Guest: Jonathan Turley, Jonathan Alter, Matthew Alexander High: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Spec: Politics; Policies; Government
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The football is bipartisan action in the time of crisis, this time the stimulus package. The Charlie Brown character is the president; Lucy pulling the football away—again—is the Republican Party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA: Well, the plan was written by the majority in—a Democrat majority in the House primarily.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We don‘t think it‘s going to work. And so, if it‘s the plan that I see today, put me in the no column.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But the president may have had enough of the obstructionists‘ false promise of support.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We can‘t afford distractions and we cannot afford delays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Cooking the books at Gitmo. Where did they get the supposed numbers of released detainees who went back to terrorism, 61? Did they just like the Billy Crystal movie about the home run record? Increasing evidence, the Bush administration made the number up.
Making the NSA stop: The Obama administration, quote, “is ensuring that all programs are conducted in accordance with our values and the rule of law. There will be no exceptions.” Does that mean warrantless wiretaps have stopped, will stop, will be prosecuted?
Worsts: He is buying a $50 million jet with your bailout money. He is selling his $13 million house for 100 bucks to keep it out of the hands of any investor who might sue him.
And—why face trial by the State Senate of Illinois when you can instead face trial in a nonbinding court of daytime TV?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, TV HOST: Just say, “I am not a crook.” Do it.
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D) ILLINOIS: I‘m not going to do that.
BEHAR: Come on.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
BLAGOJEVICH: Then I thought about Mandela, Doctor King, Gandhi, and had tried to put some perspective in all of this. And that‘s what I‘m doing now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, at least you are not allowing your troubles to warp your perspective Mahatma Blagojevich!
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
LUCY: I‘ll hold it steady.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening, from Tampa, where our Super Bowl coverage on NBC begins a mere 136 hours from now.
It is Lucy pulling the football away that she‘s held for Charlie Brown, as she always has, as she always will in perpetuity. The Republicans, who have pushed to strip decades of regulations that have protected the economy from—from, well, this—have now, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, reneged on promised bipartisan support for the stimulus package and offered instead more George Bush tax cuts which they have promised would protect the economy from, well—from this.
House Minority Leader John Boehner actually saying in public that $275 billion in tax cuts in the stimulus is so insufficient he will hold the entire plan hostage for more tax cuts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
BOEHNER: If it‘s the plan that I see today, put me down in the no column.
DAVID GREGORY, “MEET THE PRESS” HOST: And Republicans rank-and-file will fall in line?
BOEHNER: Well, I think a lot of Republicans will vote no, because they see this as a lot of wasteful Washington spending, padding the bureaucracy, and doing nothing to help create jobs and preserve jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Boehner lacks the power or the votes to block the stimulus
plan but Republican obstructionism may fare better in the Senate where
economic revival may depend on the judgment who dared the dream of Vice
President Sarah Palin. John McCain, not only demanding extension of the
same Bush tax cuts he attacked in 2001, but demanding new cuts to business
taxes and an end to stimulus spending after two years. But his real beef -
this stimulus package was written by Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX NEWS SUNDAY)
MCCAIN: If we need to stimulate the economy in a short period of time, let‘s enact those provisions.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX HOST: You are talking about a major rewrite of this plan as it now stands.
MCCAIN: Well, the plan was written by the majority in—a Democrat majority in the House primarily. And so, yes, I think there has to be major rewrites if we want to stimulate the economy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Obama‘s response: tomorrow he will meet with congressional Republicans; today, an understated warning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Over the last few days, we‘ve learned that Microsoft, Intel, United Airlines, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and Caterpillar are each cutting thousands of jobs. These are not just numbers on a page.
As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold. We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose. We can‘t afford distractions and we cannot afford delays.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tonight, one of Mr. Obama‘s principle architects of economic recovery hoped for Tim Geithner sworn in as treasury secretary after having one Senate confirmation but not with strong bipartisan support. Geithner passed it by a margin of 60 to 34; only 10 Republicans backed him after half of the Republicans in the committee had voted against him.
Another Republican, one who actually runs an economy, California‘s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, today praised President Obama for ending the Bush ban on individual states setting fuel standards for cars. Of course, automakers need not comply with 50 different regulations, merely the most rigorous one, a point seemingly lost on—yes, congressional Republicans still defending the Bush ban led by—yes, again—John Boehner, apparently determined to keep the emphasis on minority in “minority leader.”
Joining us now, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Democrats already caved by putting in $2575 billion in these tax cuts knowing full well that the spending of $275 billion in tax cuts replaced would have been a better economic investment. How much further are the Democrats expecting that they are going to bend for this?
WOLFFE: Well, not much more and certainly, not in the House where you‘ve already got a very contentious relationship, not just because the way John Boehner was speaking or the way Nancy Pelosi is approaching this, but because Boehner and the Republicans are really looking for a philosophical shift here. Remember that most of these tax cuts are exactly what President Obama spoke about during the campaign and as he pointed out last week, he won that election.
So, what they want is deeper cuts, more lasting cuts to the whole tax code. They are not going to get it. And in the House, the Democrats just don‘t need that support. The way you look at the Senate, Republicans are much more amenable, much less critical, and that‘s where Republicans can cause trouble. You are looking at a very different playing field.
OLBERMANN: And to what degree is that playing field different because the president is, in fact, saying we can‘t afford distractions and at the same announcing that bipartisanship is a priority here. Is he not handing the other party the power to obstruct him with precisely what he doesn‘t want, distractions or is there some sort of, you know, like ninja game theory here that would elude me?
WOLFFE: Well, there is some ninja strategy in the sense that if the Republicans get in the way of a plan to make the economy better and to recover, then they are going to look foolish. If they block it, they are in serious trouble in the midterms. And if it works and they oppose it, they‘ll look similarly foolish.
I think in the Senate, you‘re looking at something different, though. And I—look, President Obama is approaching this from a different perspective. He wants to get this done, first and foremost. Bipartisanship is a means to an end. And he‘s also got to store up some goodwill because there are going to be tougher votes coming down the line here on things like education and universal health care.
OLBERMANN: But, Clinton did not get a single Republican vote for his tax hikes in ‘93 which actually stimulated the economy, instilled confidence in his deficit reduction plan. To block this plan today, Republicans would have to filibuster. So, why shouldn‘t Senator Reid and, in effect, the president let them filibuster? Why aren‘t Democrats salivating over the political yield, the potential here from watching the GOP holding the floor to block economic recovery? I mean, it just seems like a simple sell to the American public?
WOLFFE: Well, I don‘t think he wants to start out like this. So, that‘s the kind of approach that President Bush took. And you run out of steam pretty quickly. Your political capital shrinks as you‘re spending it very, very early on.
What they are looking at here is trying to move things along in the Senate without having to resort to filibuster threats or veto threats or whatever. In the House, I think it‘s a very different situation. There, they are quite willing, certainly House Democrats are and I suspect someone like the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who came from the House is quite willing to say to the Republicans, “You don‘t like this, you are going to be on the wrong side of this debate when it comes down to the midterms next time around.”
OLBERMANN: On the big picture, is the president learning quickly and maybe comparatively cheaply, that the sirens call of bipartisanship from the Republicans usually leads to somebody crying at the end of the day, or is he still hopeful about the whole concept and if so, why?
WOLFFE: I think he is permanently hopeful. But you know something, when it comes to bipartisanship, he‘s learning quickly that it takes a lot of time and effort, and it‘s not clear you‘re going to get rewarded at the end of it.
OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, as always, sir, great thanks.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And if the Republican theme is obstruction, much of its authorship comes from the same group of conservative commentators with whom the president dined a few days before he took office. Many of them now are bemoaning the Obama stimulus package as all bad, all the time—like David Brooks in his column in the “New York Times.” “It is an unholy marriage that manages to combine the worst of each approach—rushed short-term planning with expensive long-term fiscal impact.”
And the fired again Bill Kristol on fixed news, quote, “The stimulus has so much bad stuff in it they let the House Democrats get out of control in sort of writing a pork-laden bill. Politically, I think the Republicans have more room to argue for changes and ultimately vote against it.”
And the “Washington Post‘s” ever-happy columnist, Charles Krauthammer, is telling FOX News, quote, “Look, this is one of the worst bills in galactic history. FDR left behind the Hoover Dam, Eisenhower left behind the interstate highway system. We will leave behind after spending $1 trillion, a dog run in East Potomac Park.”
And there are those with whom Obama did not break bread. Those on the radical right like comedian Rush Limbaugh. The comedian says that, quote, “Obama‘s plan is to isolate elected Republican from their voters. Put simply, I believe his stimulus is aimed at reestablishing eternal power for the Democratic Party rather than stimulating the economy.” Wait, if it‘s eternal power, it never stopped and you neither need to nor you can re-establish it.
There was this from the always inundated Limbaugh, a throw-him-a-bone-along-with-a-few-stones moment today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: I support him. I just don‘t support his policies. It appears he doesn‘t know what he‘s doing. He hasn‘t run anything in a long time. He‘s never really accomplished much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s call in “Newsweek‘s” senior editor, MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: In his inaugural address, the president essentially tried to create a wedge between those who are reasonable and those who are not.
OLBERMANN: Of course, he was talking about the Muslim world. Is it possible in this different context that he is trying to do the same as he seeks bipartisanship with the Republicans, sort of, you know, separate, Mullah Limbaugh from the herd?
ALTER: Yes. I do think that‘s what he‘s doing, although the mullahs don‘t send their maid out in the parking lot to score drugs for them.
ALTER: So, I‘m not sure about the comparison. But, look—Rush Limbaugh is now in the process of moving from the center of our politics for the last 15 years, you and I might not have liked it but that‘s where he was. He was extraordinarily important in American politics, to the fringes of our politics, which is where he belongs. That doesn‘t mean he loses his ratings. He‘ll still have his fortune, but he‘s no longer central to the debate.
And when you have somebody like Bill Bennett saying that he was s out of line, Rush Limbaugh that is, in hoping that Barack Obama fails, that gives you some indication of how he can be marginalized.
So, what the president did was give that a little bit of a push, try to push Limbaugh out of the picture. And even though he gives him some more publicity in the short run, he does, as you say, separate him from the herd.
OLBERMANN: The Obama plan B, which clearly he has, to which he has clearly alluded, is that he will have enough votes to get what he wants on the stimulus package even if he can‘t get the super majority .
OLBERMANN: . that he‘d get from the bipartisan support out of the Republican Party. So, is this both his backstop and his prime bargaining chip even as he is seeking bipartisanship, “Look, if you don‘t come along with me, here‘s what it looks like when you don‘t come along with me”?
ALTER: Well, I don‘t think he is getting into threatening anybody at this point. He‘s still very much in a conciliatory, generous mode, which is where he wants to be politically because the American public likes that bipartisan tone.
But every Republican member of Congress knows that this stimulus package, whatever the pundits might be saying about it, is in the bag. It is going to happen. The alternative is to do nothing. We‘ve been there. It has failed. And so, the idea of Republicans going into the midterm elections, having voted against the president taking action against the crisis—it‘s not going to do very well for them even though a lot of times their base wants them to vote against this.
So, they will come up short and the only question is, you know, what the numbers are. And I think what Obama will probably do is not focus too much on whether he got a super majority, focus on the fact that he‘ll get some Republicans and then declare it to be a bipartisan victory shortly before Valentine‘s Day.
OLBERMANN: If we can collectively pardon this expression, there may have been a certain—all right—Reaganesque quality in the Obama words today, it was tough talk about no longer ignoring facts, not passing the buck.
OLBERMANN: So far, is the president effectively going over the heads of conservative punditry and even going over the heads of GOP leaders in trying to sell this idea and other ones?
ALTER: I think he‘s just starting that process. He has more some work to do in communicating with the American public that we have to move on this. But the Reagan comparison is interesting one, Keith. Remember, during the campaign, Barack Obama got in some difficulty with Bill Clinton by saying it was Ronald Reagan who changed what Obama called the trajectory of American politics and that Bill Clinton was not able to do that.
So, in some ways, Reagan is a model for Obama in the same way that Franklin Roosevelt was a model for Ronald Reagan, even though in each case, they are on different sides of the spectrum. The idea is to think big and to play large in the theater of American politics. And that‘s what Obama is aiming for.
OLBERMANN: And we won‘t make any large jokes about Mr. Limbaugh.
OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC—thank you, Jon.
ALTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: “We don‘t make these figures up,” said the Pentagon spokesman. Yet, as what lingers from the Bush administration, desperately struggled to keep Guantanamo Bay open, even going in so far as to theorize that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could wind up as an American citizen if we don‘t—it sure looks like the very figuring question: How many Gitmo detainees went home to become terrorists, anew or again? Sixty-one was, in fact, made up.
We can‘t use 57. They already did the joke about Heinz 57 in the “Manchurian Candidate.” We can‘t use 42, that‘s from “The Hitchhiker‘s Guide to the Galaxy.” “Stalag 17,” “21 Jump Street”—all right, how about 57 plus 42, that will give us 99, minus the 17 is 82, minus the 21 --
OLBERMANN: Making updated as they‘re trying to keep Gitmo open.
In Worsts: Making up $100 sales of $13 million mansions to keep Lehman investors from getting their hands on it. And Rod Blagojevich on 99 different TV shows just making everything up. What do you mean Senator Oprah?
All ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: “We don‘t make these figures up. They‘re not done willy-nilly,” the response of spokesman Geoff Morrell when pressed for details about the 61 former Gitmo inmates that the Pentagon claims have returned or might have returned to the, quote, “battlefield.”
Yet, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight—increasing evidence that the “willy” and the “nilly” are in full effect. Out of those 61 alleged recidivists, only 18 are actually even confirmed by the Pentagon in their definition of the term. The other 43 are simply, quote, “suspected.”
But quite how the Defense Department managed to suspect or even confirm recidivism remains unclear considering that a report from Seton Hall University pointed out, that the Pentagon does not actually keep track of released prisoners and their whereabouts, and that the Obama administration is just beginning to realize that there are almost no records of any kind about the detainees still at Gitmo.
And the official number of recidivists fluctuates while appearing to be inconsistent with other Defense Department data. The Seton Hall report also pointing out that some of those who, quote, “returned to the battlefield” have, in fact, done little more than utter anti-American comments or appear in a documentary about Guantanamo.
As for those 245 or so prisoners still in Gitmo, the “Washington Post”
is reporting that man of them have no comprehensive case files, that the
information and evidence against them is, according to a senior
administration official, quote, “scattered throughout the executive branch”
which means it takes weeks or will, or even months just to find out the information to begin the case-by-case review ordered by President Obama last week.
We are joined now by former U.S. military interrogator and author of “How to Break a Terrorist,” Matthew Alexander.
Thanks for your time, again, tonight, sir.
MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FORMER U.S. MILITARY INTERROGATOR: Thanks for having me, again, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s start with this idea of recidivism. The poster boy for it is this man al-Shihri, who apparently is now the number two al Qaeda figure in Yemen. But he was convicted of nothing and the Bush administration released him from Gitmo. How does he even count .
OLBERMANN: . as a repeat terrorist? And for all we know, he was innocent when he was detained or when he was detained in six years at Gitmo turned him into a terrorist?
ALEXANDER: Keith, it‘s hard to say and I don‘t know al-Shihri‘s background. What I can say is that from the time I was in Iraq as an interrogator, Guantanamo Bay was one of the reasons that al Qaeda was very effective at recruiting foreign fighters to come to Iraq to fight. And this was a counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish in the war on terrorism.
OLBERMANN: Technically, legally, ethically, don‘t virtually all the ex-detainees at Gitmo have to be viewed as assumed innocent whether they were or not because we don‘t have convictions against them than the ones released, apparently, were released because we weren‘t going to get convictions against them?
ALEXANDER: Yes. I think you have to separate out the legal status of detainees at Guantanamo from interrogations. When you conduct an interrogation for intelligence, everybody is considered guilty or at least has some knowledge that may help you even if they weren‘t involved in activities. And that‘s separate from the criminal side.
The important part of the criminal side in showing the true forms of justice which is “innocent until proven guilty” is that undermines al Qaeda‘s ability to recruit future fighters because it shows that we stand up for what we believe in.
OLBERMANN: If we give the Pentagon, al-Shihri and others like that, I mean, clearly, al-Shihri counts as ex-detainee who is now doing terrorism, no matter what he was, you know, working in a bakery beforehand, it doesn‘t make a difference. But making anti-American comments or appearing in a documentary, I mean, gets you counted in the terrorist category?
ALEXANDER: No. I mean—to be a terrorist, right? There has to be intent and there has to be capability and there has to be action. So, just making anti-American comments doesn‘t make somebody a terrorist.
And it‘s important for us to make the distinction between people who dislike us because of our policies and people who dislike our way of life. And I disagree completely with stereotyping members of al Qaeda to say, “Well, they all just don‘t like our way of life and they want to change it or bring it down.” That‘s not my experience. It was not my experience in Iraq. From over 1,300 interrogations, I rarely saw anybody that believed in that true ideologue.
OLBERMANN: The other disconnect in this, we stashed al-Shihri and others, dozens of others at Gitmo, the Bush administration released them and they, whether there are 18 of them or 61 of them or 161 of them or whatever number you want to use, they then turned up as terrorist, or worse yet, in documentaries. This would seem to be a crappy track record as oppose to a good reason to keep Gitmo open. Why is it being used as a reason to keep it open?
ALEXANDER: Well, I don‘t agree with the whole premise behind this. I mean, whether the number is 68 or whether it‘s 100, that number is pale in comparison to the number of fighters that have been recruited by al Qaeda because of Guantanamo. That number would be more in the thousands. The number one reason that I consistently heard while in Iraq that foreign fighters gave for coming there was because of torture and abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
So, Guantanamo Bay, if we seriously want to undercut one of al Qaeda‘s best recruiting tools, the best thing we can do is close Guantanamo Bay.
OLBERMANN: As you pointed out so brilliantly in your writing. Last question here, this news about nonexistent record keeping about who is there, what would you call a compound where you throw people without trial and then you don‘t keep track of how they are, how long they have been there or what they are charged with. What is that called?
ALEXANDER: Well, there are a lot of words for that, Keith. The important part I‘m going to say is that the army regulations are very clear and so is Geneva Conventions about accurately recording and tracking detainees to prevent what‘s called “ghosting,” which is the detention of detainees without reporting them to the Red Cross or giving them the rights that they deserved under Geneva Conventions.
And let me point out one more thing—the man that we caught that gave us Zarqawi was a two-time detainee and we still were able to convince him to cooperate.
OLBERMANN: Wow. Matthew Alexander, former interrogator for the U.S. military, author of “How to Break a Terrorist”—great thanks and great thanks for pulling me back from my extremist viewpoint on this. We appreciate it.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A bear picks the Super Bowl winner. I ain‘t talking Mike Ditka. I mean, a bear. All right, he‘s a bear in Pittsburgh.
And we give Citibank $45 billion to stay afloat and keep mortgages vibrant. So, naturally, the company goes out and buys a $50 million corporate jet. Worst Persons in the World—ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: In a moment, Bests. And are those 44 deodorant sticks in your pants or you just glad to see me?
First, on this date in 1875, American dentist George Green received a patent for the first pneumatic dental drill. Meaning, we are now at 134 years without anybody figuring out how to make that drill silent so it does not sound like the dentist is landing a jet in your mouth.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in the Pittsburgh zoo where Rocky the Kodiak bear from Pittsburgh will give his unbiased pick for this year‘s Super Bowl game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals on NBC. Whichever box of lunch Rocky likes will be this year‘s prediction. No surprise he went for the Steeler food. I‘m not going to tell you what was in the Cardinals‘ box.
Cardinal fans should take heart though. Recall that last year Koda, the domesticated grizzly bear, took the Patriots when he ate a cherry pie featuring a New England Patriots‘ logo. Of course, I took the Giants last year, once again proving that I am smarter than the average bear.
To a hospital in Mexico City, where the anesthetic isn‘t local; it is virtual. Yes, instead of getting gassed up for surgery, this place give you a pair of goggles through which you hear a relaxing bit of music, as you tip-toe through virtual tulips, all while the doctor is gutting you like a fish. You can‘t even hear yourself scream. The virtual distraction improves blood flow during surgery and somehow makes for cleaner incisions or something, which means a less painful recovery, which is still totally not worth this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Undoing the Bush administration‘s use of the NSA to spy on Americans; a statement from the White House. Does it promise action?
Which would you rather: be tried on impeachment charges by the state of Illinois or interviewed by Amy Robach? These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.
Number three, best guy; Phil Alongi is leaving NBC News and MSNBC after more than 30 years here. He almost single handedly carried me through the debate I moderated in August 2007 and has been a friend and guide to us all. I really don‘t know how we are going to stay on the air without him.
Number two, best dumb criminal, Kychene O. Venable of Buffalo. Arrested for riding a train without a ticket, it turned out he was also carrying crack cocaine paraphernalia and 44 stolen containers of deodorant, stuffed down his past. Police say Mr. Venable is guilty of theft, possession of a controlled substance and petty larceny. On the other hand, they say he smells as fresh as an Irish spring day.
Number one, best editorial decision, the “New York Times” and William Kristol. His weekly column today in the Times appears with a brief not indicating it will be the last. Politico.com reports he will now write a monthly column for the “Washington Post.” Mathematically, the next career stop would be a once a year column for “The Nation,” then a once per century piece for “Mother Jones.”
Of course, if Kristol‘s last Times column is filled with the same number of factual errors as his previous one, this wasn‘t his farewell and he, in fact, is going to start writing two a day for them.
OLBERMANN: Last week, we revealed on this news hour the allegations from a former NSA analyst that President Bush‘s National Security Agency targeted news organizations for surveillance and even pried into personal records like finance and travel. We asked the Obama White House for its response. And today, in our third story, we have it, sort of.
We asked the White House specifically what knowledge it now has about illegal NSA spying and what Mr. Obama will do about it. The response, “as the president made clear last week, his administration is ensuring that all programs are conducted in accordance with our values and the rule of law. There will be no exceptions.”
The only faint echo of dissonance, Mr. Bush too insisted that all programs were conducted in accordance with our values and the rule of law. The bad news, that leaves us still reliant on the values of those entrusted with enforcing the rule of law. The good news, this time we have a better idea of the better values being brought to bear.
Today, Politico.com reported that three Clinton veterans who opposed the excessive claim of war powers, Dawn Johnson, Martin Liederman and David Barron (ph), will now be running the Justice Department‘s Office of Legal Counsel, the office intended to advise on legality, rather than rubber stamp, as it did under Mr. Bush. All of them condemned the water boarding rational generated for Mr. Bush, but are not as uniform on other issues, such as whether to prosecute torture.
And still unknown is whether Mr. Obama will prosecute anybody at the NSA or higher for their illegal wiretaps, despite his pledge to follow evidence where it leads. The awkward inconvenient truth that the, as Wednesday‘s edition of this news hour, the entire nation has now heard all the evidence a prosecutor might want. Someone is guilty as hell.
Joining us tonight on this issue, Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional law at George Washington University. Thanks for your time again tonight, John.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s rewind to the Obama statement. “Programs in accordance with our values and the rule of law.” How much daylight might there be between that and the analogs between the Bush White House?
TURLEY: Not much. First of all, it responds in the future tense. You weren‘t asking whether he would do these things. Nobody thinks that Obama is George Bush. I think we believe that he is better than these past programs.
But people are not asking about the future. We are asking about the past. It takes a lot to avoid a very simple truism, that if true, these would be crimes. We prosecute crimes. We call people criminals who commit them. It is very easy to say. All you need to have is the principles and the courage to say it.
OLBERMANN: The claims from Russell Tice, Mr. Bush‘s admission that he green lit interrogations that included water boarding, are these not exactly the kinds of evidence that Mr. Obama said his prosecutors would pursue?
TURLEY: He did. What is troubling us is that he doesn‘t say the easiest possible thing. That is the conspicuous silence. The easiest thing is to say I must prosecute war crimes, because we have treaties that obligate us to do that. Any war crimes that we discover will be prosecuted. It is a very easy thing to say. It happens to be the law. What scares many of us is that nobody is saying that in the Obama camp.
OLBERMANN: Let‘s say some kind of prosecution ensues. How does it get decided whether it is the grunts who did the actual torturing and water boarding and what else not who get pursued in this or the people who told them to do it?
TURLEY: Well, Keith, I have very little sympathy for the people that committed this torture. I have heard President Obama say we don‘t want talented people at the CIA looking over their shoulders. Those talented people in this circumstance would be torturers. In reality, nobody thinks that they are going to be prosecuted. They have something called the Stopple (ph) defense, where they can say that were told by people like John Yoo and others that what they did was legal.
That does not protect the president and the vice president. They are the ones, and the people just below them, who deserve to be investigated. And they must be prosecuted if they‘ve committed war crimes, or we will shred four treaties and at least four statutes.
The problem here is that it wouldn‘t make Obama an apologist. It would make him an accessory. He would be preventing the investigation of war crimes. How could he go from that and say that he is all about the rule of law?
OLBERMANN: The three people heading to Justice, according to Politico, Mr. Clinton also exceeded Constitutional limits on his power, but through essentially loopholes rather than defiance in the outright sense. Should we care about that distinction?
TURLEY: I was no fan of the violations committed by Bill Clinton at the time. But there is a difference. There is a material difference. What George Bush did was unprecedented. He decided that he literally was beyond the law, that he became a government onto himself. He was wrong. The question is whether the Obama administration will now stand by the law, wherever it takes them, and that includes possibly to his predecessor. If his predecessor violated the law and particularly committed war crimes, it is going to be something that defines Obama‘s administration, on whether he will stand in the way of the enforcement of those laws.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, Jon, Tangentially connected to this at best, the issue of politicizing the Justice Department, specifically the firing of the U.S. attorneys, and the House Judiciary Committee today subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify. I seem to recall they have done that before and the Justice Department sort of ignored it. Is there a chance this Justice Department is going to enforce that subpoena?
TURLEY: You know, Keith, I think this is one of the most fascinating things that has happened since Obama took the Oath or took it again. That is that his administration is the one that invokes executive privilege. If he says there is no executive privilege here, we could have an interesting fight, where George Bush comes in and says, I‘m still claiming executive privilege, when the current president is saying, we don‘t recognize it.
Indeed, Obama‘s people could prosecute Rove and others. And I think that the federal courts would give greater rate to the man that‘s currently in that Oval Office than the guy that just left it.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the current executive is the one who gets to decide what executive privilege is. Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, thank you.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Rod Blagojevich on television answering the big questions on “The View” and “Today,” like, your hair, stuffed or inflated? Worst persons, Malkin, Hannity and Limbaugh all schooled by Robert Reich?
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, irony untold; Mr. Bush never filled the position of Weapons of Mass Destruction Czar. The latest on Obama‘s choice for the WMD Czar post. But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds out-live them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration 50 running scandals, still Bushed.
Number three, Henchman-gate. Ed Morrisy (ph) of the right wing blog Hot Air criticizing President Obama for calling out Republican office holders who actually act on the words of comedian Rush Limbaugh, revealing one of the most under-rater sleeve factors among the Bush men; “ one doesn‘t make points at all about bipartisanship by explicitly attacking another partisan voice. George Bush never attacked Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews or other voices of the rabid left by name.”
No he had Vice President Cheney attack us by name and Senator McCain.
At minimum, Obama has the guts to do his criticizing himself. Bush didn‘t.
Number two, Gonzo-gate. You can tell this man all day that he is walking towards a propeller and still he will not know what hit him. “I don‘t think there is going to be a prosecution, quite frankly,” Alberto Gonzales told NPR when asked about the Bush department of perverting justice, “because, again, these activities, they were authorized. They were supported by legal opinions at the Department of Justice.”
At the end of last month, Gonzales asked the “Wall Street Journal” rhetorically “what is it that I did so fundamentally wrong?” You mean, besides approving torture, trying to circumvent the chain of command at Justice, purging the department of non-conservatives, OKing illegal spying on Americans, and hiring lawyers who got their degrees from box top universities? Well, nothing, except what you did when you were still just the White House counsel.
Number one, Gitmo gate. You would think the Bush men owned property there, considering how hard they are fighting to keep from being closed. Karl Rove, in a speech at University of Miami, “one year from now, Gitmo won‘t be closed. If it is, there will be an uproar in the US about where to put these people.”
John Boehner saying on “Meet the Press” that “it would be irresponsible to move to any other location terrorists who attempted to kill Americans,” even though the Bush administration managed to convict almost nobody who they imprisoned. Well, if they are guilty, you put them in federal prison, just like we put all the guys we caught who were guilty of bombing the World Trade Center in 1993, or you put them in the super max prison in Colorado, where we put Terry Nickels after he was convicted of helping Timothy McVeigh kill 168 Americans in the bombing in Oklahoma City.
But the winner here among the debris from the Bush administration, for sheer paranoia, is former Bush favorite Congressman Steve King of Iowa. Listen to this, “let‘s just say that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, is brought to the United States to be tried in a federal court in the United States under a federal judge. We know what some of those judges do. On a technicality, such as let‘s just say he wasn‘t read his Miranda rights, he is released into the streets of America, walks over and steps up into a U.S. embassy and applies for asylum for fear that he can‘t go back home because he spilled the beans on al Qaeda. What happens then if another judge grants him asylum in the United States and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is on the path of citizenship. I mean, I give you the extreme example of this.”
Yes, I guessed that. That is why they call you an extremist. Even in this delusion in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed‘s case is thrown out and he is declared unlawfully arrested, he would not suddenly be entitled to stay in this country. He would be turned over to immigration and escorted back to his country of origin. It would save Congressman King a little time if he read that law before verbalizing his nightmarish fantasies. Of course, that would also prevent him from his main goal in office, trying to frighten the gullible and any sheep or other small farm animals in his constituency.
OLBERMANN: You‘re watching the only news broadcast Governor Rod Blagojevich has not been on today. We‘ll take the reality of what surrounded him today and show you only the portions we liked, you know, the way he would do it. That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world.
The bronze shared by Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity and comedian Rush Limbaugh. Finally one of their victims has struck back. Obama campaign economic adviser Robert Reich posting an open letter to them on his blog, reading in part, “at a time like this, when tempers are riding high and many Americans are close to panic about their jobs and finances, you have a special responsibility to consider the accuracy of what you say, and the consequences of inflammatory and erroneous statements. In the last few days, manifestly distorting my words and pulling them out of context, you have accused me of wanting to exclude white males from jobs generated by the stimulus package. Anyone who takes a moment to examine what I actually said and wrote knows this to be an absurd misrepresentation of my position. The hate mail I have received since your broadcast suggests that the mischievous consequences of your demagoguery are potentially dangerous, in addition to being destructive of rational and constructive political discourse. I urge you to take responsibility for your words. Words and ideas have real world consequences and you have demonstrated a cavalier disregard for both.”
Secretary Reich, bravo. But Hannity, Limbaugh, Malkin, they don‘t know how to read.
Runner-up, Vikram Pandit, the chairman of Citigroup. The company is reportedly about to take delivery of a 50 million dollar corporate jet which it never canceled to replace two of its current ones which it has not yet sold. Mr. Pandit‘s company, of course, just got about 45 billion dollars in federal taxpayer bailout money. It was earlier this month that a supposedly key caveat to that bail out, that bailed out companies had to get rid of their corporate jets, was dropped.
I would suggest we should all boycott Citibank in protest. But if that worked, it would only lead to them getting more bailout money, wouldn‘t it?
Our winner, Richard S. Fold Jr., the former CEO of Lehman Brothers, whose collapse was the first big domino in the economic decline. A website that describes itself as a guide to the most notable and influential New Yorkers called CityFile.com reports that in November, in the wake of Lehman‘s collapse, Mr. Fold sold his mansion on Jupiter Island here in Florida and took something of a loss in the process. Five years ago, he plays 13.75 million. In November, he got 100 dollars. Cost, 13.75 million, resale 100 dollars.
Actually, it wasn‘t even a sale. Mr. Fold transferred his title to the mansion to his wife, presumably to keep it out of the hands of creditors, if he goes bankrupt or if he gets sued by unhappy and broke investors. The fee for doing that, 100 dollars. Actually, Mrs. Fold never even played the 100. A Florida state real estate tells Bloomberg News that the Folds probably used a method called quick claim to transfer it to the Misses for free. Richard S. Fold Jr., ex-chairman of Lehman, thanks a lot, Dick, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: This weekend, Rod Blagojevich, still the governor of Illinois somehow, invoked the names of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King in relation to his own arrest. Our number one story tonight, a better comparison might lie somewhere between Walter Middy and John Lovitz‘s pathological liar Tommy Flinagan (ph).
Today, while the Illinois Senate convened its impeachment hearings, Governor Blagojevich boycotted them, with instead a media blitz, on the “Today Show,” “Good Morning America, and “The View.” Let‘s tour the wreckage, shall we?
The three appearances followed the same formula, Blagojevich repeating over and over that the fix is in, mixed in with a few ridiculous Blagojevich jewels. For instance, the governor told the “Today Show‘s” Amy Robach what he was thinking about when he got pinched.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: And I said, who is this? Are you playing a joke on me? I thought it was actually a friend of mine who was playing a practical joke. Unfortunately, it wasn‘t. Then the day unfolded and I had a whole bunch of thoughts. Of course, my children and my wife and then I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi and tried to put some perspective in all of this.
I still look at the U.S. attorneys and the federal investigators and all of those who have been pursuing me for four years—they‘re pursuing Mayor Daley. I know they have a job to do and all the rest. I still see them as the good guys. But I see me as one of them. I see us on the same side.
AMY ROBACH, “THE TODAY SHOW”: They don‘t see you like that.
BLAGOJEVICH: I keep hoping that maybe they will wake up and realize that this is just one big misunderstanding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Help me Mahatma. On GMA this morning, we learn that the governor considered a certain talk show host for Barack Obama‘s old job for free.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let me ask you a personal question. Who were you thinking of for Senate who wasn‘t in any of these telephone calls?
BLAGOJEVICH: There were a lot of different candidates that I explored. Again, the full story will come out at the appropriate time. Do you have any suggestions of who I might have been thinking about? What have you heard?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have heard Oprah.
BLAGOJEVICH: That is true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And you get a Senate seat and you get a Senate seat and you—this was news to Ms. Winfrey. Then to “The View.” This would be Ms. Walters behind the shrubbery there. She pressed the governor to come clean that it was him on those wiretaps. But Blagojevich kept on dancing as fast as he could.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, “THE VIEW”: Did you say in context, out of context -
it‘s on a wire tape. Did you say those things? The prosecution has said that you wanted a cabinet post or a high-paying job for yourself or your wife. Here is your chance. No lawyers. You are talking to the public. Please answer that part of it, otherwise, you know, why are you wasting time on these programs?
BLAGOJEVICH: Well, again, I think whatever the tapes are, they are going to come out and they‘ll speak for themselves. The tapes will show the whole story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A nation collectively slapped a hand to its own forehead. Finally, everybody but Miss Hasselbeck had a crack at Governor Blagojevich, who said he would not do his secret Nixon impersonation and then did his secret Nixon impersonation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, “THE VIEW”: He does a fabulous Nixon impersonation. Do it for us.
BLAGOJEVICH: Who said that?
BEHAR: Somebody told me. Just say, I am not a crook. Do it.
BLAGOJEVICH: I am not going to say that. Let me make this perfectly clear, I didn‘t do anything wrong. I‘m not guilty of any criminal wrong-doing. All I ask for is a chance to be able to prove my innocence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Wow, it is so uncanny. Frank Langella can go screw himself, huh? The media circus culminated with this exchange between an “Access Hollywood” crew and Mr. Blagojevich as he left “The View.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There has been discussions of TV movie of this being made. Who would play you? Who would you want to play you?
BLAGOJEVICH: Is that right? Have there been?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There have been some discussions.
BLAGOJEVICH: I wouldn‘t mind playing myself. I could probably use the job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: An odd unemployment prediction for an innocent man. In any way, I wouldn‘t get your hopes up. It‘s been said before, but it‘s true, that Lego guy looks just like you. And he‘d probably do it for nothing.
That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,088th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. From Tampa, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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