who knows in a quarter century we may be able to write a footnote in history. 

OLBERMANN:  About Fitzgerald, the chairman of the Judiciary, John Conyers said that the incidents in McClellan‘s book—let me quote him exactly—“may constitute obstruction of justice beyond what Scooter Libby was convicted for.”

The book is essentially—the key elements of the book, they‘re now on the congressional record.  Does it move the Judiciary Committee‘s investigation forward?  What is the nature of that investigation or are they just, as we said before, the only stage right here is telling the truth on the record allowed and hoping something good will happen of it some day? 

MILBANK:  Yeah.  Well, you see, Keith, there‘s no accident that the contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor.  Carl and Scooter and the whole gang know that they can stone wall and avoid this committee.  All they can do is scream and yell about it.  and there‘s not a whole lot of time that they have that they have to worry about.  It will be very easy for them to runoff the clock. 

Clearly, as you saw from Lamar Smith and his book of the month club remark that they are not going to get a lot of support there.  Yeah, they can call a few more hearings.  Hard to see, as Scott McClellan himself said today, how they get much beyond this without other people coming to talk. 

OLBERMANN:  Even though this is a Rosetta Stone—I‘ve used that term for like the 15th time about trying to understand the last few years.  His point, he may be the last one to speak.  Is there any possibility, that anyone is going to follow down this path even if it is later on if Karl Rove needs 5 million bucks? 

MILBANK:  No, I don‘t think.  Plenty of people are talking about Tony Fratto, who said today that Scott McClellan has said everything that he doesn‘t know, so why not say some more.  No, I think—I saw the puffy bags under Scott‘s eyes there.  He‘s been under a great deal of strain because so many of his old friends have been so loyal to the president and so tough on him.  I see no cracks occurring where others are going to follow him. 

OLBERMANN:  The cracks may be going to occur if the Republicans don‘t get the White House bank and the rest of these people don‘t have a source of income after January of next year.  We‘ll see.        

Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC, permitting me to talk about that while he sits there and nods knowingly.

Thank you, Dana.  Have a good weekend.

MILBANKS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Polls show John McCain‘s key chance at winning is to separate himself from President Bush.  John Cusack has other ideas.  He will join us. 

And anybody out there remember who was president on 9/11?  Because former unconfirmed U.N. Ambassador John Bolton can‘t seem to remember.  Worst Persons next on “Countdown.”


OLBERMANN:  John Cusack on his ad, his film “War, Inc.” a satire which looks surprisingly like a documentary about the Bush administration in Iraq.  The first, the worst, the “New York Post” actually does not know, the rest of us know, they fabricate their own gossip updates.  The latest insertion of foot into mouth from the unfortunate Paula Froelich, next on “Countdown.”


OLBERMANN:  Actors speaking out.  That‘s one thing.  An actor actually appearing in a political commercial, that‘s a new level.  John Cusack joins us. 

But first, “Countdown‘s” number two story, tonight‘s Worst Persons in the World.

The bronze, former unconfirmed U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, telling John Gibson, apparently on the streets since John doesn‘t have a TV show anymore, that the election of Barack Obama, quote, “Will simply be a replay of the Clinton administration.  It will simply have more embassy bombings, more bombings of our warships like the Cole, more World Trade Center attacks.  That will be the best outcome from that perspective.”

Mr. Unconfirmed Ambassador, I don‘t know how to break this to you, but the World Trade Center attacks occurred on September 2001, your watch, Mr.  Bush‘s administration, not Mr. Clinton‘s.  This crew will blame George Bush.  Sorry. 

Our Runner up, Chris Wallace, of Fixed News.  speaking at Thousand Oaks, California, according to coverage in the local paper there, “The Acorn,” he, quote, “distanced himself from right wing Fox shows hosted by Bill O‘Reilly and Sean Sanity by calling them opinion shows and said that, unlike MSNBC‘s fiery liberal, Keith Olbermann, O‘Reilly and Hannity are never permitted to anchor newscasts.” 

Chris, you‘re 60.  Stop being naive.  Everything on FOX is an opinion show and, of course, FOX permits them to anchor newscasts.  They let O‘Reilly anchor on primary nights.  They let Hannity & Colmes anchor on primary nights.  They let you anchor on primary nights. 

Paula Froelich, of the gossip section of Rupert Murdoch‘s “New York Post,” who‘s writers are divided into those who have been found taking bribes and those that have not yet been found taking bribes.  As we told you last night, she made up a story about Chris Matthews and me seeking to succeed our friend, the late Tim Russert.  Even as a work of fiction, it was pretty dam weak.  They had Chris lobbying for the job at the reception after Tim‘s memorial service, which not only isn‘t true, but which only somebody working for Rupert Murdoch would be classless and self destructive enough to do. 

Her hallucination had me threatening to quit if I didn‘t get the job, which not only isn‘t true but, as I said last night, does not account for the fact that I am not qualified for Tim Russert‘s job. 

Mr. Froelich, however, knowingly and maliciously printed the falsehoods and has now had Bill Hoffman make something else up.  He‘s another staffer at page 6, who‘s writers are divided into those who have been found taking bribes and those that have not yet been found taking bribes.  Mr. Hoffman was told to make something up for tomorrow‘s paper about my supposed recent diagnosis of Witmack Echbaum‘s Syndrome (ph), a neurological condition in which sleep is sometimes interrupted by odd nerve sensations in the limbs.  He‘s been told to talk about the sexual side effects of a new drug prescribed for the disease and to make up something about whether or not the drug is affecting me, which gives him a hobby.  But unfortunately, with dead on inaccuracy—has nothing to do with me, since my diagnosis was not recent.  It was in the mid-1990s.  And I‘ve never taken the drug he‘s going to be making stuff up about tomorrow. 

Returning to Ms. Froelich meantime, she told an online gossip site, quote, “Perhaps, Keith, who is as infantile as he is narcissistic, should preach to his viewers about things that actually matter to him rather than himself.  But then again, there are only 300,000 of them.” 

Actually, we had 2,202,000 viewers last night and every time you‘ve written about me, that number has gone up.  So congratulations to Paula and the “Post” for getting yet one more thing wrong by a factor of 1,900,000. 

And congratulations on the “Post‘s” daily circulation of nearly 725,000.  Well, there‘s been a toilet paper shortage lately. 

Paula Froelich, of the “New York Post,” nearly one day without a factual accident, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 


OLBERMANN:  He‘s acted in at least 57 films, produced eight of them and produced three, but on our number one story on the “Countdown,” John Cusack now has a new role—political polemicist.  He joins us presently.

First, his debut commercial for 


JOHN CUSACK, ACTOR & FILM PRODUCER:  Do you think you can tell him apart?  Pop quiz.  Who supports the bipartisan bill of rights to support them when they return home?  Who tried to privatize our Social Security and opposed health care for uninsured children last year?  And the answer is both.  Go to and take the Bush-McCain challenge.  Bet you can‘t tell them apart.

ANNOUNCER:  MoveOn.Org Political Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 


OLBERMANN:  That ad, released just months after the premier of Cusack‘s new film, “War, Inc.” set in the fictional Terakistan (ph), where tanks carry advertising banners, journalists are confined to the Emerald City, the movie satires the enormous influence that companies like Halliburton and Blackwater have in Iraq.  Indeed, the fictional corporation that runs Terakistan (ph) is itself run by a former vice president of the United States, who, in publishing or push, rather, for his company‘s latest big sale in that war-torn country, is a familiar rational, “It‘s our big launch, bringing democracy to this part of the world.  Plus, now that we‘ve bombed the blank out of them, well, there‘s a lot of building to do.”

As promised, we‘re joined by John Cusack who is in London. 

Thanks for you time tonight, John.

CUSACK:  Thanks for having me.  I‘m a big fan of the show. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for your time this evening. 

We‘ll get to the film in a moment but, first, this ad.  Acting is one thing producing is one thing.  Interview‘s one thing.  There are protests, but protests are still art.  Why go to a situation where, you know, the MoveOn ad is literally and utterly you out there? 

CUSACK:  Well, you know, I‘ve been sort of politically active in the same way I think for a long time.  And I think maybe in 2008, if you‘re not going to be an activist now, I don‘t know when you ever are going to be.  And I think we‘re in a place now where—if torture if a for-profit business, if the Bush administration and the Republican ideology that it represents is going to outsource interrogation and the very core functions of state and military, and if we‘re so far down the rabbit hole that that‘s true, I think your conscience dictates that you speak out.  So in this case, I agreed with MoveOn and everything I said in the ad is true.  So I‘m happy to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  Well said.  I need to welcome you to this vast society of fear mongering smear merchants or smear mongering fear merchants, and whatever we‘re called.  Bill O‘Reilly has attacked you, said this is propaganda.  Just swing away.  What‘s your reaction? 

CUSACK:  Well, you know, it‘s—as I said, if you‘re not going to speak out now—I think maybe when folks like that attack you it means that you‘re probably somewhere close to the truth.  And as I said before, when asked about that, you beat his head in every night.  So I think it would be just piling on, to be honest. 

I wouldn‘t know where—where would one begin? 

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t blame his condition on my beating his head in.  He came to us this way. 

When celebrities and performers get involved in politics, obviously there can be an impact.  You know, the obvious example, Oprah Winfrey with Barack Obama.  Is there any concern that they sometimes blow back, that it could be hurtful to a candidate or to a cause? 

CUSACK:  Yeah.  I think when you say something is as important as what you say in some ways.  And I certainly wouldn‘t want a lecture the electorate or American people about anything. 

But on the same token, I have a right to speak out and speak my mind and democracy requires participation.  And some things are so egregious and I think that this administration, as you‘ve chronicled it for seven years, as been so criminal and lawless that I think morality compels you to speak.  So I think what you say is important, but when you say it is also important.  And I felt now is the time to say it. 

OLBERMANN:  Reality versus fiction.  In the film you play an assassin who has gone to Terakistan (ph) to protect the corporation‘s oil interest by killing a Middle Eastern oil executive who wants to build his own pipeline.  Given that, it‘s kind of—it seems far fetched.  and then comes the news this week that four U.S. oil companies are now on the verge of getting back into Iraq to manage the Iraqi oil 36 years after Saddam Hussein nationalized their wells.  There‘s such a blur here.  Anytime somebody gets a good imaginative idea on how to satirize this war, it seems like the Bush administration beats you to it. 

CUSACK:  Yeah.  It‘s very true, you know.  In a way I think what satire and absurdity does is take the current trends to their logical conclusions.  Even if you go out there on the limb and get way out there and stay out there, it‘s hard to stay ahead of this crew. 

This is such a corrupt ideology.  And it‘s been such a disaster and I really think that this idea that government really—the job of government is to preside over a corporate feeding frenzy and give total liberations for corporations.  And that‘s the core of Heritage Foundation and Cato and the Project for the New American Century.  Many of the signatories on that are now working for John McCain.  So it‘s the same—it‘s the same crew.  They go in this revolving door between corporations and the government and, you know, it‘s a pretty dark reality.  So I agree.

OLBERMANN:  Are you hopeful—and I say this as a precursor to showing this tape again, which you‘ll see on a five-second delay from Raleigh, North Carolina this afternoon.   First off, we have the “Newsweek” poll that shows Obama is up 15 points after one month of a general campaign. 

Let‘s play this tape, boys.  This is President Bush‘s arrival in Raleigh, North Carolina.  And he waves to the two guys who are  waiting to see him and they don‘t even move.  There‘s no reaction whatsoever. 

When you see something like this, are you encouraged, are you hopeful about the state of the United States? 

CUSACK:  You know, I‘m—I am hopeful about it.  And I—that‘s pretty funny.  Yep, that‘s our president. 

I am hopeful about it, but I do think that, you know, we have to call on all well-meaning Libertarians, Republicans and Democrats to sort of expose and shame the last seven years.  And I do think if the Democrats say impeachment is off the table, I think that‘s very troubling.  So I do—I think that if that sends out a signal that the rule of law doesn‘t mean anything if we‘re within striking distance of the White House. 

And I think you have to also take a hard look at Democrats and not only the people who have stood by and enabled George Bush, but also the Democrats who would allow this to continue and allow these crimes to stand.  I think that‘s deeply, deeply troubling as well.

But to give you a more coherent answer, I do—I am still optimistic.  And I do think Obama‘s going to win.  And I think the country‘s going to change, which I‘m grateful, grateful for.

OLBERMANN:  John Cusack, actor and activist.  We are grateful for you staying up late with us here in London.  Good luck and safe travels.

CUSACK:  Yeah, I‘m always happy to have an excuse to be incoherent so it‘s late at night, but...

OLBERMANN:  Take care.

CUSACK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s “Countdown” for this, the 1,878th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.



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