Guests: John Harwood, James VandeHei, Asa Hutchinson, Briton Nordmeyer, Pam Nordmeyer
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Harriet Miers nomination. A conservative minister says he personally talked to Karl Rove about her. The lawyer to a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee says everybody is hoping she will bow out, or the president will withdraw her name.
The nexus of politics and terror. We will examine 13 coincidences of timing. Bad news for the nation‘s political leaders, followed hard upon by a terror warning, a terror threat, or a terror-related development. And we‘ll get a response from our guest, former undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison.
Survival in Muzaffarabad. A 5-year-old girl found alive in the rubble of her family‘s home, four days after the earthquake.
And the story of another little girl in South Dakota. She heard about fundraising for the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, so she donated her tooth that had just fallen out. It produced a lot more than just $5 under her pillow. She will join us.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
It‘s 45 years to the day since one of the great political tantrums of all time, a vignette that has outlived the man who starred in it. The issue he was addressing, the very nation he represented. October 12, 1960, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev took off his shoe and pounded it against a desk at the United Nations while protesting the accusation of Russian imperialism from the delegate from the Philippines.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, our contemporary politics here have not quite gotten to that stage. But if the Harriet Miers firestorm gets just a little hotter, watch out for those Gucci loafers, the embattled nomination forcing the White House to engage in a PR blitz aimed at its own conservative base, while simultaneously trying to downplay the fact that it is doing just that.
Exhibit A, President Bush telling reporters today that Ms. Miers‘ religious beliefs are only one part of what she brings to the table, at the same time, his staff aggressively selling her faith, James Dobson, head of the conservative Focus on Family organization, taking to its radio program today to repeat what Karl Rove was telling him privately last week, namely, that some Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church which is almost universally pro-life, and that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion.
But some Senate Republicans seem intent on taking on her. “The New York Times” quoted aides to six of 10 GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as expressing dissatisfaction with the nomination, quoting one of them as saying, “Everybody is hoping that something will happen on Miers, either that the president would withdraw her, or she would realize she is not up to it and pull out while she has some dignity intact.”
The good news for the White House, the rebellion on the right not yet apparently migrating to the center, according to tonight‘s new NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll, more Americans seeming to support the nomination than not, 27 percent to 21 percent. But there is a rub, the majority saying they still don‘t know enough about her to decide.
Far less indecision when it comes to the president‘s hiring practices. When asked which things Mr. Bush puts a greater emphasis on when appointing people to government positions, more than half believing that the president values personal friendships and partisan loyalty more than either competence or qualification to do the job.
The big picture, even less pretty for the president, more Americans dissatisfied with his overall performance, as well as the direction the country is headed in, more than ever before. As we mentioned, the poll, a partnership between NBC News and “The Wall Street Journal,” so it‘s only fitting that we now call upon our partnership with “Wall Street Journal” national political editor, John Harwood.
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:
Hey, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Those poll numbers appear to suggest that many Americans feel we could do a lot worse than Harriet Miers. Is the nomination in any worse shape than it would have been a week ago? Is that tempest limited to the extreme right?
HARWOOD: I don‘t think the tempest is over, Keith. You know, Americans are withholding judgment. As you mentioned, 51 percent say they want to know more about Harriet Miers before having an opinion about her.
But there is a lot of work that the White House has to do to try to fill in some of the blanks, make people feel better about her. Her numbers are much weaker than those of John Roberts when he was nominated. And other justices from the past, who—Steven Brier, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, even Robert Bork. Her numbers are a lot weaker than theirs were.
OLBERMANN: We heard that quote attributed to a lawyer working for the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that “The New York Times” ran, that everybody hopes she withdraws or the president does that for her. Obviously, “everybody” is a strong term there. But is the gist of that, does it jibe with what you‘ve been hearing? I mean, the president wouldn‘t really do that, would he?
HARWOOD: Well, rank-and-file Republicans around the country, as our poll shows, aren‘t quite in the same place that Republican elites in Washington are. But a lot of those Republican intellectuals and elites, political elites in Washington, would like to see Harriet Miers withdraw.
It‘s not in President Bush‘s nature to force a nominee to pull back. But they‘re hoping that Harriet Miers herself, who, after all, has worked loyally for the president a long time, may come to the conclusion that this controversy is hurting him and pull herself out.
OLBERMANN: All right. The big poll picture for the president, as we have it tonight, the 59 percent of Americans, according to the poll, now feeling that the country is off on the wrong track, which is an extraordinary number compared to right direction, and another 54 percent on the disapproval side of his job performance.
He has made major policy speeches, John, he‘s been to the Gulf Coast region eight times since Katrina, he‘s taken questions from the press corps in the White House Rose Garden. What is there left to try to do to turn the slide around? Do they have any other ideas in the White House?
HARWOOD: You know, there‘s not a lot they can do, Keith. The president can control the words that come out of its mouth, the venues, the backdrops, what he‘s wearing when he‘s speaking. But he can‘t control events like the level of violence in Iraq. He can‘t control the level of gas prices, which is something that‘s a major, major headache for the American people.
So he‘s really got to hope events get better, and they‘ve just gotten worse. Katrina created this whole Michael Brown cloud over the appointment process. That‘s hurting Harriet Miers. So the president‘s got a lot of work to do, and a lot of events have to turn better for him to be in better shape with the American people.
OLBERMANN: They just had this compromise reached in the last 24 hours on the vote on the constitution in Iraq. And we‘re now letting in—going into the lockdown period on the vote there. Could, ironically enough, Iraq and the constitutional process there provide him with some sort of boost in the immediate future?
HARWOOD: Well, it might provide a near-term boost. We did see that his numbers were better, and people became more optimistic, after the elections in January. But the level of violence is so much that we‘ve seen an erosion in that support, 58 percent of the American people in our poll want troops to come out after those next elections.
And so for him to be able to sustain the troop levels and the U.S. investment that he has currently is going to be very difficult for him.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood, the national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal,” in the wake of the “Wall Street Journal”-NBC News poll. Thanks, as always, John.
HARWOOD: You bet.
OLBERMANN: The other ever-smoldering political news continues to be about the CIA leak investigation, the anticipated second day of questioning by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of reporter Judith Miller about her June 23, 2003, conversation with the vice president‘s chief of staff, Mr. Libby.
It was, to some degree, overshadowed by one sentence buried nine paragraphs deep in the “Washington Post”‘s coverage of the inquiry today, “Numerous lawyers involved in the 20month investigation,” write reporters Carol B. Leonig (ph) and Jim VandeHei, “said they were bracing for Fitzgerald to bring criminal charges against administration officials.”
The endgame of this investigation proving to be the most interesting action-packed quarter. As we mentioned, Ms. Miller quizzed by the special prosecutor for a second straight day, this time in front of grand jury. Expected to follow her sometime this week, White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, his fourth grand jury appearance, and one he apparently requested, or offered, in recent days, discrepancies coming to light between his testimony and that of the “TIME” magazine reporter Matthew Cooper.
We‘re joined now by one of the “Washington Post” reporters I just mentioned, White House correspondent Jim VandeHei.
Good evening, Jim.
JAMES VANDEHEI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: So two days with Judith Miller. There had been an internal e-mail at “The New York Times” yesterday in which the staff was told she was not yet clear of legal jeopardy. Is she now?
VANDEHEI: She is, it does appear. After her appearance today, Fitzgerald had told her lawyers that there‘s no longer this contempt of court hanging over her head. So it appears she would be free to go write about this or to talk to her colleagues about it.
I would assume, in the next couple of days, we might see more detail from “The New York Times” about—from her specifically, about, what did she testify to, and what has her whole role in this been?
OLBERMANN: As the sentence that I just read aloud from your newspaper from this morning suggests, much of what we know about this case has come from the numerous lawyers involved in the investigation representing the people who have been testifying or otherwise questioned. Is the feeling that was described in that sentence, bracing for Fitzgerald to bring criminal charges against administration officials, is that still pervasive?
VANDEHEI: Definitely. And this is based, again, on the lawyers involved in the case, and on nothing that they‘re getting from Fitzgerald directly. One of the frustrations in reporting about this case, and probably in following it on TV, is that we only know what we‘re hearing from the lawyers who have clients involved in this case, and very little from Fitzgerald.
But based on the questions that are being asked and the people that are being talked to, they do feel like Fitzgerald is, A, going to wrap this up real quickly, but 2, will probably—or B, will definitely have some sort of charges in the next couple of weeks. They don‘t believe that Fitzgerald would push this hard, have—put a reporter in jail for 85 days, and not come out with some sort of indictment.
OLBERMANN: What then, if anything, are these same lawyers, or any other sources, saying? Are they giving us any clue yet of what kind of charges he might be seeking? Or is that still the only secret that‘s been kept in Washington for the last 25 years?
VANDEHEI: Right. There seems to be a very popular theory now among the lawyer in the case that there could be something along the lines of a violation of the Espionage Act, where you‘re not allowed to traffic in classified information. And he does seem to be taking a broad view of this case, not just looking at that one week in July that everyone has focused on, but the two months before that, and all the activity in the administration to try to discredit this allegation from Joe Wilson, in part by going after his wife, Valerie Plame, who was working at the CIA.
And a lot of the questions that have been asked in the last couple of weeks seem to pertain to that. So these lawyers are basing—they‘re basing this theory on that. But it does seem to be the most popular idea floating in the legal circles right now.
OLBERMANN: You don‘t believe in cliches until they actually occur to you. My jaw just dropped when you said that, Espionage Act. That‘s the first time I‘ve heard that. I presume you‘ll have something more about that in the paper tomorrow. Can you expand on it?
VANDEHEI: Right. We had a little bit—we had a little bit in the paper today. And this has been a theory that‘s been floated around. If you think about the original charge that they talked about, it‘s a very difficult statute to prove. You have to prove that someone knowingly leaked the identity of a covert operative that the agency was trying to keep secret.
The Espionage Act, there‘s a provision in there that‘s much broader. And it basically says, if you‘re just trafficking in classified information, which is a much easier legal hurdle to clear, then you could be—have violated federal law. And a lot of lawyers who are sitting here and have clients involved, and they‘re looking at that lowest hurdle that they might have to clear, they think this could be the one that Fitzgerald‘s looking at.
OLBERMANN: More bomb for your buck there. That would be an extraordinary thing to see leveled against somebody in the administration, some violation of the Espionage Act.
OLBERMANN: I guess we‘ll to have stay tuned for that.
Jim VandeHei, White House correspondent for “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, great thanks.
VANDEHEI: Take care.
OLBERMANN: From politics to terror threats. After last week‘s subway warning in New York City, questions about whether somebody has been playing politics with fear. A special commentary ahead, and the reaction from former undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison.
And both more rescues, and more aftershocks in the fourth day, dawning of the fifth day after the earthquake in Pakistan.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: It killed her father and two of her sisters, yet nearly 100 hours after the earthquake that hit the Kashmir region of Pakistan, 5-year-old Zarabey Shah (ph) was found alive and pulled out of the wreckage of her home in Muzaffarabad.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, would that there were more such stories in Pakistan, the death toll currently standing at roughly 23,000, the number expected to rise to more than 35,000.
And the earth is still shaking. A strong aftershock felt in Islamabad this afternoon, our time, another early Thursday morning, measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. No word yet on what damage, if any, either of them caused.
As for the survivors from the first quake, our correspondent Ned Colt reports tonight from the scene, they are still in desperate need of first-response help.
NED COLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It‘s every man for himself as a U.S. Army Black Hawk puts down on this hilltop outside Muzaffarabad.
There‘s desperation in their eyes, as hundreds of villagers swarm the chopper. They struggle for a tent, scramble for a box of water. There‘s no respect for age, infirmity, or gender.
The women plead, but by then, it‘s all gone.
At the end, fortunate families guard their prize, even a set of tent poles without the tent somehow has value.
Four days, and still so many in the mountains have yet to see their first relief helicopter or truck. Since help isn‘t coming, villagers are trekking across quake-sheared mountainsides to get to it.
It‘s a perilous journey. Many are barefoot on the dangerous terrain. With falling rocks, one misstep, and they could plunge into the rushing waters below.
On their backs and on boards, they bring their injured.
Those who made it to this village were tended to by a medical student, with no medicine and no preparation for this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people have amputated legs, amputated hands, amputated this, and severe trauma to the chest. In these condition people are coming here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One, two, three.
COLT: Today, a coordination team, fresh from working on Hurricane Katrina, was setting up. A field hospital will be the next project.
(on camera): Dozens of helicopters are now shuttling aid between Islamabad and the hardest-hit villages.
(voice-over): And tonight, in those hard-hit mountain villages, there‘s another worry. There‘s a fresh dusting of snow on the lower peaks of the Himalayas, the first of the season, a warning that winter is coming.
Ned Colt, NBC News, Islamabad.
OLBERMANN: And to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding effort gets a shot in the arm from the tooth of a little girl. Her generous example, and how it might motivate us all.
And stories short on inspiration, but big on animal hilarity. A blockbuster bizarre animal edition of Oddball up next here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: We‘re back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for our award-winning nature segment, metal heads, when animals and aluminum collide.
Let‘s play Oddball.
Thought I was kidding, didn‘t you? We begin in Flowwood, Mississippi, where bird watchers have spotted the rare Pabst Blue Ribbon heron in his natural habitat, part bird, part old beer can. Animal rescue workers say it must have been trying to collect the nickel deposit when the can got stuck on his beak almost 10 days ago. It was unable to eat till rescuers captured it and removed the can Monday night. The bird will remain with the vets till he‘s gotten strength back and sobers up a little.
To the zoo in Brookfield, Illinois. Stormy the groundhog apparently saw his shadow and was totally embarrassed by his enormous crooked choppers. So they‘re going to give him braces. No, I‘m not kidding. Apparently, Stormy was having trouble chewing his food, plus, when he smiled, it looked like he was throwing gang signs. Zookeepers say Stormy‘s teeth should be nice and straight in time for Groundhog Day 2006. Then, maybe they can get to work on that hideous hair do.
Finally, to Seattle, where one of these things is not like the others. One of these puppies is not the same. Oh, it‘s the little brown one with the bushy tail. Yes, that‘s Finnegan, the baby squirrel, nursing, courtesy of a dog named Mademoiselle Giselle. Giselle‘s owner says the squirrel was found injured and abandoned. The dog has nursed him back to good health. It‘s the plate-spinning music for this. When he gets strong enough, the plan is to get Finnegan off the teat and back into the wild before he starts coveting and craving Snausages.
Also tonight, terror alerts and politics. The recent discrepancy between New York and federal agencies has us asking questions about how and why terror alerts have gotten raised in the last three years. Special commentary, and reaction to it from the former undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchison.
And a heartwarming example of giving, how this little girl‘s grin could lead to some smiles along the Gulf Coast.
Those stories ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Reggie the baby baboon. At the zoo in Paynton (ph), in England, he‘s 3 weeks old, and he‘s already got male-pattern baldness, as you see. That‘s because, zookeepers say, his mother is overzealous about grooming him. She‘s licked all the hair off the top of his head. They say it will grow back. In the interim, they‘ve nicknamed Reggie Gollum.
Number two, Nomar Garciaparra, the free agent baseball shortstop, former star of the Boston Red Sox. At his home on Boston Harbor last week, he heard a scream and a splash. He and his uncle saw two women who had fallen into the harbor. They jumped in, rescued them both, Garciaparra literally pulling the two from the water himself. A witness says one of the women was unconscious. She came to, and the first thing she said was, “Are you Nomar?”
And number one, two unnamed men charged with robbing a Footlocker store in Washington. They were hiding in the store‘s attic when a noise began to emanate from one of them. It was his cell phone ringing.
OLBERMANN: Last Thursday on this news hour, I referred to the latest terror threat, the reported bomb plot against the New York City subway system, in terms of its timing. President Bush‘s speech about the war on terror had come earlier the same day, as had the breaking news of the possible indictment of Karl Rove in the CIA leak investigation.
I suggested that preliminary research suggested that in the last three years, there have been about 13 similar coincidences, a political downturn for the administration, followed by a terror event, a change in alert status, an arrest, a warning.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the nexus of politics and terror. We figured we had better put that list of coincidences on the public record. You will find 10 of them in this report here. The other three will be in the blog entry that will be going up tonight. This contraction is purely for the sake of time. It permits us to get the reaction of the former undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchison after this commentary.
We bring you these coincidences reminding you and ourselves here that perhaps the simplest piece of wisdom in the world is called the logical fallacy. Just because event A occurs and then event B occurs, that does not automatically mean that event A caused event B.
But one set of introductory comments from an informed observer seems particularly relevant as we examine these coincidences. On May 10 of this year, after his resignation, former secretary of Homeland Security Ridge looked back on the terror alert level changes that were issued on his watch.
Mr. Ridge said, “More often than not, we were the least inclined to
raise it. Sometimes we 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 Nexus of Politics and Terror, please judge for yourself.
OLBERMANN (voice-over): Number one, May 18, 2002, the first details of the president‘s daily briefing of August 6, 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 20 2002.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The terror warnings from the highest levels of the federal government tonight are...
OLBERMANN: Two days later, FBI Director Mueller declares that another terrorist attack is inevitable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, there are even more warnings of possible terrorist attacks in America.
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 6, 2002.
COLEEN ROWLEY, FBI: 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 plot, testifies before Congress. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Graham says Rowley‘s testimony has inspired similar pre-9/11 whistle-blowers.
Monday, June 10, 2002, four days later.
JOHN ASHCROFT, 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 plotting a radiation bomb attack in this country. In fact, Padilla had, by this time, already been detained for more than one month.
Number three, February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Powell tells the United Nations Security Council of Iraq‘s concealment of 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 continue to take place around the globe.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Take some time to prepare for an emergency.
OLBERMANN: Homeland Security Secretary Ridge cites credible threats by al Qaeda and raises the terror alert level to orange. Three days after that, Fire Administrator David Paulison, who would 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.
Number four, 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Word of a possible new al Qaeda attack.
OLBERMANN: Homeland Security issues warnings of further terrorist attempts to use airplanes for suicide attacks.
Number five, 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 has found no weapons of mass destruction there, announces he will resign his post.
December 21, 2003, four days later, the Sunday before Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.
Number 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 2, 2004.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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 duffel bags.
Number seven, May 16, 2004, Secretary of State Powell appears on “Meet the Press.” Moderator 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, “MEET THE PRESS”: I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary. I don‘t think that‘s appropriate.
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: Emily (ph), 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 an 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.
Number eight, July 6, 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry selects Senator John Edwards as his vice 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.
Number nine, 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 a source, a group of sources that 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.
Number 10, last Thursday at 10:00 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 10 terrorist plots since 9/11.
A 3:00 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, “HARDBALL”: We‘re awaiting a news conference at the bottom of the hour.
OLBERMANN: At 5:17 p.m. Eastern Time, seven hours after the president‘s speech has 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 threat, 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, quotes sources who says there was reason to believe the informant who triggered the warning simply made it up, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official tells the “New York Times”—quote—“there was no their there.”
Coincidences are coincidences. We could probably construct a similar timeline of terror events and warnings and their seeming relationship to the opening of new Wal-Marts around the country.
Are these coincidences signs that the government‘s approach has worked because none of the announced threats have ever materialized? Are they signs that the government has not yet mastered how and when to inform the public? Is there, in addition to the fog of war, a simple, rather benign fog of intelligence?
But if merely a reasonable case could be made that any of these juxtapositions of events are more than just coincidences, it underscores the need for questions to be asked in this country. Questions about what is prudence and what is fear mongering? Questions about which is the threat of death by terror and which is the terror of threat?
Back with the former Under Secretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, after this.
OLBERMANN: The Nexus Between Politics and Terror. We have raised the questions about terror alerts here tonight. The former Under Secretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, has been good enough to join us to offer, we hope, some of the answers, next here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: And our number two story in the countdown, the reaction to my commentary, The Nexus of Politics and Terror. My guest was the Under Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security from January of 2003 until January of this year. He is now a candidate for governor of Arkansas. Asa Hutchinson joins us tonight from Washington.
Our great thanks for your time tonight—sir.
ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER DHS UNDER SECRETARY: Good to be with you—
OLBERMANN: Let me again read your old boss‘ quote from I guess what we could call his exit interview with the media last May about raising the terror alert threat level. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it. Sometimes we 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?”
Do former Secretary Ridge‘s comments there justify at least people asking this question? Asking if politics is ever mixed improperly with terror warnings?
HUTCHINSON: Well I suppose that it is an appropriate question, particularly in today‘s environment. But I watched your piece, which was certainly interesting, but I don‘t think it measures up to a close analysis. If you accept that theory, you‘re arguing that because Karl Rove had a bad press day, the mayor of New York goes on TV and expresses a terrorist threat concern. And that, to me, does not measure up to logical analysis.
Whenever you look back, from my experience, and I was there probably for five of those instances, every time it was the intelligence community bringing forth facts that we looked at and made a determination on, and I don‘t remember politics ever being considered or discussed. It was the only thing you have is credibility. And if you factor in politics, you lose your credibility very quickly.
OLBERMANN: Then perhaps you could tell me who Mr. Ridge was referring to when he said that there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising the terror threat level and we said for what? Who are the some people and who are the we?
HUTCHINSON: Well, Secretary Ridge would have to speak for himself. But from my experience, you had someone who has got a history in law enforcement, just looking at it from the standpoint, my goodness, we have got intelligence here, we‘ve got to raise the threat level.
But the Homeland Security has to consider, first of all, how does the public react to this? Does it measure up to the standards of credibility? Is it something that we can act upon with an appropriate response? And quite frankly, sometimes when we realized the public couldn‘t do anything or law enforcement couldn‘t do anything, there was a push back, saying I don‘t know that we need to create the fear in the American public.
And in fact, as you can see, as we got more experienced, the number of times we increased the threat level decreased in ‘04 as compared to ‘03. I believe it was four times or three times in ‘03. We reduced that by half in ‘04. And I think that is just experience getting better at it.
OLBERMANN: I have a question about one particular event that we covered in the piece, which really troubled me from the moment it happened. And I can still recall sitting in my office watching the feed of the news conference live.
At the end of May last year, the FBI director and the former attorney general got up and said that there was new intelligence from multiple sources that al Qaeda specifically intended to hit, in Mr. Ashcroft‘s memorable phrase, this country hard and that someone in al Qaeda was claiming 90 percent of the arrangements for an attack were complete.
You were not at that news conference. Secretary Ridge was not at that news conference. The terror threat alert code from Homeland Security was not raised. Why was the Department of Homeland Security not involved in the announcement of what sounded like a dire, imminent threat to Homeland Security?
HUTCHINSON: I don‘t know whether the attorney general responding to a question at a news conference, but that‘s the reason that Homeland Security is the agency that the president has designated to communicate changes in the threat level. And Secretary Ridge addressed that subsequently.
I think it goes to show that there‘s different voices. And as we have created the department, we try to bring that together so there‘s one focal point of communication as to the threats that we face and how the public is supposed to respond to it and that‘s Homeland Security.
OLBERMANN: As I tried to emphasize in the commentary, hindsight, plus the logical fallacy, can be a dangerous combination. But can you look at the list of the 10 juxtapositions, especially the two that pertain to around the time of the Democratic Convention last year, and obviously there are lists that are longer, that have been compile elsewhere, that are based on different criteria and are of different merit. But can you look at that list of 10 juxtapositions and say that in your heart you‘re comfortable that not once were political considerations a factor in any of the counterterrorism statements or actions of the government?
HUTCHINSON: I can certainly say that it was never a consideration in raising the threat level, because that‘s what I was personally involved in. As to whether someone else spoke in terms of trying to get a different reaction, you know it is a large federal government. But I know in every circumstance, whether it‘s Justice Department or Homeland Security or the White House, politics was never a consideration from the president on down.
OLBERMANN: The coincidences that I listed tonight could have the most distressing of possible explanations or the most encouraging of possible explanations or a mixture. But there‘s a larger issue, and I hope you have an idea of how to address it.
Last Thursday, when New York City issued that warning within hours of that Karl Rove story, there were enough people who doubted the authenticity of the warning or who worried that the process had been contaminated in some way by politics that they just did not believe it.
What does the government have to do to eliminate the perception, even if it is a terrible, tragic misperception that some of our leaders on this subject would cry wolf?
HUTCHINSON: I think it is a perfect question. And the answer to that is that you cannot ever undermine your credibility in the way you assure the public that the intelligence is credible, or the raising the threat level is credible is by sharing as much information with them as possible so they can see that.
Whenever we went to a higher threat level in the financial sector, we did that, shared more information than ever with the public. And the only mistake that was made, we didn‘t share enough. As you pointed out, some of the intelligence was older, which didn‘t make any difference, but we should have shared that information so the public can make evaluations. That‘s why they‘re not simply having to rely upon those who are in elected positions, but they can see more clearly as to what it is based upon.
OLBERMANN: Well we‘re out of time here. Regardless of that, and what might be perceived as our disagreement on the substance of this, my great thanks for coming out and speaking to this under these circumstances.
HUTCHINSON: Absolutely. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: The former Under Secretary of Homeland Security, now the candidate for governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, thanks again.
And our number one story tonight, something to smile about, like that. How this little girl could inspire all of us to give whatever we can, and we do mean whatever, in the continuing effort to help the hurricane victims. That‘s next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The going rate with the tooth fairy is not exactly established. It is her money, after all. Plus, it would be what businessmen would call a proprietary secret. But estimates suggest that a first-time visit nets an American child about five bucks these days, with a dollar for every tooth thereafter, usually a Sacajawea gold dollar or an old Susan B. Anthony, if the tooth fairy has not been to her bank recently.
But in our number one story in the countdown tonight, one young lady got quite a bit more than the average return for her lost tooth. That would be 8-year-old Briton Nordmeyer, so moved was she by the devastation to the Gulf Coast as a result of Hurricane Katrina and to kids just like her, except for the geography, she decided to help. Having just had a tooth fall out, and figuring the tooth fairy had more ready cash to give to the relief effort than she did, Briton sent her tooth to the Red Cross.
The local Sioux Falls, South Dakota chapter received Briton‘s accompanying letter, but alas not the tooth. It had mysteriously disappeared in transit. Well, we know who got the tooth. The money, however, came pouring in. A $500 donation to the Sioux Falls Red Cross mentioning Briton‘s tooth, anonymous, but we know who sent the donation. Other donations that the Red Cross believes were inspired by Briton‘s generosity came in, too.
Briton Nordmeyer, along with her mother, Pam, join me now.
Good evening to you both. And, Briton, let me start with you, what made you decide to send your tooth to the Red Cross? Where‘d you get that idea?
BRITON NORDMEYER, DONATED HER TOOTH TO THE RED CROSS: Because I thought the tooth fairy would give more money than I usually get, because I usually get $3. And she probably gave them more for blankets and food and schools and homes.
OLBERMANN: Three dollars, that‘s a pretty good price.
Mrs. Nordmeyer, when Briton came to you with the plan, what did you think?
PAM NORDMEYER, DAUGHTER DONATED TOOTH TO RED CROSS: I was a little shocked. I didn‘t know what the Red Cross would think me sending a tooth. But she really just wanted to send it, so I thought, well, OK, maybe they‘ll send her a little card and then it‘ll be done.
OLBERMANN: And it‘s been a lot more than that.
Briton, what did your letter say? Do you have a copy of it? Can you read it for us?
B. NORDMEYER: Because here is my tooth that I lost. I hope that the tooth fairy will give lots of money for my tooth to all the people that need it from the big storm. Briton Nordmeyer.
OLBERMANN: Very nice. Briton, your tooth didn‘t make it to the Red Cross. I guess some people might have some theories as to what happened to it. What do you think happened to the tooth?
B. NORDMEYER: I think the tooth fairy took it and she gave money to the people that need it.
OLBERMANN: I think you‘re right about that. Which tooth was it? Can you give us a quick picture? A quick smile? OK. Right in there. That‘s a good one. Have you got any other loose ones?
B. NORDMEYER: Yes.
OLBERMANN: You got any other ones you can make some money off of here for Katrina relief?
B. NORDMEYER: Yes, this one.
OLBERMANN: Yes, OK.
B. NORDMEYER: And this one.
OLBERMANN: All right, that‘s—I think that‘s a couple of thousand right there in donations from other people. You might have a ways to go. Mine were still falling out when I was 13. So you might still have something of a supply there.
Mrs. Nordmeyer, let me ask you one more here, does it surprise you that your daughter‘s idea got that kind of reaction from other people?
P. NORDMEYER: Yes, it really does. But then, actually Briton just really wanted to send the tooth. And I just think people really wanted to help with the hurricane and everybody does have a big heart and just might have thought that, well, if a little girl can do it, then maybe they need to, too.
OLBERMANN: That‘s an important message to get across. A last question, Mrs. Nordmeyer, Briton is out three bucks because she was kind enough to donate it. Did anybody in the family take care of her, if you know what I mean on this, because the tooth fairy was giving her money to the Red Cross?
P. NORDMEYER: You know she doesn‘t want it for, you know. She just said she didn‘t want it, so I think she‘ll have to get a big slice of cake or something.
OLBERMANN: I think so, at least, and something at Christmas for us, too.
Briton and Pam Nordmeyer, thanks for talking with us. Briton, thanks for being so generous, it‘s really special. Thanks for coming on TV with us.
B. NORDMEYER: You‘re welcome.
P. NORDMEYER: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Good night.
P. NORDMEYER: Good night.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN. I‘m Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose. Good night. Keep smiling and good luck.
Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT.”
RITA COSBY, HOST: Good evening, thanks so much, Keith.
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