Guest: Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, David Axelrod>
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Our housekeeping here, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” live tonight at 10:00 Eastern. She‘ll be followed by a live late-night edition of “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews at 11:00.
And right now, a full hour of COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
President Obama has just concluded his third formal news conference on this—the occasion of his 100th day in office. In October of 2008, before he‘d even won the election, he said, quote, “The first 100 days is important, but it‘s probably going to be the first 1,000 days that makes the difference.” Accordingly, in our fifth story tonight: President Obama‘s news conference on a completion of his first 100 of his first 1,000 days, he referenced hundreds upon hundreds of days. We will later on this hour drill into detail into Mr. Obama‘s replies regarding newly Democratic senator, Arlen Specter, and other issues.
But if watching him tonight you got the sense Mr. Obama has tried to accomplish 1,000 days worth of chance in 1/10th the time, that is likely no accident. But the questions and the answers tended to focus more on the days to come. And on one issue, on the days that preceded his arrival in that White House, Mr. Obama asked the seemingly simple question twice, on whether Mr. Bush, by sanctioning waterboarding had sanctioned torture. Instead, he condemned Mr. Bush‘s decision by invoking one of Mr. Bush‘s heroes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The British, during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, “We don‘t torture.” Churchill understood: you start taking short-cuts, and over time, that corrodes what‘s—what‘s best in the people. It corrodes the character of a country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And in addition, he said to the damage done to the country‘s character, there remains the simple fact that it does nothing—nothing better than honorable interrogation, to prevent damage to the country itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individual that were subjected to these techniques, doesn‘t answer the core question. Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn‘t answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Obama himself provided the well-documented answer: no, it does not make us safer. It did, as we now know, make us less safe in the whole certainly, and while he was less than meticulous about answering the question of whether Mr. Bush had sanctioned torture, he got a chance to display his sense of humor—by being overly meticulous with a very different kind of question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF ZELENY, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?
OBAMA: Now, let me write this down.
ZELENY: Surprised, troubled .
OBAMA: I‘ve got—I‘ve got a—what was the first one?
OBAMA: Enchanted. Nice.
ZELENY: And humbled.
OBAMA: And what was the last one? Humbled?
ZELENY: Humbled. Thank you, sir.
OBAMA: All right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Watching Mr. Obama for us tonight, MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for “Newsweek” magazine.
Good evening, Howard.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The overarching message that the president was trying to send tonight—what do you suppose it was?
FINEMAN: Well, mine is admiration for Jeff Zeleny of “The New York Times,” for getting a four-part question.
FINEMAN: Knowing that the “A” student President Obama would be determined to fill up the blue book, you know? Look, the overarching message here is, to me, one of a guy who says, “On the one hand, boy, if I‘d been dealt a lot of crises to deal with, two or three times the number that a typical president has,” that‘s what he said, and yet a guy who clearly relishes the job, and who doesn‘t mind drilling down into specificity. I mean, this is a guy who said at the beginning of the press conference, “Don‘t forget to wash your hands .
FINEMAN: . and cover your mouth when you cough,” who says, “I‘m not an auto engineer,” and yet he also throws out the line, “By the way, G.M.‘s got a lot of good product.” How does he know? He seems to know.
And who seemed to be pretty up to, not only the challenge but the specifics all the way around; complaining in answer to Jeff Zeleny that he had learned to his chagrin that he couldn‘t order the bankers to do things or the Congress to do things, saying he knows he has to coax his way through this job on this big ocean liner but still being patient and determined to do it as fast as he can.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, it has been a major subject here, and it seems to have been broadened out as to a major subject in the mainstream media recently—the subject of torture, and the previous administration. I‘m not sure if the president came anywhere close to clarifying where he stands on that. We‘re going to have David Axelrod on later in this hour, and obviously we‘ll try to press for some sort of answer from him on this.
But we did get some information here about where this administration stands, not just in terms of the subject, but also in terms of the attempts made to defend the previous use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” by the previous administration.
FINEMAN: Well, it‘s a fascinating thing, Keith, because moral concerns about the war in Iraq and the methods and the rationale for the war are one of the main things that launched the Obama candidacy and presidency. And every time he tries to settle this question, he makes it more complicated.
As you and Rachel Maddow pointed out a few minutes ago, by saying that the rationale used in the legal memos to justify this torture, and that‘s what Obama says it was, waterboarding is torture, he came right up to saying that those people need to be questioned in some other place. And then he said, he stopped himself before he went off the edge of the cliff, and he said, “But it was a mistake,” as if there are no legal consequences.
The fact that the president of the United States, once again, in a nationally televised press conference said, “Yes, indeed, waterboarding was torture,” doesn‘t settle the question. It means that international forces are going to continue to try to bring this up legally. It means that court cases will continue to be filed. It means Congress is going to continue to demand to investigate it.
So, rather than shutting it off, the president sort of complex, both specific and vague answers, is just going to keep the argument going. And it‘s going to be something that is going to daunt and dog him all the way along.
OLBERMANN: Well, yes. You know, I‘ve been thinking in those terms too, obviously, from my point of view in my commentator role, all the time of this—these 100 days of this presidency and in the months beforehand when it was imminent and his positions were becoming clear, or so we thought.
I‘m wondering now, having heard that careful answer and the second careful answer and the third careful answer about state secrets and how if you‘re inheriting a bunch of legal cases from the previous administration, you can‘t turn the ship around in one week and may have to continue to file and then you decide how to rewrite these laws and—because they are, as he said, overly broad.
It‘s as if—is it possible that he is deliberately keeping this unanswered because there is more information to come? He needs a more broader political support, more questions from Americans, from the media. Is there—is there a sense that maybe this isn‘t just the “A” student filling up the blue book, but a deliberate attempt to keep this alive but undecided for the time being?
FINEMAN: I don‘t think he wants to really keep it alive. I think he knows he can‘t give a definitive answer. He‘s commander-in-chief now, Keith. In addition, he‘s no longer a candidate, he‘s president. He‘s auto engineer in chief, and surgeon general with the hand-washing. But he‘s also commander-in-chief, and you noticed in his answer to Jeff, that he talked about his admiration for the troops, that his love of the military from the top brass on down.
He‘s got two wars going on and he‘s got a deteriorating situation in Pakistan. I thought one of the sub-headlines of tonight was his basically declaring Pakistan as practically a failed state. We‘ve placed a lot of emphasis on it.
He‘s got a terribly dangerous and volatile situation there. He needs the support of the military. He needs the enthusiastic advice and backing up of the Pentagon. He‘s got a much broader portfolio.
And he‘s going to try to not antagonize the MoveOn.org crowd that helped get him launched, while at the same time making sure that he is telling both the troops and the intelligence community that every tool he can possibly allow to happen without—as he‘d put it—corroding the character of the country, will be available to them in the war on terror.
OLBERMANN: By the way, he used, in fact, the term “fragile” to describe essentially the internal infrastructure, the simple day-to-day life in the nation of Pakistan.
OLBERMANN: But as to the fragility .
FINEMAN: Yes, I though that was remarkable.
OLBERMANN: . of our politics here, he tried to redefine bipartisanship when the subject of the change of parties of Mr. Specter came up—seemingly this sort of user‘s guide for Republicans, and it was suggesting, you know, bipartisan means—sometimes you lose but sometimes I will incorporate your ideas.
Was he actually trying to talk to the American voter rather than the Republican Party there? And if so, what was the message?
FINEMAN: Yes. I think he was trying to project the air of sweet reasonableness to the American people—many of whom have bought it so far; basically told Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in sort of “Rump parliament” of Republicans in the Senate, “You know, I‘ll be glad to deal with you as long as, quote, ‘hardcore principles‘ aren‘t involved. If it‘s hardcore principles, it‘s my way, because number one, your methods didn‘t work. Number two, the American rejected them.”
So, I think he wants to cut a deal with McConnell on health care. I think he was signaling to Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate—we can do a deal on health care. Let‘s see if they do it. As a backup, by the way, the budget says they can steamroller with the 60-vote if they need to and they‘re going to have those votes now.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek”—much thanks as always for your time, sir.
FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Of course, what the White House meant by some of these answers can probably best be answered from within the White House. So, joining us now from the West Wing—as promised—White House senior advisor, David Axelrod.
Good evening to you, sir.
DAVID AXELROD, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: Hey, Keith. Good to be with you.
OLBERMANN: Let me start with the president‘s characterization of the Bush interrogation techniques, the legal—the legal basis on which they were enacted as a mistake, but he did not and would not say that the previous administration had sanctioned torture. Is that a fine line or a fine hair being split there?
AXELROD: Look, Keith, I think his view on the techniques in question are very, very clear. He banned them. He did it within a couple of days of entering office. And his feeling is, that now, we have to move on. We‘ve got a lot of challenges facing this country and it‘s time to look forward and not back.
OLBERMANN: He was asked specifically about documents that have been referred to, specifically by former Vice President Cheney, that Mr. Cheney and others who support his position say would verify that lives were saved through the enhanced interrogation methods of the Bush administration. I wanted to clarify the president‘s answer to that because he said he had read the documents.
Are they in fact the same documents that Mr. Cheney refers to—the ones that he has sought?
AXELROD: Yes, I believe so. And I think it‘s fair to say that the president has read widely, he‘s consulted widely. I think he‘s made the decisions he‘s made with full knowledge of what he—what he was doing and with a full commitment to both our values and our national security. And there‘s nothing in those documents that would change his view.
OLBERMANN: He also said that those documents don‘t address a larger question. Not only the morals and ethics, if there are any that apply to this, but the idea that there was no—there‘s been—left out of the discussion that if there had been any information gleaned from these processes, that they might not have been obtained from other means, other less invasive means—let‘s use that term, I just make it up off the top of the head.
But one part of this really struck me here, that—the idea that the whole process, did it make us more safe? Is he—what is—what are the components of his calculations to determine whether or not the entire process had made us more safe?
AXELROD: Well, I think, he—as he said tonight, Keith, the issue is
you have to look at this in its totality. First of all, there‘s some ambiguity about what techniques yield what information.
But leaving that aside, the question is, whether surrendering our moral authority, engaging in techniques that become recruitment tools for al Qaeda, propaganda tools for terrorists ultimately make us safer. And his feeling is, the answer is no. And that, you can‘t look at these things in isolation, you have to look at the impact of them in terms of our standing, and in terms of what it does in other parts of the world.
OLBERMANN: I don‘t want to devote the entirety of our time together on this, but I .
AXELROD: (INAUDIBLE) question.
OLBERMANN: One last question about it.
OLBERMANN: And this is to suggest—this is not to imply that the president would either not want to influence this outcome, nor wish to get fully involved in it. But if there is no further action regarding the Bush administration‘s interrogation techniques, if there are no commissions, if there are no prosecutions—do you think President Obama will be satisfied by that outcome, if that is the outcome?
AXELROD: First of all, Keith, there is a review of much of this going on within the Senate Intelligence Committee right now. So I think that‘s an important thing to note.
I think that the president feels strongly that lessons have been learned from what‘s happened before, much of which has been in the public domain. That was one of the reasons he authorized the release of the memos. Much has been learned. It‘s informed his decision in banning these techniques, and now, it‘s time to move forward and deal with the—not just the national security challenges we‘ve faced, but myriad of other challenges that he discussed tonight.
OLBERMANN: The question of swine flu and closing the border with Mexico. You can get extremely specific on this. Howard Fineman made that observation that he was, in fact, reminding us all to wash our hands and essentially to cough into our sleeves. One bit of information—had this been raised before, that the president suggesting that if you had flu-like symptoms, maybe you shouldn‘t get on an airplane, maybe you shouldn‘t get on a form of public transportation? Or was that something he introduced to this discussion?
AXELROD: Well, I think that those are observations that he has gleaned from conversations with public health—with public health officials. Obviously when you have a situation of this sort, anything—when you start displaying symptoms, anything that keeps you out of the range of others and certainly enclosed areas is a sensible thing to do.
And so, I think he was imparting all kinds of advice that has been shared with him, and it was important to use the forum he had tonight to share that with the American people.
OLBERMANN: Last point, David. Would the president prefer to pass his agenda with Republican votes regardless of Mr. Specter‘s new affiliation, without—regardless of the immanence presumably of the seating of Al Franken as the senator from Minnesota or are they still an essential component to what you all want to do?
AXELROD: Well, look, I think it‘s always healthy to have a broad majority supporting your initiatives. And we‘re going to work—as he said, we‘re going to work with them where we can. What we‘re not—what we can‘t do is embrace a failed economic doctrine that helped get us into the situation we‘re in, and that‘s what we‘re not going to do. And we‘re not going to suspend progress in service of a larger number of votes.
What we—this country has enormous challenges right now. We have to move forward. We‘re going to move forward. We‘re going to do it in concert with anyone who wants to work with us.
And if there are people who don‘t want to work with us, we have to move forward. We can‘t wait.
OLBERMANN: White House senior advisor, David Axelrod, joining us from the lawn of the White House. Thank you again, sir.
AXELROD: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Ironically, for all the words the president spoke today, perhaps the most penetrating ones may have come from an unlikely source in an unlikely venue. “There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party.” That‘s the reaction in the op-ed columns of “The New York Times” to the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party from Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine—Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Well, Republican for now. Next.
OLBERMANN: Tonight, the president had a news conference. This morning, he‘d had a face-to-face with the newest Democratic senator who isn‘t Al Franken. The Specter defection or Spect (ph) defection. How the conservatives claim this is for them, addition by subtraction. Chris Matthews is next.
Then a remarkable discovery in an endless file of public records. An e-mail from May 2004 by an FBI agent in Iraq seeking further guidance about interrogation techniques that could be used based on what he said was, quote, “an executive order signed by President Bush.”
And Worsts: The North Carolina congresswoman who calls the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard, a quote, “hoax.”
All ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: President Obama‘s embrace of Senator Arlen Specter as a Democrat is now official. In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight:
Aside from tonight‘s news conference, the president welcomed Mr. Specter at the White House this morning, and among Republicans, precious few—read one—publicly expressing much interest in learning from Specter‘s defection. The president made clear he understood Senator Specter‘s assertion that he will not be an automatic 60th vote, he mentioned it again on the news conference this evening.
But the president also focused on the obvious benefits of the senator‘s switch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues like health care, like infrastructure and job creation. I think the vote on the Recovery Act was a classic example. Ultimately, he thought that was the right thing to do. And he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That obviously, the president at the news conference tonight.
Senator Specter, this morning, pointedly extending his hand as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I do think, Mr. President, that I can be of assistance. You have projected the administration that I feel very comfortable with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today left no doubt that the president would campaign and raise money for Senator Specter if asked.
As for Republicans, out of those pretending not to care about Specter‘s departure, there was one exception. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, writing in the op-ed pages of “The New York Times,” where she clearly disagreed that the party line that Specter‘s loss was a matter of local politics, quoting, “The political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide. There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party.”
But the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, today voiced what seems to be a sentiment straight from Boss Limbaugh, quoting, “It clarifies the two parties. In the long run, it may actually change the whole dynamic of 2010 and 2012.” He might be right but perhaps not in ways he expects.
Chris Matthews joins me now from Burbank.
Chris, good evening.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The Democrats‘ side as personified by the president is something from the sports world here about this change in parties for Specter: Don‘t gloat, don‘t celebrate, act like you‘ve been in the end zone before.
MATTHEWS: Well, you have to wonder what the Democrats gain here, because if Specter is right, that he couldn‘t possibly win the Republican primary next year, the Democrats would have had that seat for the asking. So why did they want to turn over his seat to someone who‘s been a Republican for all these years if they could have had it? So if Specter is right and he‘s finished as a Republican, the Democrats would have gotten that seat automatically.
I wonder why they‘re willing to give so much away to have the president say he‘ll fight Joe Sestak, a good Democrat, or Pat Murphy or someone like Allyson Schwartz or Josh Shapiro, any one of the candidates that could have run for that nomination. Why is he saying to them, I‘m going to fight you on behalf of Arlen Specter?
It‘s a hell of a good deal for Arlen. I guess I don‘t figure out what the good deal is for the country. Unless—unless, this president has decided he needs Arlen‘s vote for health care.
MATTHEWS: Because health care is the most important. It is to me, by the way, a very important issue, if not the most important. And he needs that vote this year. And if Arlen stayed on the Republican Party, he‘s forced to stay over there—he wouldn‘t have gotten that health care vote, because Arlen would have been kissing up to people like Bob Asher and the Republican bosses in Pennsylvania between now and next April.
So, it was a short term gain, a sort of like a draft pick they traded for or gave away. They gave away a future younger senator to get a current one who would vote their way in the short run.
OLBERMANN: For a Pennsylvanian to be named later. But besides that vote .
OLBERMANN: . as you suggest on health care, which would be the, I guess, the great insight here, that that‘s probably what this is about, in the short term, anyway. Is there .
MATTHEWS: That‘s what the president said tonight.
OLBERMANN: But .
MATTHEWS: The president, he said that tonight.
OLBERMANN: Is there anything else they could be getting out of Specter in the short term that could be added on to that list?
MATTHEWS: No, I think it‘s an all gain for him to get the president to say he‘s going to endorse you, to get the Democratic Party—and wanting to get the Democratic organization in Pennsylvania, to get Eddie Rendell and the rest—he got everything. He got—apparently, his seniority, he‘s going to be chairman of appropriations or something like that in a year and a half. So, he got everything on the table.
I thought there was really news tonight, Keith, that I don‘t think anybody‘s grabbed on to. One is, the—and these are questions that would come up if you had more follow up. He wouldn‘t answer the question—the president—as to what he would do in extremists. He was asked what would you do if there was an imminent threat and you had somebody in captivity, and you had to decide whether to grill him, somebody you caught in the middle of an operation, for example. He didn‘t answer that.
He did allude to something very interesting. He said—as you pointed out—that Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world is fragile. He said that we have some kind of a confidence level—did you hear that?
MATTHEWS: On their nuclear weapons. Somehow, we‘ve got some kind of a deal, some fence operation, where we fence that off and we know we can go directly to some generals and that‘s going to be protected. No matter what happens to the government over there—I mean, even if the Taliban overthrows the government in Islamabad, we‘ve got some deal at the last minute where they‘re going to protect those weapons from the crazies. I thought that was fascinating.
OLBERMANN: Well, you know, he‘s .
MATTHEWS: I think the other thing is—yes, go ahead. I‘m sorry.
OLBERMANN: No. But to that point, he said the military of Pakistan understands how important those—it was as .
OLBERMANN: . if there were—as if that answer were directly meant for 16 generals in Islamabad.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Like he had some sort of side deal with the brass over there, that if anything happens, they‘ll—what are they going to FedEx all the weapons to us at the last minute? Bury them? Blow them up? How do they keep them out of the hands from a government that‘s about to take over the capital? I think that‘s a fascinating revelation.
I thought, tonight, he offered some other things—the issue of abortion. On a number of fronts, he‘s obviously looked at his polling and he wants to soften his image. He doesn‘t want to look like too big a government guy, like I want to run all these corporations, automotives and et cetera, banking. He really wants to look like he‘s really pushing back from that.
He wants to be very pro-military. He made a big point of that—he‘s very pro-military.
He wants to lessen the harshness of the reputation he‘s getting by the people complaining about the Notre Dame speech, that he‘s too pro-choice. He wants to pull back from that by offering up the story that I didn‘t hear before, that there‘s a task force in the Domestic Policy Council that‘s looking at ways to reduce—I think he meant: to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, the number of situations that would lead a woman to make a decision about an abortion.
I thought that‘s very positive. I thought it was interesting. He dropped that out tonight.
OLBERMANN: And reaching out by the way .
OLBERMANN: Reaching to both—and reaching out to people from both camps, both the anti-abortion .
OLBERMANN: . and the pro-choice camps in that—somehow involving them in that task force.
MATTHEWS: Yes. And I think that‘s what you hear from people like Ryan of Ohio, people on both sides who are pro-choice and pro-life, on both sides, who would like to radically reduce the number of people who choose abortion because they didn‘t use birth control or didn‘t practice whatever. They didn‘t - they put themselves in this situation where abortion was an option when a lot of people obviously don‘t want to be in that situation.
So I think he was - it‘s very interesting that he was doing that.
It was a very subtle message to the pro-life community, I think.
OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews, who will not only bring you a special news conference edition of “HARDBALL,” live tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern but also tonight, graces the stage of “The Tonight with Jay Leno” on your local NBC station. Safe trip home, my friend.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As Sen. Specter and Snowe decry those who have radicalized the Republican Party, the president took a chance in Missouri today to reach out to them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I‘m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Hey, you don‘t like that phrase, “tea bag?” Explain your complaints to him, not to me.
And a serious conversation. Bonne chance - one of the lawyers who paved the way for torture calls his legal opinion at the time, quote, “a good faith analysis of the law.” While 2004 FBI E-mail surfaces which refers to an executive order by President Bush about interrogation techniques.
And a couple of loose screws in Congress. Ms. Bachmann tops yesterday‘s historical gaffe. Another congresswoman trying to defeat a hate crime bill calls the story of the murder of Matthew Shepard a hoax. You will not believe what she said. Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Just a week after he volunteered to be waterboarded for charity, there is finally some kind of vague comment out of Sean Hannity about the offer here for $1,000 for every second he might last, a comment through an intermediary not like, you know, living up to boast or anything.
The other big-talk, no-action conservatives who defended such torture even before the president was asked about it tonight, a new development, an E-mail from an FBI agent in Iraq asking five years ago for clarification about President Bush‘s executive order on interrogation techniques. What executive order was that?
Worse, the hate crime legislation inspired by the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard. One congresswoman hateful, deceitful argument against it, calling it a hoax with Matthew Shepard‘s mother present. You are watching the post-presidential news conference edition of COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: There are the agenda items President Obama seeks and the ones he must confront like the now-staggering body of evidence that our country tortured under the previous administration and in a systematic way. In our third story in the COUNTDOWN, the president tonight offered his latest attempt to frame the issue while new evidence keeps rising to the surface.
First, the president, when asked whether the previous administration had sanctioned torture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don‘t think that‘s just my opinion, that‘s the opinion of many who have examined the topic. And that‘s why I‘ve put an end to these practices.
I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the - whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But, add this to the vast landscape of interlocking evidence, a document from the ACLU trove of records on this subject spotlighted today by Jason Leopold of the “PublicRecord.org,” an E-mail dated May 22nd, 2004, in which a senior FBI agent stationed in Iraq seeks further guidance about what interrogation techniques may be used.
The E-mail notably refers and refers six times, to an executive order specifically named, quote, “Executive Order signed by President Bush authorized the following interrogation techniques among others: sleep ‘management,” use of M-W-Ds (military working dogs), ‘stress positions‘ such as half squats, ‘environmental manipulation‘ such as the use of loud music, sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, et cetera.”
The E-mail could have significant implications, particularly since it followed the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib. The E-mail seeks guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were required to report harsh interrogations that may have violated FBI standards but were within the guidelines of that executive order.
The understanding of the E-mail‘s author is that these enhanced interrogation techniques, approved by the executive order, were, quote, “still on the table but that certain techniques can be used only if very high level authority is granted.”
The author of the E-mail claims that FBI personnel have had no direct involvement in the Abu Ghraib abuses. The E-mail points that the evidence of a direct link between President Bush and specific interrogation techniques employed in Iraq. Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe. Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That E-mail and a nugget it contains or nuggets, in a moment, but President Obama and the news conference first. The three answers that he gave on torture tonight, including one on state secrets - did they represent a shift in this balancing act that he‘s tried to maintain on this subject? And why is he still out there on the tight rope?
WOLFFE: Well, first of all, there is a shift against what I think has become a fairly widespread idea that he was going squishy on using the word “torture.” I saw no sign that he was shying away from describing the so-called techniques as what they are, which is torture.
And secondly, I respectfully disagree with what Chris Matthews suggested. One of the ideas that is very pervasive was, at that time - it‘s still now - is that somehow, under duress, presidents of any kind have to use or have to reserve torture as one of the tools in the toolbox.
Well, he went to some length to explain this anecdote about Winston Churchill and he said Churchill was under incredible duress. London was being destroyed. He held detainees but he said Britain didn‘t do that because that‘s not what he represented.
I think that was a very clear explanation, as clear as he would want to make it, moving forward, that no matter what the situation, no matter how imminent the threat, no matter how dire the circumstances, he wasn‘t prepared to do that kind of thing.
So to the extent there‘s a shift there, I think it‘s resetting the debate about how these decisions get made. Because you have to think back to the post-9/11 era. Everyone says, well, you know, the last remaining defense is that things look very good now that looked very bleak then.
That‘s the moment a country gets tested. What this president is saying you can keep your values even in a time of duress.
OLBERMANN: And yet, to borrow a phrase from journalism, as willing as he has been to go into the depth that he has, including this description of this as torture, to describe legal rationales for it as a mistake, to make that Churchill analogy, which is also a political flush in a card game, given who Churchill is always quoted by in this country.
OLBERMANN: All of those elements, he‘s buried the lead. He will not answer that question, is waterboarding - as a torture, did that mean the previous administration sanctioned torture? It would seem to be a natural conclusion to everything else he said. Why is he not prepared to write the opening paragraph of the story?
WOLFFE: Well, on one level, I think there is a desire to move the debate beyond the question of to prosecute or not to prosecute. They want to have a debate about what the values of this country are and will be and what‘s appropriate in national security given those values.
There is, of course, a legal jeopardy here. And to prejudge a case, to get drawn into a legal issue anymore than they already are or will be, is something they‘re reluctant to do, partly for political reasons, partly for legal too.
Having said that, no matter what their concerns are, they are already sucked into this one. In Spain, the judge that pursued Pinochet in Chile is now saying that because of the memos that have been released, what we once knew by intuition, the judge said, we now know for a fact.
So whatever happens, this administration, this president, what they have released and what they have said is going to be part of a legal proceeding whether here or overseas on this question of the legal liability of senior Bush administration officials.
OLBERMANN: And to that point, we will see obviously what, if anything, develops from that FBI E-mail. But assuming its authenticity, this describes techniques approved by an executive order that seemed to mirror some of the abuses right out of Abu Ghraib. But pardon me, what executive order was this?
WOLFFE: Well, there‘s obviously a lot we don‘t know. It‘s pretty clear from the public reports, from the news reports, that the methods at Guantanamo Bay and presumably from the CIA sites were exported to Abu Ghraib.
If anyone has the belief that this was somehow some enterprise concocted somewhere in the Pentagon or on the ground, then, over time, if they see it already, we are going to see this go up to the highest possible levels. That is very clear.
Whether it‘s this executive order or something else, what‘s going to change the politics, I think, is putting together President Bush‘s statements at the time, blaming some low-level people, or Donald Rumsfeld saying at that time that it was just because these people had digital cameras that it was so shocking.
Putting that together with the private paperwork that is now coming out, that‘s what‘s going to change people‘s opinions because people will see that frankly, there was a deception going on. And I think the politics will change as a result.
OLBERMANN: And a constant deception. There might as well have been a cabinet level position in charge of deception. Perhaps there was. Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, as always, great. Thanks, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The famous, anyone? Anyone seen “Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off.” This piece of American history that Ben Stein was asking the class about? Michele Bachmann completely screws it up on the floor of the House. A wonderful confluence of politics and culture.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, in the wake of the president‘s news conference, her special guest, senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN‘s number two story tonight. This is April 28th(sic), thus seven days since Sean Hannity offered to be waterboarded for a military families‘ charity, thus six days I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he might last, thus five days during which the cowardly Mr. Hannity has reneged on his promise.
But there was news on this today from a Hannity surrogate. On “The View,” Elisabeth Hasselbeck indicating that Hannity‘s excuse for begging off would be based on the somewhat tortured logic - forgive me - that he already gives enough money to charity so he doesn‘t have to do this even though it was his idea. And I am not permitted to talk about another big-talk, no-action conservative blowhard because it‘s only a free country for Hannity and her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”: Sean does a lot for - he has concerts all over the United States to support the troops, raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for our military men and women and their families. He doesn‘t need this to do it.
And Keith Olbermann, by the way, had nothing to do with this conversation. He is trying to get in on what happened on Sean‘s show which kind of kicks his behind in terms of ratings and capitalize on that.
It‘s a ploy. He‘s just trying to get people to invite him into this conversation. He wasn‘t invited into the conversation nor the challenge.
JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, “THE VIEW”: It is free speech, honey. But what about the fact that Sean Hannity is not doing it? Come on.
HASSELBECK: He‘s not doing it.
Wait a minute. If they really want to raise money for their cause why doesn‘t Keith match the amount of money Sean raises in his freedom concerts?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: May I see your invitation to the conversation? Maybe I‘ll do that, too, Elisabeth. But first, we have to get past the fact that right now, Sean Hannity is ducking because he‘s terrified. Worsts - next. You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Just a second. I‘ve got to change the date on my watch - 29th. It‘s the 29th, not the 28th. All day, too.
Time for COUNTDOWN‘S number one story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world. The bronze to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. We‘re all laughing at her historical gaffe yesterday about Jimmy Carter and swine flu. It turned out she topped herself on the floor of the House.
The Carter gaffe first, “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under a Democrat President Jimmy Carter. And I‘m not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it is an interesting coincidence.”
Yes, the swine outbreak was in February 1976 when Republican Gerald Ford was president 11 months before Carter was inaugurated. But on the same day, she pulled this whopper, “FDR applied the opposite formula, the Hoot-Smawley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions and then, of course, trade barriers and the regulatory burden and taxpayers. That‘s what we saw happen under FDR. The American people suffered for almost 10 years under that kind of thinking.”
Seriously, congresswoman, you are a buffoon. Smoot-Hawley, not Hoot-Smawley. It was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. And not only was it passed in 1930, three years before Franklin Roosevelt became president, but it was written by two Republicans, Sen. Reed Smoot and Congressman Willis Hawley. It was signed into law by a Republican President Herbert Hoover over the pleading of all the economists and big bankers, even the head of J.P. Morgan, and it was repealed under FDR in 1934.
I know, I know, congresswoman. You weren‘t paying attention in history class in high school. You were too busy going to the movies. But it was in the movies, in “Ferris Bueller‘s Day Off” where Ben Stein, the economics teacher, asked his class, “Anyone? Anyone?” where anyone raise or lowered. He was asking about the Smoot-Hawley Act. Hoot-Smawley. Hoot-Smawley.
We let this woman vote on actual pieces of legislation. But it‘s worse that that. We let her drive a car. Hoot-Smawley.
Runner up, Rupert Murdoch,. The Audit Bureau reports the average American daily news paper lost just over seven percent of its circulation during the last six months compared to a year ago. Some did better, some did worse. The circulation of the “L.A. Times” dropped 6.6 percent. That of the “New York Times” dropped 3.6 percent.
But the biggest loss in the top 25 market - Murdoch‘s “New York Post.” Circulation is down 20.5 percent. This other piece of the Murdoch empire, the cornerstone of the reactionary, the jerk, half-fiction racist, xenophobic, retaliatory conservative media and one out of every five readers has vanished, three times as fast as “New York Times” readers.
How can the stockholders of News Corp. continue to indulge Rupert Murdoch‘s personal political agenda, vanity press? How can the folks not stand up and say, “Rupert, you owe me money.”
But our winner, and this is the most despicable thing said on the floor of the House in decades. This feature is Congresswoman Virginia Foxx from the fifth district of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, arguing against the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. VIRGINIA FOXX ®, NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSWOMAN: The hate crimes bill that is called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed. But we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn‘t because he was gay. The bill was named for him. The hate crimes bill was named for him. But it is really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Foxx you are the only hoax here. One of Matthew Shepard‘s killers admitted under oath that he knew he was gay, that they lured him from a bar by pretending to be gay themselves. Then they robbed him, pistol-whipped him, fractured his skull, tortured him with sharp implements and they tied him to a fence post in rural Wyoming. He was not found for 18 hours.
There is no excuse for Congresswoman Foxx‘s remarks. She is, at best, callous, insensitive, criminally misinformed. At worst, she is a bold-faced liar. And if there is a spark of a human being in there somewhere, she should either immediately retract and apologize for her stupid and hurtful words, or she should resign her seat in the House.
She is not worthy to represent this country nor any of its parties nor any of its peoples. She is our shame. And adding to our shame, she said all that as Matthew Shepard‘s mother sat in the House gallery. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, fifth district of North Carolina, today‘s worst person in the world.
That is COUNTDOWN for this the 2,181st day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
And now, with reaction to the president‘s news conference tonight from his adviser Valerie Jarrett, ladies and gentlemen here is Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.
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