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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, March 18

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest: James Moore

DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The AIG bonus blame game invades D.C.


REP. PAUL HODES, (D) NEW HAMPSHIRE:  I think AIG now stands for arrogance, incompetence and greed.


SHUSTER:  Under oath and under fire, the CEO of AIG tries to put the toothpaste back in the tube.


EDWARD LIDDY, AIG CHIEF EXECUTIVE:  I have asked those who received retention payments in excess of $100,000 or more to return at least half of those payments.


SHUSTER:  But how did the bonuses even get paid out in the first place?  Liddy said the Fed always knew about the bonuses.  Why did the treasury secretary and the president only find out last week?


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES:  Ultimately, I‘m responsible, I‘m the president of the United States.  We‘ve got a big mess that we‘re having to clean up.


SHUSTER:  And big questions about a provision in the stimulus bill that might have prevented all of this.  Who had exactly made that bonus provision disappear?

“O Canada”: The details of W.‘s big speech, Bush said he won‘t criticize Obama because he, quote, “deserves my silence.”  Yet, Cheney didn‘t get the memo.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR:  Do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?



SHUSTER:  More madness, March madness: It‘s tournament time and the president fills out his bracket.  When it comes to picking winners, favoritism has nothing to do with it.


OBAMA:  I hate to say this because my brother-in-law is in the Pac-10 right now, but the Pac-10 has been looking pretty weak this year.


SHUSTER:  All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.


OBAMA:  This year, don‘t embarrass me.


SHUSTER (on camera):  Good evening from New York.  I‘m David Shuster.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.

Imagine if the entire AIG bonus debacle could have been avoided.  Now imagine that it probably would have been avoided if someone in Congress or in the Obama administration had not killed a provision in the stimulus package capping bonuses at $100,000 at any firm that received bailout money.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Where is the outrage over that?  Amidst word tonight that new details could soon be coming regarding more massive bonuses, more than $3.5 billion worth at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.

We begin with the blame game on Capitol Hill.  AIG chief executive, Edward Liddy, testifying under oath before a financial subcommittee, the political firestorm over the bonuses is already threatening to consume the Obama administration.

With his treasury secretary especially under fire, today, the president himself took responsibility for the government‘s actions.


OBAMA:  Ultimately, I‘m responsible, I‘m the president of the United States.  We‘ve got a big mess that we‘re having to clean up.  The buck stops with me and my goal is to make sure that we never put ourselves in this kind of position again.


SHUSTER:  And President Obama was just talking about AIG.

Tonight, a New York judge ordered Bank of America to release the details of $3.6 billion of bonuses that were paid out by Merrill Lynch in December, just before Merrill was bought out by the bank even though the brokerage lost $15 billion the same quarter.  Bank of America has received $45 billion in bailout money plus $188 billion in protection against future Merrill losses.

As we mentioned, the entire AIG mess probably would have been avoided if someone had not killed a provision in the stimulus package capping executive bonuses at $100,000.  The provision was introduced by senators Olympia Snowe and Ron Wyden, only to die in conference.  No one knows whether the Obama administration or Congress removed it.

The Obama administration is pointing the finger of blame at what it calls the “Dodd amendment” after Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.  The amendment made an exception for any bonuses agreed to before February 11th, 2009.  Dodd today defended himself by saying his original amendment did not include that exception, adding that the Treasury Department was responsible for inserting the exemptions.

Back on Capitol Hill, more finger pointing, including by the star witness.  During his opening statement, AIG chief executive, Edward Liddy, said that he asked at least some AIG executives to voluntarily give at least half of their bonus money back.


LIDDY:  This morning, I have asked the employees of AIG financial products to step up and do the right thing.  Specifically, I have asked those who received retention payments in excess of $100,000 or more to return at least half of those payments.  Some have already stepped forward and offered to give up 100 percent of their payments.


SHUSTER:  Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services Committee asked for the names of any executives who refused to give any of the money back.


REP. BARNEY FRANK, (D) FINANCIAL SERVICES CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  I‘m now asking you to send us the names of those who received bonuses who have not given them back.  Can you do that?

LIDDY:  Sir, I will if I can be absolutely assured that they will remain confidential.

FRANK:  Well, I won‘t give you that assurance.  And so, if that‘s the condition, it would be my intention to ask this committee to subpoena them.


SHUSTER:  In another interesting disclosure, CEO Liddy revealed that the Federal Reserve approved of the bonuses in advance.


REP. PAUL KANJORSKI, (D) CAPITAL MARKETS SUBCMTE. CHAIRMAN:  Am I to understand that you‘re saying that Chairman Bernanke or his designated person at the Federal Reserve was under—was informed they you were going to make these payments and acquiesced in that decision?

LIDDY:  Yes.  Everything we do, we do in partnership with the Federal Reserve.  The Federal Reserve is at our board meetings, at our compensation committee meetings, at our various meetings on strategy.  And they have the ability to weigh in either yay or nay on anything that we decided.


SHUSTER:  The argument that these were so-called retention bonuses is undermined by the fact that 52 of the people who received them have already left the company.  CEO Liddy also faced questions about whether, with so many on Wall Street now unemployed, anyone at AIG is really indispensable.


REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  Do you believe honestly in your heart with all of the unemployment that‘s going on in the financial services sector right now, right this very minute, do you really believe that these are the only people that are capable of doing this job?

LIDDY:  No, I don‘t.

CAPUANO:  So, that we could—there are other people out there that would have taken this job that maybe wouldn‘t have gotten this bonus.  So, you could have fired these people to replace them with equally capable professional people that are currently unemployed on Wall Street right at this minute.

LIDDY:  If I—if you will let me explain.  Each of these contracts is a complicated contract unto itself.  It‘s not, “You‘ve seen one, you‘ve seen them all.”  They‘re really all unique.  And they need to be properly hedged and balanced at the end of each day because there‘s so much volatility in the markets.


LIDDY:  If it‘s not (ph), you‘ll get burn.


SHUSTER:  Congressman Barney Frank is chairman of the Financial Services Committee.

And thank you for your time tonight, sir.

FRANK:  You‘re welcome.

SHUSTER:  New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said today that asking the AIG bonus recipients to voluntarily give back at least half the money is simply too little, too late.  What is your reaction to Mr.  Liddy‘s disclosure in the fact that he made it this morning?

FRANK:  Well, I‘m glad he did it, but it doesn‘t stop us from having the obligation to go even further, to the extent that money is returned, that‘s a good thing.  And I would compliment the people who did it.  But as you just said, I believe that we should get the names.

Mr. Liddy said he couldn‘t give them to me if they‘re going to be made public because he was afraid of threats to people.  I told them I still think we could get them but I did agree, I volunteer that I would check with the FBI.  I don‘t think it would allow these kinds of threats to deter us.

My own view is that we should be filing a lawsuit.  I think that‘s the best way to get these back.  We, the federal government, have become, through the actions of the Federal Reserve, but I do want to stress, this initial intervention into AIG was not part of the congressional rescue plan.

Before we were even asked by the Bush administration to do the rescue plan, President Bush‘s two top economic appointees Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Paulson came to us and said—Mr. Bernanke, as head of the Federal Reserve is going to lend $85 billion to AIG under a statute that dates back to 1932.  They didn‘t ask us.  They didn‘t solicit our opinion.  They simply informed us.

Since then, when we have voted, we have put tough conditions on.  And, in fact, this won‘t be happening again.  The conditions are so tough that there have been articles recently in the “Washington Post” and the “New York Times” from banks complaining that we‘ve made the conditions so tough they are going to give us our money back.  Well, I got to tell you, being threatened with getting our money back is the least frightening threat I‘ve ever gotten.  So, I hope they‘ll send it back.

SHUSTER:  As far as the executives who were declining to give the money back and the information about that, you suggested, as you pointed out, that you might subpoena that information if need be.

FRANK:  Yes.

SHUSTER:  FOX News and rush Limbaugh are accusing you of McCarthyism.  Your reaction?

FRANK:  Well, I didn‘t know that Rush Limbaugh thought McCarthy was a bad guy.  That‘s probably one of the few times that either FOX News or Mr. Limbaugh have said bad words about Joe McCarthy.  He‘s always been a right-wing hero.

In fact, I‘m not—what McCarthy did was to falsely accuse people of things and to make guilt by association arguments or talk about political associations in ways that were unfair.  I‘m simply asking for factual information about people working for a company that is mostly owned by the federal government and how much money they got.  I‘m not characterizing people one way or the other.

The other thing—I would say this, and what I think we should do is we‘re now the owners of this company, thanks to the Federal Reserve.  I believe we should bring a lawsuit.  And I have been arguing this to the Obama administration.  We should bring a lawsuit, a shareholders suit.  We are the major owners.

These people got bonuses and didn‘t deserve it.  These people got bonuses after having made terrible mistakes.  And I don‘t think that the owners of a company ought to be compelled to carry out a contract which you assume was going to be beneficial to you when the people who are looking for the money messed things up.

And I hope we will do that.  I think that has the best chance to get all the money back.  As I said, if people want to give all the money back, I salute them.  If they give half the money back, it‘s better than nothing.  But that does not—that‘s not a substitute for our asserting our legal rights as the owners of this company to get it back.

And I do, again, want to stress, we have now written into all the future grants so this won‘t happen again.  But this was given out by the Federal Reserve before Congress acted, so there were no safeguards.

SHUSTER:  Earlier tonight, you met with Treasury Secretary Geithner.  What came out of that meet something?

FRANK:  Well, I pressed Secretary Geithner and Mr. Summers, the president‘s chief economic adviser, as I talked to them earlier today with other members of the White House staff, urging them to bring that shareholder lawsuit.  You know, there are some problems if we, as the federal government, try to interfere with a contract between two other people whether it‘s statutory or not.  It‘s going to be an effort.

But I think we are in a stronger legal position if we assert not that we, the government, have the right to break a contract that two private parties signed, but that we, the government, are as a party to that contract asserting our rights under the contract.  And I pressed that.

The other issue, though, that‘s relevant is this.  What we need to do is to keep these things from happening again, as President Obama correctly said tonight, if you quoted him.  We‘ve had this dilemma.

When Lehman Brothers got in trouble, the Bush administration didn‘t do anything.  It went bankrupt completely.  None of the people it owed money to were paid, and that did cause serious economic problems.  So, because of that, when AIG was threatened with that, they said, well, we better bail them out.  And we have two opposite reactions, that Lehman Brothers not pay anybody, have AIG pay everybody.  Neither one was the best response.

The problem is, that we need to amend the law so that when a major institution like this that is not a bank, because they have rules for doing this when they were banks, when a major non-bank, an investment house, this collection of insurance companies with financial razzle-dazzlers on the top, when they went into trouble, we need to be able to step in as we would with the banks, and unwind it in an orderly fashion.

And that‘s what I was talking about with Mr. Geithner and Mr.  Summers.  How do we get legislation adopted that will make it less likely that we‘ll be in this kind of situation again?

SHUSTER:  In your discussion, did it come up, this disclosure from Senator Dodd tonight?  He is suggesting that it‘s Geithner‘s Treasury Department if not the secretary himself who was responsible for removing the restrictions on bonuses from the stimulus package and where does that stand?

FRANK:  No.  I didn‘t know about that.  When the issue came up, I was not a member of the conference committee.  And I did get involved in the House-Senate conference, I was trying to protect some affordable housing projects .

SHUSTER:  Well, is this something that you would want to get testimony from next week?  I understand you‘ll be hearing next week and trying to sort out .

FRANK:  Yes.  But I—we knew nothing about that.  We were not engaged or involved.  That was a Senate provision.  We were not involved -- we did do one other thing in the recovery package that I‘m very proud of is, under the Bush administration, they told the bank they had to take the money and they couldn‘t give it back.

We changed the law to make it easier for banks to give the money back that they‘ve received under the TARP program, because when we got tough with them, they said, oh, well, we‘re stuck with this money.  We said, if you don‘t like it, give it back.  They said it‘s too hard.  We made it very easy.

And I want to announce it—the window is open at the federal government.  Give the money back if you think we are being too tough on your compensation or your big parties or anything else.

SHUSTER:  Congressman Barney Frank, chairman of the Financial Services Committee—Congressman, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

FRANK:  You‘re welcome.

SHUSTER:  Now that we‘ve heard the perspective from Capitol Hill, what‘s going on in the rest of D.C.?  What will be the political fallout from the growing blame game over how that bonus provision was removed from the stimulus bill?  The White House said it was Senator Dodd.  The senator says it was the Treasury Department.  Richard Wolffe will join us.

And later, former President Bush is promising that definitive book on his presidency, his 12 toughest decisions and will have a, quote, “authoritarian voice.”

And breaking news out of New York City at this hour, the family of Natasha Richardson is releasing a statement that the actress has died from her injuries suffered in a skiing accident on Monday near Montreal.  Richardson fell during a skiing lesson.  She appeared uninjured after the accident and reportedly denied medical treatment, but started feeling ill about an hour later.  Richardson was flown to a New York City hospital yesterday.

Again, the family of Natasha Richardson is announcing tonight that she has died.  She was 45 years old.  We‘ll have more on her life and career ahead on COUNTDOWN.


SHUSTER:  The political fallout from the AIG blame game.  The president tried to diffuse it by taking full responsibility.  But will that be enough to sweep it under the rug with the finger-pointing growing?

And shocking allegations from Gitmo: Hundreds of people detained, how many were the real terrorists?

And the death of actress Natasha Richardson.  Information from her family tonight that she has passed.

We‘ll have more on that—ahead on COUNTDOWN.


SHUSTER:  There are two sides of the political battle raging (ph) over last week‘s AIG bonuses and where there‘s finger-pointing, there is ass-covering—giving us our fourth story: The political stakes.  Who takes the fall for AIG?

Government appointed CEO Ed Liddy trying to take the heat off testified today that some AIG executives have agreed to forego their bonuses, and that this morning, he asked all AIG executives who got bonuses of more than $100,000 to give back half.  That sounded half-assed to members of Congress who were both channeling and deflecting voter outrage.  They warned Liddy that AIG will get a subpoena if does not named the executives who got a total of $165 million in bonuses last week.

Liddy also testified that the Federal Reserve, chaired by Ben Bernanke, both knew about and signed off on the bonuses, leaving President Obama today virtually the only person taking any responsibility, saying, quote, “Ultimately, I‘m responsible, I‘m the president of the United States.”  That seems to be the only thing we know for sure right now.

Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

And, Richard, thanks as always for coming on.


SHUSTER:  Richard, today, Senator Dodd said the Obama Treasury Department rewrote the stimulus bill to remove Dodd‘s ban on bonuses from failed out firms, making Obama‘s mea culpa held a lot more concrete.  What kind of price does the president pay for this?  Or does Mr. Obama‘s mea culpa sort of inoculate him?

WOLFFE:  No, I don‘t think there is any inoculation here.  The public disapproval, anger, call it what you like about these kinds of bailouts and specifically about these bonuses is just too great.  He can mitigate some of this right now by taking responsibility, by explaining more, importantly, how this came about and how they are going to stop it happening in the future.  And there are all these regulatory mechanisms that they‘re talking about which may well have a pretty significant impact here.

But, in the end, the politics of this is built up a head of steam that it‘s got its own momentum.  And so, the story doesn‘t stop here.  We know there are more bailout compensation packages that are going to come public in the days and weeks to come.

People will rightly be angered for it and they‘ve got to ask themselves the important question, not just are these people worth the money, but are these institutions worth saving?  Are they worth any more taxpayer money?  Because that‘s really the crucial question for whether this economy can pick up.

SHUSTER:  Dodd took the heat for this for a while.  So, what happens now to the cultural or political divide between populist theory, the Democrats in the Congress and the Wall Street veterans who are in the White House?

WOLFFE:  Well, the popular fury is not going anywhere.  And, you know, it becomes a sort of technical argument versus a populist one.  And in the end, this administration came in to change the ways of Washington, to stop business as usual.  So, there‘s got to be an education on both sides.

First of all, it is going to take time.  Secondly, the “business as usual” for Wall Street, there is no business.  You know, everything has changed.  And to get both sides to understand this is an impossible middle ground they have to hold.

In the meantime, Republicans have got plenty of room here to play with this because they can say they oppose the Bush administration.  It‘s harder for the Obama White House to say—well, remember, that was President Bush out there, because they were supportive of it.  So, the politics of this are very messy.

And when you have 80 percent, 90 percent disapproval for more bailouts, anyone trying to right this economy is going into a difficult position.

SHUSTER:  We mentioned, there are two sides of this political hubbub.  Obviously, there‘s today‘s bonus blame game.  But is there another dimension here?  I mean, that if Washington writes the narrative about evil Wall Streeters, they will shift the focus away from the fact that both parties created a financial system in which Wall Street execs would have to be idiots not to take the risks they did because Washington systematically separate risks from responsibility.

If there‘s such thing as (INAUDIBLE) ass-covering, is that part of what‘s going on here?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  That‘s the technical term for it.

Look, over the years, the regulatory system was weakened because people believed in free markets.  That was true from the Reagan years.  It was extended through the Clinton years.  Republicans and Democrats bought into this.  The ‘90s would have been the time to correct it.  It didn‘t happen.  It‘s got to happen now.

SHUSTER:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC—Richard, thanks as always. 

We appreciate it.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, David.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Shocking allegations about the detainees at Gitmo: A former member of the State Department staff reveals—of the hundreds of foreigners detained there, how many actually were terrorists.

And because we need something to laugh at after all the serious

headlines, zebra traffic cops.  Wait until you hear how this came about

that‘s next on COUNTDOWN.



SHUSTER:  Bests in a moment, and boy, you‘re caught right-handed.

But, first, on this day in 1951, Bennett Cohen was born.  Ben, as he likes to be called, met his future business partner Jerry Greenfield at high school gym class.  Their mutual disdain for dodgeball turned out to be fruitful because in 1978, the two of them opened an ice cream shop together.  And the rest is chunky monkey history.  And on that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in La Paz, Bolivia, where the folks at city hall have a great idea on how to keep the kids off the street.  Put them in zebra costumes and make them direct traffic.  But that‘s hardly keeping them off the streets.  These zebra traffic cops navigate the worst bottlenecks in Bolivia and helped pedestrians maneuver those irksome crosswalks.  The program has it‘s fair share of critics, but it‘s an upgrade from last year‘s civic project “monkey meter maids.”

To the Internets, where these guys have take on the hills of Wales with the flock of acrobatic sheep and some LED lights.  It‘s extreme shepherding.  A few strategically placed sheep dogs help create fireworks in the field.  And while this could be either a bunch of guys with a lot of time in their hands or a slick marketing ploy encouraging you to go out and buy lights for your pet sheep, either way watching sheep play a game of pong never gets old.

And, finally, to the Czech Republic: Breaking news—the global economic crisis has now gone lunar.  The Czech Moon Embassy reports property sales on the moon has suffered a severe blow.  Land prices are down 20 percent with the bottom nowhere in sight.  Embassy officials say they are having a tough time selling the less attractive areas on the dark side of the moon.  That‘s one small step for man, one giant leap into—foreclosure, or something like that.

The criticizer-in-chief, former President Bush says that‘s not his role while Mr. Obama is getting his new administration underway.  Obviously, his own vice president didn‘t get that same memo.

And March madness kicks off tomorrow.  So, today, President Obama revealed his picked to win it all.  Any connection with the team being from a state he turned from red to blue is strictly coincidental.  These stories ahead.

But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s Top Three Best Persons in the World.

Number three: Best green legislation.  This week, the Tennessee State Senate approved a bill that encourages the use of purified methane gas as a green energy source.  Lawmakers say the state will collect the stinky stuff from solid waste landfills.  They note that the gas is relatively cost effective and renewable.  The bill sponsors include Senator Doug Overbey, Republican of Maryville and “Stern Show” Wack Packer, Dan the Farter.

Number two: Best dumb voyeur.  Employees at Starbucks in New Paltz, New York, found a spy camera hidden in the bathroom.  Luckily, police were able to recover some of the video from the camera which included video of the man they say planted the device.  Police have released this image of a thin Caucasian male in his mid-30s who they say is right-handed.  I don‘t want to know how they know that but be on the lookout.

And number one: Best postal carrier.  Jackie Jefferson working from the Brightwood post office in Indianapolis, Indiana, sprung into action when she observed one of the homes on her route was on fire.  Jefferson entered the flaming home and found an 80-year-old wheelchair-bound woman who she quickly gathered up and wheeled to safety.  Jefferson left the scene before firefighter arrived to put out the blaze.  The survivor was taken to the hospital and Ms. Jefferson being a good Hoosier went off and finished delivering her mail for the day.



SHUSTER:  Former President George W. Bush is entering his gravy years, high kicking it in Calgary with an audience that actually paid to hear him speak, cracking jokes about the housing markets and, in our third story in the COUNTDOWN, promising all of us a book, not just any book, a book with an authoritarian voice.  That‘s right, he said authoritarian. 

More on that in is second.  In his first post-presidential speech yesterday, the former president did at least exhibit a great deal of respect for the current one.  Quoting, “I‘m not going to spend my time criticizing him.  There are plenty of critics in the arena.  He deserves my silence.” 

Mr. Bush said he wants Obama to succeed.  And, quote, “I think it is essential that he be helped in office.” 

Of course, the former president doesn‘t really need to criticize President Obama when his former vice president does with such relish.  Ad Dick Cheney did three years ago, and not for the first time.  Mr.  Bush was free to discuss other matters before the invitation only crowd of 2,000 people who paid 3,100 dollars a table. 

Bush joked, quote, “I actually paid for a house last fall.  I think I‘m the only American to have bought a house in the fall of 2008.”  He said, it will be fun to write.  His book, quote, “is going to be the 12 toughest decisions I had to make.  I‘m going to put people in my place, so when the history of this administration is written, at least there is an authoritarian voice saying exactly what happened.” 

Perhaps the former president meant authoritative voice or maybe he meant exactly what he said. 

Let‘s call in Jim Moore, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain.”  And now online at  Jim, thanks for your time. 


SHUSTER:  Former President Bush will tell his story in an authoritarian voice, Freudian slip or just shear honesty there? 

MOORE:  Maybe the truth about all of this is revealed by our malapropisms.  Who knows?  I don‘t think that the president knows the difference in the context here between authoritative and authoritarian.  The irony, of course, is that there are tens of millions of people in this country and around the world who think that he did run a near authoritarian government at a minimum. 

But I think this is just a stumble in speaking.  It‘s probably similar to the one that he made on the campaign trail, where he said that he felt a certain issue would resignate with the voters, rather than resonate with the voters.  Probably nothing insidious here.  I think he just stumbled, as he often does. 

SHUSTER:  Regarding his 12 toughest decisions, Mr. Bush added this, quote, “I want people to understand what it was like to sit in the Oval Office and have them come in and say we have captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, the alleged killer of a guy named Danny Pearl because he was simply Jewish, and we think we have information on further attacks on the United States.” 

It might be interesting to get his thinking on that, but also whether the president signed off on torture in that case and in so many others. 

MOORE:  Well, if he is really going to write a book from the first person, from that kind of perspective, his thinking on where he arrived at this whole idea of let‘s go ahead and let‘s do to this guy what is necessary to get the information out of him, whatever that is—he either knew about it or said guys, I don‘t want to know.  Just do what you have to do.  If he were to write about that and reveal that story, he would have a hell of a book. 

I don‘t think that is going to happen, even though he probably wants to write something that way. 

SHUSTER:  How did he come up with 12?  Certainly many Bush decisions come to mind that he arguably handled very badly.  We can assume then that he will try to defend his more contentious decisions.  When he says put people in my place, doesn‘t that sound a bit defensive? 

MOORE:  Yes, I think that‘s defensive.  But I also think I can sniff the atmosphere of a Manhattan book publisher, an acquisition editor, somebody saying Mr. President, lists are very popular right now.  Give us one with 12, and do it from the first-person perspective.  Let‘s bring people into the room when you are making these big decisions. 

I can see the president getting excited about that notion.  You can understand much of the motivation behind this is to be defensive, is to explain what he did and hope that people will give him a reconsideration. 

SHUSTER:  Meantime, former Vice President Cheney has said he speaks to Mr. Bush regularly.  So when Cheney criticizes President Obama in very harsh terms, with regard to terror threats, do you think he is doing Bush‘s bidding?  Or, as was sometimes the case when he was in office, is Mr. Cheney just making it up as he goes along? 

MOORE:  Yes.  It‘s kind of funny to hear this thing going on with Cheney and Bush.  I don‘t think Cheney is asking anymore of Bush today than he did when the two of them were supposedly running the country.  This is Cheney doing what Cheney wants to do.  If he is talking to Bush, I doubt Bush even brings it up with him.  Maybe those 12 things are the 12 things that—the 12 big decisions that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove helped me to make while I was president of the United States.  Who knows? 

SHUSTER:  I know Keith asked you a similar question last night, but with regard to this book, which is somewhat new information, can we expect more candor from the former president, even if we never get any expression of remorse? 

MOORE:  I don‘t know.  That is an interesting question.  And it is very difficult to answer.  We do have history to look at, David.  There has not been candor.  There wasn‘t candor on the campaign trail.  It appears there wasn‘t much when he was in the White House.  And it‘s unlikely we are going to get it now. 

I think he is stuck with his narrative and I don‘t think he is going to change it to sell books.  Money is not an issue for a former president.  I think he is going to stick with the story that he has run with for a long, long time. 

SHUSTER:  James Moore, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain” and a contributor to the “Huffington Post.” Thanks for your time tonight, James.  We appreciate it. 

MOORE:  My pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  Coming up, more on the breaking news out of New York, Tony Award winning actress Natasha Richardson has died from her injuries suffered in a fall while skiing.  We‘ll have more on her life and career next. 

President Obama heads out west and faces the people of California, hit hard by the economic downturn there. 

But first, because they may be gone but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration‘s 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.

Number three,  privatization profiteering-gate.  Remember how President Bush was going to save us so much money by privatizing everything the government does?  Paying private business to do it instead, because the forces of competition would push them to somehow do it cheaper than our non-profit government?  Well, at a hearing today, the comptroller for the Defense Department testified that the growth in the Defense spending out-paced inflation and that President Obama will be able to cut Pentagon spending, because outsourcing Pentagon jobs to contractors ended up being more expensive than doing it themselves, which they will now start doing. 

Then why would Mr. Bush have given all those contracts to his defense industry donors? 

Number two, helping Iran-gate.  Remember how President Bush was going to deal Iran a crippling blow by removing Saddam Hussein?  Mr.  Bush didn‘t stop there in his quest to strengthen Iran.  The “Wall Street Journal” reports that Iraq‘s economy is struggling because Iran is capturing billions of dollars of Iraqi business.  How?  One, Iran supports business with subsidies and protective tariffs.  Two, all of those devastating sanctions forced Iran to learn how to build its own stuff cheaply.  And, three, in the name of capitalism, the United States opened Iraq‘s doors to the global big business within the first weeks of invading, leaving beleaguered domestic business unable to compete. 

Number one, innocent until proven guilty-gate.  Mr. Bush tossed at least 700 people into custody at Guantanamo Bay, many of them for years, enemy combatants, we were told, hardcore terrorists, the worst of the worst.  In a daily revelation posting on the, Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, claims that, quote, “many of the detainees were innocent of any substantial wrong doing.”  and that top U.S. officials knew it, didn‘t care, because interrogating them could still yield useful information about where they lived.  And because holding them forever perpetuated the political benefits of endless war. 

How many were actual terrorists?  Wilkerson says the undisputed ring leaders and their companions comprise, quote, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, 24 men.  American principles sacrificed.  America‘s image stained to hold 24 men?  Meaning the United States kidnapped, detained and denied due process to at least 756 innocent people. 

Larry Wilkerson will appear on “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” following this program.  We await the appearance of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld before an appropriate court of law. 


SHUSTER:  Again, breaking news out of New York City tonight.  The family of Natasha Richardson releasing a statement that the actress has died from the injuries she suffered in a skiing accident on Monday.  Our number two story tonight, the life and career of this talented member of the Redgrave Acting Dynasty. 

A spokesman for the family tonight releasing the follow statement:

“Liam Neeson, his sons and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha.  They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time.”

We get more tonight about Miss Richardson and the accident that killed her from NBC‘s Chris Clackum.   


CHRIS CLACKUM, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  After days in what was described as a profound and irreversible coma, award winning actress Natasha Richardson died at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.  She was surrounded by family, who include husband, actor Liam Neeson and their two sons. 

Her death follows a spill she took during a ski lesson Monday at a resort north of Montreal, a spill first thought to be harmless. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She was talking.  She didn‘t show any signs of confusion or any injury. 

CLACKUM:  Still, the ski patrol escorted Richardson back to her room at the resort and again with no complaints.  But an hour later, her condition worsened. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She showed signs she wasn‘t feeling well.  So they called an ambulance which brought her to the hospital. 

CLACKUM:  Richardson was later moved to a hospital in Montreal.  Then on Tuesday to the one in New York City, accompanied by Neeson, her husband of 15 years.  Richardson, the daughter of famed actress Vanessa Redgrave, won a Tony for her Broadway role in “Cabaret.”  She was also accomplished in movies.  Here she is in “The Parent Trap.”

And her next role was reportedly back on Broadway, and back with her famous mother, for the play “A Little Night Music.”

Chris Clackum, NBC News.


SHUSTER:  Natasha Richardson is survived by her husband, actor Liam Neeson, her mother, actor Vanessa Redgrave, and two sons, ages 13 and 12.  As we mentioned earlier, a spokesman saying, in a statement tonight, quote, “Liam Neeson, his sons and the entire family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Natasha.  They are profoundly grateful for the support, love and prayers of everyone, and ask for privacy during this very difficult time.” 

Natasha Richardson was 45 years old. 

Up next, President Obama, man of the people.  He may have a lot on his plate, but that can‘t keep him from getting a big case of March Madness.  The presidential brackets at the top of the COUNTDOWN.


SHUSTER:  On June 3rd, 2008, President Bush welcomed his final NCAA men‘s basketball champions to the White House.  The Kansas Jayhawks gave the president a jersey, a hat and a ball during a yuch-filled Rose Garden reception.  Pretty standard stuff, considering that while President Bush didn‘t pick Kansas to win the title, he also didn‘t pick them to lose, like candidate Barack Obama, who had KU losing to North Carolina in the Final Four. 

In our number one story, this year‘s White House visit could get sticky.  Imagine if the number ten seed, Michigan, you know, hail to the victors, leaders in best, great school, with the greatest fight song, suppose—let‘s go Blue—Michigan goes on to win it all, yes!  Well, President Obama is picking the Wolverines to lose to Clemson in the first round. 

Clemson?  In just a minute, highlights from tonight‘s Obama town hall meeting in California.  But first, today on ESPN, the president reduced his field of 65 down to one.  He ripped the conference in which his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, coaches and he called out the team he picked to win it all for the second year in a row. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right off the bat, you went with one upset here with six/eleven match of D.C.  What did you see there?

OBAMA:  I had to say this, because my brother-in-law is in the Pac-10 right now, but the Pac-10 has been looking pretty weak this year. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everyone was picking Arizona.  What happened to Arizona?  McCain? 

OBAMA:  It has nothing to do with McCain. 


OBAMA:  I think Arizona is a great state.  I love playing golf there, but they just squeaked in. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Louisville/Memphis? 

OBAMA:  We‘re going Louisville.  That is the championship game.  Is there a drum roll around here?  I‘m going with the Tar Heels. 


OBAMA:  We‘ve got the NATO summit, but we are going to be trying to catch as much of this as possible.  Air Force One does have Direct TV. 

Now, for the Tar Heels that are watching, I picked you all last year.  You let me down.  This year, don‘t embarrass me in front of the nation.  All right?  I‘m counting on you. 


SHUSTER:  ESPN, check.  And tomorrow, Barack Obama will become the first sitting president to appear on a late-night talk show.  A little more than an hour ago, the president took in a more traditional setting, the town hall in Costa Mesa, southern California.  Hundreds of people lined up to get into the Orange County Fairgrounds to see the president.  Their concerns were multiple and fraught with worry.  And as you might expect, it included anger over those AIG bonuses. 

President Obama aggressively addressed all of this, but it was also a very supportive crowd.  The president was clearly energized. 


OBAMA:  I‘m going to start off just by talking about these AIG bonuses you‘ve been hearing about.  Now, I know a lot of you are outraged about this.  Rightfully so.  I‘m outraged, too.  It is hard to understand that a company that‘s relying on extraordinary assistance from taxpayers to keep its doors open would be paying anybody lavish bonuses.  It goes against our most basic sense of what‘s fair. 

So we‘re going to do everything we can to deal with these specific bonuses.  And I know Washington‘s all in a tizzy and everybody is pointing fingers at each other and saying it is their fault, the Democrats‘ fault, the Republicans‘ fault. 

Listen, I‘ll take responsibility.  I‘m the president. 

So here‘s what we are going to do.  We are going to open it up to questions.  The only thing I would ask is everybody raise their hands, number one.  Not everybody now.  I mean anybody who has a question. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My question concerns those states who have refused to take certain portions of the stimulus money.  Is there any way to re-allocate that money to those states who are willing recipients?  Such as California. 

OBAMA:  There have been just a handful of states, two or three, who have said, we don‘t want to take some of the unemployment insurance.  And they‘ve said, we don‘t want to change how we do things.  I think that‘s a mistake.  And I think that the folks in those states should let them know that it‘s a mistake.  And I‘m still hopeful they may end up changing their minds. 

But I will keep in mind what you just said, which is there is least one guy in California who is willing to take the money. 

This young lady right here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Issa.  I‘m a teacher in Santa Ana. 

Thank you.  And I got my risk notice on Saturday. 

OBAMA:  I‘m sorry.  You got your what note? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My ripped notice, which means intention to be laid off. 

OBAMA:  A pink slip. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  That‘s why I‘m wearing pink.  The teacher of the year also received a pink slip.  We‘re talking about quality teachers being laid off, because of something—I don‘t know what.  Tomorrow, we have a meeting.  My next—my real question is you have put money towards retention.  How are we going to make sure that money comes to our districts that need it the most? 

OBAMA:  Most of—almost all of the money—almost all of the money that is going to states under the recovery act for education is designed to retain teachers.  I don‘t know the exact figures here in California or what would happen in terms of this school district.  Your school superintendent is here, though.  There he is, right here. 

So—Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Hold on a second.  Hold on.  Hey, hold on a second.  It‘s not his fault that the state‘s run out of money. 

I‘m going to call on this young lady in the green right here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you support caps on the interest rates at the same companies we have bailed out with our money can charge regular consumers on credit cards?  It is up to 30 and 40 percent? 

OBAMA:  I generally support a Credit Card Bill of Rights.  Let me talk about the larger issue of banks just for a second.  It was the right thing to do to step in.  The same is true with AIG.  It was the right thing to do to step in. 

Here is the problem: it‘s almost like they‘ve got—they‘ve got a bomb strapped to them and they have their hand on the trigger.  You don‘t want them to blow up, but you‘ve got to kind of talk them—ease that finger off the trigger.  We are not going to unwind this all in a day.  But what I do have confidence in is that with the plans that we‘re putting forward, slowly you are starting to see the system stabilize.  You are starting to see more loan activity taking place.  Some of the security markets are coming back.

And if we continue to provide some guarantees and help depositors and help strengthen some of the banks that are weakened, my expectations is that we are going to be able to work our way out of this problem, and we are going to be able to get back to a point where banks are lending, businesses are investing, jobs are being created and the economy gets back on its feet. 


SHUSTER:  President Obama tonight with voters in Costa Mesa, California.  Tomorrow, he‘ll hold another town hall meeting along with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  And then he‘ll be appearing on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.  Tonight, among Jay‘s guests will be Keith Olbermann.  Check your local listings.

That will do it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m David Schuster in for Keith.  You can catch me weeknights here on MSNBC, “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time.  Our MSNBC coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.”  Hey, Rachel.



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