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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, January 19

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Jonathan Alter,  Chris Hayes

High: Olbermann delivers a special comment on prosecuting war crimes from the Bush administration.

Spec: Politics; George W. Bush; War Crimes; Baracl Obama

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

The eve of liberation: On his last full day as president-elect, Mr.  Obama declares a national day of service and experiences a national day bipartisan dining.  Tributes to Colin Powell and John McCain, consults for weeks on Iraq and security with McCain, and a lot of paint and lumber.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT-ELECT:  This is good practice because I‘m moving into a new house tomorrow.



OBAMA:  You know, I may have to do a few touch-ups here and there.

Everybody is going to have to pitch in.  And I think the American people are ready to do that.


OLBERMANN:  Surprise!  The vice president-elect could have been the secretary of state designate.  Nice scoop, Doctor Jill Biden.


JILL BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN‘S WIFE:  Joe had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president.  And I said, Joe .


BIDEN:  Well, OK, he did.  So .


OLBERMANN:  Her husband‘s spokesperson says the doctor does not have that exactly right.

Getting the inaugural address exactly right—the pressures on Obama with historian Michael Beschloss.

Worsts: Spirit Airlines canceled his flight and rebooked his party of six on to another flight, this one.  And after the crash, it tried to charge him another 90 bucks for the privilege.

And, in the Declaration of Independence, we compromised with slavery.  After the Civil War, we compromised with segregation.  After the First World War, we didn‘t fully prosecute Germany, we never fully prosecuted McCarthyism, we didn‘t fully prosecute Watergate.

Now, history insists that compromising with a national wrong is never right and that which is wrong always comes back worse than before.  Why the president-elect must prosecute torture: My Special Comment.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, from Washington.  This is Monday, January 19th, hours until the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama and the end of an error.

And there is breaking news at this hour that seems like a metaphor for that error.  Vice President Cheney has, today, hurt his back while moving boxes into his new home in McLean, Virginia.  He will attend tomorrow‘s inauguration here in a wheelchair.

As to the man who will be inaugurated, inheriting a nation at war on two fronts as well as a financial crisis, at least one stimulus plan already seeming to have been put into action even before Mr. Obama takes the oath of office at noon tomorrow on the steps of the Capitol behind me.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: For all the grim reality, it is as if a grimmer one still has been removed, exorcised, as if a storm has broken and for whatever the devastation, now at long last, the cleanup and the repair can finally begin.

It certainly feels like Barack Obama‘s Washington now.  President Bush is simply living in it for one more night.  Leave those boxes alone, sir.

The president is paying tribute to Martin Luther King on this, the civil right leader‘s national holiday, by visiting wounded troops at the Walter Reed Medical Center, and helping to paint a wall at a shelter for homeless teenagers.  But the president-elect declared a national day of service in which his wife Michelle and Vice President-elect Biden and his wife, Doctor Jill Biden all took part.  More news on the—news that the Bidens surprise us with today in a moment.

Over this holiday weekend, Mr. Obama announcing the formation of a group called Organizing for America, an attempt to put his massive email list of 13 million names to use and apply the grassroots advocacy of his campaign to fixing the nation.

The president-elect is addressing those themes this morning.


OBAMA:  We got 5,000 volunteer organizations and service projects across the country today.  The Internet is an amazing tool for us to be able to organize people together.  We saw that in our campaign.  But we don‘t want to just use it for winning elections, we want to use it to rebuild America.


OLBERMANN:  On the president-elect‘s schedule for tonight, a series of dinners honoring three Americans.  Obama is saying that each has spent his life in service to his country, at each and every moment, placing the interests of America before issues of political party.  The first honoree, Joe Biden—which makes sense—as the longtime now former senator will take the oath of office before Mr. Obama does tomorrow.

The second, General Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  It was not many years ago that it was thought he might be the first African-American president of the United States.

But the third—some may find that name surprising—the 2009 presidential inaugural committee today honoring Senator John McCain for his commitment to renewing America‘s promise by a bipartisan accomplishment.

Joining us now, our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine and author also of “The Defining Moment: FDR‘s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope.”

Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  This city behind us here has made New York‘s New Year‘s Eve look like Sunday night at the library.  And I don‘t know, Ithaca, New York, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, whatever you choose, can the president-elect translate this into action?

ALTER:  There is such an amazing feeling.  You know, a friend, a blogger, Andrew Sullivan, greets people now, “Happy America.”  And that‘s the feeling out here that America actually can do better.

So, I think he does have an extraordinarily rare opportunity to translate it into action.  He‘s got a tool, as he mentioned, in the Internet that can allow him to mobilize a lot of this good feeling, which is almost overwhelming.

People sense that America really can do better.  We can remake ourselves.  You know, the spot we are sitting on right now, Keith, slave auctions here 200 years ago.  Capitol built by Michelle Obama‘s ancestors who were slaves.  This is a country where anything is possible, as he keeps saying.  So, I think it is possible he could translate all of this into something tremendously positive.

OLBERMANN:  Contextualize this for us in terms of the history.  You have written of the 100 days of FDR.  The comparison between that time and this has been made repeatedly and will be made throughout the next few days.  Did Roosevelt have this kind of enthusiasm going for him?

ALTER:  No, he did not.  During the transition, people were almost curled up in the fetal position.  It wasn‘t until the inaugural address when one observer said he felt like he‘d seen Excalibur pulled from stone and says, “Maybe this guy can do it.  Maybe this is the man who can save us.”

And things, of course, were even worse then than they are today.  But there was the same sense of uncertainty about what the future could bring.  From day one, Roosevelt was able to begin to restore confidence and give people a sense—even if he didn‘t solve the problems, he was going to be working on them every day.  And that‘s what Obama is after, too.

OLBERMANN:  One of the things that has been, I think, missed in the recounts of the Roosevelt era was his reliance, especially during the war, on Republicans—as a statement as much as a resource.  A statement saying, “We are all in this together.”

The “New York Times” reporting today that Obama has consulted John McCain, let alone honoring him tonight, the night before his non-inauguration (ph), but has consulted with him about security and Iraq throughout the transition.  Walk me through the nooks and crannies of the implications of that?

ALTER:  Well, first, the idea that each and every time when he could choose between his country and political interests, John McCain chose his country.  A little reach after the particular campaign that we went through, that‘s what they said in honoring him.

But having said that, this makes a lot sense for Barack Obama and this is who he is.  Reaching out.  There is nothing fake about it.

When President Bush reached out to Ted Kennedy, it sounded good at first, but Kennedy became convinced that it was phony.  If Obama turns out to be a phony on this we got big problems.

Everything about him indicates that he actually thinks that even people with whom he disagrees greatly can offer some wise counsel on particular subjects, and that he can sort through where a Republican like John McCain makes sense and where he would be leading him astray to follow his advice.

OLBERMANN:  All things considered, what we‘ve got now—just to wrap this up—how long does he have a honeymoon for?  I mean, we‘ve heard estimates that he might have a three-year honeymoon theoretically.  When do the results have to come in to ensure that?

ALTER:  You know, it‘s a little different than basketball and that the scoring really takes place in the first quarter.  He has got to put points on the board in the first year of his administration.  If he has an unsuccessful 2009, there‘s going to be very little patience.

But, I think, Americans have already indicated in polls that they will give him at least a full 12 months to show some progress and to show that he can work with the Congress to make the change that he promised.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—as always, great thanks, especially, tonight.

ALTER:  Yes, thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Good to see you, John.

Things in this packed, undulating city this week are choreographed by the minute, but something that happened to the Kennedy Center this afternoon was anything but planned.  Chroniclers of the Obama/Clinton rivalry and courtship of last year and predictors of their relationship ahead are reeling tonight after a secret revealed by Doctor Jill Biden at today‘s taping of “Oprah”—you heard me—the secret that Jill‘s husband had a choice of the vice presidency or secretary of state.

At a statement after the show taping today, Biden‘s spokesperson said, quote, “President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only—to be his running mate.”

Perhaps that is literally true.  But is that your interpretation of what the Bidens had to say?  This is the clip from today‘s “Oprah.”   See if it does not sound like Joe confirms what Jill had to say, the whole exchange coming after Ms. Winfrey asked them why Mr. Biden had just said that being vice president would be good for his family.



had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president.  And I said, Joe




JILL BIDEN:  Well, OK, he did.





WINFREY:  Go ahead.

JILL BIDEN:  So I said, “Joe, if you are secretary of state you‘ll be away.  We‘ll never see you.  You know, I‘ll see you at a state dinner once in a while.”


JILL BIDEN:  But I said, “If you are vice president, the entire family—because they work so hard for the election—can be involved.”


JILL BIDEN:  They can come to our home.  They can go to events. 

They can be with us all the time.  That‘s what is important to us.



Let‘s turn now to Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine and frequent watcher of “Oprah.”

Thanks for your time, Chris.

CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m told you do a great impression of Hillary Clinton watching today‘s episode of the “Oprah Winfrey Show.”


HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, and that was awkward, wasn‘t it?  You could -

you could see that immediately in the crowd, they realized that something had been uttered that shouldn‘t have been uttered.  And, you know, who knows what the actual truth of the matter is.  But the fact of the matter is, this is going to be one of those things that is going to be kind an unfolding subplot for better or for worse throughout the duration of the administration, I think.


OLBERMANN:  Is there a middle ground between the official statement and the Jill Biden account?  I mean, could they both be right.  He was really only offered the one job?

HAYES:  Well, you know, who—it‘s very hard to define what goes on in those conversations.  I think that they are probably choreographed quite precisely.  And I think that it‘s possible that in the strictest sense, he was only offered one job.  It also seems clear from what Doctor Biden said there, perhaps, there‘s the discussion about another position currently occupied by someone else.

So, yes, I think there could be a middle ground.  I mean, it‘s really always very difficult to know what happens—the conversations that are the hardest to crack in Washington are the one that happened between two principals, like a conversation between Joe Biden and Barack Obama.  And it‘s very hard to know exactly what gets said in them.

OLBERMANN:  What determines, do you think, whether this gets remembered as a footnote to history or some sort of harbinger of the future?

HAYES:  Well, what determines is to the degree of internal acrimony, particularly, over foreign policy.  And that is something that, obviously, one of the overriding narratives of the Bush administration was a war within the personnel over things like Iraq, pre-emptive war, the war on terror, people who are more or less favorably disposed to a more or less aggressive imperial policy.  If that sort of thing re-inscribes itself in the Obama administration with different wings jockeying over the direction of foreign policy, then this is going to be something that‘s going to play out and we are going remember.

OLBERMANN:  Getting back to Senator Clinton and watching this, do you suppose that that description of secretary of state that Doctor Biden gave might be a little daunting to hear, “You are never home, you are out of the country, you are never around.”  It certainly didn‘t portray secretary of state as a job anybody would voluntarily accept.

HAYES:  It‘s a really tough job.  I mean, there is no question about it.  I think lonely in a lot of respects as well, because of all the travel.  But look, I mean, if there‘s anyone who sort of equipped for that kind of undertaking, it‘s most likely, I guess, former Senator Hillary Clinton, who obviously has lived a life of tremendous activity and travel already.

So, I don‘t think that it‘s going be really a problem for her over the next few years.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Hayes, the Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine—happy V.W day, that will be “Victory in Washington.”

HAYES:  Yes, you, too, Keith.  And say hi to everyone down there for me.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I‘m sure they‘ll be happy to say hello.

Let‘s recap that breaking news out of the current White House.  I repeat this to you once again.  The White House is now confirming that Vice President Cheney pulled a muscle, hurt his back while moving boxes into his new home at McLean, Virginia, today, and thus, will be in a wheelchair for the next several days—and the sympathies of the crowd, you may hear in the background.

He will be in a wheelchair for the next several days and will be attending the inauguration tomorrow in said wheelchair.  The vice president is otherwise uninjured.

Two critical decisions still face the president-elect: The tone he can set in his inaugural address and what to do about the longest-lasting plight of the Bush administration—torture.  With admissions from everybody, from the judge who decides who at Gitmo to prosecute to Mr. Bush himself that we have tortured, Mr. Obama is right to look ahead and not back, and the American future will only be saved from torture if he prosecutes those who are already torture.

Tonight—a Special Comment.


OLBERMANN:  The inaugural address of President Barack Obama.  There is more guessing about its contents than there was, perhaps, about the cabinet.  Is the theme bipartisanship, rebuilding confidence, we have to do it ourselves?  Presidential historian Michael Beschloss joins us.

And then the work.  The president-elect seems to be leaning against prosecuting torture.  Why our history suggests that decision would be a disaster.  A Special Comment ahead as our COUNTDOWN to the inauguration continues from Washington.


OLBERMANN:  “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” “The better angels of our nature.”  That last quotation, of course, from Lincoln‘s second inaugural address—but in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: It is Lincoln‘s second inaugural address which appears to expiring and perhaps intimidating President-elect Obama on the eve of his own inaugural.

Obama‘s brief remarks in the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, is the second Obama family outing to that monument on successive weekends.  The previous Saturday, January 10th, his daughter Malia, as you might have heard, telling her father that as America‘s first African-American president, he needed to live up to Lincoln‘s second in his own speech, quote, “It better be good.”

Mr. Obama himself keenly aware of how difficult that might be, saying of looking to Lincoln for guidance, quote, “I‘m not sure whether that has been wise, because every time you read that second inaugural, you start getting intimidated especially because it is really short.  There is a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched.”

Another president finds that out.

A pleasure to be joined by NBC News presidential historian, Michael Beschloss.



OLBERMANN:  Lincoln‘s second is it the holy grail for incoming presidents or does it happen to be particularly relevant to this one and thus particularly daunting to this one?

BESCHLOSS:  Well, the level of poetry is something that most presidents probably seek but not every president could pull it off.  Could you imagine Richard Nixon saying, “With malice toward none”?  So, sometimes, it really has to fit.

But it really does fit in this case because we‘ve been through a period that‘s been very divisive, the last decade, especially, people feel wounded.  Obama sees the need to heal this country.  And if you look at his life, it‘s something that he is very good at, very natural at.

OLBERMANN:  The president-elect said today, “We can‘t allow any idle hands.”  He also said, “If we are waiting for somebody else to do something, it never gets done.”  Obviously, in the campaign, it was, “We are the people we have been waiting for.”


OLBERMANN:  Are we seeing a potential theme in here that echoes Kennedy‘s “Ask not what you can do for your country or ask what you can do for your country”?

BESCHLOSS:  I think we are.  You know, and the best presidents in history do call on the American people for sacrifice and not only after they are elected but before.  And that‘s true of Kennedy.  When he was at the Democratic convention in Los Angeles 1960, he said, “The new frontier of which I speak is not what I intend to offer the American people, it‘s what I intend to ask of them.”  He was saying that before he went to the polling place.

OLBERMANN:  So, how likely is the president-elect to pull something out of a theme from this, out of thin air, that we have not heard some precursor to in the last year?

BESCHLOSS:  Not very likely, because one of the things about Obama is, if you go back to his announcement speech February 2007, Springfield, Illinois, and take it all the way to the speech he gave on election night, they are remarkably the same.  This is a pretty consistent guy, a pretty consistent theme throughout his campaign.

OLBERMANN:  There has been so much bipartisanship in the transition period that Mitch McConnell swooned.  He commended the transition team on dealing with Republicans and in that fashion.  And there has been a level of politeness in both directions, culminating with this tribute to Senator McCain tonight.

Could that, in fact, be a theme?  Could there be some sort of call to bipartisan arms, if you will, even if the arms are figurative?

BESCHLOSS:  I‘d be astounded if that were not true.  Jefferson 1801, “We are all Republicans.  We are all federalist.”  And also, this is Obama‘s nature.  Contrast that with George W. Bush‘s first meeting as president with Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader of the Senate.  Daschle says he went in and Bush said to him, “I hope you‘ll never lie to me.”  And Daschle didn‘t what to say, he said, “Well, I hope you‘ll never lie to me.”


BESCHLOSS:  It‘s a little bit different from this kind of spirit.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, just proving that hope is not the answer to everything.

BESCHLOSS:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  To what degree, given the nature of what today is, given the nature of where we are, and given the nature of the ethnic origins of the incoming president—to what degree can he invoke Doctor Martin Luther King and not seem to be overdoing it?  Not seem to be borrowing from it as oppose to recognizing it?

BESCHLOSS:  No way of overdoing it.  You know, “Choosing a man on the basis of the color—not on the basis of the color of his skin but the content of his character,” that‘s a lot of this election.  Plus, Martin Luther King‘s 80th birthday today.  A pretty big birthday.  Plus, you know, going on to Lincoln in a couple of weeks, Lincoln‘s 200th birthday.


BESCHLOSS:  It‘s almost—you know, it almost seems in the star.

OLBERMANN:  The last point, I guess, would be the reading of the tea leaves today by the “Washington Post.”  They looked at the comments that were done on the Sunday shows by people like Robert Gibbs and others yesterday.  And they have concluded that restoring confidence is a likely theme.  Is it a new one?

BESCHLOSS:  It‘s not a new one.  And when governments fail, presidents get elected and lead on the basis of that.  For instance, Jimmy Carter, 1976, got elected mainly because people said: “This is not Nixon; this is not someone who‘s dishonest.  This is someone who can run a government.”  You know, that happened to some extent.

But in Obama‘s case, you know, he‘s essentially saying that only am I going to have a different set of ethics and ideology, but government has failed in places Katrina and perhaps, most of all, in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian, on the eve of what, I guess, is the most anticipated inaugural address maybe since 1961.

BESCHLOSS:  I feel like staying up all night like Christmas.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, judging by the traffic, we may have no other choice but to do so.

BESCHLOSS:  I think you‘re right.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks for coming in.

BESCHLOSS:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In a startling development, it turns out the Capitol is made of Legos—how to get a free plug for your toy on inauguration eve.  They look more real in person.

And you knew it would come to this someday.  The bulletin from fixed news, quote, “President Bush Inherited 9/11.”  The Worst Persons in the World as COUNTDOWN continues from Washington.


OLBERMANN:  On this date in history in 2009, the infamous presidency of George W. Bush saw its last full day.  Hip, hip, hooray!

Let‘s play Oddball—and go in and liberate Paris.

We begin in Illinois, “Land of Lincoln,” home to President-elect Obama and the newly inaugurated king of Graceland.  Good to know Rod Blagojevich was able to find new work.

It‘s the annual tournament of Elvi where impersonators vying for the top prize by both delighting and terrifying their female fans, noting the obscene usage of sequence and Lycra, Elvis himself officially left the building.

To Carlsbad in California where if you were not able to snag tickets to tomorrow‘s inauguration, you can still witness history, the swearing in of our 44th president made entirely out of Legos.  No, you‘re not having a bad trip, Lego Land‘s inaugural creation hopes to mirror Tuesday‘s events complete with Lego porta-potties, a Lego Oprah Winfrey and dozing Lego Bush 41 on the left.  Can we get one of those porta-potties for here?

We talk of the big speech.  What will the big day look like?  Gene Robinson joins me next for perspective.

And then, now history tell us, when we do not fully resolved our worse problems, they will reappear to us later in far worse forms.  That‘s why the president-elect must prosecute those who torture, and those who authorized torture—a Special Comment.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Despite all the Democratic talk of change, despite all the Republican rhetoric about measuring the drapes, the president-elect is going to keep the decor of the Oval Office, including Laura Bush‘s rug.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the inauguration of Barack Obama, as it unfolds.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates it will be who will miss tomorrow‘s speech, sitting it out in a secure undisclosed location in case of catastrophe. 

While the rest of Obama‘s team is wasting no time getting to work. reporting that about 20 senior aides are leaving for the White House the moment he is sworn in.  As far as that swearing in and what follows, his aides report that Obama is fully prepared.  But according to an NBC source, his wife Michelle is not.  She apparently still does not know what she is going wear to the ceremony, nor to the ten inaugural balls they will be attending. 

As to the current occupants of the White House, they are spending their last night having a family dinner before moving out with just their personal luggage tomorrow.  We have already seen how dangerous this turned out to be for the vice president. 

I‘m joined now by our own Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist with the “Washington Post.”  Good to see you in the flesh, gene. 


OLBERMANN:  The minute that Obama is inaugurated, his people will speed to the White House.  Suddenly, I‘m flashing back to the Reagan inauguration of 1981 and the hostage release simultaneous almost with that inauguration in Iran.  Is it essential, if possible, for, under these circumstances, the president-elect and his people to look busy and effective, not just from day one, but from moment one? 

ROBINSON:  Well, it is certainly not essential for Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to look as if they are busy working tomorrow.  Their jobs are to become president and first lady.  There is a certain ceremonial part attached to that.  He gives the inaugural speech.  They have the parade.  They go to the inaugural balls.  I‘m sure she will make up her mind as to what dress she is going to wear. 

But while this isn‘t the situation as in 1980 or ‘81, when the hostage release was happening.  There was actual very important news happening that day.  Unless part of the economy collapses tomorrow, another part of the economy—rather, it is more about Wednesday, actually.  Those aides will be going to the White House to get prepared for meetings the president wants to have on Wednesday.  It is important for him to look busy on Wednesday.  He‘ll be the president. 

OLBERMANN:  When he goes in and looks busy on Wednesday, he is going to have George Bush‘s rug down there.  What is the symbolism of that?  Why do that? Why not go with hardwood floors rather than that Sun King rug that Laura Bush picked out or designed? 

ROBINSON:  Barack Obama has made clear he wants to be the president of all Americans. 

OLBERMANN:  Even the ones who are booing the rug. 

ROBINSON:  Even the ones who are booing the rug, even the ones whose taste you or I might question.  I don‘t know if he actually likes the rug.  But, in any event, I think this is part of inclusiveness, reaching across the aisle or something. 

OLBERMANN:  He has just saved 99 dollars on a rug from Pay Less.  This festival atmosphere that has continued even as it has gotten colder and darker here tonight, can this obviously last, in spirit—obviously these people are not going to stand here for a week and a half.  Can it possibly last beyond tomorrow? 

ROBINSON:  I think it can.  I think what I have sensed out there, coming through the crowd and talking to all these excited people, is something in the air, something—a yearning for a different kind of America, for a different kind of a feeling about the country.  I think that‘s present in a lot of people.  I think we see many of those people here this week.  I don‘t think this is something that goes away on Wednesday or Thursday or next Wednesday or Thursday.  I think it can be sustained. 

I think it will become Barack Obama‘s job to sustain it.  But I think the potential is there. 

OLBERMANN:  On the human level, on the you level, coming here tomorrow, what is it you most look forward to?  What is it that you most want to take away from the day? 

ROBINSON:  Wow.  It will just be a wow.  The whole year has felt like a privilege to have a front row seat to these incredible events.  And so this is not just a denouement of a story that we have both followed, you and I and everybody else, lo these many months, but it‘s a new chapter for the country.  It really is.  That is tremendously exciting.  We can all participate in it as Americans, and feel good about what we see tomorrow. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  Sir. 

ROBINSON:  See you tomorrow. 

OLBERMANN:  Gene Robinson of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC.  We will see you all day tomorrow. 

ROBINSON:  All day and all night. 

OLBERMANN:  Live coverage of the inauguration of President Obama begins at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.  At 9:45 a.m. Eastern, Gene and Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow and I will join you through 4:00 p.m.  I will be back with COUNTDOWN as usual at 8:00.  And then at 10:00 Eastern, a two hour live round up from the inaugural balls, all 973 of them.  But first tonight, a special comment.  The president-elect elect is right.  On torture, we must look ahead and not back, which is why he must prosecute who have tortured. 

Yes, it is true.  Original flight canceled, so they booked them out of the US Airways plane that ended up in the Hudson River and then tried to charge them more for it.  Worst persons ahead.

When Rachel Maddow joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest on this inauguration eve, the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, Cory Booker. 

But first, since they are not going away soon enough—tick, tick, tick, freaking tick, tick, tick—the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals, Bushed!

One note, as of tomorrow, this segment will be discontinued, to be replaced, since the affect of this administration will still linger, with a new segment called Still Bushed. 

Number three, metaphor gate, of all the figures of the administration we will miss around here, none has offered the sheer blissful lack of self-awareness, other than the president himself, of Press Secretary Dana Perino.  Her last knee slapper, probably a mistake not a lie; question, is there a point where moving vans pull in.  Perino‘s answer, “I don‘t anticipate that you‘ll see a big Ryder truck coming up to the White House.  Probably the wrong van to use.”

Whoops.  Check out the photo from when the moving truck pulled up to the White House.  See the word above the cab?  It was a Ryder truck.  The moving vans are here, here and here. 

Number two, Gitmo Gate.  The last word on our version of the Bastille from Vice President Cheney, before his back injury moving boxes today.  The only people still there, “the worst of the worst.  Now what is left, that is the hardcore.”  Over the weekend, the nation took detainee Haji Bismula (ph) out of Gitmo and flew him back to his native Afghanistan.  We have held him for six years as a terrorist, while he claimed he was anti-Taliban and had been part of the pro-American government of Afghanistan.  Over the weekend, a Bush military panel deemed that Bismula no longer would be deemed an enemy combatant. 

That makes at least 24 detainees who were suddenly cleared in the last three months.  Each got a free flight to their home country and a home version of the Gitmo Game. 

Number one, political capital gate.  Remember what he said about that right after the reelection?  “I have capital, political capital to spend.  The last poll of Bush approval by the “New York times,” approval 22 percent, disapproval 73 percent.  And on counter-terrorism, approval 47 percent, disapproval 48 percent. 

And that is a final. 


OLBERMANN:  Why the president-elect is right; we must look to the future, not the past, and why that means, as it always has in American history, that we must not compromise with our mistakes.  We must prosecute torture.  My special comment next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.

The bronze to former Ohio Secretary of State, would be Republican chairman, Ken Blackwell, opposes the stimulus plan because it would create jobs.  And 600,000 new jobs, he writes at the lunatic fringe website Townhall, quote, “could create a major electoral advantage for Democrats at tax payer expense.  That would be unacceptable.  Most federal employees that are not political appointees vote Democrat.  Creating 600,000 might help cement Virginia in the Democrat column, making it harder for Republicans to retake the White House.” 

Wow Mr. Blackwell, have you got your priorities in order. 

Our runner up, Ben Valdenza (ph), president and CEO of Spirit Airlines.  Jeff Kolajay and his brother Rob and four friends were supposed to fly Spirit from New York to a golf holiday at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but Spirit canceled the flight and rebooked them on to US Air, on to flight 1549.  Yes, it‘s that Jeff Kolajay, the guy in the hat everybody interviewed after 1549 splashed down in the Hudson last week. 

Needless to say, the Kolajay party did not need their six return tickets from Myrtle Beach to New York, in so much as they only got as far as the Hudson piers.  When he phoned to cancel those return flights, Kolajay was told by Spirit Airlines that the cancellation would cost him 90 dollars in extra fees and would he please give them his credit card number.  He pointed out that his credit card is still on Flight 1549, on a barge in the Hudson River. 

We would point out that Spirit was essentially trying to charge the Kolajay party for a plane crash.  After this went public, the airline said this afternoon it would not attempt to collect the fees. 

But our winner, Wendell Goler of Fixed News, the ultimate revisionist history goof ball.  Quote, “this president inherited a budget surplus, but he also inherited what he called the trifecta of bad times.  He inherited the 9/11 attacks.  He inherited the recession.  And he inherited some tough times on Wall Street.” 

He inherited the 9/11 attacks.  Of course he did.  It‘s not like the attacks of September 11, 2001 took place after Mr. Bush‘s inauguration on January 20th, 2001. 

Wendell, I also made up that stuff about inheriting a recession that started in March 2001, Goler of Fox Noise, today‘s worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN:  The inauguration of the 44th president of the United States.  Live coverage begins on MSNBC at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow.  Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Gene Robinson and I join you at 9:45 am Eastern through 4:00.  I‘ll be back for COUNTDOWN on 8:00 pm Eastern and the inaugural ball round up from 10:00 to Midnight. 

Finally tonight, as promised, a special comment about the president-elect, the soon to be president emeritus, torture and its prosecution. 

We have tortured people, you and I.  This is the people‘s democracy.  We are the people.  These are our elected officials.  That they did not come to us and ask to act thusly in our names is unfortunate, indeed criminal, but it is also almost irrelevant.  The work for us—they work for us and they tortured people, and so we have tortured people. 

You and I know we have tortured Khalid Sheik Mohammad.  We not only know about it.  We have now heard it boasted about by one of the men who, as of tomorrow, will no longer work for us, George Walker Bush. 

“The techniques were necessary and are necessary to be used on a rare occasion to get information necessary to protect the American people,” Mr.  Bush said to Fox News on January 11th.  “One such person who gave us information was Khalid Sheik Mohammad.  I‘m in the Oval Office.  I‘m told that we have captured Khalid Sheik Mohammad and the professionals believe he has information necessary to secure the country.  So I asked what tools are available for us to find information from him.  They give me a list of tools.  And I said are these tools deemed to be legal.  We got legal opinions before the decision was made. 

“I think when people study the history of this particular episode, they will find out we gained good information from Khaled Sheik Mohammad in order to protect our country.  We believe that the information we gained helped save lives on American soil.” 

Never mind Mr. Bush‘s delusions here, never mind all primary sources who witnessed the interrogation of Khaled Sheik Mohammad said they got nothing from him until they started buddying up to him, never mind that Mr.  Bush‘s supporters‘ favorite torture construction, the mythical ticking time bomb scenario not only did not transpire here, but Mr. Bush has not even had the imagination to pretend it did just in order to slightly cover his moral tracks. 

The key is that this statement, if it had been under oath, would have been a confession to a war crime.  Mr. Bush is proactive.  “I asked what tools are available.”  Mr. Bush is aware of the legal haze in which he steps.  “And I said, are these tools deemed to be legal.” 

Mr. Bush realizes the tools he has chosen have been used.  “We gained good information from Khalid Sheik Mohammed.” 

Since we know from previous admissions at the Pentagon that Khaled Sheik Mohammad was water boarded, we can infer that Mr. Bush knew he would be water boarded and knew afterwards that he had been water boarded. 

Mr. Bush is guilty.  He is guilty as sin. 

Mr. President-elect, you were first asked about all this on the 18th of April last.  I am proud to say you were asked about it by a fellow who got onto his high school newspaper while I was the editor.  Will Bunch of the “Philadelphia Daily News.” 

“I think you are right,” you told him.  “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated.  You are also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we have too many problems we have to solve.  So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment.” 

Good.  Amen.  But in that brief interview was born, or at least elucidated, a loop hole, genuine crimes, as opposed to really bad policies.  Vice President Biden echoed this on December 21st, a statement to which your transition team has directed all those to whom this is a paramount issue. 

He said, “the questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is something the Justice Department decides.” 

After his comment last week, with straight forwardness that was like water to a lost soul in the Sahara, that water boarding is torture, your nominee at Justice, Mr. Holder, echoed all this.  “We don‘t want to criminalize policy differences that might exist between the out-going administration and the administration that is about to take over.” 

But, Mr. president-elect, you have a confession.  Since this statement of a structure of policy prefacing policy itself from Mr. Biden, you have had Mr. Bush‘s confession.  Moreover, since Mr. Biden‘s statement, you have a legal assessment from within the bowels of the Bush administration itself. 

“We tortured Mohammad al Qahtani,” Judge Susan Crawford told the “Washington Post” a week ago.  “His treatment met the legal definition of torture.”  That was why, Judge Crawford added, that as the Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether or not to bring detainees at Guantanamo Bay in trial, she decided in Qhatani‘s case not to. 

This, Mr. president elect, was not the obvious water boarding of Khaled Sheik Mohammad.  This was a more insidious combination of legally approved procedures that still nearly killed this man Qhatani. 

“The techniques were all authorized,” Judge Crawford continued, “ but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent.  This was not any one particular act.  It was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health.” 

In fact, Mr. president-elect, the records at Gitmo showed that Qhatani‘s heartbeat eventually slowed to 35 beats per minute. 

“It was abusive and uncalled for and coercive, clearly coercive.  I sympathize with the intelligence gatherers in those days after 9/11 not knowing what was coming next and trying to gain information to keep us safe.  But there still has to be a line that we should not cross.  Unfortunately, what this has done, I think, has tainted everything going forward.” 

If you are worried about the Republicans viewing any torture prosecution in the way you postulated to Will Bunch, a partisan witch hunt, you can remind them that woman who said all that, Susan Crawford, is a life-long Republican. 

So Mr. President-elect, beyond whatever else will come out, as the whistle blowers begin to just after noon tomorrow, you have your predecessor‘s unofficial confession and you have this singular evaluation by a principle in your predecessor‘s administration, this kind of line level confession. 

They are guilty of this, Mr. president-elect.  They are guilty as sin. 

Since he talked to my friend Bunch in April, Mr. Obama‘s only lengthy comments about this were made to George Stephanopoulos on January 11th of this year.  See if a disturbing theme becomes evident.  “Obviously, we are going to be looking at past practices.  I don‘t believe that anybody is above the law.  On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backwards.” 

Later, “my instinct is to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing.” 

Later still, “my orientation is going to be to move forward.” 

Finally, “what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.” 

Sadly, as commendable as the intention here might seem, this country has never in moving forward without first cleansing itself of its mistaken past.  In point of fact, every effort to merely draw a line in the sand and declare the past dead has served only to keep the past alive and often to strengthen it. 

We compromised with slavery in the Declaration of Independence.  And four scour and nine years later, we had buried 600,000 of sons and brothers in a Civil War. 

After that war‘s ending, we compromised with the social restructuring and protection of the rights of minorities in the south.  And a century later, we had not only resolved anything, but black leaders were still being assassinated in the cities of the south. 

We compromised with Germany in the reconstruction of Europe after the First World War.  Nobody even arrested the German Kaiser, let alone conducted war crimes trials then.  And 19 years later, there was an indescribably more evil Germany and a more heart-rending Second World War. 

We compromised with the trusts of the early 1900s.  Today, we have corporations too big to fail. 

We compromised with the Palmer Raids and got McCarthyism.  And we compromised with McCarthyism and got Watergate.  We compromised with Watergate and junior members of the Ford administration realized how little was ultimately at risk.  They grew up to be Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. 

But, Mr. President elect, you are entirely correct.  As you say, what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed to looking at what we got wrong in the past.  That means prosecuting all those involved in the Bush administration‘s torture of prisoners and starting at the top. 

You are also right that you should not want your first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt.  But your only other option might be let this set and fester indefinitely.  Because, Mr. president elect, someday there will be another Republican president, or even a Democrat just as blind as Mr. Bush to ethics and this country‘s moral force.  He will look back to what you did about Mr. Bush or what you did not do.  And he will see precedent.  Or as Cheney saw, he will see how not to get caught next time. 

Prosecute, Mr. president-elect.  Even if you get not one conviction, you will still have accomplished good for generations unborn.  Merely by acting, you will deny Mr. Bush what he most wants.  Right now, without prosecutions, without this nation standing up and saying this was wrong, we will atone; Mr. Bush‘s version of what happened goes into the historical record of this nation. 

Torture was legal.  It worked.  It saved the country.  The end. 

We have tortured people, you and I, Mr. president-elect.  This is the people‘s democracy.  We are the people.  These were our elected officials.  That they did not come to us and act thusly in our names is unfortunate and indeed criminal, but it is almost irrelevant.  They worked for us.  They tortured people and so we have tortured people. 

Thus, beginning tomorrow, it is up to you, not just to discontinue this, but to prevent it.  At the end of his first year in office, Mr.  Lincoln tried to contextualize the Civil War for those who still wanted to compromise with evils of secession and slavery.  “The struggle of today,” Lincoln wrote, “is not altogether for today.  It is for a vast future also.” 

Mr. president-elect, you have been handed the beginning of that future.  Use it to protect our children and our distant descendants from anything like this ever happening again. 

Good night and good luck.



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