Tuesday, January 23, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 23

Guests: Hillary Clinton

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The Countdown to the State of the Union.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the...


OLBERMANN: Freeze it. The speech has been overshadowed by a blast from the past.


VALERIE PLAME: My married name is Valerie...

JOSEPH WILSON: It is not Victoria Flume or Flame.


OLBERMANN: Plamegate inflamed anew, just hours before the president's speech. The prosecutor says there is proof that the man who told Scooter Libby about Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame was Vice President Cheney, that there is proof that the man who scripted a Libby statement to "TIME" magazine about Wilson was Vice President Cheney, that there is a note about Libby insisting Libby should not be sacrificed, since he was asked to "stick his neck in the meat grinder," written by Vice President Cheney.

The good news is, it could take the country's mind off of the president's sixth State of the Union address - at least the part about Iraq.


OLBERMANN: What, in your opinion, is, as of right now, the state of the Union?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Troubled, anxious, insecure, disheartened.


OLBERMANN: Senator Hillary Clinton's first sit-down, full-length interview since launching her presidential exploratory committee, a year before the New Hampshire primary. Why have we already started?


CLINTON: I don't know whether it's the 24-7 news cycle, Keith. I don't know whether it's the pent-up desire on the part of Democrats to be done with President Bush, even though he's going to be president for two more years.


OLBERMANN: And one more State of the Union, 2003, the 16 words, 2004, misquoting the weapons inspectors, 2005, Iraq to take over the burdens as soon as possible, 2006, decisions will be made by the commanders in Iraq, not the politicians in D.C., 2007 - maybe the president should just sing or tell a few jokes. Intentional jokes.

All that and more, now on Countdown to the State of the Union.

Good evening from Washington.

It has been evident for more than three years that the White House hoped to delay, postpone, table, defer, and stall the mess that was Plamegate into the distant future.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, welcome to the distant future. The gory details from the infamous 16 words in the 2003 State of the Union breaking just hours before the 2007 State of the Union. I'm thinking that wasn't the plan, prosecutors on the opening day of the trial of Scooter Libby alleging that Vice President Dick Cheney was far more deeply involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Wilson's identity than had been previously revealed in documents or in court filings, the difficult task of finding enough jurors who would not be inclined to distrust anything a Bush administration official would claim leading the gods of irony to strike yet again, in his speech tonight, Mr. Bush confronting a Congress run by Democrats, and an American public with little faith in his ability to manage the Iraq war, never mind everything else.

Tonight Mr. Bush, while still attempting to sell his unpopular troop escalation in Iraq, will mostly be trying to change the subject to domestic issues like healthcare, as well as energy consumption, having already claimed in last year's address that America was addicted to oil, but meanwhile, just blocks away at the D.C. Federal Courthouse, opening arguments in that Libby trial threatening to undermine the big sell, if not the administration as a whole, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, as we mentioned, alleging that Vice President Cheney was an essential player in the events leading to the outing of the CIA officer whose husband had been critical of the Bush administration, for their part, lawyers for the defense attempting to paint the former Cheney aide, Mr. Libby, as a sacrificial lamb, suggesting that the White House chose to protect top adviser Karl Rove over Mr. Libby.

For more on the trial, let's bring in our own correspondent David Shuster, who spent the day at the courthouse again.

Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: All right, so what exactly did Mr. Fitzgerald say about the vice president's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame?

SHUSTER: Well, five minutes into his opening argument, Patrick Fitzgerald said, quote, "The evidence will show that Libby learned about the Wilson's wife from the vice president himself."

Fitzgerald went on and talked about their very first meeting about the Wilsons in the vice president's office, in which the Fitzgerald said, quote, "The vice president told Libby that Wilson's wife worked in the counterproliferation division," which is the most sensitive at the CIA, and that a month later, according to Fitzgerald, Libby violated protocol and was, quote, "directly involved in dealing with the press about the Wilsons at the urging of the vice president."

Fitzgerald also said that Libby and Cheney spoke on Air Force 2 about a conversation with Matt Cooper, and that Cheney, according to Fitzgerald, quote, "dictated the statement that Libby gave to Matt Cooper and what to say on background to Cooper."

And then there was another reference, Keith. There was a reference in which Fitzgerald said that later that fall, when the uproar came out about the leak, that Vice President Cheney himself wrote a note to Scott McClellan, who was then the press secretary, telling McClellan to publicly deny that Libby was involved.

OLBERMANN: Were these details included in Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony? And if they were not, is that what this case is going to boil down to?

SHUSTER: Well, we know from what Fitzgerald said today that they were not included, at least in his first meeting with the FBI, the meeting which led prosecutors to charge him with making false statements. As far as his grand jury testimony, parts of that have been released, parts have not. But the parts that have suggest that Libby and the vice president did speak about Joe Wilson, but that Libby's testimony was that he spoke only about Joe Wilson, that they never discussed Valerie Wilson, the wife.

OLBERMANN: How did this time out this way? Is this a fortuitous accident for the prosecution, and for those who were defending Ambassador Wilson and his wife? Or is there some sort of - was - did Patrick Fitzgerald know it would work out that all this information would come out the day of a State of the Union address?

SHUSTER: Well, they knew it would start this week, because the trial has been on the calendar for six months. There have also been indications in all the pretrial documents that the vice president's role would be much greater than even the documents suggested.

There were so many hints in the pretrial filings about testimony that seemed to be missing from the filings that we expected would come out at the trial. And now we're seeing just that, the contours of the vice president himself being very involved, as far as the actions that Scooter Libby took, which then lead to the outing of Valerie Plame.

OLBERMANN: And lastly and briefly, this charge that they threw Libby under the bus to protect Karl Rove consists of what?

SHUSTER: Well, the defense said that they have a note, and we presume it's the same note from Cheney to Scott McClellan, after this broke, and this was at the time of the uproar over Valerie Wilson. The note says, from Cheney, "Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder." According to the defense, the one staffer being protected is Cheney's reference to Rove. The guy asked to stick his neck out is Cheney's reference to Libby.

The defense also said there was a conversation between Libby and Cheney in which, according to Libby, Libby said, "Supporters of Karl Rove are trying to set me up. They want to be - they want me to be the sacrificial lamb. I will not be sacrificed so that Karl Rove can be protected." That was a conversation quoting the defense between Libby and the vice president.

OLBERMANN: So sacrificial lamb, neck in a meat grinder. There's a lot of butcher shop references coming out. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

MSNBC's David Shuster. As always, David, great thanks. Good to see you.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Those 16 words in which Mr. Bush had claimed in 2003's address that Iraq had tried to secure weapon-grade uranium from Niger ultimately proving to be false, recent claims from the president that Iran is providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq, something he's expected to repeat tonight in the State of the Union, proving to be equally suspect.

Then as now, the problem is this, no matter what the intentions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Saddam Hussein before him, the Bush administration providing scant evidence to support the claims, "The Los Angeles Times" reporting that journalists traveling with U.S. troops in Iraq have failed to see these extensive signs of Iranian involvement, a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents uncovering only a single Iranian weapon among dozens of arms caches, in addition, the newspaper reports, U.S. officials declining to provide documentation of seized Iranian ordinance, despite repeated requests to do so, the military often releasing photographs of other weapons finds.

Earlier today, in my extensive interview with Senator Hillary Clinton, the now-presumptive presidential candidate, I asked her how she might approach the U.S.-Iranian relationship differently.


OLBERMANN: Would you reach out immediately to the Syrians and the Iranians, even with tensions between this country and Iran?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I don't see it as a sign of weakness, I see it as a sign of strength. You know, our president will not talk to people he considers bad. Well, there are a lot of bad actors in the world, and you don't make peace with your friends. You've got to deal you're your enemies, your opponents, people whose interests diverge from yours.

Right now, we're flying blind when it comes to Iran. We don't have good intelligence about Iran, about, you know, what their real motivations are, who's calling the shots. The same with Syria. And I would immediately open a diplomatic track.

And I don't think we would lose. In fact, I think we would gain insight. I mean, if he have to take a firm stand against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, let's get more information before we do that. Let's figure out, you know, what levers of power in their society we might be able to pull and push.


OLBERMANN: In light of that, let's bring in our own Howard Fineman, the senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The current intelligence on Iran, Mr. Bush's claim in 2003's State of the Union address that Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger, the opening of a trial in which a top White House aide has been charged with lying and obstruction of justice, what could be worse tonight, Howard, Simon Cowell and "The American Idol" judges sitting in front of Mr. Bush, telling him he also can't sing?

FINEMAN: I think the only thing worse is if Dick Cheney leans over and hands a note to the president while he's speaking. That probably wouldn't be good.


FINEMAN: I mean, it's...

OLBERMANN: Some butcher reference (INAUDIBLE)...

FINEMAN: Well, you know...

OLBERMANN:... some sort of meat selection there.

FINEMAN: A meat-grinder reference. I mean, if you look at it, the president's big problem was once his strength years ago, and it seems like a million years ago, and that was credibility. People didn't necessarily think he was the, you know, the most deft diplomat or that he was this - you know, the most studious guy at Yale, but they thought he was a straight shooter, almost too straight. Now he has no credibility in the world, and he has very little at home. And I think this trial, the Scooter Libby trial, is going to call the entire White House's credibility into further question.

OLBERMANN: So we just found out that the attorney general will be the member of cabinet who will not be attending the State of the Union, that doomsday scenario, Alberto Gonzales will be the stay-at-home guy. But with the revelations in the Libby trial, do you think anybody said, Gee, maybe we could leave the vice president at home? He's going to be sitting over there, it's going to be a constant reminder to anybody who heard about this in the news (INAUDIBLE). Is there any sense that that's not a really good idea, just symbolically?

FINEMAN: I do think that for the - a White House that's already reeling on a lot of fronts, this is a very unfortunate thing for them politically. You know, inside the Beltway here, we tend to overthink things sometimes, and we thought that the American people were really not that interested in the Libby trial. They might not be interested in the details or the machinations as who said what to whom, but they're very interested in Dick Cheney and Dick Cheney's war.

Interestingly, somebody like John McCain, who's trying to run both as a friend and sometime critic of the administration, with Rumsfeld having left, John McCain is now focusing his fire on Dick Cheney. And I think you're going to see a lot of Republicans, especially in the midst of this trial, doing the same thing.

FINEMAN: On Iraq, Howard, two weeks ago, this was the president's last chance, his big speech. It was all about Iraq. Tonight, Iraq is almost an afterthought, at least according to what we've seen of this speech so far, those elements being released. How does the president go from five years of this drumbeat of Iraq in people's minds, four years, certainly, to suddenly saying, Oh, you know, I'm really going to focus just as much on domestic issues? How can you do a U-turn like that and not expect everybody to fall out the car windows?

FINEMAN: Well, everybody's going to see what he's doing. People have already seen what he's doing is trying to change the topic. He gave that portion, the war portion, of the State of the Union address last week, the other week. He's not going to give it again.

But it's not going to help him that much. His problem, Keith, is, among other things, for years he's basically ignored the Hill. He ignored the Republicans when they controlled the Hill. He has no record, really, other than one education bill with Ted Kennedy, of really working with the Democrats.

He's going to say he wants to do that now. They're not going to believe him, and they're going to go about their own business, as they've already been doing.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC as we count down the minutes until the start of the State of the Union. Great thanks for your time, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The president's credibility crisis tonight, it has been forged, like the chains of Jacob Marley in "A Christmas Carol," link by link, over many a long year. We will examine his past State of the Union addresses and fact-check, check to see if there were facts.

And the State of the Union as seen through the eyes of the woman who wants to succeed the president. That, and Senator Clinton's opinions on the president's approach to leadership and bipartisanship here, at home, and abroad.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: When an American president assesses the state of this Union, it is appropriate to gauge that assessment in light of his past addresses.

And so, in our fourth story tonight, a partial survey of statements in previous State of the Union speeches that turned out not to be, or we learned later never were, true. Some claims need no more than simple visual reminders to eliminate whether what we were told was or would be true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2002)

BUSH: Across oceans and continents, on mountaintops and in caves, you will not escape the justice of this nation.

The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.


OLBERMANN: And this sight itself a lie of a kind, Ahmed Chalabi, sold to us as an Iraqi freedom fighter, when in fact, the administration had put a suspected Iranian agent sitting right behind the first lady of the United States.

But it is the sales job before the war that we remember most vividly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2003)

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium - from Africa.

He attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

Several mobile biological weapons labs...

aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda.


OLBERMANN: At the time, only a handful of skeptics and the administration itself had guessed the truth. No uranium, no aluminum tubes, no mobile labs, no al Qaeda. Still, we were assured war with Iraq would not be fought on the cheap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2003)

BUSH: We will fight with the full force and might of the United States military.


OLBERMANN: In fact, the president sent in fewer than half of the troops recommend by the Army's chief of staff, General Eric Shinseki, and then he was ousted. Still, we were assured, those troops would be taken care of.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2005)

BUSH: I thank the Congress for providing our service men and women with the resources they have needed.

Service men and women have survived terrible injuries. And this grateful nation will do everything we can to help them recover.


OLBERMANN: In fact, we went to war with the Army and the equipment we already had. And today, advocates for research on traumatic brain injury and other wounds suffered by troops with no body armor, unarmored vehicles, and no anti-RPG systems, find themselves fighting funding cuts. At least, though, we were assured the troops would answer only to American commanders.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2004)

BUSH: America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.


OLBERMANN: In fact, then as now, Mr. Bush let Iraqi leaders decide U.S. troops could not go after Moqtada al-Sadr, whose power has only grown in the interim, and even after the woeful inadequacy of his war plan became clear, the president assured us, year after year, that his course, the only course, was the right course and a winning course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2004)

BUSH: Iraqis are assuming more responsibility...


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2005)

BUSH: Ordinary Iraqis are anxious to shoulder all the security burdens.

America and its coalition partners will increasingly be in a supporting role.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2006)

BUSH: We remain on the offensive with a clear plan for victory.

The insurgency will be marginalized.

We are in this fight to win, and we are winning.


OLBERMANN: In the last speech, too, we find one claim which the events of just two weeks ago have now rendered painfully tragic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2006)

BUSH: We should be able to further decrease our troop levels. But those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.


OLBERMANN: And how to justify his reversal of a vow made just last year? As before, so today, fear. The only difference, what we were told to fear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2004)

BUSH: Already, the Kaye report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2005)

BUSH: Our men and women in uniform are fighting terrorists in Iraq so we do not have to face them here at home.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2006)

BUSH: A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country.


OLBERMANN: But there were no WMDs. The enemy in Iraq is primarily not al Qaeda. And, as the administration's own agencies report time and time again, al Qaeda does not need a victory in the Iraq war. The Iraq war itself is a victory for them, draining resources from the real fight in Afghanistan and elsewhere, eroding global unity, creating a new generation of terrorists around the world committed to the singular goal of decimating the State of the Union.

Right now, inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, zero hour approaches for the president's sixth State of the Union address. He might be wondering if he should have sent this by courier to be read by the clerk, the way George Washington used to do it.

Is there anything in the speech that could bring Senator Clinton to her feet tonight, cheering? She joins me for her first at-length sit-down interview since her Internet campaign announcement.

And what if she were president now, right now, what would she do about Iraq and Iran?

All that ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Thirty-six minutes until the president is introduced in the chamber of the House of Representatives behind me to give a State of the Union address to what might be, at best, a suspicious and even a bitter Democratic majority and a rebellious minority from his own party. At least six senators in attendance hope to succeed him, Senator Clinton among them.

Tonight, her first sit-down interview since she entered the presidential race. Her thoughts on tonight's speech, what she would do about Iraq were she president right now, and what this president could say that would make her stand up and cheer.

Many will be cheering the simple but dramatic changes, Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the president as the first female Speaker of the House. Chris Matthews will join me on the symbolism and the reality.

But first, of course, it would not be Countdown without our top three newsmakers of this day, customized, to some degree, in honor of the State of the Union.

Number three, E. Howard Hunt, organizer of the actual Watergate break-in, always disliked being called a Watergate burglar. He preferred Watergate conspirator. After a struggle with pneumonia, Mr. Hunt died today at the age of 88. At least, that's the story.

Number two, former vice president Gore, his movie "An Inconvenient Truth" nominated for two Oscars today, best documentary and best original song. The song, of course, Mr. Gore's singing version of what the talking Gore doll used to say on "The Simpsons," "You are hearing me talk." No, it's Melissa Ethridge's "I Need to Wake Up."

Number one, not politics per se, but it sure sounds like politicians. Kurt Husfeldt and his 13-year-old son and a man named Stephen Mangiapanella (ph), three men under arrest in Lindenhurst, Long Island, New York. The two younger ones stole 14 cell phones from the Town of Babylon offices, except they weren't cell phones, they were global positioning satellite devices, which when turned on, making tracking thieves surprisingly simple.


OLBERMANN: Whether or not it actually results in the nomination, for the first time in American history, the front runner for a party's presidential candidacy is a woman, in fact, a former first lady. Of course this is 364 days before the first vote in the first primary, but if the voters get points for political craftiness, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York has put the first points on the board.

In our third story in the Countdown tonight, she insisted to me again today that her announcement was planned this way, for just before the State of the Union, to get what she called, the results you see. Her Internet announcement dominated the news Saturday. It was in all the Sunday newspapers. It was on all the Sunday talk shows. It got her interviewed on all the network nightly news casts on Monday, on all the network morning chat shows today.

And you ain't seen nothing yet. There are the weekly news magazine yet to come and tonight, half an hour before that State of Union, Senator Clinton's first, full length, sit down interview since she confirmed her presidential exploratory committee. It doubled as a campaign statement and a pre-buttal to what Mr. Bush will say at the top of the hour.


OLBERMANN: Thank you for some your time, first of all.


OLBERMANN: Let me start in the immediate future. What, if anything, could the president of the United States say during the State of the Union tonight that would cause you to stand up and applaud and cheer?

CLINTON: Well, it would be great if he said, you know, I have changed my mind about the escalation of troops going into Iraq. I would love to hear him put forth a real energy policy, not just a nibbling around the edges, that would deal with our security and our economic problems with the way we get energy today, as well as global climate change.

I know he is going to talk about health care. I'm anxious to hear that, because anything that moves us towards universal coverage is something that I'm going to look at seriously.

But I also hope that he will genuinely reach out to the new Democratic majority and say, look, we - you know, we have got two years left in my term and I want to make a difference and let's work together.

OLBERMANN: Do you think he has grasped the actual nature of bipartisanship? To this point, is there evidence to that that is the case?

CLINTON: You know, Keith, I think his idea of bipartisanship and mine are pretty different. I mean, his idea is, I'm going to tell what to do, come join me. That is not the way the political process does work or should work.

If he genuinely is open and not just going through the motions, I think he will find a lot of us who are receptive in the Senate, because we have such a narrow majority, we have to find common ground. And I would like to see if we could do that.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned health care, an issue likely to come up in the speech. The early indications about that are that it would - whatever would be provided for people would be taken out of hospital budgets - out of public hospital budgets. That can't sit well with you?

CLINTON: That certainly doesn't. And if that is truly what the plan is going to be, because, you know, that is kind of the budgetary implications. I don't he will say tonight I'm going to try, you know, rob Peter to pay Paul.

But if he is going after hospital budgets, you know, that is going to be a serious problem for those of us who care about having a safety system that is going to be there for everybody who needs a hospital.

There are other ways of doing this. And I think we can work together to try to find them.

OLBERMANN: If you were president today, as opposed to January, 2009, what would you do as we finish this interview about Iraq?

CLINTON: Well, I would certainly call off any escalation of troops. I would immediately begin the kind of diplomatic and political engagement that a lot of us have recommended over a number of years, and most recently the Iraq Study Group.

I would make it clear to the Maliki government, and all of the parties in Iraq, that they had to come to some resolution of the issues that are still outstanding. And I would send the toughest, meanest presidential envoy to sit there and make it happen.

You know, we have some record of success with that. We were able to, on a smaller scale, but still a lethal conflict, work out some accommodation among the parties in the Balkans.

And it took a lot of American leadership, and it took us sending troops. We have never had the proportionate number of troops committed under this president to Iraq that we did when we went into Bosnia. So we have not done this in the right way from the very beginning.

But we do still have some dangerous problems that could come from Iraq, like al Qaeda in Iraq is determined to kill Americans. They have had the unfortunate success this weekend of killing the third-highest number of Americans ever to die in a single day.

So I want to get our troops out of harm's way. I want to move them to positions where they can deal with al Qaeda, who is our principal enemy, where we can make sure that the Iranians aren't crossing the border when we are trying to have some kind of political-diplomatic engagement.

But you have got to put a lot more effort into this. There is no military solution. There are political resolutions that could be reached through the hard, slow, frustrating work of diplomacy.

OLBERMANN: And that presumably would involve other nations...

CLINTON: Absolutely.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned the Balkans. You mentioned the Iraq Study Group. Would you reach out immediately to the Syrians and the Iranians, even with the tensions between this country and Iran?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I don't see it is a sign of weakness. I see it as a sign of strength. You know, our president will not talk to people he considers bad. Well, there are a lot of bad actors in the world and you don't make peace with your friends. You have got to deal with your enemies, your opponents, people whose interests diverge from yours.

Right now we are flying blind when it comes to Iran. We don't have good intelligence about Iran, about, you know, what their real motivations are, who is calling the shots. The same with Syria. And I would immediately open a diplomatic track.

And I don't think we would lose. In fact, I think we would gain insight. I mean, if we have to take a firm stand against Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons, let's get more information before we do that. Let's figure out, you know, what levers of power in their society we might be able to pull and push.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Richard Clarke said on this newscast last night that the administration - the current administration has operated without any intelligence for the last few years. I thought it was quite a double entendre on this subject, especially.

CLINTON: Well, I'm afraid that Richard Clarke is right, and he would certainly know that. We've done this on a variety of fronts. Look at what's happening in Latin America, where we are seeing anti-American regimes gain ground. We don't engage with bad guys, so we don't engage with, you know, Chavez and try to, you know, see if there is any way to pull him back, or at least prevent others from following his lead.

We have all kinds of issues with Pakistan and Afghanistan. I came back from my most recent trip and urged the White House to appoint a high-level presidential envoy. Both of the leaders, President Karzai, President Musharraf, said that their relations are deteriorating.

That's bad for us. But, you know, if we had somebody there who could help to resolve these differences and get over some of the problems that they have, you know, that would enhance Afghan security. It would, you know, give Musharraf a stronger hand to deal with his internal problems. And it would give us a better way to make sure that the Taliban offensive that's going to happen in the spring isn't successful.


OLBERMANN: Of course, Iraq is not just an issue for this administration, not just the topic for the State of the Union Address - at the top of the hour here on MSNBC - it is also, of course, an issue for Senator Clinton. Would she use the word mistake to describe her vote to authorize the war this Iraq? A surprising answer in part 2 of our interview.

And as the presidential motorcade leaves imminently for the Capitol, the president's escalation plan for Iraq. Many on Capitol Hill viewing it as a mistake. Is the best the president can do about it tonight to try to change the subject?

Chris Matthews joins me as Countdown becomes COUNT-BALL ahead here on



OLBERMANN: The scene inside the capital, awaiting the president's State of the Union Address, his sixth, the first one given to a Democratic Senate and a Democratic House. We have seen the early signs of the presidential motorcade arriving here outside the Capitol.

And in the interim, a blogger today suggested that Senator Hillary Clinton's live interactive web chats are nothing less than the new template for a new means of presenting the State of the Union. We got into depth with her bid to get to be the person who delivers the State the of Union, no matter the means, but in our number two story on the Countdown, overarching all of it, her campaign, that of her Democratic rivals, that of the Republicans, overshadowing terrorism, the economy, health care, bipartisanship, you name it, is one four-letter word.


OLBERMANN: Senator, back to Iraq, and this pertains to the presidential candidacy. How would answer people who've approached this and say, I could not possibly vote for anyone who, no matter how misled they might have been, no matter how misled the country might have been, voted in any way to authorize what has happened in Iraq? How would you answer them?

CLINTON: Well, I understand that. And in fact, I had a lot of conversations just along those lines in my last election in New York. Nobody is more heart-sick about the policy in Iraq than I am. I am just, you know, devastated at the incompetence and arrogance of the administration in pursuing this policy, based on the authority that I and others granted the president.

I regret the way he's used that authority. And I think you don't get do-overs in life, and I've tried to take responsibility for, you know, my actions in the Senate, and I've been a very persistent and consistent critic of the actions that the administration has taken.

But we are where we are right now. American soldiers and Marines are dying. The Iraqi government is on the brink of falling apart. We've got Iran and Syria gaining on us. We've got the Kurds trying to figure out which way they're going to go, and we need to be very conscious of, you know, the impact that could have on our strong NATO ally, Turkey. We've got Al Qaeda in Iraq, looking for a base to launch all kinds of terrible actions against us.

So I just that think that when you're in the arena - and as I have said before, I'm kind of cursed with the responsibility gene. I'm trying to figure out what is best for us to do. And I know clearly that this escalation is wrong, and I wish that we could come up with the president, listening and taking a different course, but right now I see no evidence that he will do that.

OLBERMANN: You mentioned the word responsibility. You mentioned the word regret. So much of politics, so much of political coverage now is about individual words, and people who will not use individual words or will. The president was hard-pressed to find, in a period of four years, anything that he viewed as a mistake in his presidency. Would you apply the word mistake to your vote to authorize the war in Iraq?

CLINTON: Well, I think many of us know very well that if we knew then what we know now, there never would have been a vote, and I certainly wouldn't have voted to give the president authority.

At the time, though - and this is something that people are, you know, so upset about it, that they don't even want to think about - you know, putting inspectors in and containing Saddam Hussein was not a bad strategy. It just turned into a disaster because of the way Bush misused the authority that he was given. So clearly, I think that there've been a lot of mistakes made by everybody, including those of us in the Congress.

OLBERMANN: All right, the New Hampshire primary, a year from right now we will just be getting the results of the New Hampshire primary.


OLBERMANN: So how can you, and Senator Obama, and Senator Edwards and Governor Vilsack, and Governor Richardson, and everybody else who is considering, or has considered, or will run for the Democratic nomination, maintain and survive a campaign of that length, to say nothing of the American people? How do we do this?

CLINTON: Well, I wish there were a limit on our campaign time. I like what some of the European countries do, where, you know, there's a starting and an end date and everybody works like crazy in the middle.

You know, I think it's kind of, you know, strange that we've started so soon. You know, my husband got into the presidential campaign of '92 in October of '91. So, you know, my experience is a little different.

But I don't whether it's the 24/7 news cycle, Keith. I don't know whether it's the pent-up desire of Democrats to be done with President Bush, even though he's going to be president for two more years. I don't know all the factors at work, but clearly this is off to a very fast start. And pacing yourself, you know, being able to do what you have to do to get into those living rooms and those church basements and those union halls and those diners and, you know, communicate across the web like, you know, I'm trying to do with my web chats on, you know, HillaryClinton.com, all of that.

You know, I just feel like you've got to play the hand you're dealt. And in this election cycle, clearly we're off to a fast start. I believe that I would be the best candidate, so I've got to get out there and make the case to the voters.

OLBERMANN: All right, let me close where we began, with the State of the Union Address. What, in your opinion, is, as of right now, the State of the Union?

CLINTON: Troubled, anxious, insecure, disheartened. You know, there are some people who are doing extremely well. But the middle class squeeze is real. There is a lot of anxiety among the people that I represent and talk to about how they are going to afford everything from health care to education for their kids, whether their job is going to be there, whether they are going to have that pension that they think they have worked for their entire life.

You know, on these Web chats that I have been having, you know, another one tonight at 7:00, another one tomorrow at 7:00, on HillaryClinton.com, I keep hearing that. People say, I'm a 55-year-old woman. I have worked all my life. I have got no retirement security. Or, I don't see how I'm going to be able to afford health care. Or, how am I going to be able to send my children to college?

You know, the American dream needs to be renewed. And we can do that if we turn our attention to the building blocks that made the American middle class possible. I mean, I'm a product of that. I came out of a family that, you know, worked its way up and gave me all of these opportunities.

But I feel as though we are stagnant now. If you look at productivity, it is up. If you look at corporate profits, you know, they are up. If you look at income, it is pretty stagnant. And we have got to get back to the American promise that I was raised with and give it back to people, so that they can make a better life for themselves and their children.


OLBERMANN: The conclusion of Senator Clinton's first sit down interview since revealing her exploratory committee tomorrow night here on Countdown. To preview the questions, what qualifies her to be president? What role will her husband play in the campaign, in her administration? and this -


OLBERMANN: Having spent eight years in the White House, under the conditions in which you and your husband spent them, that's a reason to want to go back to the White House?



OLBERMANN: Her response, only on Countdown, tomorrow night 8:00 eastern, 5:00 pacific.

Tonight, Senator Clinton listening, not web casting. The members of the House and Senate and invited guests waiting for the president's arrival for the State of the Union. Chris Matthews joins me as we get ready to play COUNT-BALL right here on MSNBC. That is ahead.

But it first, of course, would not be Countdown without our latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to an unnamed hunter in Tallahassee, Florida, shot a 450 gram duck, took it home, put it in the refrigerator. Two days later the missus opens the fridge and the duck lifts his head. She, bless her, took the bird to the local animal hospital. It's been relocated to an animal sanctuary. Except for minor wounds to the wing and leg, it's fine. Of course, it is a cold duck.

The runner up, the Reverend Ted Haggard, ousted as the head of the National Associate of Evangelicals after the revelation of a relationship with the male prostitute, but not before he was filmed for a new documentary called "Friends of God," and told the documentarian, quote, you know, all the surveys say the Evangelicals have the best sex life of any other group. Um, yes.

But winner, John Gibson of the Fox noise channel. Still defending his station's willingness to not only air a story with one anonymous source, suggesting Senator Obama once went to a Muslim training school, but to add to it another layer. Namely that the story about Senator Obama was being propagated by the people associated with Senator Clinton. Said Gibson, quote, the story is not about whether Barack Obama went to a Madrassa terrorist training camp when he was five years old. The story is that people who oppose, who have interest in opposition to Barack Obama, are attaching his name to the word Madrassa.

That's right John. Those people are you and your channel. John Gibson and the Fox noise channel, today's Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN: To our number one story in the Countdown, if everything runs as scheduled - as we see Senator Biden and Senator Barack Obama in the center of you're picture - at 9:01 and 30 second, eastern standard time, the sergeant at arms of the House of Representatives will announce President Bush's arrival for his sixth State of the Union Address.

Mr. Bush could take as long as 12 minutes just to get to the podium, unless, as more than one wag has argued here tonight, he would just as soon get this over with quickly and he runs straight to it. For a White House that has always been intent on carefully staging appearances by this president, the imagery will be inescapable once he begins to speak - there is Mrs. Cheney - what might described as an over the shoulder double whammy.

Behind him, to his right, will be Vice President Cheney. The vice president's in the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Wilson portrayed as deep today, making Mr. Cheney look in essence, if not in name, like an un-indicted co-conspirator. All of it circling back to the president's rational for invading Iraq, including his 2003 State of the Union message, and those 16 words about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger.

Meantime, to the president's left the first female speaker of the House in history, Nancy Pelosi, her party having regained power, in large part because of the administration execution of the war in Iraq. Senator Clinton to the right of screen there. If the president could give this address from the White House library, he probably would be happier.

Mr. Bush will be forced to reiterate his reasons for an escalation in the war, also trying to salvage something of a domestic agenda. He will speak for about 40 minutes. That will take us to 9:50 or later, eastern time. Five minutes after the president leaves the House chamber will come the Democratic response, from the newly elected senator from Virginia Jim Webb, and afterwards Chris Matthews and I will be joined by Tim Russert, Brian Williams, David Gregory of NBC News and many others.

So now let's Countdown to the speech with Chris Matthews. He wants to change the subject after five years of talking almost nothing but Iraq, after talking about Iraq two weeks ago?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR: It's going to be tough because he has said that basically Iraq is the most important threat to our existence. I think the vice president, or somebody, said we face an existential threat from Iraq, a country we weren't at war with several years. New we are at war with them, and it's facing with us with a threat to our existence.

It may not have been the vice president, but someone is out there pushing that. I've got tell you, it's very hard to work would walk away from an existential threat.

Oh, I'm sorry, it was Liz Cheney, his daughter, who said that today.

OLBERMANN: In the column today -

MATTHEWS: Right, in the column.

OLBERMANN: We lost saw an audience this hostile, both in terms of politicians, in terms of the audience itself, the people at home, when? 1998 with Clinton or do we have to go back further to Nixon?

MATTHEWS: Well, they tried to remove Clinton from office. I would call that a hostile audience. And it was said of Bill Clinton's ability to compartmentalize, he was able to give a State of the Union knowing that the people in front of him wanted him out of a job. And, of course, by the end of the year they had failed to do so, but they did impeach him. That's a strong statement of hostility. I don't think we are seeing that here yet, in that form.

But there it is, the most historic figure tonight perhaps. As someone said, the key words in the president's speech, which though embargoed, I can share with you, are Madam Speaker, something that has never been said before, certainly referring to the speaker of the House by the term Madam. But there she is and the vice president, two very different views of America, by the way, sitting within a foot of each other.

The vice president looking somewhat glum, I think, holding his hand together there. And Nancy Pelosi basically presiding. She is hosting this event.

OLBERMANN: But this political context, the start of the Libby trial, which of course originates from another State of the Union Address, the 16 words about Yellow Cake Uranium, the symbolism of Miss Pelosi being there is almost matched by the symbolism of the vice president being there after today's developments, don't you think?

MATTHEWS: Well, of course, the question is always going to be, why did the vice president permit the State of Union to include that claim about a nuclear threat, having raised the question with the CIA, having the CIA send someone on a mission to prove or disprove those rather bogus-looking Italian papers to begin with, and then having no hard evidence coming about as a result of that trip that there was, in fact, a deal to buy uranium, and yet allowing the president to say so. In fact, using the cagey language, British reports, British intelligence tells us.

If they believed in it, they should have said so. If they didn't, they shouldn't have said British intelligence.

OLBERMANN: You and I were both struck by how much the president talked about Iran when he unveiled his new intentions for Iraq. It's 13 days ago. To what degree is Iran going to be a factor tonight?

MATTHEWS: I don't know. I haven't heard it's going to come up tonight and I think that it is a question, and a say as coy question, whether the president is not setting into works a rationale for attacking Iran, on the grounds that he is operating as commander in chief, protecting our troops in the field, in Iraq. That would be a circuitous way of winning public support for a rather dramatic attack on yet another country.

Of course, I have seen no new evidence to suggest that he is trying to gin up a war, I must say.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, we have the story in the "Los Angeles Times" today, that suggested that there has not been any hard evidence shared about this supposed prevalence of Iranian weapons being found. The president referred to that 13 days ago. Reporters are saying they are not being shown any of it. One piece of ordinance has been found and nothing but that. So again, those same questions that lingered over Iraq, linger over Iran.

We will pause for just a second, Chris, to begin the official MSNBC coverage of the president's State of the Union Address.