Guest: Howard Dean, Rep. Maxine Waters, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Peter
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories
will you be talking about tomorrow?
Fear and fundraising in the Republican Party. The Republican National
Committee‘s official fundraising manifesto is leaked to the press. Wealthy
donors described as “ego-driven.” Small donors called “reactionary” and
motivated by “fear.” And this official RNC document instructs fundraisers
on how to scare those donors.
Chairman Michael Steele is spinning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: I was told that, you know, that‘s
typically—typical what people think about our donors or think about
donors generally, but that is not the case for our donors.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Reactions from Richard Wolffe and former DNC chairman,
Health care reform: Speaker Pelosi still confident she has the votes
in the House, but—
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: You assume nothing—assume nothing in terms of where you
were before and where people may be now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Meanwhile, the Stupak 12 are ready and willing to take the
whole bill down over the Senate‘s abortion language.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: Yes, we‘re prepared to take
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The Karl Rove memoir has been leaked and the rewriting of
the rationale for war continues. Quoting “the Brain”: “Would the Iraq war
have occurred without WMD? I doubt it.”
Meanwhile, the mission still unaccomplished in that country—more
than a dozen dead in Baghdad after attacks at polling places as the latest
round of elections begin.
And turning “Seward‘s Folly” into Palin‘s cash cow. Sarah Palin and
the creator of “Survivor” are shopping a reality show about the Palin
family‘s Alaskan adventures. Move over, Snooki. Here comes “The Real
Housewife of Wasilla” and what do you think happens when Palin lets lose at
a pre-Oscar swagfest?
All that and more—now on COUNTDOWN.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: Just get the truth out
(END AUDIO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Good evening, from New York. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in
for Keith Olbermann.
The GOP‘s plan was a simple one and not at all out of character for
that party: raise money by capitalizing on fear of President Barack Obama
and by promising to save the country from socialism. The good news tonight
-- the Republican plan is working. The bad news—at least from their
perspective—it looks as if the only money raised from the plan so far
has been raised by the Democratic Party.
Imagine if some of the most offensive and silly signs at a tea party
protest could all be found in one PowerPoint presentation delivered by the
finance director of the Republican National Committee to big donors and
fundraisers at a party retreat in Florida. Well, you don‘t have to imagine
it. That‘s exactly what happened.
The 72-page document obtained by Politico.com explains how to
manipulate donors, starting with crude caricatures. One page, titled “The
Evil Empire” shows the president as the Joker from “Batman,” while Speaker
Pelosi is depicted as Cruella De Ville and the Majority Leader Reid as
The document also shows little respect in how it characterizes target
donors. Small donors reached by direct marketing fall under the heading
“Visceral Giving.” And their motivations are listed as fear, extreme
negative feelings toward the current administration, and reactionary.
That‘s right. The Republican Party officially labels its own donors
“reactionary.” Major donors are under the category of “Calculated Giving.”
And their motivations include access and ego-driven.
RNC Chairman Michael Steele today called the document indefensible.
He said he did not see it before the presentation was given. And he added
that the matter was being dealt with internally.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEELE: We‘re dealing with it administratively within the RNC. And,
trust me, this is not the kind of presentation I want to make to staffers,
that I want made to our donors, or anyone else, because it cheapens the
political process. And, yes, you want to get out there and say things that
rile people up and get them excited and create images that will do that,
but this is a line that we won‘t tolerate nor cross in the RNC.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Chairman Steele and the RNC are also under fire for
sending out fundraising letters that look like U.S. Census forms. On
Capitol Hill today, lawmakers discussed a bill that would make all fake
census mailers illegal. At the hearing, even Republicans denounced their
own party for the deceptive practice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), OVERSIGHT, GOV. REFORM CMTE.: I have seen
mailers out there that I believe have been deceptive. I am obviously a
member of the Republican Party. I have seen the Republican Party send out
documents that say “census.” I think it‘s wrong. I think it‘s deceptive,
and I wish they wouldn‘t do it. And I would hope that our party would
cease from doing that.
REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT CMTE.: And
nothing could be more wrong. This has been a common practice. It has
occurred every 10 years. And it is time that it stopped.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Lots to talk about tonight with MSNBC political analyst
Richard Wolffe, also the author of “Renegade: The Making of a President.”
Richard, we‘ve asked this question before and it is time to ask it
once again. I think we have to ask it about every other week. Will
Michael Steele get fired for this one?
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it‘s a simple one.
No, not yet. Look, this guy has a very high tolerance for embarrassment,
whether it‘s about the planes he takes and the hotels he stays in, or about
his lackluster fundraising operation. Remember, in this PowerPoint, they
were being outgunned by Democrats in a year when the Republicans are riled
up and Democrats don‘t know which way to turn.
So, there are plenty of grounds for embarrassment. His big problem is
that he lost the support of the congressional leadership a long time ago.
He is going to be the fall guy if the Republicans fail to meet their sky-
high expectations of taking the House and the Senate.
So, his days are numbered but this isn‘t going to be it. Why get rid
of him now when you can get rid of him just in case they don‘t meet those
O‘DONNELL: Now, he tried to duck responsibility by claiming he didn‘t
know anything about the presentation before it was given. But at this
point, without active campaigns under way, what is more important for the
head of the RNC to know than how the finance director is courting major
WOLFFE: Yes. Look, the charitable explanation here is that he‘s just
incompetent, doesn‘t know what his finance director is doing. The
uncharitable explanation is that that excuse just isn‘t credible.
And if you look at the way the big donors, the people who have been
the back bone of the Republican fundraising operation for many years,
certainly through the Bush years, those big donors have been drifting away
from the RNC under Steele‘s leadership. They have been vocal about it.
It‘s shown through in the numbers.
Yes, even in this presentation, it says that the fundraising base
online has been the small donors have really stepped up here. But those
big donors have moved away, and when you look at the PowerPoint
presentation you can see why. It‘s because they‘re not treated with any
kind of respect.
O‘DONNELL: Now, he has said, Michael Steele has said that this was
indefensible. He said they are reviewing it in-house at the RNC. Is the
next move to fire the finance director or does that create an even hotter
situation for Michael Steele if there‘s a firing over this?
WOLFFE: Well, look, the finance director used to work for Rick
Santorum. So, it‘s not surprising that he‘s not exactly diplomatic with
language here. But there is a bigger issue here and it‘s not just about
whether this was defensible or not. There was nothing in this presentation
that was a positive agenda—nothing that would actually speak to
Republican ideals to why they should be elected.
So, I don‘t think this is just a matter of taste or about personnel.
It‘s what kind of agenda they‘re taking to voters and their donors. What‘s
the purpose of getting Republicans elected other than to get them elected
and raise money, and I guess carry on getting people to hate Barack Obama.
O‘DONNELL: And consider the notion that this is an isolated incident.
It seems to me that fear, as a fundamental driver for the Republican Party,
has been there as long as I can remember—be it fear of communism, fear
of taxes, fear of—now, of socialism, fear of terrorism. Fear seems to
be the one word that always drives their campaigns, isn‘t it?
WOLFFE: Well, you had fear on national security. You‘ve got an
economic fear they‘re playing into now. The problem they have is that you
can talk about the government takeover of health care, but if health care
goes through—as the White House frankly expects it to at this point—
people are going to wake up tomorrow and find that their health care hasn‘t
been taken over and that as they saw the other day in the health care
summit, the president isn‘t radical. He‘s not scary.
So, never mind what Republican—the Republican base is doing.
Independent voters are going to look at this kind of presentation, this
kind of politics and say, it‘s the same old same old. These people are
just the same. It‘s gimmicky and it doesn‘t track with what we‘re seeing
out of the White House.
So, credibility becomes key. You can play the fear card but people in
the end have to trust the people they‘re trying to elect.
O‘DONNELL: MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe—many thanks.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: For more, let‘s turn to Governor Howard Dean, former
governor of Vermont and former chairman of the Democratic National
Committee. He is now a consultant to McKenna Long & Aldridge and Democracy
for America, as well as a contributor to CNBC.
Governor, Republicans have attacked President Obama for reducing his
political messaging to one word slogans like “hope” and “change.” But
doesn‘t this actually prove—really prove, inside proof, that Republican
messaging is now and maybe always has been reducible to the one word
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: It‘s actually, Lawrence, I think is
worse than that. The Republicans simply don‘t respect American voters and
now, what this shows is they don‘t even respect their own donors and their
own voters. They—this is a small group of people who believes they are
above everybody else, that they know best, and therefore, anything they do
is OK because they‘re right and everybody else is wrong.
And it‘s astonishing to me—what is so astonishing is not that they
are propagandists. They‘ve been doing that since Lee Atwater. What‘s
astonishing to me is that they‘d turn the fire hose on their own people.
They just don‘t respect anybody who disagrees with them and they really
believe that they are entitled to run the country just because of their
far-right views. And it‘s just—I‘m shocked. I really am. That would
never happen at the DNC.
You know, you can‘t even ask me what would you do if that happened at
the DNC. It never would, because we fundamentally respect other people.
In fact, when I was chairman, we actually even reached out to respect
evangelical Christians because we thought we could get some of their votes
and we did.
I‘m stunned. I just can‘t believe that this party is so open about
how contemptuous it is for the very people they work for ultimately which
is the American people.
O‘DONNELL: And you‘ve dealt with big donors running the Democratic
Party and outreach to smaller donors. How do you think—on the
Republican side tonight—how do you think big donors in the Republican
Party feel when they‘re being publicly humiliated like this and the small
donors publicly humiliated, the party officially calling them
“reactionary”? How do they feel as donors to their own party now?
DEAN: Yes. That‘s the most interesting thing. You know, the big
donors are kind of used to getting bounced around by politicians. They rub
elbows with them all the time and they don‘t like it. And that‘s why a lot
of business people aren‘t supporting Republicans anymore because they‘re
not the same Republicans that—you know, that my parents were when they
were in the Republican Party.
But the small donors—this is why there‘s a tea party. And this is
why the Republicans can‘t rely on the tea party movement because they know
the Republicans—they may not like the Democrats but the Republicans
don‘t like them. This—and so, what they‘re really angry about is just
they‘re tired of being treated like dirt by the people in power and that
does not confine to the Democrats. The Republicans are doing exactly the
And this sort of shows that they don‘t view the tea party as their
allies. They view the tea party as a problem, as dopes, as all the kinds
of things that the tea party people say—oh, the Democrats and the elite.
Well, guess what? This shows that the Republicans also are elitists and
that they don‘t have—we have no corner on the market of being elitists,
and I think the tea party is going to eat them for lunch for this.
O‘DONNELL: Now, Michael Steele survived a lot of controversy up to
this one, but if the big donors revolt over this, it seems to me that he‘s
going to have to go. You studied the opposing team from your perch running
the Democratic Party. Who‘s on the bench in the Republican Party? Who
might they have to replace Michael Steele?
DEAN: Well, to be honest with you, I thought the candidate they
should have picked was Mike Duncan.
I served opposite Mike Duncan. He is actually a decent guy. He‘s
very conservative, of course, but he‘s guy you can do business with. We do
have to do some business with the Republican Party, discussing how
conventions are going to work and broadly about rules and debates and
things like that.
So, you know, he ran and he didn‘t win, but he is a solid guy who
knows—you know, this is probably—my endorsement of him is probably
the kiss of death. But he‘s a solid guy who knows what he‘s doing and I
think the Republican Party is badly in need of that. And you just can‘t
talk about people like this—like this. You can‘t talk about your own
team like this.
O‘DONNELL: All right. Good. We‘ve just killed the Duncan candidacy
with the Dean endorsement of it.
Now, Governor, the DCCC has sent out its own fundraising e-mail today
using this Republican plan. I mean, isn‘t that—ultimately beyond
anything else—the absolute worst thing you could imagine running a party
is that you come up with material that is for fundraising in your party and
it actually works to raise money for the other party?
DEAN: Yes, well, we do that a lot. I mean, we run—we run
fundraisers off each other‘s kind of red meat to their base. The thing
about—so unusual about this is the DCCC, I haven‘t seen their letter,
but this isn‘t about red meat that the other guy said. This is about the
other guys attacking their own team.
I just—I‘ve never seen anything like this in politics, showing open
contempt for the very people who support you need to win. I just—I just
don‘t know what to say. I‘m speechless and that‘s unusual for me.
O‘DONNELL: Howard Dean, you have done a very good job of not actually
gloating during this segment tonight.
DEAN: I‘m so shocked I can‘t even gloat.
O‘DONNELL: Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont and former
head of the DNC—many thanks for your time.
DEAN: Thank you.
O‘DONNELL: Today, Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence about the way
forward for health care reform in the House, but another Democrat, Bart
Stupak, says he‘s ready to kill reform once and for all if the language
about abortion doesn‘t change.
And later, Karl Rove‘s revisionist history. Rove answers the big
question: would we have gone to war in Iraq if we knew Saddam had no
weapons of mass destruction? Lawrence Wilkerson joins us—ahead on
O‘DONNELL: President Obama brings Democrats on the fence about health
care reform to the White House this afternoon. Nancy Pelosi says she‘s
confident she will find the votes to pass the Senate‘s version of reform.
But once again, the issue of abortion could be the spoiler.
And later, Sarah Palin rails against the Hollywood elite but she is
pitching a TV show to networks and grabbing all the free Oscar week goodies
she can. That‘s next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
O‘DONNELL: The White House now says that health care reform is on
schedule to get through the House by March 18th, two weeks from today.
Whether or not that is a realistic date after an epic year-long battle,
there is now a concerted effort to get there and get there soon.
President Obama met today with two flanks of the Democratic majority
in the House, the Progressive Caucus and a group of centrist Democrats.
The separate meetings were intended to ease the concerns of groups with
sometimes disparate philosophies.
After the meeting, the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus said that
the president reminded them that, quote, “If this opportunity passes, much
of our agenda, on the progressive side, it would be difficult, if not
impossible for a generation to get back to this issue.”
The chair of the centrist group, Congressman Joe Crowley, is saying
afterward that, “When all is said and done, we will have the votes to pass
health care reform.”
Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also expressed confidence while
avoiding such bright line predictions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: I feel very confident that the up or down vote on the
majority rule proposal that will come to the House will satisfy members‘
concerns about the Senate bill. Every vote—every legislative vote is a
heavy lift around here. You assume nothing—assume nothing in terms of
where you were before and where people may be now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: And Pelosi said that even after the declaration of
Congressman Bart Stupak this morning, Congressman Stupak is saying that he
and 12 other Democrats are prepared to bring down the health care bill
because the Senate version doesn‘t use the Stupak language on banning
federal funding of abortion.
Also today, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met
with top insurance executives to raise concerns about huge rate hikes.
President Obama actually dropped in on the meeting to show the executives a
letter from a woman whose plight was typical of many Americans. Her
insurance rates had gone up 40 percent in one year.
Meantime, Republican Congressman Nathan Deal announced today he will
not resign until after the health care vote.
And over in the Senate, one of the architects of reconciliation,
Robert Byrd, clearly said he does not oppose reconciliation for the
House/Senate changes to the Senate bill—which contradicts key Republican
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that the House and
Senate were on schedule to get something done on health care by March 18th.
The House passing the Senate version, he explained, would be the first part
Let‘s bring in Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California‘s 35th
Thanks very much for your time tonight, Congresswoman.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: You‘re welcome. Delighted to be
here with you.
O‘DONNELL: We know what the process has to be. The House, in an
unprecedented move, has to pass the Senate bill without changing anything
in it. That bill then gets signed into law and then, immediately, you
start working on a reconciliation bill to pass both the House and the
Senate that will correct many of the deficiencies or other issues in the
Senate bill that the House wants corrected and now, including some senators
Is the timetable of March 18th realistic for at least getting the
House to pass the Senate bill?
WATERS: I think this timetable is perhaps more realistic than any of
the other timetables that have been set in the recent past. I think that
members of the Democratic Caucus have gone through a grueling debate—
and, you know, many of us have fought very hard, starting out from wanting
single-payer to public option to national health exchanges.
But we realize, I think most of us, that we‘ve got to move this bill.
I think the president is correct. The American people deserve
comprehensive universal health care reform, and that if we don‘t get it
done now, perhaps it will be another—maybe 15, 20 years before it can
even be attempted again.
So, I think people are pretty much ready to move and get something
O‘DONNELL: When this two-stage process for passing the bill was first
floated, Speaker Pelosi a few weeks ago at that time said, “I don‘t see the
votes for it at this time.” What has changed since then in the House of
WATERS: I think what has changed is an understanding that there were
central elements in this bill such as preexisting conditions, subsidized
health care for the poor beyond Medicaid, involving all of the businesses
in providing health care for their employees or paying a fee so that the
other taxpayers wouldn‘t have to pick up that cost. I think that people
have probably come to the conclusion that there are very, very substantial,
basic elements of this bill, that‘s worth passing.
O‘DONNELL: Now, the public option continues to gain support in the
Senate—the 35th member of the Senate has now signed on to—wanting to
do the public option in a reconciliation bill after—
O‘DONNELL: -- the House passes the Senate bill. But President Obama
today has reported in the meeting with progressives from the House to have
said that in effect for him the public option is dead.
At this point, doesn‘t that mean that President Obama is, in effect,
the biggest opponent to the public option?
WATERS: Well, it means that the president—even though he‘s often
said he would support a public option—that he‘s not really been out
there really fighting for it. But I think, if the Senate emerges with
enough votes to put it in, I don‘t think he‘ll resist it. I think he
probably does not believe that there‘s enough votes in the Senate to get it
But we‘re all hopeful. Those of us who fought so hard first for a
robust public option and then accepted just plain old public option when we
passed it out of the House, we‘re thrilled at what we see happening in the
Senate. And we hold out hopes for the possibility that public option will
end up in the bill.
O‘DONNELL: Well, if the House bill didn‘t pass the first time with
only a three-vote margin, Congressman Stupak—
WATERS: That‘s right.
O‘DONNELL: -- says that—and Congressman Stupak was included in
that group. He is saying that he and maybe 10 others will leave that group
if the abortion language isn‘t corrected according to his specifications.
If that happens, it seems like you don‘t have a winning margin in the
WATERS: Well, I think that the congressman is hopeful that he can
have his way, that he can threaten in ways that will cause his language to
be acceptable. But I think what you‘re hearing from Crowley and Nancy
Pelosi and others that we think that this bill is going to make it.
O‘DONNELL: Representative Maxine Waters of California—thank you
for your time tonight.
WATERS: You‘re welcome.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up: Karl Rove‘s shock and awe rewrite. He says
he‘s not sure we would have invaded Iraq if we knew there were no WMD
there. Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson will guide us through Rove‘s ramblings.
And the man who brought us “Survivor” and “The Apprentice”—will he
soon be turning the Palins and the Alaska landscape into the latest reality
O‘DONNELL: Karl Rove does some of his best work right out in the
open. Witness the coverage of Rove‘s upcoming book. The focus today that
he admits Bush error, or even mendacity about WMD in the following excerpt:
quote, “would the Iraq war have occurred without WMD? I doubt it.”
Of course, that is no admission of lying about WMD, but it is an
admission that Rove thinks the Iraq War might have happened without WMD,
meaning Rove thinks the Bush administration might have wanted to invade
regardless of WMD. Rove says that without WMD, Congress was very unlikely
to support the use of force resolution. But, of course, that implies that
President Bush would still have sought a use of force authorization, even
knowing there were no WMD.
Rove, himself, backs up this interpretation. The “New York Times”
reports that the chance to establish a Middle East democracy as a bulwark
against Islamic extremism, quoting Rove, “justified the decision to remove
Saddam Hussein,” which, just like WMD, is also false. Saddam Hussein
actually was something of a bulwark against Islamic extremism. His removal
both thrilling al Qaeda and allowing it to spread.
We also learned Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor in the trial of
Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby, over the leak of Valerie Plame‘s role
as a CIA operative, also told Rove‘s lawyer he was considering indicting
Rove, too. And that Rove cried when Fitzgerald decided not to.
Rove takes the fall for political missteps like his boss‘s flyover of
New Orleans after Katrina. But when it comes to Iraq, the only blame he
places on himself is for not pushing back harder when Democrats criticized
the administration for lying about WMD.
“Did bush lie us into war,” Rove writes? Quote, “absolutely not.”
Of course, they peddled multiple falsehoods in the run-up to war. Not
just the basic falsehood that Iraq had WMD, but the knowing falsehood that
it was a certainty, a falsehood peddled by Bush‘s vice president, who knew
that everyone from State to Energy and, yes, the intelligence agencies, had
raised serious doubts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Simply stated,
there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.
There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends,
against our allies, against us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: And Bush, himself, there was never any intelligence
provided to Mr. Bush, cherry picked, inflated, or otherwise, that Saddam
Hussein was dealing with al Qaeda. In fact, al Qaeda was on the record
opposing Saddam Hussein, making the following a desperate lie.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, can you tell us what conclusive
evidence you have of any nuclear—new evidence you have of nuclear
weapons capabilities of Saddam Hussein?
GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You heard the
prime minister talk about the new report. I would remind you that when the
inspectors first went into Iraq, and were denied—finally denied access,
a report came out of the Atomic—the IEAE that they were six months away
from developing a weapon. I don‘t know what more evidence we need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: As for lying specifically about WMD, the findings of the
International Atomic Energy Agency you‘re about to hear Mr. Bush quote are
not true. We know this because it‘s also not true that there even was a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: People say oh, we must leave Saddam alone; otherwise, if we did
something against him, he might attack us. Well, if we don‘t do something
he might attack us. And he might attack us with more serious weapons. The
man is a threat, Hutch, I‘m telling you. I—he‘s a threat not only with
what he has. He‘s a threat with what he‘s done. He‘s a threat because he
is dealing with al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Let‘s bring in Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as
Secretary of State Colin Powell‘s chief of staff during the Bush
administration and now serves as Pamela Harriman visiting professor at the
College of William & Mary.
Colonel, thanks very much for your time tonight. I want to start by
asking you about Rove‘s underlying assumption here, that without being able
to sell the war on WMD, Congress would not have approved the use of force
authorization, and the US would not have invaded. Can you dissect that for
us from where you were sitting at that time in the administration?
COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECY. OF STATE COLIN
POWELL: Well, my first reaction to that is very clear. It‘s the reaction
of a soldier. And I want to know how you would comfort the families of the
4,380 Americans who have died in Iraq, the over 31,000 who have been
wounded, some of them horribly wounded, and similarly with our allies like
the British. That‘s not a very comforting thing to pass on to these men
and women, and to their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and
wives and husbands, to say that if the intelligence community in the United
States, on which we spend about 60 billion a year, hadn‘t made this
colossal failure, we probably wouldn‘t have gone to war.
That‘s my first gut level reaction to it.
O‘DONNELL: What would you have liked to hear Rove say on the question
of what would the administration have done if they knew there were no
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
WILKERSON: I would have liked to have heard him say there were other
reasons to go to war, like I know there were. There was, for example, co-
President Dick Cheney‘s reason, which was essentially to stabilize oil
prices and get his hands on or get US boots on Arab soil, where the second
largest known oil reserves in the world existed. This is Dick Cheney, the
coldly realistic strategist.
This is the reason that even I, as a strategist, could have
understood, rather than have this man—this is a man, after all, who
said, “we‘re a super power now; we make our own reality.” Karl Rove is
busy in this book doing much of what he did during the eight years of the
Bush administration; he is making his own reality, in this case trying to
burnish and protect the legacy of the president and himself. This is not
good work in my mind.
O‘DONNELL: The Bush-Cheney defense on this has always been we did not
lie our way into war. We did use information that turned out not to be
true. Again, from where you sat—you were in national security meetings
in this administration—what is your feeling on the question of did this
administration lie its way into war?
WILKERSON: Well, I actually participated in one of the biggest and
most dramatic and most public lies, and that was the presentation at the
United Nations by my boss. I participated in the intelligence that got
together at Langley, at the CIA, and brought together all of the different
entities of our intelligence community, and put it before the American
people, before the international community, and before the UN Security
And we lied. Now, I‘m not standing here, sitting here, telling you
that we lied knowing we were lying. But the intelligence community and the
political operators worked together in a colossal form of groupthink, in my
view, because they all thought it doesn‘t matter what we say here; the
details are irrelevant because when we invade, we‘re going to find weapons
of mass destruction. And therefore, we‘ll all be exonerated.
Well, they didn‘t find any weapons of mass destruction. And someone
should have began asking those questions earlier than they did, consulting
the wider array of intelligence that existed, listening to other people
than just the consensus builders, and we would have come out with a very
And I agree with Mr. Rove that Congress might not have approved it.
And that‘s the reason—and he tells us very clearly that‘s the reason, as
the Downing Street Memo said, they had to fix the intelligence around the
O‘DONNELL: Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin
Powell, secretary of state, thank you very much for your time and your
unique insights on this history.
WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.
O‘DONNELL: Meantime, the war President Bush started in Iraq still
rages, as suicide bombers try to derail elections there. Richard Engel
examines how our US forces are handling the new mission in Iraq.
And later, in one breath, Sarah Palin asks for privacy for her family.
In the other breath, she‘s shopping around her family as part of a reality
show. And Mark Burnett has already signed on.
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, more on Congressman Bart
Stupak‘s mission to derail health care reform over abortion.
O‘DONNELL: There has been another day of violence leading up to
Sunday‘s elections in Iraq, the first parliamentary elections, full-term
parliamentary elections, since 2005. Today, voting for security—today,
the voting involved security personnel have been met with deadly attacks at
the polling centers. These are the first full parliamentary elections in
Iraq since 2005. And in the five years since then, the role of American
troops in that country has changed significantly.
Richard Engel reports from Nasiriyah.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were lined
up to vote when a suicide bomber in Baghdad slipped into the crowd. But
American troops today didn‘t secure any of the blast sites. America‘s new
mission in Iraq is now strictly behind the scenes.
To understand it, we joined a scout platoon living on an Iraqi police
station in southeast Iraq. Here Lieutenant Jesse Krim coordinated American
drones over voting stations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re not kicking down doors in any way.
ENGEL: No direct combat, as US soldiers are severely limited.
(on camera): Under a new security agreement, US troops are mostly
confined to their bases. They really leave without Iraqi permission. It‘s
a training mission now. And some American soldiers have mixed feelings
(voice-over): When Sergeant Fogarty was in Baghdad on his last
deployment three years ago, his unit was attacked by roadside bombs 18
times a week. This time, most of his soldiers haven‘t fired a shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s a positive thing. I mean, seeing our hard
work that we put in over the past years has paid off.
ENGEL: But some soldiers here feel they‘re no longer needed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe it‘s time for us to move out. I mean,
it‘s come to the point where we trained these guys. They already know
everything we‘re trained in. And they‘re acting on it. And you see the
ENGEL (on camera): Time to go?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s time to go home.
ENGEL (voice-over): His platoon leader, Lieutenant Krim, disagrees,
but admits most of his soldiers would rather be in Afghanistan, in the
fight, not cooped up on base.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Say if you trained all your life to be a doctor,
and then you came to a country and all you did was help out doctors, you
had to stay in the waiting room and basically try and help them out the
best you can. That‘s basically what we‘re doing here. It‘s kind of
frustrating at times, but it‘s necessary.
ENGEL: It‘s a new role, and some soldiers here are struggling to
adjust. Richard Engel, NBC News, Nasiriyah.
O‘DONNELL: Coming up, Sarah‘s search for her higher calling. Earlier
this week, it was stand up on “The Tonight Show.” Now she‘s shopping a
reality show around Hollywood, and she must be serious because she‘s got
the king of reality TV, Mark Burnett, involved.
O‘DONNELL: She‘s dismissed her future ex-son-in-law as Ricky
Hollywood, but now it looks like the hockey mom from Wasilla wants in on
some of that Tinsel Town action. “Entertainment Weekly” reports Sarah
Palin is shopping around a reality show. The first question all the
interested networks are asking, will she quit halfway through the first
Leaving her moose stew on the back burner, Sister Sarah spending the
week palling around with Hollywood types, first appearing on “The Tonight
Show.” Next, hanging out in “American Idol‘s” green room. And now
pitching a TV docu-drama about life in the last frontier. “Politico”
reporting that Palin, alongside mega-producer Mark Burnett, is meeting with
executives from the big four television networks, as well as reps from A&E
and the History Channel. A Palin source explaining the show will be more
“Planet Earth” than the Osbournes Go North. While Fox News is reporting
the show would have nothing to do with Palin‘s family.
Also in the works for Palin, a sequel to “Going Rogue.” Publisher
Harper Collins says the untitled follow-up will include selections from
classic and contemporary readings that have inspired her, as well as
portraits of some of the extraordinary men and women she admires. And, as
E Online reports, Palin also had time to visit a West Hollywood gifting
suite for some Oscar week swag. One witness/victim telling E, “they were
like locusts. She showed up with like 20 people, and they immediately
swarmed the place, taking everything.”
After insisting the suite open two hours early, Palin and her
entourage snatched up sweat shirts, jewelry, skin products, 40 pairs of
head phones and tie-dyed jeggings. Jeggings just defined for me by the
crack COUNTDOWN research staff as a combination of jeans and leggings.
No sighting yet of Mr. And Mrs. Mitt Romney hustling free stuff from
the Hollywood gifting suites.
Joining me now is Hollywood veteran Peter Bart, vice president,
editorial director, and columnist at “Variety.” Peter, just when you
thought you had seen it all in Hollywood, in your long career, along comes
Sarah Palin to take over the Oscar week gifting suites. Could you explain
to the under-privileged viewers out there who have never been in an Oscar
gifting suite exactly how these things work, and why they are there at all?
PETER BART, “VARIETY”: Well, Hollywood becomes swag city during
Academy Awards season. And the reason is that all of the major brands want
to show their wares in the context of glitz and glamour. So therefore,
with celebrities cruising the town, this is a great time basically to give
away your stuff, to show it, and at the same time, they—at the same time
you‘re giving it away, you‘re also exhibiting it in the nicest possible
framework, so—and maybe raising some money for charity. It‘s all fair
O‘DONNELL: One of the weirdest things about these suites, Peter, that
I‘ve always—when I‘ve seen them is that the odd thing about them is
everyone in them who is getting this stuff for free can afford to buy all
of that stuff without even blinking an eye, including, by the way, Sarah
Palin. And does she realize—she‘s new to this. Does she realize that
the IRS has gotten very interested in these gifts? Some of them worth
thousands of dollars. And that, as I understand it, sometimes now, when
they are giving you these bags of goodies, they stick a little tax form in
there, so they make sure you let the IRS know about it.
BART: Well, that‘s more as presenters, to presenters, whether it‘s
the Grammies or the Academy Awards or the Golden Globes. If you are a
presenter, your swag bag is formidable. Like the least expensive thing in
your bag might be a week‘s vacation in Barbados. Now, that‘s where the
taxes come in. But if you wander around the gifting suites, I don‘t think
tax issues are more of a concern.
O‘DONNELL: Now, turning to her reality show; it sounds like a serious
product, if she‘s going into a room to pitch this thing. Well, I mean,
going in a room alone it should be taken very seriously. But going in with
Mark Burnett, that really puts it over the top, doesn‘t it?
BART: Well, Mark is indeed the king of reality shows. And I actually
talked to him today. And he was on his cell phone, in a meeting with
Martha Stewart, another rather powerful woman with whom he is working.
And, yes, he confirmed that they were—he and Sarah were pitching
yesterday. And he describes the show more in the context of, as you were
saying, that Sarah is going to be a native guide through Alaska, showing
the—we heathen from Main Stream America what—the fishing industry,
the mining industry, the mountains, all the beauties of Alaska. She is
going to be our native guide.
Mark, who is not a political person, emphasized this will be a very
non-political show. But you can bet it‘s going to be a hell of a hey day -
pay-day, pardon me.
O‘DONNELL: Peter, did you get any hint from Mark Burnett whether the
family would be involved in the show?
BART: I got the feeling that they would not be, that this is really
Sarah. You know, it‘s funny, by doing this, Sarah Palin becomes the flip
side of Ronald Reagan, who, after all, you know, was a media figure, who
then involved himself brilliantly in politics. So she is now, of course, a
political figure, who clearly is enamored of the media world. Right? She
is no longer the victim of the big media. She is going to be part of the
O‘DONNELL: She certainly has gone from “Going Rogue” to going
Hollywood. I mean, how much longer can she be talking about Hollywood
elites if she becomes one of them?
BART: I think she‘ll change her tune radically. And, you know, the
funny thing is that Rogue is a well known company in Hollywood. It makes
horror pictures. So this is not quite the image that she has in mind.
O‘DONNELL: Peter Bart of “Variety,” thank you very much for your time
BART: You bet.
O‘DONNELL: That‘ll have to do it for this Thursday edition of
COUNTDOWN. I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. Our MSNBC
coverage continues now with “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW.” Good evening,
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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