. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
Guest: John Harwood, Jonathan Alter, Chris Hayes, Jonathan Turley, Ana Marie Cox
DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?Meeting of rivals: McCain and Obama and a top broker today in Chicago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: We're just going to have a good conversation about how we can do some work together to fix up the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: When asked if he plans to help the Obama administration, McCain offers a one word response, "Obviously."
Madam Secretary: As the speculation intensifies over Hillary Clinton and that plum cabinet position, secretary of state, the vetting process begins for both Clintons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: If I did have any idea, I wouldn't tell you.
CLINTON: Because I have no business talking about it. But, it's not (ph) that I don't, I can tell you the truth, I don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: What the former president's global business dealings could mean for the senator and for the president-elect?
Judgment day: Joe Lieberman's Senate chairmanship probably decided tomorrow by secret ballot. This, as the chorus of dissent grows louder over Lieberman's Senate role? What do we do now? The president-elect on torture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo and I will follow through on that. I've said repeatedly that America doesn't torture. And I'm going to make sure that we don't torture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senate seat update: Begich leads Stevens in Alaska. In Georgia, both candidates turn up the political wattage. And as the recount looms in Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty isn't doing fellow Republican Norm Coleman any favors.
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GOV. TIM PAWLENTY, ® MINNESOTA: There's no actual evidence of wrongdoing or fraud in the process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: As the rest of the nation goes through campaign withdrawal, a few important questions remain-will the president-elect continue to BlackBerry? When will the Obama dog be chosen? And is Sarah Palin really being offered millions to write a book?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® ALASKA: If.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.
(on camera): Good evening, everyone. I'm David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann. This is Monday, November the 17th, 64 days until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. And the first day since November the 4th that Mr. Obama and Senator John McCain have been in the same room, shaken hands, and looked each other in the eye. Mr. Obama is no longer Senator Obama after his official resignation yesterday, asking the state of Illinois in a letter to, quoting Lincoln, upon his departure for Washington, confidently hope that all will yet be well. Republicans describe the 40-minute private meeting today as very cordial, saying, quote, "The president-elect could not have been any nicer." It was followed by a joint statement saying, quote, "We hope to work together in the days and months ahead on critical challenges like solving our financial crisis, create a new energy economy, and protecting our nation's security."
And tonight, we know a few other names of people who'll be working with President Obama. No, we don't know about Hillary Clinton, yet. More on the tea leaves there coming up. But the names we do know include some Capitol Hill veterans expected to help Mr. Obama work smoothly with Congress right at that gate, including his own Senate chief of staff. Peter Rouse, who will serve as senior advisor, and Jim Messina, named deputy chief of staff, along with Mona Sutphen who was then-held both federal and private positions including past work as a lobbyist. And for White House council, do you remember the name Greg Craig? Craig, reportedly, is Obama's choice for top White House lawyer. He has had previous claims to fame representing accused rapist William Kennedy Smith, Reagan shooter, John Hinckley, and President Clinton during his impeachment. With us tonight is John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for CNBC, and political writer for the "New York Times." And, John, thanks for joining us.
JOHN HARWOOD, NY TIMES POLITICAL WRITER: Hey, David.
SHUSTER: Let's start with the McCain meeting. What did they talk about? Was there anything substantive as far as we know?
HARWOOD: Well, I think there was some substance. They talked about the issues that they've agreed on. We didn't hear a lot about those during the campaign, of course, for obvious reasons. But, when you talk about climate change, their mutual for cap and trade, immigration reform, they even got some common ground on earmarks and stopping government waste. And Barack Obama who does not, after all, have 60 votes in the Senate is eager to get John McCain working with him on those issues. And for John McCain, he, I think, is eager to get past some of the difficulty of the campaign. The verdict is in and he's ready to get some work done.
SHUSTER: The official joint statement referred to some of those issues, reform, government ways, partisanship, the financial crisis, alternative and national security. Might pledging cooperation with the president-elect on all of this-is McCain going maverick against his party or is he attempting to lead them into working with Barack Obama?
HARWOOD: Well, it's an interesting choice for John McCain. You know, he, probably, was transformed, as anybody would be, by the experience of being the nominee of your party. Before that, he had a history of being at odds with this party. So, I would expect that John McCain, in the wake of the 2008 election, is going to come back to the Senate and help Republicans draw some lines with Barack Obama on issues where they disagree. Taxes is an obvious one, and some of the spending programs that Barack Obama is for and others.
But I don't think he is going to be doctrinaire about it, and I think he probably is feeling liberated from the constraints of the campaign, getting able to return to some of those maverick roots. So, he will take some Republicans. I think there are a half dozen or so Republicans who may follow John McCain's lead or people who might go along with him on some of those issues I mentioned.
SHUSTER: The timing was also intriguing. What kind of signal, if any, was McCain sending by agreeing to do this so soon after the election?
HARWOOD: Well, I think, everybody is eager to move on. It was a very decisive victory that Obama scored. Not much purpose served by-particularly given the graceful note that John McCain struck on election night and that Barack Obama has struck. Not much point delaying it. You know, in 2004, it was several months before John Kerry met with George Bush when the Red Sox went to the White House to celebrate their World Series victory. This is a lot sooner than that. But, I think, both sides were eager to have it happen.
SHUSTER: Obama's team is not only Hill-savvy with a lot of Hill experience. They're also urban, too. "McClatchy" today reported that no one since Kennedy has brought such a big city team to Washington. What are the implications to that?
HARWOOD: Well, I guess depends how you define big city. Ronald Reagan brought a lot of Los Angeles and Hollywood, and sort of glitz and glamour in, or modern era to the White House. But Chicago is certainly different from Los Angeles.
Look-this is a president whose constituency was very heavily African-American, Hispanic, young people, many of those are urban residents. And I think you're going to see their priorities reflected in his agenda, whether it's on healthcare, whether it's on tax cuts for lower and middle income people, and maybe, some urban issues as well. You know, let's see, how in the formulation of energy policy, where does mass transit come out, and there is going to be more aid that we've seen in past Republicans could be.
SHUSTER: And, John, there was some discussion that perhaps the two men would be meeting for an hour and a half today, it turned out to only about 40 minutes. Anything you can read into that other than perhaps, the initial indications about the length of the meeting? Maybe those were wrong.
HARWOOD: Well, I think it was probably that. You know, John McCain was a little curt when he gave a one word answer, "Obviously, I want to work with him." And maybe he didn't have a lot else that he wanted to say. But, all indications are this meeting went very smoothly, David.
SHUSTER: John Harwood, chief Washington correspondent for our sister network, CNBC, political writer for the "New York Times"-and, John, thanks, as always. Of course, when it comes to their role in or opposition to the Obama administration, one name trumps even Senator McCain when it comes to public interest-Senator Clinton. The "New York Times" today reported that yes, the Obama team has begun the vetting process required for Mrs. Clinton to become secretary of state. Issue number one, apparently: her husband.
Politico reported today that Obama aides are becoming exasperated by what Politico calls the poky response to the request for information about former President Clinton's finances. Specifically at issue, Mr. Clinton's elaborate and secret financial ties to foreign governments, businesses, and individuals. As a private individual himself, he charges hefty fees for speeches, but also as head of the massive Clinton Global Initiative, which spans the globe, seeking both policy changes and money. Furthermore, Politico quotes a source familiar with these talks, saying Obama likely will not offer Mrs. Clinton the post without assurances that her husband's efforts will not create future conflicts of interest with her pursuit of Obama diplomacy. Nevertheless, the hypothetical appointment already has the endorsement of influential Republicans, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said this weekend, it would be an outstanding appointment that would require, quote, "a great deal of courage" on Mr. Obama's part. And, speaking yesterday during yet another multinational trip, at a business conference in Kuwait, Mr. Clinton offered his endorsement, as well, even as, on some level, he seemed to acknowledge the position that puts him in, if not the position he puts them in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I think it is really important that I'll not say very much about this because this is really-whatever happens or doesn't happen is between-most importantly is up to President-elect Obama and is between him and her. She worked very hard for his election after the primary fight that they had and so did I. And we were very glad that he won and we have a lot of confidence that he can do a good job.
But she did not do what she did with the hope or expectation of getting any kind of job offer, much less having this discussed. But if he decided and asked her to do it, and they did it together, I think she'd be really great as being secretary of state. I have no earthly idea what is going to happen. If I had an idea, I wouldn't tell you.
CLINTON: Because I have no business talking about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Let's turn to MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also, senior editor at "Newsweek" and author of "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope." Jonathan, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, David.
SHUSTER: I want to break this into two questions, essentially past and present. First, vetting Mrs. Clinton-why do his past financial transactions, the activities of his initiative, why do they pose a potential problem for Mrs. Clinton?
ALTER: Well, he has major gifts, not just to his library and the Clinton Foundation, but to something called the Clinton Global Initiative which does good works around the world, really, a terrific international organization. Those gifts come in some cases, from heads of state, people who would potentially be currying favor with the new administration. And so, they need to kind of get all the details out there.
There might be a couple days of not such great publicity for the Clintons, but it's clearly worth it for her to become secretary of state. So, they just need to kind of take their hit on this glove (ph) here, and then they can move on.
SHUSTER: And then, looking towards the future in that, Politico says that Mr. Obama wants assurances that Mr. Clinton will not be a problem. What kinds of problems might the Obama transition be anticipating?
ALTER: Well, there was one case involving a mining industry executive from Canada, who there was the appearance that Obama was that-excuse me -- that President Clinton was a door opener for this gentleman with the president of Kazakhstan. It's the only time, besides Borat, that Kazakhstan has been in the news lately.
ALTER: And so, it looked a little bit-to say that it looked somehow scandalous would be overstating it. But there was an appearance that was not favorable because the gift to the Clinton Global Initiative came in shortly after this Canadian mining executive cut a very big uranium deal with Kazakhstan.
So, they want to be careful that they don't have this appearance problem. As for whether foreigners contribute to the Clinton Global Initiative in order to curry favor with the new administration-as far as I'm concerned, I think it would be OK. I mean, in the old days, you know, they call that tribute. But in this case, it's not tribute that would be going into the American Treasury or anybody's pocket. It would be going to fight AIDS.
ALTER: You know, to do things that are important around the world. So, I don't think he's going to need to change the Clinton Global Initiative too much.
SHUSTER: What kind of assurances could either Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton give to Obama, given that they are looking for a State Department, presumably, like other agencies, where there is sort of a "No Drama Obama" mode and rather than-as one unnamed source put it to Politico, the best Oscar for drama mode of the Clintons?
ALTER: Well, that's true. And that's why this speaks to Obama's interest in Doris Kearns Goodwin called, you know, "The Team of Rivals" concept that Abraham Lincoln had. He put as his secretary of state principal rival for the Republican nomination in 1860, William Seward. So, Obama is pretty explicit about looking to that and he sees himself as needing all hands on deck. He wants the A-team.
The problems are so serious that he's willing to put up, maybe, with a little bit of drama. But, I think, perhaps, less drama than have Hillary Clinton remain in the Senate where she would have an independent power base to make some mischief down the road.
Everybody agrees she would be an outstanding secretary of state. She's tremendously well-qualified for that job. And even though none of us anticipated it, at this point, it's looking like a bit of a masterstroke.
SHUSTER: One thing-I cannot let you go until I ask you about-last night, on "60 Minutes," we learned that Barack Obama is reading your book, "FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope."
SHUSTER: What can we learn about Obama's transition other than the wise judgment in terms of his reading list, of reading your book? But what can we learn about what he's thinking based on what you've written?
ALTER: Well, you know, the title of that book is "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope." And Obama in his victory speech in Grant Park in Chicago, and some other speeches, in fact, today, when he was talking after meeting with McCain, he referred to this as a new defining moment. So, he has a sense of the historical significance of this period.
And he talked about on "60 Minutes" last night about learning how Franklin Roosevelt had used action and action now. That was the key idea that we move and that we not stand back and just react to events. You can expect him to try to emulate Franklin Roosevelt and his first 100 days and really pursue an aggressive and ambitious agenda.
SHUSTER: Jonathan Alter, senior editor at "Newsweek," author of "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope." Congratulations on all the shout-outs and the well-deserved publicity for the book. Thanks for coming on.
ALTER: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: President-elect Obama says, part of restoring America's image in the world involves taking steps to assure we do not torture. What's ahead on that front? And what could happen if the current president offers a blanket pardon to everyone involved with our current interrogation techniques? And decision day for Senator Lieberman, after supporting Senator McCain, will Democrats take away Lieberman's Senate chairmanship?
That and more: Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: The secret ballot: Will Joe Lieberman get the boot from Senate Democrats? Another Democrat goes public with his disgust for Lieberman's actions during the election. And rumors that Governor Sarah Palin might be close to a book deal, a seven-figure book deal. Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: Joe Lieberman's fate lies in the hands of his fellow Senate Democrats. Tomorrow, they will vote by secret ballot on whether or not to strip their colleague of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. At issue, on our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Lieberman's vocal support of John McCain during the presidential campaign, for speaking at the Republican National Convention, and more importantly, for some of what Lieberman said in that speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (I) CONNECTICUT: When colleagues like Barack Obama were voting to cut off funding for our American troops on the battlefield.
LIEBERMAN: John McCain had the courage to stand against the tide of public opinion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: As we know, Barack Obama voted against a version of the bill that didn't include a timeline for withdrawal and for the one that did. In the meantime, Senator Tom Carper from Delaware today, became the fourth member of the U.S. Senate to publicly condemned Lieberman. He told "The Hill" newspaper that he would not rule out stripping him of the coveted gavel, quote, "There need to be consequences, and they cannot be insignificant." Carper joins Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, who doesn't get to vote, and Byron Dorgan, all of whom have gone off on Lieberman on the record. Dorgan called Lieberman's actions as the chair of the significant committee unacceptable. As for Barack Obama, the president-elect has said he'd like Lieberman to continue caucusing with the party. He has not or he'll ever weigh in on the chairmanship issue. And since he resigned his Senate seat, he won't be voting anyway.
Time now to bring in Chris Hayes, Washington editor of "The Nation." And good evening, Chris.
CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION: Hey, David. How are you doing?
SHUSTER: Good. Is the secret ballot good news for Joe Lieberman since basically it's not cool to support to him or is it bad because this way detractors can stay anonymous?
HAYES: It's a tough call. But, I think, ultimately, it probably is good news. I mean, the Senate is called quite aptly, the world's most exclusive club. And the internal caucus politics is a place where that phrase is probably most accurate. I mean, whatever information we're getting through leaks and some public announcements from a few senators, doesn't compare to the amount of jockeying and handshaking and quid pro quos that are going on inside the caucus.
And my sense is, what a secret ballot does ultimately, essentially provide a little bit of insurance towards Lieberman's colleagues who, I think, are probably going to do the clubby thing and vote to keep him where he is.
SHUSTER: Well, based on what you are saying, are you suggesting that Lieberman perhaps is engaged in some horse trading in order to make sure that he has enough numbers to survive?
HAYES: Look-I mean, he's a veteran lawmaker. And this is what they do for a living. I don't know what's being traded. I do know that, you know, calls are clearly being made, colleagues are being lobbied, et cetera. I think, ultimately, right-I mean, there's two ways to view this. One is that Lieberman really did, he has kind of betrayed the party substantively around the issue of the Iraq war for a long time before the campaign, but really quite acutely in the campaign, and specifically during the speech at the RNC. The other way to look at it and the way that I'm sure Lieberman is telling his colleagues is, "You know, I'm basically one of you guys. And we don't want to rock the boat too much and I'll make a lot of trouble for you if you kick me out." And I think that kind of clubby imperative that tends to rule the Senate, I think, unfortunately, is what's going to prevail.
SHUSTER: Barack Obama told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he wants Lieberman to stay in the Democratic caucus and he's staying out of the chairmanship battle. If Obama got over it, shouldn't the rest of the caucus, as well?
HAYES: Well, I don't think it's a question of getting over it. I mean, these are adults and they're professional politicians. And professional politicians have to go through a lot of insult trading and all sorts of nastiness back-and-forth, just as a matter, of course, and they get over it. But the question is, one of incentives and the question is one of accountability.
Now, it's also important to note, there's two distinct issues here. There's the stripping of a chairmanship and there's whether Lieberman will caucus with the Democrats. The stripping of the chairmanship is what's on the table in this vote. Whether Lieberman in the fit of peek then react to that by choosing not to caucus with the Democrats, it would be a violation of a pledge he made to the voters in Connecticut. That is for Lieberman to decide.
But what Obama said was strictly had to do with him caucusing with the Democrats and that's a distinct question from whether he'll retain his gavel.
SHUSTER: NBC's own Capitol Hill producer citing sources familiar with the negotiations had say that Democrats are expected to let Lieberman keep his chairmanship and seniority, but give up the gavel on the subcommittees he chairs. Wow, losing the gavel on a subcommittee, that's rough stuff. I mean, good gracious, is this really punishment that they're meeting out?
HAYES: No, they are not meeting out punishment. I mean, that's a slap on the wrist. And I think, a useful analogy here is this amounts to a political bailout. I mean, Joe Lieberman pursued a very high risk, high leverage strategy in this election year in which he bought a lot of stock in John McCain. And that has not burned out. And I think bailout fever essentially has gripped Washington so much that what we're going to see is, those losses which would, under normal circumstances, incur to Joe Lieberman essentially be written off the way that we're seeing losses for financial entities being written off. And Lieberman is going to skate away. Now, the problem with this and the problem with all bailouts is it creates what economists called moral hazard which is, it takes away a disincentive for this kind of activity in the future. And I think that's a real concern going into some tough legislative fights that there's not going to be the incentive there to retain some loyalty that's going to be necessary to get an agenda passed.
SHUSTER: And certainly, not a confidence booster in terms of the disappointment (ph) it may take in the future. In any case, Chris Hayes of "The Nation"-Chris, thanks for your time tonight. We appreciate your time.
HAYES: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: By the way, results of the vote are expected late tomorrow morning. Turning now to more Senate-related news, Senator Ted Kennedy, who's still fighting a malignant brain tumor returned to his Capitol Hill office this afternoon. It was the first time since a surprise appearance in July when he returned to vote in a Medicare bill.
The Massachusetts Democrat suffered a seizure in May, had surgery in June, and has since undergone under chemotherapy and radiation. Kennedy chairs the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. He came back as discussions are starting to escalate about overhauling the nation's healthcare system. Tomorrow, he meets with Senate Finance Chair Max Baucus to craft a plan to give both committees jurisdiction. And later this week, the two will brief President-elect Obama.
Kennedy was greeted by a scrum of reporters in the Russell Senate Office Building.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I'm looking forward to this session and we got a lot of work to do. I'm looking forward particularly to working with Barack Obama on healthcare, and we're looking forward to working with all the administration on our agenda. So, we are very, very thankful for all the good thoughts and prayers that we've received over the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Turning the tide on the Bush administration's interrogation policies. What happens if the president issues a blank pardon to everyone involved? And in Oddball: how not to put up a Christmas tree courtesy of the city of Milwaukee? That's next on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: On this day 35 years ago in Orlando, Florida, the world gained another newel from the quotable Richard Nixon. On November 17th, 1973, the president held a televised news conference, responding to allegations surrounding the Watergate Scandal. And the conference yielded one of his most memorable lines.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I welcome this kind of examination because people have got to know whether or not their president is a crook. Well, I am not a crook.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: That's good enough for me. Nine months later, Nixon resigned as president. On that note, let's play Oddball.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: We begin in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where this 45-foot spruce is about to head to Red Arrow Park, where it will be trimmed and transformed into the Brew City's official Christmas tree. Of course, tree transit is a delicate process. Luckily affiliate WTMJ is on the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From Iowa Street-There it goes. That's not good. We have seen something really bad happen. The top of the tree just actually broke off. That probably was not supposed to happen.
SHUSTER: As Yoda would say, be gone this war on Christmas has. That's a "Star Wars" joke. The top eight feet snapped off. But there's no quit in the city of festivals; workers dragged the tree over to Red Arrow Park, where they will carve what is now a large bush into something that resembles a tree. Just in time for the holidays.
To Druskinkai (ph), Lithuania, where in keeping with our green is universal week, check out the latest in green massage technology. This one involves getting a topless fat guy to whip you with tree branches. It's the World Sauna Slapping Championships, where sauna masters from Russia, Finland and Lithuania showed off their skills to sweaty, half naked judges. Contestants slapped the bear backs and legs of their patrons and scored points for dramatic flair and dance elements. The winner received 500 dollars. The loser had to towel off the judges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Ahead on COUNTDOWN, the torture question; President-Elect Obama makes it clear the practice should be banned. How will that work? Should anyone who went along with it be punished. And she couldn't tell Katie Couric what she reads to stay informed, but don't let that get in the way of the Alaska governor securing a multi-million dollar book deal. These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN's top three best persons in the world. Number three, best way to mail yourself to freedom. The search is under way in Western Germany for a prisoner-make that former prisoner, who packed him into a card board box meant for postal delivery. Couriers loaded a truck with boxes of prison made merchandise, right alongside the box holding the crafty jail breaker. Once on the road, escapee climbed out of the box, hopped off the truck, and ran for daylight. Deputy Claus von Barney Fife (ph) was unavailable for comment.
Number two, best accidental arrest, cab driver Ricky Pearson picked up a fair at a fast food restaurant near Bishopville, South Carolina early Friday morning. His passenger wanted to go to a town called Lydia. Mr. Pearson didn't know how to get there. So he pulled into a nearby Young's Food Store to ask for directions, from a police man, a police man who was at the store to investigate a robbery, a robbery committed by Mr. Pearson's fare. Number one, best example that pain really can equal pleasure. The owner of the popular Pascha Brothel in Cologne didn't think he'd getting any takers for his latest promotional gimmick. It involved having the brothel's logo tattooed on your arm in exchange for free-services for life. Well, about 40 German Johns have already opted to become walking advertisements for the den of iniquity. One explaining my wife doesn't mind. I save five Euros entry, plus the 30 Euros cost of a lap dance. That's right, times are tough, honey. I don't care who you sleep with.
Just thinking about the future. Save those Euros.
SHUSTER: It's been done before for the noble reason of healing of a divided country, a blanket pardon of nameless citizens. President Carter gave one to Vietnam draft dodgers. President Jackson gave one to the confederacy. President Washington gave one to the fighters in the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, what if President Bush follows for a distinctly less than noble reason and pardons everyone involved in carrying out his policies on interrogation, torture and rendition?
It begs another question, one that we will ask of President-Elect Obama nightly until his inauguration: what do we do now? Throughout his campaign, Obama promised to stop torture and to close down Gitmo, promises he reaffirmed to "60 Minutes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay, and another is to change interrogation methods used by U.S. troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?
OBAMA: Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow-through on that. I've said repeatedly that America doesn't torture and I am going to make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But just how does the president-elect go about achieving those aims? If he closes Gitmo, what happens to the prisoners? Do they move under US judicial jurisdiction, in which case they will likely be released for a lack of evidence. If they are released, will their home countries take them back? Can the U.S. ensure that those who did commit terrorist acts don't commit any more? As far as the torture policy, Salon.com is now reporting that President-Elect Obama's advisers are pushing forward with a plan for a non-partisan commission to investigate abuses under the current administration. It would not preclude prosecutions, but would emphasize fact finding above all else. The results would likely not come to light until after Obama's first term. But President Bush could stymie any effort to bring forth criminal charges by issuing a blanket pardon for anyone who was involved. In doing so, he would not only be admitting that his policies in the war on terror were a crime, potentially a war crime, but he would also be pardoning hundreds, maybe even thousands of people, who had knowledge of or took part in the interrogations. That, in a first, would mean that President Bush essentially pardons himself for his criminal acts, something that not even Nixon felt comfortable doing.
We are joined now by Jonathan Turley, Constitutional law professor with George Washington University. Jonathan, thanks for your time tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR:
SHUSTER: If President Bush does take this remarkable step of offering a blanket pardon, does that mean that nobody involved in the US torture policy is prosecutable ever?
TURLEY: This is not as easy as it sounds, because it's a bit of a tricky thing to do when you can pardon thousands of unnamed people. Most pardons have to name people, even if they haven't been convicted of a crime. You have to name the crime. It is going to be rather a big challenge for him. He will have to essentially pardon the world. I'm not sure how that will play out if later there are prosecutions.
It would be a terrible, terrible precedent. There is a big difference between John F. Kennedy pardoning people convicted under the Narcotics Act, an act that many people felt was really excessive, and Bush giving this generally worded pardon for all crimes associated with a program. That would allow presidents to have a virtual criminal enterprise going on from the beginning to the end of their term, and then just issue a pardon for everyone in their administration. It would be a terrible, terrible precedent.
SHUSTER: As far as that precedent is concerned, if there no prosecutions, doesn't that send that very message that any administration can essentially break American and international law with impunity?
TURLEY: I think that's the important distinction. This issue has never been about the principal of torture. That principal that we don't torture already existed. It existed in international law. It existed in domestic law. The principal we have been debating for the last eight years is a principal of the rule of law, whether a president is above the law. What I think you're seeing now is a bit of a bait and switch, where the Democrats are turning this into a question of whether we will finally denounce torture. We already did that many years ago. The world did that many years ago.
The question is whether the Democrats will stand with the rule of law and demand an investigation of crimes.
SHUSTER: What about Gitmo? What happens to all those people inside the prison. How does President-Elect Obama weigh their rights with national security concerns?
TURLEY: Well, he can finally do what Bush should have done. That is simply move these people into the federal system. The problem is that some of these people have been tortured, many of them with very little credible evidence against them. They can be moved into the federal system and given a fair trial. If we cannot convict them under the rule of law, we can send them back to their countries, if they will accept them, or hold them until they do.
The important thing is to get these people out of limbo, out of a very arbitrary and abusive situation, and to stand with our own system of laws. That's the thing that is distinguishing us from the people that we have fought against. I think the world viewed the last eight years as the United States embracing the type of abuses, in fact embracing the hypocrisy of our enemies.
SHUSTER: As you know, Richard Nixon's lawyers figured a self-pardon would be legal under the Constitution, but he decided against it. In your opinion, would that have been legal and would it likewise be legal for President Bush to essentially pardon himself?
TURLEY: This has long been a big parlor game of a debate for academics, of whether a president could pardon himself. The language of the Constitution would indicate that the president has plenary and almost absolute authority over pardons. I don't think it's that easy. I think that the Constitution's spirit and the history behind the Constitution indicates that the framers never anticipated a president could pardon himself. The Constitution is all about conflicts of interest and trying to avoid Congress from giving itself a pay raise, trying to avoid a vice president sitting on an impeachment hearing of a president. I think that the framers would find this a particularly obnoxious idea. But the other thing is there is great and legitimate criticism of Clinton, who abused the pardon power by using it benefit his own brother. This would be 100 times worse.
SHUSTER: Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. Jonathan, thank you.
TURLEY: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: Could Barack Obama have to quit his Blackberry habit cold turkey after he takes the oath of office? The Republicans fight to stop the bleeding on Capitol Hill. The latest on the three GOP incumbents still battling for their political lives.
SHUSTER: Thirteen days after election day, not only are three incumbent Republican senators still fighting for their political lives, but thanks to recounts and potential court challenges, at least two of those races, if not all three, might not be over by the time the 111th Congress convene this January. Our second story in the COUNTDOWN, Decision 2008 continues.
In Alaska, Democrat Mark Begich currently with a 1,022 vote lead over incumbent Republican Senator and convicted felon Ted Stevens. The remaining 24,000 ballots from Democratic areas, like Begich's home base of Anchorage and southeast Alaska will be counted tomorrow.
In Georgia, the run off election between incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss and Democrat Jim Martin is attracting national support. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, was in the state over the weekend campaigning for Chambliss. Another former Arkansas governor and successful presidential candidate Bill Clinton heads south to stump for Martin on Wednesday. There is still no word on whether the next president of the United States, Barack Obama, will actively campaign for Martin too.
In Minnesota, the original vote count which left incumbent Senator Norm Coleman a mere 206 votes ahead of Democratic challenger Al Franken will be officially certified tomorrow, paving the way for the automatic recount to begin on Wednesday. Ahead of that, Franken will travel to DC to meet with Democratic Senate leaders regarding the recount, though he will not be attending any freshman orientation. His spokesperson saying that would be, quote, presumptuous.
The GOP, meanwhile, is now backing off last week's talking points that somehow the election was flawed, three days after repeating a story that was first promulgated and debunked by Senator Norm Coleman's lawyer, telling Sean Hannity that, quote, finding 32 ballots in the trunk of a car, supposedly forgetting that they were there is suspicious. Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty was back on Fox News this Sunday with a different tune.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. TIM PAWLENTY ®, MINNESOTA: The ballot in the trunk story has been retracted. It wasn't accurate. There are concerning patterns about the changes before the recount starting favoring Al Franken, and some concerns that were raised. We have to be clear on this, as of this moment, there is no actual evidence of wrong-doing or fraud in the process. If there is, that will get rooted out and identified aggressively. At the moment, there is no evidence of that occurring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The recount, overseen by a five-person canvassing board comprised of the Democratic secretary of state, two Pawlenty appointed Supreme Court judges, one county judge elected in a non-partisan race, and one county judge by former independent Governor Jesse Ventura, should be certified, barring court challenges, on December the 16th, when the board is scheduled to start meeting.
After a week of seemingly non-stop interviews from Sarah Palin, what more is there for her to tell? Well, if rumors of a seven-figure book deal are true, I'm sure she will come up with something. Life after the election next on COUNTDOWN.
SHUSTER: When President-Elect Barack Obama takes office, he may be looking forward to that family dog more than his own daughters are, since he will have lost another constant and loyal companion, his Blackberry. In our number story on the COUNTDOWN, that device will probably be jettisoned for the sake of privacy and security. But life after the election offers a different kind of problem for Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska, if it's true that she might land a book deal for seven million dollars. The president-elect first, who is a noted fan of the Blackberry. His wife Michelle reportedly slapping his hand once when he was checking the device during his daughter's soccer game. But that could change soon, because private e-mail accounts are easy to hack and the Presidential Records Act would require that all presidential e-mails be part of the public record. Furthermore, a presidential Blackberry might pose a security risk because it's a trackable device. So it's probably history on January 20th. But Obama will be the first president to have a laptop computer on his desk in the Oval Office, per his request. Though Senator John McCain met with the president-elect today, it was once again McCain's former running mate creating all the buzz for reportedly being wooed to write a book with estimates of a seven million dollar advance.
Let's bring in contributor to "Time Magazine" and the website, "The Daily Beast," Ana Marie Cox. Thanks for your time tonight. Nothing short of ironic that a candidate whose campaign relied so heavily on net roots will have to turn in his Blackberry. Any way his team will work out a way for Obama to continue to use it in some capacity?
ANA MARIE COX, "TIME MAGAZINE": Well, I've heard that they might rig it so he just receives e-mail, which is kind of like a methadone, I guess, for a Blackberry addict. It's an easy way off the hard stuff. I'm actually a little disappointed that they are going to get rid of it entirely. Not only does it I think humanizes him in a way. At least, there's the fiction that you could get in touch with him yourself at any time, but the real reason he is getting rid of it is not just because of privacy, but because of the Presidential Record Act, as you said. I kind of would like a president that wasn't not afraid of having me read his e-mail. Then, of course, I know the kind of e-mail I send at 3:00 in the morning. So perhaps it's best.
SHUSTER: It's also a little shocking that Obama will be the first sitting president to use a laptop. He is really dragging into the late 20th century. Right?
COX: Totally. I understand McCain was very excited to introduce the telegraph to the Oval Office. I have a feeling, given the attention that's been given all the other decisions, the other kind of trivial decisions in the Obama White House, including that of the first puppy, the real question is will it be a Mac or a PC. The Obama campaign was pretty strongly identified with the Apple brand, sort of culturally. I will be interested to see if he keeps that up in the Oval Office.
SHUSTER: You mentioned the dog. And of course the other Obama lifestyle news involved the dog, of course. Last night on "60 Minutes," the Obamas explained that the dog is not happening until late winter or early spring, and that his girls are good with it, even though Americans is ready for the dog right now. Is it natural for the nation to fixate on this pooch as a nice distraction to the tanking economy.
COX: I think it seems natural enough. I also think the nation should know that there is the Sheba puppy cam that they can go to any time they want, and get a full view of puppies until the first puppy arrives. And I imagined-I wish I could get the book deal for that dog. I would ghost write that in a second.
SHUSTER: Let's talk book deals. Governor Sarah Palin-and I must say this has been popping up in bookstores. It's called "The Complete Book of The Collective Wisdom of Sarah Palin," with the pages, as you can see, blank. I suppose for seven million clams, a publisher would want something more than this. Right?
COX: I got to tell you, if she really got seven million dollars for that, I think she must be smarter than we think. I also would want her to be my agent.
SHUSTER: Finally, Senator McCain and the president-elect met for 40 minutes, didn't disclose much about McCain's future relationship with the Obama administration. Want to venture any guesses?
COX: I think that probably went pretty well. People I talked to who were there said that the body language on the quartet that left the meeting was really loose and relaxed and that they were practically in the middle of making jokes at each other when they went out to talk to the press for a few moments. I think if anyone hates the Republican party as much as Obama, it's probably John McCain. So I think they're probably going to be fine.
SHUSTER: I wonder who picked those chairs. It looked like that office was just thrown together right there. It looks like just an office building, they put up a curtain and a flag and a couple of chairs.
COX: It was impromptu. They roll that way. That's the McCain style, at least. I think probably Obama would have had the drapes measured, I understand, long before.
SHUSTER: Ana Marie Cox, contributor to "Time Magazine," nice to chat you, as always. Thanks for coming on.
COX: Good to see you.
SHUSTER: That will do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN. The "RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next. I'm David Shuster, in for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for watching, everybody.
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