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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday, August 21, 2009

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Clarence Page, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Jonathan Turley



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

The majority leader in the House bails out, “I‘m for a public option,” says Steny Hoyer, “but I‘m also for passing a bill.”  He calls the option necessary but “we‘ll have to see because there are many aspects of the bill as well.”

This 24 hours after the speaker said reform will not pass without the public option.

To paraphrase Churchill, if this is the blessing of brilliant strategy in disguise, at the moment, it seems quite effectively disguised.

Republicans, like Senator Kyl, have a new idea, if the Democrats kill everything, they‘ll gladly support nothing.


SEN. JON KYL ®, ARIZONA:  Let‘s start over and you‘ll have good, solid Republican support.


OLBERMANN:  The best advice to President Obama comes from the chairman of the Republican National Committee?  Go it alone?


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  Don‘t come up in my face talking about, I‘m an obstacle, and we‘re blocking this process.  You got the votes, Mr.  President.  Pass the bill.


OLBERMANN:  Back to Republican hypocrisy: an Astroturf group unleashes an ad berating President Obama for taking a week off.


NARRATOR:  But while President Obama vacations, concerns mount about his health care plan.


OLBERMANN:  Didn‘t your last guy spend literally one-third of his presidency on vacation?


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killings.  Thank you.

Now watch this drive.


OLBERMANN:  Other Bush apologists rush to attack Tom Ridge.  On the eve of the ‘04 election, Attorney General Ashcroft and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld pushed Ridge to raise the terror threat level for purely political reasons.  Ashcroft spokesman today: “Didn‘t happen.  Now would be a good time for Mr. Ridge to use his emergency duct tape.”  Legally, what if anything is next?  The analysis of Jonathan Turley, and the updated edition of our special report, “The Nexus of Politics and Terror.”

And surprise—she‘s pro-choice.  Michele Bachmann insists you say, “Under no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body.”

All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  I may not always get my words right.



OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

After letting Republican fears drive the health care debate and Democratic vacillation on it, a new poll showing Democrats taking a hit, so Democrats are today vacillating.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: As signs of a Senate spine emerge, the House goes soft.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer saying, quote, “I‘m for a public option but I‘m also for passing a bill.  We‘ll have to see.”  This, the day after Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “No, we won‘t.  A bill without a public option will not pass in the House.”

In the Senate today, their majority leader, Harry Reid, preparing to do what progressives have hollered for: “Cut the Republicans loose and pass Democratic health care.”  The newspaper “Roll Call” is saying Reid staff is preparing for possible use of the reconciliation process which would preempt a Republican filibuster.  Quoting, “We will not make a decision to pursue reconciliation until we have exhausted efforts to produce a bipartisan bill.  However, patience is not unlimited.”

Especially Republican Senate Whip Jon Kyl said he does not think a single Republican senator would vote for either the House bill or the one Senate bill that it‘s made it out of committee so far.  And after Republican chairman Michael Steel openly declared—or dared rather—

Democrats to go it alone, taunting that their reluctance to do so proves that Democrats know the Democrats—the American people have rejected their vision of health care reform.


STEELE:  Don‘t come up in my face talking about I‘m an obstacle and we‘re blocking this process.  You got the votes, Mr. President.  Pass the bill.  They want to have this thing signed, sealed, delivered to the president‘s desk by July 31st.  All right?

They could have done it.  So, why didn‘t they?  They know it‘s poisonous.  And they know the American people will not tolerate it.


OLBERMANN:  Of course, polls show Americans not merely tolerating but supporting the public option.  But a new poll now shows fewer Americans supporting President Obama on health care in general, 46 percent now approving his handling of health care, down from 57 percent in April; 50 percent disapproving, almost doubling from 29 percent in April.

Let‘s turn now to Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist of “The Chicago Tribune.”

Thanks to your time tonight, Clarence.

CLARENCE PAGE, CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Thank you, Keith.  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  “The Wall Street Journal” quotes a senior congressional Democratic aide saying that Democratic statement officials the weekend that led to confusion among supporters were, quote, “calculated to test Republican responses.”

Is this, in fact, rope-a-dope, let the GOP wear itself out, reveal its fundamental opposition and then pass a Democratic plan with or without a single Republican vote?  Is that what it is?  Or are they just pretending that‘s what it is?

PAGE:  Well, a lot of ways, the Republicans have been doing that job for the Democrats.  But when I heard that statement, I was trying to read the tea leaves.  I‘m wondering if the administration wasn‘t really trying to talk to their own progressive wing, to float that trial balloon out there, to point out that—to say that public option is not essential, that is saying, hey, we‘re ready to cut this overboard if we need to in order to get a bill passed.

That is a direct red flag to the progressive wing of the party.  And they reacted that way this week.

So I personally can‘t help but think that they were really sending signals to their own left wing.  President Obama did come back and say, oh, no, I‘m still committed, you know, blah, blah, blah.  He never quite said it was essential, though, that the public option stay in there.  So, that‘s negotiable point still.

OLBERMANN:  But there are only two signals to send.  And in the last 24 hours, the House leaders, the Democratic House leaders have sent each of the signals.  I mean, what is Steny Hoyer doing?  Why contradict Nancy Pelosi publicly?  Even if he does feel the option is optional now, shouldn‘t he politically have the present of mind to shut up about that?

PAGE:  Well, I think just as I mentioned Kathleen Sebelius sending signals to the progressive wing, I detect Hoyer maybe sending signals to the blue dogs and saying that, well, regardless of what Nancy Pelosi says, it doesn‘t mean necessary have to hang on to the public option.  In other words, he‘s playing that good cop to the moderates while Nancy Pelosi plays the hard-liner here in saying that we got to have it.

So, I think, you know, Steny Hoyer‘s job being the guy who goes around, calling some votes and tries to pull that coalition together.

And this is like, I think, you know, President Obama is realizing—to paraphrase Will Rogers—he doesn‘t belong to an organized party.  He‘s a Democrat.  And traditionally are fractious.  And we‘re seeing the results of that in this crazy August.

OLBERMANN:  And the flip side of that, here‘s Michael Steele who hasn‘t had a cogent point to make about the Republican Party since he assumed office, now gives perhaps the best piece of advice Obama has gotten yet—you know, if the Democrats can pass a plan without Republicans but do not, doesn‘t that imply a lack of confidence in the plan or the acceptance of the plan?  What‘s the argument to that rather cogent piece of advice?

PAGE:  Well, I think what—look, one thing, Michael Steele is kind of selling wolf tickets as we say back in Chicago.  He is poking and provoking the Democrats on that very sensitive point right now of their own fractiousness.  They don‘t have the votes in the Senate for the public option.  In the House, they have a loose coalition with those blue dogs that gives them enough votes for a public option.  But they couldn‘t have a vote right now or they would have had it.

The fact that they have not got more than one out of one out of—one bill out of several committees right now is what‘s put Democrats on the defensive right now in defending the plan, while Republicans can just easily say, hey, this is crazy.  Let‘s stick with the status quo.

OLBERMANN:  Clarence Page of the “Chicago Tribune”—thanks for your time tonight, as always, and have a great weekend.

PAGE:  Thank you.  Stay tuned.

OLBERMANN:  With us now to dig into the poll numbers we mentioned, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University.

Professor, good evening.


OLBERMANN:  All right.  Republicans are crowing about the president‘s loss of support about how he‘s handling health care.  It‘s down 11 percent.  That‘s the publicly released part of this poll from ABC and “The Washington Post.”  But “The Plum Line” blog reported the internals of the poll also show he‘s down 11 percent on this topic among liberals.

Is that not the message for the president?  You know, never mind bipartisanship, you‘re not even getting partisanship on this now.

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, actually, I think that it‘s a little more complex than that.  So you have on the one hand this kind of issue-based approval rating going down.  But his personal approval rating is really quite robust.  Two-thirds of Americans still see President Obama as someone who cares about people like them; well over 60 percent still see President Obama as a strong leader.

When George W. Bush‘s poll ratings plummeted after Hurricane Katrina and through the lengthy war in Iraq, what Americans were saying was, “Please stop.  Take your hands off of everything.  Please don‘t do anything else.  We don‘t trust you.”

What the poll ratings seem to be saying to Barack Obama right now isn‘t stop, is, “Do more.  We trust you.  We believe in you.  We think that you can do this.  So show us more fire, more intensity, lead us.  We‘re ready to go.”

And that‘s a very different sort of lesson from these declining poll numbers.  It‘s still a lesson that they better learn quickly.  But because it‘s coming from the left and because it‘s still connected with a strong sense of President Obama as a leader, he can actually use this as a rallying moment.

OLBERMANN:  Well, is this—does this then become one of those same difference kinds of things because—I mean, he‘s lost support from, let‘s say, moderates on the right and certainly independents because did he not stop the far right in their tracks by being leading, by being aggressive on this.  And he lost this 11 percent margin on the left because he did not energize the left nor stop the right in its tracks by leading.  Is the problem not, though that, he‘s perceived—as you suggest—not being aggressive enough here?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, I don‘t think it‘s the same difference problem though.  Because what the party needs to be thinking about right now—particularly these congressional Democrats—is what they‘re going to be doing in the midterm election.  Can they maintain the House?  And, of course, that‘s where all the anxiety and fear on the part of congressional Democrats is coming from.  Can they keep the House in 2010?

If they recognize what is likely to happen if they pass a bill without a public option or do not pass a bill at all, then what will happen is in these key places where you need folks to still have the excitement and enthusiasm of the Obama coattails, they will lose them.  If they do not pass a bill with a public option, the Democrats will lose the House in 2010.

OLBERMANN:  But this is now boiling down to a larger issue which is—

OK, the dog has caught the automobile.  What does it do with it?  The New York mayor, Ed Koch, said years ago, “I‘m not worried about a second term which is probably why I will get one.”  In the—the default position for politicians elected with the leadership in all three categories, all three branches of the government, elected government, isn‘t that just do what you think is right as opposed to what you think will get you re-elected?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, certainly, for President Obama, that‘s true.

But one of the truisms of political science scholarship is that congressmen are single-minded seekers of re-election.  They run so frequently in the House that they are basically always up for re-election.  They‘re always thinking about those prospects, which is exactly why this is where Obama‘s leadership matters.

You know, he should take a break for a moment at the Vineyard but then he‘s got to come right back out and say—in a way that he‘s been sort of reluctant to do—this is where we‘ve got to go and we‘ve got to go there now.

OLBERMANN:  Melissa Harris-Lacewell of Princeton University—as always, many thanks.  And have a good weekend to you.

Ironically, if the plaster falls, so, too, falls one of the true villains of this entire story.  Betsy McCaughey—fired.

And the only person inside the Bush administration even remotely approaching hero in terms of its exploitation of terrorism for domestic political gains is attacked by those he has ratted out but defended by one former colleague—and defended by what we have called “The Nexus of Politics and Terror,” a revised edition of which we bring you tonight on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  While Tom Ridge is attacked for confirming parts of it, we will show in its entirety the latest revised edition of our mini-documentary, “The Nexus of Politics and Terror.”

“Worsts”: Tom DeLay lies about one of his health care town halls.  And the original health care liar, Betsy McCaughey, gets fired.

And next on COUNTDOWN: The last president took 1,000 days off, and his critics are attacking Obama for taking nine of them.


OLBERMANN:  The concept of presidential vacation might be an oxymoron to any commander in chief other than George W. Bush, considering he spent 977 days, one-third of his presidency either at or en route to David Camp or Crawford, Texas.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: After an eight-year silence, the right—almost predictably—goes after President Obama for taking a week off.  And for a weekend retreat at Camp David, this president will spend the upcoming week with his family at Martha‘s Vineyard.  That apparently is reason enough for the Astroturf group, Conservatives for Patients‘ Rights to release an ad mocking the president‘s vacation while also deriding his health care reform plan.

The seven days Mr. Obama will spend on the Vineyard, notably shorter than the vacation time taken by his predecessors during their first years in office.  Bill Clinton took 11 days and Mr. Bush took 31 days to clear brush at his Texas Ranch.  And during the first week of that vacation, August 6th, 2001 to be exact, Mr. Bush was handed the now infamous PDB, “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.”

Although, to be fair, Mr. Bush did practice some constraint or restraint rather on his vacation in 2005, he cut short that trip by two days as New Orleans drown.  But it was the 2002 break in Kennebunkport that perhaps defined Mr. Bush‘s concept of a presidential vacation.


BUSH:  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killings.  Thank you.  Now watch this drive.


OLBERMANN:  And later, he gave up golf to honor the dead veterans.

“Worsts”: Tom DeLay‘s health care town hall from the ‘80s where he is disrupted by people in wheelchairs.  Great story—except it happened in Texas while he was in Washington.

And next: So desperate is this woman to stop reform she has gone as far as to insist the government has no right to tell her what to do with her body.  Isn‘t that the language of a.

And when Rachel joins you at the top hour, her special guest, Congressman Anthony Weiner—his response to Steny Hoyer going soft on the public option.


OLBERMANN:  “Bests” in a moment, and you‘ll never believe who just declared herself pro-choice, in pro-choice even.

And the revised edition of “The Nexus of Politics and Terror”: As Donald Rumsfeld tries to rebut Tom Ridge by defending himself with quotes from bin Laden.

And “Worsts”: Somebody wises up and fires death panel fabricator Betsy McCaughey.

These stories ahead.

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

Dateline: New York.  Number three: Best continuing fraud, Sean Hannity of fixed news.  We told you yesterday that when Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus of Missouri had mistakenly said Social Security face default in two years, Hannity claimed the remark was made by Democratic Senator Max Baucus of Montana.  And when Bachus corrected himself and said he meant that Social Security might face a deficit in two years, Hannity never mentioned the correction.

We thought it was just Hannity stupidity.  It turns he‘s deliberately lying.  Last night, Hannity continued to misattribute the uncorrected quote.  “We heard this week from Max Baucus, Social Security insolvent in two years, perhaps.”

Honestly if, the government had standards for news, as stringent as it does for when you can call a beverage orange juice, “FOX Noise” would be a car wash by late Sunday afternoon.

Dateline: Meridian, Idaho.  Number two: Best resume.  Challiss McAffee arrested in that state, charged with felony aggravated assault, accused of taking photographs of a home.  Then, when confronted by the homeowner saying it was part of a foreclosure investigation.  Then when the homeowner objected, pulling a .357 magnum handgun on the man.

Mr. McAffee is not your average gun happy rove.  He is a member of the Ada County Republican Central Committee, a voting member of the Idaho State Republican Central Committee and an organizer of the Idaho tea parties.

And dateline: Woodbury, Minnesota.  Number one: Best surprise, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.  A new tack on her position to health care reform, one she is clearly not thought through.  “People need to continue to go to the town halls, continue to melt the phone lines of their liberal members of Congress and let them know under no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body and my health care decisions.”

There it is—the stunning announcement from one of the most conservative members of the House of Representatives.  The government will have no control over her body—Michele Bachmann has just defended abortion and endorsed a woman‘s right to choose.


OLBERMANN:  How much the principals need to deny Tom Ridge‘s revelation that he was pressured to raise the terror threat level just days before President Bush was re-elected in November 2004, how much they need to still push back against our reporting of the last four years about “The Nexus of Politics and Terror” underscored by this.

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN: Donald Rumsfeld today defended himself by turning to Osama bin Laden.

In his new book, the former homeland security secretary, Mr. Ridge, writing, “Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  There was absolutely no support for that position within our department.  None. 

I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?‘”

Mr. Ashcroft, speaking through his former spokesman at the Justice Department is saying, “Didn‘t happen.  Now would be a good time for Mr.  Ridge to use his emergency duct tape.”

But from Mr. Rumsfeld‘s office, more of an attempt, in a statement which reads in part, “The storyline advanced by his publisher seemingly to sell copies of the book is nonsense.”

In his defense, incredibly, Rumsfeld also quotes frequently and at length Osama bin Laden.  “Given those facts,” the statement continues as if there were facts, “it would seem reasonable for senior administration officials to discuss the threat level,” talking about the time before the 2004 election.  “Indeed, it would have been irresponsible had that discussion not taken place.”

All of that are carefully missing the point.  Mr. Ridge knew the discussion had to take place after a new bin Laden tape was released.  He writes about that at length.

Most notably, “The timing of the tape may have been a surprise; the content was not.  From September 11th, 2001, to this video broadcast, there had been nearly 20 audio and videotapes attributed to either bin Laden or his lieutenant.  A threatening message, audio or visual, should not be the sole reason to elevate the threat level.”

Now, reporting on this issue began in October 2005 and was inspired by remarks made the previous May by Mr. Ridge himself.  More often than not, he had said to an interview after his resignation from homeland security, “We were the least inclined to raise it.  Sometimes we,” his department, “disagreed with the intelligence assessment.  Sometimes we thought, even if the intelligence was good, you don‘t necessarily put the country on alert. 

There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it

and we said, ‘for that?‘”

The latest revised edition now of “The Nexus of Politics and Terror.”


OLBERMANN:  Number one, May 18th, 2002.  The first details of the president‘s daily briefing of August 6th, 2001 are revealed, including its title, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”  The same day, another memo is discovered, revealing the FBI knew of men with links to al Qaeda training at an Arizona flight school.  The memo was never acted upon.  Questions about 9/11 intelligence failures are swirling.

May 20th, 2002.


TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS:  The terror warnings from the highest levels of the federal government tonight are.


OLBERMANN:  Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares another terrorist attack is inevitable.


BROKAW:  Tonight, there are even more warnings of possible.


OLBERMANN:  The next day, the Department of Homeland Security issues warnings of attacks against railroads nationwide and against New York City landmarks, like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

Number two, Thursday, June 6th, 2002.


COLEEN ROWLEY, FBI AGENT:  I never really anticipated this kind of impact.


OLBERMANN:  Coleen Rowley, the FBI agent who tried to alert her superiors to the specialized flight training taken by Zacarias Moussaoui, whose information suggests the government missed a chance to break up the 9/11, testifies before Congress.  Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says, Rowley‘s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistleblowers.

Monday, June 10, 2002, four days later.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We have disrupted an unfolding terrorist plot.


OLBERMANN:  Speaking from Russia, Attorney General John Ashcroft reveals that an American named Jose Padilla is under arrest, accused of planning a radiation bomb attack in this country.  In fact, Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than a month. 

After five years of detention and possibly torture, psychiatrists find Padilla is so traumatized he‘s no longer mentally fit to stand trial.  He is nonetheless convicted of conspiracy.  But he‘s never tried, nor even charged with any so-called dirty bombs nor with attempted terrorism in the United States. 

No. 3, February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell sells the U.N.  Security Council of Iraq‘s concealed weapons, including 18 mobile biological weapons laboratories, justifying a U.N. or U.S. first strike.  Many in the U.N. are doubtful.  Months later, much of the information proves untrue. 

February 7, 2003, two days later, as anti-war demonstrations protesting the imminent invasion of Iraq continue to take place around the globe. 

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Take some time to prepare for the emergency. 

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites credible threats by al Qaeda and raises the terror alert level to orange.  Three days after that, prior administrator David Paulison, who had become the acting head of FEMA after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. 

No. 4, July 23, 2003, the White House admits that the CIA, months before the president‘s State of the Union address, expressed strong doubts about the claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger. 

On the 24th, the congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is issued.  It criticizes government at all levels.  It reveals an FBI informant had been living with two of the future hijackers.  It concludes that Iraq had no link to al Qaeda.  Twenty-eight pages of the report are redacted.

On the 26th, American troops are accused of beating Iraqi prisoners. 

July 29, 2003, three days later, amid all of the negative headlines...

TOM BROKAW, FORMER NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  Word of a possible new al Qaeda attack.

OLBERMANN:  ... homeland security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks. 

No. 5, December 17, 2003, 9/11 Commission co-chair Thomas Kean says the attacks were preventable.  The next day, a federal appeals court says the government cannot detain suspected radiation bomber Jose Padilla indefinitely without charges. 

And the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, Dr. David Kay, who has previously announced he found no weapons of mass destruction there, announces he will resign his post. 

December 21, 2003, four days later, the Sunday before Christmas...

RIDGE:  Today the United States government raised the national threat level. 

OLBERMANN:  ... homeland security again raises the threat level to orange, claiming credible intelligence of further plots to crash airliners into U.S. cities. 

Subsequently, six international flights into this country are canceled after some passenger names purportedly produced matches on government no-fly lists.  The French later identified those matched names.  One belongs to an insurance salesman from Wales, another to an elderly Chinese woman, a third to a 5-year-old boy. 

No. 6, March 30, 2004, the new chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles Duelfer, tells Congress, “We have still not found any WMD in that country.”  And after weeks of having refused to appear before the 9/11 Commission, Condoleezza Rice relents and agrees to testify. 

On the 31st, four Blackwater USA contractors working in Iraq are murdered, their mutilated bodies dragged through the streets and left on public display in Fallujah.  The role of civilian contractors in Iraq is now widely questioned.

April 2nd, 2004...

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  The FBI has issued a new warning tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  ... homeland security issues a bulletin warning that terrorists may try to blow up buses and trains using fertilizer and fuel bombs like the one detonated in Oklahoma City.  Bombs stuffed into satchels or duffle bags. 

No. 7, May 16, 2004, Secretary of State Powell appears on “Meet the Press.”  The late Tim Russert closes by asking him about the enormous personal credibility Powell had placed before the U.N. in laying out a case against Saddam Hussein.  An aide to Powell interrupts the question, saying the interview is over. 

TIM RUSSERT, FORMER HOST, “MEET THE PRESS”:  I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary.  I don‘t think that‘s appropriate. 

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Alan, get out of the way. 

OLBERMANN:  Powell finishes his answer, admitting that much of the information he had been given about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was...

POWELL:  Inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading. 

OLBERMANN:  On the 21st, new photos showing mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison are released. 

On the 24th, Associated Press video from Iraq confirms U.S. forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party, killing more than 40. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2004, two days later...

ASHCROFT:  Good afternoon. 

OLBERMANN:  ... Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller warned that intelligence from multiple sources...

ASHCROFT:  Indicates al Qaeda‘s specific intention to hit the United States hard. 

OLBERMANN:  ... and that 90 percent of the arrangements for attack on the United States were complete.  The color coded warning system is not raised.  The homeland security secretary, Tom Ridge, does not attend the announcement. 

No. 8, July 6, 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selects John Edwards as his presidential running mate, producing a small bump in the election opinion polls and producing a huge swing in media attention towards the Democratic campaign. 

July 8, 2004, two days later...

RIDGE:  Credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States. 

OLBERMANN:  Homeland Secretary Ridge warns of information about al Qaeda attacks during the summer or autumn.  Four days after that, the head of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Ridge about the prospect of postponing the upcoming presidential election in the event it is interrupted by terrorist acts. 

No. 9, July 29, 2004, at their party convention in Boston, the Democrats formally nominate John Kerry as their candidate for president.  As in the wake of any convention, the Democrats now dominate the media attention over the subsequent weekend. 

August 1, 2004, Monday morning, three days later...

RIDGE:  It is as reliable source—group of sources we‘ve ever seen before. 

OLBERMANN:  ... the Department of Homeland Security raises the alert status for financial centers in New York, New Jersey and Washington to orange. 

The evidence supporting the warning, reconnaissance data left in a home in Iraq, later proves to be roughly four years old and largely out of date. 

No. 10, October 6, 2005, 10 a.m. Eastern Time, the president addresses the National Endowment for Democracy, once again emphasizing the importance of the war on terror and insisting his government has broken up at least training terrorist plots since 9/11. 

At 3 p.m. Eastern Time, five hours after the president‘s speech has begun, the Associated Press reports that Karl Rove will testify again to the CIA leak grand jury and that special prosecutor Fitzgerald has told Rove he cannot guarantee that he will not be indicted. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  We‘re awaiting a news conference at the bottom of the hour in New York City. 

OLBERMANN:  At 5:17 p.m. Eastern Time, seven hours after the president‘s speech had begun, New York officials disclosed a bomb threat to the city‘s subway system, based on information supplied by the federal government.  A homeland security spokesman says the intelligence upon which the disclosure is based is of doubtful credibility. 

And it later proves that New York City had known of the threat for at least three days, and had increased police presence in the subways long before making the announcement at that particular time. 

Local New York television station WNBC reports it had the story of the threats days in advance of the announcement but was asked by high ranking federal officials in New York and Washington to hold off on its story. 

Less than four days after having revealed the threats, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York says, “Since the period of the threat now seems to be passing, I think over the immediate future we‘ll slowly be winding down the enhanced security.”

While news organizations ranging from “The New York Post” to NBC news quote source who say there was reason to believe the informant who triggered the warning simply made it up.  A senior U.S. counter-terrorism official tells “The New York Times,” quote, “There was no there, there.” 

No. 11, a sequence of events in August 2006 best understood now in chronological order.  As the month begins, the controversy over domestic surveillance without legal warrants in this country cracks. 

Then on August 9, the day after the Connecticut Democratic senatorial primary, Vice President Cheney says the victory of challenger Ned Lamont over incumbent Joe Lieberman is a positive for the, quote, “al Qaeda types,” who he says, quote, “clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight.”

The next day, British authorities arrest 24 suspects in an alleged imminent plot to blow up U.S.-bound aircraft using liquid explosives smuggled onboard in sports drink bottles.  Domestic air travel is thrown into chaos as carry-on liquids are suddenly banned. 

On August 14, British intelligence reveals it did not think the plot was imminent; only the U.S. did, and our authorities pressed to make the arrests.  Eleven of the 24 suspects are later released and in the months to come, the carry-on liquids ban is repeatedly relaxed. 

No. 12, May 7, 2007, Greensburg, Kansas, leveled by a tornado and the state‘s then governor notes, more in sorrow than in anger, that the redeployment of so much of the Kansas National Guard and its equipment to Iraq might now cripple the soldiers‘ ability to respond if another disaster hits Kansas. 

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), FORMER KANSAS GOVERNOR:  What we‘re really missing is equipment.  And that‘s putting a strain on recoveries like this one. 

OLBERMANN:  The next day, the authorities announce arrests in a far-fetched plan to attack soldiers at Ft. Dix in New Jersey.  The so-called terrorists planned to gain access to the base by posing as pizza deliverymen. 

It is not a suicide mission.  They state clearly they intend to kill personnel and then retreat to safety, even though they were going to attack a closed compound full of trained soldiers with weapons. 

And though the plan is branded sophisticated, its perpetrators are not sophisticated enough to have not handed over the videotape of themselves training with weapons to a Circuit City store in order to be transferred to DVD. 

The Ft. Dix plot not only erases from most news coverage the issue of disaster readiness in Kansas, but it also obscures the next day‘s story that, in anticipation of his testimony to a House panel, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has submitted opening remarks that match, virtually word for word, the remarks he had given the previous month it a Senate committee. 

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Recognizing my limited involvement in the process, a mistake I freely acknowledge...

Mistakes I freely acknowledge, I have soberly questioned my prior decisions. 

OLBERMANN:  And No. 13, June 2007, the JFK plot to blow up the jet fuel pipeline feeding John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and thus causing the entire airport to be consumed in a horrific conflagration. 

One of the men arrested has, as a past employee, access to the sprawling complex but little knowledge of the reality of the pipeline system.  The manager of that system tells the “New York Times” that pipeline is not some kind of fuse.  Shutoff valves throughout would have easily contained any damage, just as a leak in any tunnel in any city would not flood everything in that city below ground. 

A so-called plot happens to be revealed the day before the second Democratic presidential debate.  And as the scandal continues to unfold over the firings of U.S. attorneys and their replacements by political hacks, the so-called plot is announced by the Bush-appointed U.S. attorneys for Brooklyn, New York and the police chief of New York City. 


OLBERMANN:  But they would never, ever play politics with terror.  Except that, in addition to Mr. Ridge, there is a second key member of the Bush administration who thinks they very well may have.  That and whether or not legally anything could still come of this with Jonathan Turley, next on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  The former Bush administration official who is defending Tom Ridge‘s second set of assertions about the politicizing of terrorism warnings.  Jonathan Turley on what, if anything, is left to do about what was, in fact, another version of terrorism. 

And later in “Worst Persons,” the end of the road for Betsy McCoy. 

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  In our No. 2 story, the possible consequences of Tom Ridge‘s version of the nexus of politics and terror.  Mr. Ridge is demonized by Bush loyalists for those claims.  Who better to take counsel from than former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan.

In an e-mail to Politico, quoting, McClellan said, “It is one thing if he is saying he simply felt it was politically motivated.  It is quite another if he has specific information showing it was politically motivated.  There is no question exploiting the war on terror was viewed by the political strategists as integral to branding the president as a strong and decisive leader who will keep America safe.  If Secretary Ridge is making the serious allegation that the terror alert was driven primarily by political concerns late in the campaign, he is going to be expected to back it up with specific information.  If he can, it is a serious matter.  If he cannot, then I suspect critics will pounce.” 

Let‘s bring in, as promised, George Washington University law professor, constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley. 

Jon, good evening. 


VELEZ-MITCHELL:  Frame this for us.  If political pressure was applied to raise the terror threat level in that instance or any other during the Bush administration, what does that amount to in terms of abuse of power?  And is there still any avenue to prosecute?

TURLEY:  Well, it is certainly an abuse of power.  It‘s perhaps the worst form of abuse of power.  National security has always been treated as inviolate, something that crossed party lines. 

Indeed if, you recall, it was a virtual mantra during the Bush administration that any time questioned a bill or a position of the government, you would have Bush himself other others saying stop playing politics with national security. 

And, yet, we see in books like this, allegations that national security was being really manipulated and used as a prop.  I mean people like Ridge, who‘s obviously a very committed Republican, obviously do not like the fact that bin Laden is being treated like some type of RNC asset.  That, you know, when you need him, you sort of take him out of, you know, the backstage and bring him forward to terrify the children. 

And, you know, it‘s—the problem with this abuse of power is that it doesn‘t have an easy translation into the law.  That is, it‘s not criminal.  This—these different levels of threat are largely discretionary, if not entirely discretionary, to the president. 

He can, in fact, and his underlings can, in fact, play around with national security, and it‘s not a crime.  But it most certainly is a betrayal of his oath if these allegations are true.  And I think your program raises a very powerful series of events, a pattern where we have had these threats that occurred at very significant moments. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it incumbent upon Ridge to try to provide more specific information to this claim, as Mr. McClellan suggests?  Or is this an entree to investigation?  Or is there any chance of it going from here in any direction officially?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, Keith, that‘s why they don‘t call these tell-some books.  I mean, when you—when you get into an allegation like this, you‘re in for a penny or a pound.  And you need to make good the allegations.  It‘s a very serious allegation.  But it‘s not a new allegation. 

What Ridge is suggesting here, critics have said for a very long time, that the Bush administration always seemed eager to keep fear alive.  That national security had become their only selling point.  They basically lost on all the other political fronts. 

But what it did then was create this really dangerous situation where danger was a commodity.  It was something that was being used not just politically but in courts, to roll back civil liberties, for arrests.  It became an entire industry. 

In fact, I testified to Congress about how we still have this infrastructure from the Bush administration which is occupied by people who are told, given a huge amount of money to find domestic threats.  That‘s all they do.  And there‘s a tendency when you have that large bureaucracy that is being paid to find domestic threats, that they find them, because it sort of perpetuates their existence. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s one other thing in the book here.  And we can only go into this in the most brief detail about Ridge describing when they raised the terror threat level for the financial centers in August 2004, right after the Democratic convention. 

The White House asked him to add language to the announcement which lauded Bush‘s leadership in the war on terror, and he did so.  Is that—is there any violation in that?  Is that, again, that discretionary stuff you talked about?

TURLEY:  Well, unfortunately, it is bad taste, bad policy.  But it‘s not a crime.  But it is an abuse of power.  And that report is supposed to be a guarantee to the American people that this is the unvarnished professional apolitical announcement of the types of risks we are facing. 

And basically, he‘s suggesting that the White House treated it like a press release for the president. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed it was.  Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.  As always, great thanks for the perspective and have a great weekend. 

TURLEY:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s rare, that‘s true.  But sometimes there is justice in this world.  An original hit woman in health-care reform, Betsy McCoy, just lost a job.  “Worst Persons,” next. 


OLBERMANN:  Oddly placed in the lineup here because of the time we devoted to the nexus of politics and terror, time for COUNTDOWN‘s No. 1 story, tonight‘s “Worst Persons in the World.” 

The bronze, writer Andrew Malcolm of “The L.A. Times” political page.  “The Times” screwed up its TV listings for this program and promptly and professional issued a correction.  But he wrote, “Without this kind of correction, online too, a few thousand people might have tuned into MSNBC.”

Mr. Malcolm is, of course, adhering to the very old and very stupid Republican talking points about this network, talking points that date back to about 1999 or 2000 or so, that nobody watches MSNBC. 

On Wednesday night of this week, the three airings of this program drew a collective audience of 2.2 million.  Each of its airings beat CNN by all measures. 

It is the No. 1-rated cable news program for all viewers under the age of 35.  It is the No. 1-rated cable new program not on FOX.

Mr. Malcolm claims to have been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a member of “The L.A. Times” editorial board and, as such, you might want to check out whether his smug prejudices are so behind the curve that they make him look like a superannuated, out-of-touch political hack.

There‘s also the embarrassment Mr. Malcolm brings to his paper when mocking how many customers any news organization has.  For 20 years, the “L.A. Times” has had the largest newspaper virtual monopoly in the country.  And yet even before the newspaper crash, it was already approaching bankruptcy.  Its daily circulation has dropped below 725,000. 

The first rerun of this program the other night had a larger audience than that. 

MSNBC is going to profit nearly a quarter of a billion dollars this year, Mr. Malcolm.  “The L.A. Times” will be lucky to be publishing next year. 

One last note on this.  I mentioned Republican talking points.  Andrew Malcolm‘s biography notes that 1999 and 2000, he was the press secretary to Laura Bush. 

Runner up, Tom DeLay of “Dancing with the Stars,” tried to suggest that town halls about health care has always traumatic and chaotic, and he was once the victim of one of them. 

“When I did my town hall meetings, I‘ll never forget one back in the ‘80s.  They brought in quadriplegics on gurneys and dumped them on a floor in front of my podium.  I mean, this is not new.  What‘s new is the people that came in to disrupt my town meetings, we just let them go on because it usually turned off the people that were there.  What‘s happening here is the American people are on their side.” 

Mr. Delay left out a little detail: he wasn‘t there.  TPM Muckraker found an article from the “Houston Chronicle” from May 19, 1996, detailing the blockading of DeLay‘s office in Sugarland, Texas, by 150 supporters of the increased care for the disabled. 

“Tuesday‘s protesters narrowly escaped arrest by Stafford Police when DeLay, who is in Washington, D.C., agreed to meet with them next month.” 

“I‘ll never forget that time that thing happened that I wasn‘t there.” 

Can we see your birth certificate, Mr. Delay? 

But our winner tonight, Betsy McCoy, the originator of the lie that there is euthanasia in the reform bill.  The paid medical shill who humiliated herself on Jon Stewart‘s “Daily Show” last night has just resigned from her post on the board of directors of Can Tell Medical Corporation. 

She says she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the health-care debate.  But I‘m told that, in fact, she was voted out by the Can Tell death panel. 

Betsy “the human conflict of interest” McCoy, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 2,304th day since the previous president declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq.

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  As Beau Carter used to say as he signed off, “Cheerio.”

And now with House Majority Leader Hoyer suddenly finding the public option optional, her special guest Congressman Anthony Weiner, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow. 

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Good evening, Keith.  Thank you.  Have a great weekend. 

OLBERMANN:  You, too. 



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