'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 21
Guests: Chuck Schumer, Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, Maria Milito
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The answer to the president's offer to let Mr. Rove and Ms. Miers talk to the Senate off the record, no subpoenas? Authorization of subpoenas from a subcommittee in the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And, quote, "The administration's ongoing effort to use executive privilege as a way of concealing the truth." Who wrote that? White house press secretary Snow, about President Clinton, in 1998.
About those e-mails and those fired U.S. attorneys, fired between mid-November and early December last year. Funny doggone thing, almost none of the e-mails are from mid-November and early December last year.
The constitutional confrontation, assessed for us tonight by our special guest, Senator Charles Schumer of New York.
Mr. Gore goes back to Washington, first trip since the other guy's inauguration. Topic? Global warming.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: We do not have time to play around with this. We do not have the luxury of making it a political football.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Whereupon, Senator, no, it's not hot in here. It is you.
Inhofe of Oklahoma makes it the political football, and fumbles it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CA), CHAIR: You're not making the rules. You used when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What do our friends and family at risk in Iraq have to do, even the reporters? Richard Engel's landmark "War Zone Diary" premieres here tonight. A preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "WAR ZONE DIARY")
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: I did at some stage think I may have been recording my own obituary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: From the extraordinary to the extraordinarily bad.
That weeping little girl was reportedly a plant.
And am I nuts, or is Sanjaya Jack Black's sidekick from "Nacho Libre"?
All that and more, now on Countdown.
The specifics are different. That White House was trying to manipulate both ends of the two-party system by bugging Democratic headquarters and trying to select the Democrats' presidential candidate for them.
This White House is accused of trying to manipulate both ends of the two-party system by politicizing the federal prosecutors, to fire the ones investigating Republicans, and bullying those remained into investigating Democrats.
But in our fifth story on the Countdown, the Nixon and Bush battles over executive privilege are growing ever more similar, and the current one expanded today on the eeriest of anniversaries. It was on March 31, 1973, that President Nixon's path became pretty much unalterable, when White House counsel John Dean went into the Oval Office, told Nixon there was a cancer growing on the presidency, and that hush money to the Watergate burglars would wind up totaling $1 million, all in the expectation that Nixon would say, This coverup has to end here.
He did not say that. It did not end there.
The current coverup will evidently also continue. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York joins us in a moment.
First, the brinkmanship today, the House Judiciary Committee today voting in favor of authorizing subpoenas of top White House officials, unnamed, but the chairman has yet to actually issue any, the White House saying that if either house of Congress does demand testimony, it will make the president's self-described unprecedented, extremely generous offer of interviews and documents null and void.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If subpoenas are issued, is this offer withdrawn?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we're just going to have to wait and see.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, well, no, the offer...
SNOW: The answer is, if they issue, yes, if they issue subpoenas, the offer is withdrawn.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then...
SNOW: Because that means that they will not have responded to the offer. They will have rejected the offer.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, and then - so basically, if they issue subpoenas, there will be no interview, they can't...
SNOW: I'm not, I'm just, I'm just telling you, I'm telling you that the moment subpoenas are issued, it means that they've rejected the offer.
We have offered everything that gets them the access to all the facts and the truth. If they don't accept the offer, it lifts the veil on some of the motivations, which means the people are less interested in the truth than creating political spectacle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You keep saying the Justice Department, the response and these e-mails, the 3,000 pages, were unprecedented, they're very responsive. Why, then, is there this gap from mid-November to about December 4, right before the actual firings? Why is there a gap in the e-mails?
SNOW: I don't know. Why don't you ask them?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you're - the White House, the Justice Department, (INAUDIBLE)...
SNOW: I know, but I'm not going to be the fact witness on Justice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're the one representing that this has been very responsive. Now, when there's a gap, you say...
SNOW: Yes, (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE)...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... you say (INAUDIBLE)...
SNOW:... and I've been led to believe, and I've been led to believe that there's a good response for it, but I'm going to let you ask them, because they're going to have the answer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any (INAUDIBLE), perhaps, any e-mails about the president in there? And did the president have to sign off on this? Because the question was raised by...
SNOW: The president has no recollection of this ever being raised for them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the Justice Department says there are - actually are not that many e-mails from that time period, even though it preceded the official dismissal date for seven of the eight attorneys. Both Justice and the White House say the reason for so (ph) communiques was probably the Thanksgiving holiday.
Joining us now, MSNBC's David Shuster, who has found an intriguing detail in that alleged e-mail wasteland that would seem to demand a response, holiday or not.
David, good evening.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
A couple of interesting details. First of all, in going through the 3,000 pages of documents, there is a gap, with the exception of one e-mail on November the 29th, from one Justice Department official to another, asking for a form. But the lack of e-mails, the lack of documents, the scarcity from November 15 to December the 4th, is so intriguing because of the flurry of activity on the 15th, based on documents that were turned over, and the flurry on December 4.
And specifically regarding November 15, this was the day when, according to the documents, that the Justice Department was then going to start notifying the prosecutors that they started - that they would start needing to make other plans in December. And November 15 is the date of an e-mail from Kyle Sampson, the attorney general's chief of staff, to White House counsel Harriet Miers.
And the e-mail says, quote, "Who will determine whether this requires the president's attention?" question mark. Earlier in the e-mail string, there was a mention of Karl Rove, and there's a point made by Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, that the president would be going out of town. So it appears that Kyle Sampson is simply asking, Is it going to be Karl Rove, or who's going to be the person who's going to be talking this over with President Bush?
And then again, starting on November 15, until December 4, there's essentially no trail. There's no response, there's no response saying that, yes, it was Karl Rove. There was no indication that the president was told. There was no indication back to the Justice Department about what the Justice Department took away from the information that the White House may or may not have provided.
To be fair, the president was out of town for - in Asia for a period of time, and then in Europe. But the White House did find time during this period to make some decisions related to the Department of Interior.
Specifically, the White House issued this on November the 27th, which said the president signed five different measures into law, including one that would examine whether the Farmington River and Salmon Brook in the state of Connecticut should be added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the argument being that if the president had enough time to make a decision about whether to sign a river into a scenic system, that perhaps the president would have also had time to have Karl Rove or somebody else discuss a possible change in scenery for seven U.S. prosecutors who were going to be dismissed in early December, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Now, to be fair, having seen the Farmington River, it is very scenic, and that does deserve a lot of attention.
But back to this issue. Not who, but how was - do we know how it was determined? I mean, did this get the president's attention? Mr. Snow says the president doesn't recall the U.S. attorney general dismissals - the attorney dismissals, rather, being raised with him. Apart from the strange gap in communication, is there any evidence the president might have at least signed off on it?
SHUSTER: Well, it's possible, because the president has - and White House officials have acknowledged that the president did talk to Alberto Gonzales, but they have not put a precise date on it. Furthermore, there's all sorts of indications that Karl Rove was very much involved in talking to the Justice Department, talking about what the political angle would be on this for the White House.
And given that Karl Rove sees the president every day, and is very close to him, it would be expected that Karl would talk to him about it.
But again, the other issue, of course, is Democrats point to the actions right now, that there are plenty of other examples of administration officials from the Clinton administration, Bush 41, who did testify under oath, did not assert executive privilege, did not say, No, we want to hide and testify without a record.
OLBERMANN: Something we'll be talking to Senator Schumer about in just a moment.
MSNBC's David Shuster. As always, great thanks, David.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Turning back to the showdown on the Hill, the White House rivaling used-car dealers in its zeal to sell its offer of interviews and e-mails to Congress in lieu of subpoenas and testimony, even appealing directly to lawmakers through the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: I think Americans are tired of partisanship for partisanship's sake. This is, this is - what we're saying is, we want to cooperate with you. Want to cooperate. We - what we're doing is something highly unusual. We're making available to you documents that the president is not necessarily - is not compelled to provide. We're going to make available to you staffers that the president's not compelled to provide it. Why? Because we want you to be satisfied that you're getting all the facts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As promised, I'm joined now by the senator from New York, who has helped lead the charge in the Senate over the U.S. attorney general scandal, Senator Chuck Schumer.
Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Nice to be here, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So Tony Snow's sales pitch on why Congress should take the, quote, "incredibly generous offer" of closed-door, unsworn interviews with White House aides, plus the e-mails, is basically that it lets lawmakers get to what he calls the truth, and avoid what the president called show trials. What's your response to all that?
SCHUMER: Well, to paraphrase "the Godfather," the president has basically given us an offer we can't accept. If the president wants to get to the truth, what's wrong with a transcript? What's wrong with oaths? Any lawyer worth his salt will tell you, no legal proceeding is worth the paper it's written on unless there's a transcript, unless there's sworn testimony.
And if the White House wants to get to the truth, and I hope they do, that's the obvious way to do it.
OLBERMANN: Are there negotiations going on now? Is that why the House Judiciary Subcommittee issued the authorization to issue subpoenas, but did not, and no one in the Senate has actually gone that - taken that step yet? Are you still leaving that door open (INAUDIBLE)?
SCHUMER: Yes, we are, we, we are hopeful that we can come to an agreement, although Fred Fielding yesterday, and Tony Snow today said they're not going to budge on this, which is basically an unreasonable offer. I'm hoping, as I said, that's just sort of a strategy to keep things where they are.
The bottom line is very simple. There's been real damage done to the Justice Department, to the integrity of all 93 U.S. attorneys. When people believe that it's very possible that cases are prosecuted for political reasons, or not prosecuted, stop prosecuting for political reasons, it really puts a blow to our system of justice, (INAUDIBLE) rule of law, without fear or favor.
We're not a third world country where one dictator or one person, any person, can decide, OK, I'm going to get this person and not that person.
And so this is serious, serious stuff. I hope the White House takes it seriously. And we want to work with them to get to the bottom of this. But we're not going to sacrifice the integrity of finding out what really happened for anything.
OLBERMANN: The damage to the U.S. attorneys' office that you referred to, do you think that you are being denied, at this point, evidence that the administration may have interfered with investigations, if not prosecutions, of politicians who happened to be in the same party as the members of the administration?
SCHUMER: Well, one of the U.S. attorneys himself, a far better prosecutor than I am, said, When a witness keeps changing their story, then you think they have something to hide. The administration, the Justice Department, the attorney general, have kept changing their story about what happened.
Remember, they first fired them without cause. Then they said they were not competent. We managed, after some real work and diligence, to get hold of their evaluation reports, and they were excellent. So it's clear they were not fired because of incompetence.
And then you ask yourself, what's the reason? When you asked four of the U.S. attorneys, they believed it was because they were either pursuing a political case that the White House didn't want them to pursue, or not pursuing a case that the White House wanted them to pursue. That's pretty severe stuff. That doesn't happen in America.
OLBERMANN: In response to all this, Mr. Snow from the White House actually cited you in an example of why the White House is trying to preserve confidentiality here. And let me quote off his transcript. "Let me ask you this. Do you think if we said, You know what? We need to get the internal deliberations of Senator Schumer. Who did he talk to? Who on the outside called him? What did his staff tell him? Who called the DSCC? Who decided to put up ads? We don't do that."
What's your response to that? Is that relevant?
SCHUMER: Well, first, he has it wrong. It was the DCCC that put up the ads.
But having said that, the bottom line is, of course you want some privacy between a leader, whether it's the president, a senator, a congressman, a governor, and their staff, and you don't want whatever they say to be made public automatically.
But when there's a serious case of wrongdoing, when we've had misstatement after misstatement, when there's even a possibility among some people, at least two in the Justice Department, and only a possibility of criminality, then the desire to keep things confidential between the president or any other elected official in their staff is superseded. It doesn't happen often, but this is one of the cases where it should.
And other presidents have gone along with this. President Clinton had some of his key people testify publicly under oath. We've had the same with other presidents as well. And I hope that this president will see the light, negotiate with us on a fair and reasonable basis, not give us take it or leave it of an unreasonable offer, so we can get to the bottom of it quickly.
And I'd say one other thing, Keith. There are enough disgruntled people in the Justice Department in particular, because they really resented what happened here, that the information is going to come out. It will either come out drip, drip, drip, or it'll come out all at once, we'll get to the bottom of it in a complete way, and solve the problem and move on.
It would be much better for the White House itself, as well as the Justice Department and the country, if they let it all come out at once.
OLBERMANN: Last question, Senator. You said over the weekend past that you did not think the attorney general would last the week. Are you still of that mind?
SCHUMER: Well, they seem to be in a bunker mentality. And I - he may last the week. But the way things work around here, and this is the good side of things, the truth comes out, and I think the attorney general will be - will not be attorney general in the near future.
OLBERMANN: The senior senator from New York state, Chuck Schumer.
Great thanks for your time tonight, Senator.
SCHUMER: Thank you. Nice to talk to you.
OLBERMANN: Senator Schumer seems ready for a compromise. Can the White House afford one, though? Richard Wolffe with analysis.
And Al Gore under oath on global warming, attacked by the far right before he was finished testifying.
And the breaking news. We have the ID on the culprit in the Hillary Clinton "1984" viral video. He has been fired.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: An administration born of constitutional crisis now has created a new one of its own, and after just 75 days of having to cope with a Congress not under its own party's control.
Our fourth story on the Countdown, the catch-22 nature of this readily apparent at today's White House briefing, as the logic of Joseph Heller, or maybe even Lewis Carroll prevailed, the press secretary, Mr. Snow, maintaining both that, A, Mr. Bush's staff did not advise him about the U.S. attorneys, and, B, that Mr. Bush's staff should not have to testify on the matter in order to ensure that the president can continue to get the candid advice they did not give him.
We should warn our viewers, the following exchange includes language that may make your head explode.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So were his advisers really advising him on this? Are we - is this really privileged communication involving the president and his advisers, if - The president wasn't looped in, you're saying, on this decision.
SNOW: No, that's, that's, that's...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So other people...
SNOW:... that's, that also falls into the intriguing question category.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, (INAUDIBLE), but, I mean...
SNOW: No, you're asking, you're asking me (INAUDIBLE) - Look, Ed, there are a number of complex legal considerations in here, and I'm not going to try to play junior lawyer. These are the sort of things that people are going to have an opportunity to talk about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's drag Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, through the political glass with us this time.
Richard, thanks for your time tonight.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Senator Schumer just told us, some hope of negotiation is there, at least getting a transcript. But did the White House paint itself into a corner by saying theirs was a take it or leave it offer?
WOLFFE: Well, what you have now is a city entirely full of reasonable people who don't engage in partisan politics. They're just - they're falling over each other to say that Senator Schumer and Fred Fielding and everybody else, they're all being reasonable, offering fabulously generous offers to each other.
I, by the way, love hearing Tony Snow decry partisan politics, this from a guy who coined the phrase "defeatocrat."
But look, yes, they're - the White House is positioning itself here. They're not interested in a real negotiation here. There's an outside group they could set up that would - like a commission, that could look into all of these things.
No, both of these sides are ready to go to the mat with this and paint each other as being unreasonable.
OLBERMANN: To what extent is this actually about this issue, and about further investigations into six years' worth of administration whatever? I mean, again, referencing back to what Schumer said, the disgruntled employees of justice will get this information out if the White House refuses to let this out. That's kind of - that's sort of a very, very velvet-covered threat, is it not?
WOLFFE: Well, yes. I think he started off that interview talking about "The Godfather." There was a little bit of a threat there. And there's one disgruntled employee that everyone is thinking about. His name is Kyle Sampson, and he knows where the bodies are buried.
So the expectation is that he would be the one to testify and show what exactly happened. And, you know, he's in a very difficult position, because, of course, he's the one who briefed a number of senior Justice officials who falsely testified before Congress. So, you know, there is real leverage there the Democrats have.
OLBERMANN: But also here, the fluidity of executive privilege is such that, as I read in the opening of the show, there was this searing dissertation on how President Clinton was supposedly hiding behind it during 1998, and the dissertation was written by a columnist named Tony Snow. Are the real stakes here the idea that a court might decide, after decades of fights and inconclusive decisions, might finally issue a definitive ruling, and neither the White House nor Congress wants to risk that?
WOLFFE: Well, you know, Keith, you cannot defile the temple of Justice. And, you know, they are obviously positioning themselves around this. This is a political call here. Nobody wants it to go to the courts. Everyone thinks there is something to be gained by having this fight. Democrats think they're progressing just fine, thank you. And the White House wants to paint the other side as just engaged in partisanship.
Really, it's going to be a political solution, ultimately. This isn't
hasn't got the legs to go all the way to court.
OLBERMANN: If this is just partisanship, why did another Republican, and a fairly prominent one, in Adam Putnam, just bail on the White House about Gonzales?
WOLFFE: Because there is no patience and support any more among
conservative Republicans to carry the water for Gonzales or even the
president. I mean, they are dismayed and disgruntled about how Donald
Rumsfeld's departure was handled. Remember, these were Republicans who
were out there defending Rumsfeld before the election, and a few days
later, they found out he was on his way out
So, you know, there's very little patience for this kind of thing.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and MSNBC. Thank you, as always, Richard.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The parallels between Gonzales-gate and Watergate go much further than even just the implication of executive privilege. Tomorrow, John Dean, legal counsel to President Nixon, joins us to compare the two White Houses in crisis, tomorrow night, here on Countdown.
Scandal of a much different variety tonight. The girl crying, as this dude Sanjaya sang on "American Idol," she was a plant, a plant.
And another show of harmony in the animal world. The piglets can serve the tiger cubs twice, now as friends, next year, as snacks.
That and more, ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: The late British actor Peter Bull was born on this date in 1912. He played the Russian ambassador in the nuclear holocaust comedy, "Dr. Strangelove." And if you watch the final scene carefully, you'll get a sense of just how funny its star, Peter Sellers, really was. The scene in which Sellers' character winds up involuntarily choking himself with his own hand, while explaining that a post-nuclear world which women would have to outnumber men 10 to one is weirdly edited, because the actor Peter Bull just kept laughing through the filming.
On that note, let's play Oddball.
We begin in Gwandong (ph), China with one of those really cute stories that, one of these days, is going to end very badly. Three playful little tiger cubs, living in harmony with a bunch of little piglets at the safari park. Aww, see them scratching their backs. The cubs were abandoned by their mother, rescued by the park, and nursed for the past month by a sow, along with her little litter. Officials say the tiger cubs are now healthy and strong, but for some reason, every morning, there's one less piglet than there was the night before. Made the last part up.
In Rome 1,000 garbage men have gathered in formation in the Piazza del Popolo. Men made of garbage by a German artist, Ha Schulte (ph). Dude, you stink. The (INAUDIBLE) exhibition's called "The Trash People," 1,000 life-sized sculptures built from everyday garbage ranging from bacon rinds and chicken bones to drippy ends of ice cream cones. And they look like they're planning something. "The Trash People" will remain on display in Rome until March 29. Also known as Bulky Waste Pickup Day.
Is there a solution to global warming? As Al Gore returns to Washington to testify to Congress, his first visit in six years, he may have found one. Just take Senator James Inhofe's cold shoulders and release them into the atmosphere to lower the earth's temperature.
From "An Inconvenient Truth" to "War Zone Diary," the premiere of Richard Engel's documentary about Iraq. It is a must-see. You should set your TiVos. We will preview it ahead.
But first, time for Countdown's list of the latest three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, President Clinton, conducting a fund raiser for his wife the senator tomorrow night at an exercise class on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Not just any exercise class, a spinning class. Spinning? Will that produce any jokes or comment from the far right? You're a braver man than I, sir.
Number two, Britney Spears, an Internet gambling site now taking bets on who will father her next child. The favorite is the boyfriend of the moment, Isaac Cohen. The runner-up, the husband of the moment, Kevin Federline. But there's also wagering on the likes of Hugh Hefner, President Bush and Mel Gibson.
And then brings us to number one, Britney Spears, whose career we can officially declare at this very moment, because she just fell from getting her own numbered segments, right through to Keeping Tabs, right through to being just a newsmaker.
OLBERMANN: The last time Al Gore went to the Capital it was for George W. Bush's first inauguration. One of last round trips to Washington saw him second searched at the airport, coming and going, presumably because some screener didn't know the difference between Al Gore and al Qaeda. We're looking for Al somebody.
But in our third story on the Countdown, either of those experiences might have been a little more enjoyable than his interaction with Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma today, as Mr. Gore returned to Capitol Hill to testify to both Houses of Congress about global warming. Gore praised for his work by an overwhelming number of reputable scientists around the world, getting a warm welcome from his old Senate colleagues, to talk about the line between energy use and climate change.
But not from the ranking Republican, former head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Mr. Inhofe, whom with Ahmadinejadian logic considers global warming a hoax. Inhofe insisting on yes or no answers to rather complicated questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we pay more for it because it's still relatively uncommon. If I could just -
SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: Well you can't.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: If you could allow - you've asked the senator an important question. He's answering it. Give him -
INHOFE: All right if you can stop the clock during this time.
BOXER: No, I'm not going to stop the clock. He has a minute to answer. How could you ask a question and not give the man a minute to answer? Please.
GORE: A lot of communities actually have laws preventing the installation of solar photovoltaic -
INHOFE: So, I assume the answer is no. Let's go to the next question.
They're criticizing you for some of your being too alarmist and hurting your own cause. Now, I'll ask you to respond in writing for that one, because that would be a very long response, I'm afraid.
It seems that -
GORE: Well, may I respond?
BOXER: Excuse me, Senator Inhofe, we'll freeze the time for a minute.
INHOFE: Take your time. We're freezing the time.
BOXER: Just for a minute, I want to talk to you a minute, please.
Would you agree - would you agree to let the vice president answer your questions. And then, if you want an extra few minutes at the end, I'm happy to give it to you. But we're not going to get anywhere.
INHOFE: Why don't we do this? At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer the questions.
BOXER: No, that is not the rule. You're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.
OLBERMANN: After the chair, Senator Boxer, filled in the blank in ex-Chairman Inhofe's memory, all of November 2006 apparently, Mr. Gore eventually did get some words in edgewise, but it turns out there's even more than meets the eye to the link between Inhofe and the smear campaign against Gore.
Joining us now, Howard Fineman, "Newsweek" columnist, senior Washington correspondent, of course, MSNBC political analyst. Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": Hi Keith. That was great theater up there today.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and maybe something else too. The hearing was not and the theater was not even over, when one of Senator Inhofe's aides, a man named Mr. Morano (ph), put out an Internet news release accusing Vice President Gore of refusing to take an oath to cut his own energy use. This man, Morano, had been a producer for Rush Limbaugh's TV show. There is a right wing campaign against gore, particularly on this issue, but how extensive is it, and why is it so venomous?
FINEMAN: Well, it is extensive. And the guy you were talking about was buzzing around the press table I was sitting at, handing out press releases before, during and after the vice president's appearance. I think there's a few things going on here. For one, Al Gore is winning this argument, scientifically and politically. And that has enormous implications for American business, both positive and negative.
The fossil-fuel-based industries are scared out of their wits by the fact that Al Gore has put them on the defensive. So money is involved. Politics is involved because the Republicans have found themselves, for the most part now, in this red-blue divide, standing against the kind of environmental concerns Gore is talking about. That's a risky position.
But they're pressing ahead with it. And, I think, on a personal level they find Gore irritating, because he's been embraced by Hollywood, because he's embraced by the media, and because he's sort of a political bank woe's ghost, Keith. I mean, after all, there are a lot of Democrats who think he should have been the president and George Bush is now at a 30 percent approval rating, and Al Gore is at a 70 percent approval rating.
So for all those reasons he just presses every possible button that the conservative movement has.
OLBERMANN: What is Inhofe's story? He claims this is a plot by big business to make tens of billions of dollars. But does he explain the oil company's who are funding some of the garbage science that says, oh no, everything's great, don't anybody panic. That's sweat on your brow in the middle of February has nothing to do with global warming.
FINEMAN: And enjoy the heat. I think, the way I see it, is that being from where he is and coming from where he comes from, he's kinds of the fossil fuel industry guy here. And whether you're in the coal industry or the oil business or parts of the electricity generation business that will find it expensive to retrofit those coal-fired power plants, it's an expensive proposition.
And it is a serious philosophical matter. Because Al Gore's talking about something very fundamental and sweeping that will require more government involvement, and that is a philosophical matter that people like Inhofe object to, both for philosophical and financial reasons. So this is a real serious, big time argument.
I must say that if Inhofe is the best arguer that they can come up with for their side, Al Gore is in even better shape politically than he even realizes.
OLBERMANN: Yes, we have a great chance of saving the planet, then. Mr. Inhofe is putting the fossil back in fossil fuels. But about the political theater here and the impact, leaving the House and the Senate, they grilled Gore again about a presidential run. Again he gave that I'm not planning to answer, the crack in the key hole answer. Will what happened today impact his decision that, and if so, how might it do so?
FINEMAN: Well, he did seem to be enjoying himself there. This was his first time back up on the hill. And I've known him forever. I've covered some of his early environmental hearings, going when I was a local reported in Kentucky. He liked being back, I think, but he doesn't like it that much to want to put himself through it.
I was talking to Ted Kennedy afterwards, and Kennedy, who knows something about this, said, I don't think Al Gore wants to put himself through the process. He likes the added sort of sex appeal that there is in being a potential candidate. I think he's enjoying what he's doing. He's making tons of money. He's the Gorical. He's the guy that everybody is listening to. He's got his answers down pat on all this thing.
He goes around being a sage. He doesn't have to run for anything. He's the unofficial president of the environment now, and I think that's what he always wanted.
OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman, chief Washington correspondent at "Newsweek," as always, sir, our great pleasure.
FINEMAN: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Thank you. Tonight, a quick update on the political mystery of the moment. The anonymous creator of the anti-Hillary Clinton, supposedly pro-Barack Obama video, the famous Apple Computer 1984 commercial rip off, has revealed himself, evidently, to the contributors of HuffingtonPost.com.
So who done it? The mystery man is somebody you've never heard of. Philip de Vellis is not affiliated with either campaign, vindicating the Obama camp denials of involvement. De Vellis was, however, the Internet communications director for Sherrod Brown, who won his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Ohio last year, and was connected also to a company called Blue State Digital, which did some work as a vendor to Senator Obama's campaign.
The company says it was non-creative, just technical work. A spokesman for Obama tonight telling NBC News that De Vellis never did any work on the Obama account. Blue State Digital now says it has fired Mr. De Vellis for violating company policy against doing outside political work.
He writes online now, Hi, I'm Phil. I did it and I'm proud of it. He says he did it at home on a Mac, and he says it's a harbinger of many more ads just like it. And you can't fire him, he's quit.
Also tonight, the real story of the war on the ground in Iraq, a preview of Richard Engel's extraordinary war zone diary. And if you're among the millions who watched "American Idol" last night and wondered about the little girl crying at Sanjay, we can tell you who she is and how exactly the cameras happened to find her.
That and more ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: We do not plug here unless it's truly justified. Our number two story on the Countdown, tonight at 10:00 eastern and pacific comes a remarkable piece of video journalism, our Beirut bureau chief, Richard Engel's video documentation of his four years in Iraq, his war zone diary. The next 90 seconds will chill you. The full hour will freeze you in your tracks.
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RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I'm hearing lots of anti-aircraft fire all around me. It's been the most intense so far.
The building was shaking. I thought to myself, I can't keep this up much longer. If it is going to be like this every single night, I'm not going to live through this. I don't think you can really prepare for an urban war.
I have here a helmet, a bulletproof jacket, a whole stack of local currency. All of this is about 110 dollars or so.
I didn't want to be dependent on any other people, if possible.
This is something I really hope I never have to use, Atropine. This is what you're supposed to take in case of a nerve agent attack. These are little syringes. You undo this knob, this yellow knob, and then you stab yourself with the green end. If you do this when you're not exposed to a nerve agent, it can be lethal. I hope to never open that little pouch.
I did, at some stage, think I may have been recording my own obituary.
So we'll wait.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Richard Engel's War Zone Diary on MSNBC tonight at 10:00 eastern and pacific time.
One of the more untenable segues in our history to our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. And a Bohemian judge yesterday ordered a DNA test on the six-month-old daughter of the late Anna Nicole Smith. MSNBC has learned that Dannielynn Smith was, in fact, cheek-swabbed this morning in a doctor's office in Nassau. Howard K. Stern was not tested, reportedly, but Larry Birkhead was tested, also a cheek swab, in the same doctor's office.
The DNA results will reportedly be available in 48 hours, but will first be presented to the Bohemian court. In the meantime, Mr. Stern has been ordered not to leave that country with the little girl before a custody ruling.
And the man named Calvert De Forest, but better known as Larry Bud Melman, has died. The actor successfully blurred the line himself with his dead-on performances on David Letterman's late night shows in dozens of appearances beginning in 1982, spanning 20 years. Mr De Forest always seemed like a real-life oddball, plucked out of New York City's subway or a corner diner. His look was captivating, his demeanor addictive and his laugh contagious.
When he joined Letterman after the show moved to CBS, he had to drop his stage name for legal reasons, but Larry Bud Melman was still there. Mr. Letterman says, in a statement, quote, he was just himself, a genuine, modest and nice man. Calvert De Forest was 85.
You thought the crying girl on "American Idol" last night was a little suspect? Well, you were right. The story behind Sanjaya's supposed tearful fan ahead. But first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to Tim Brosnan, executive vice president of Major League Baseball, today rejecting the bid to keep the package of out-of-town games on cable television and satellite, rather than shifting it just to satellite. As we all know, no business strategy works quite as well as refusing to sell your products to the customers who want to buy it from you.
Our runner up tonight, Sean Hannity of Fox noise, carrying the wrong pail of water, explaining to his crowd last night about Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and the Justice Department scandal, the president had made an offer to the Senate, quoting Mr. Hannity now, allowing top aides to testify privately under oath. No, that's kind of the point. All the president has offered to do is to allow his top aide to not testify privately, not under oath, not even transcribed. Sean, Sean, Sean, you're reading from next week's script.
But our winners, Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi, Texas. It's added to its staff, effective next month, Navy Captain Lisa Nowak, the astronaut fired by NASA after she drove to Florida wearing adult diapers, armed with a BB gun, a steel mallet, a knife, rubber tubing, and a plan to either kidnap or kill a romantic rival for another astronaut.
What will Captain Nowak be doing for Naval Air Training Command? Helping develop curriculum and training programs for the Navy, presumably the ones involving adult diapers, BB guns, steel mallets, knives, rubber tubing, and plans for either kidnapping or killing romantic rivals.
Naval Air Training Command in Corpus Christi, Texas, today's Worst Persons in the World.
OLBERMANN: She was a plant, plant, plant, an f-ing plant. The little girl crying during the latest, quote, singing, unquote, by Sanjaya during "American Idol." Number one story on the Countdown, they found her at the rehearsal. She was crying during that. They put her in the front row. She cried when they got there. They cut to commercial, she cried. This Sanjaya dude screeched, she cried. She's an f-ing plant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: No indication she was crying because she thought he stunk, or that his atonal vibrations caused her tear ducts to spontaneous rip, or that he reminded her of a dead female relative or pet, perhaps, although not Ray Davies (ph). Although crying teenage girls on British invasion night might offer a motive, "Los Angeles Times" identifies her as Ashley Ferl (ph), age 13, from Riverside, California.
If ever you have been to Riverside, California, you know that that alone could be the reason she cries so much. She and her family got tickets to taping of "Smarter Than a 5th Grader," and the rehearsal for Idol. She apparently wept so wonderfully during that that the producers immediately insisted she attend the actual show.
Here come the water works. Let's usher in once more, with all due haste, Countdown's own "American Idol" princess, the mid day host of New York's classic rock station, Q104.3, Maria Milito. Hello.
MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3: Hello. That little girl was annoying last night.
OLBERMANN: And an f-ing plant. What is going on?
MILITO: To me, she was crying because that performance was just so horrible. It's a good thing that Ray Davies and Dave Davies are both still alive, because they'd be spinning in their graves with that performance that he did.
OLBERMANN: They may come after him and her?
MILITO: Yes, especially her and especially him. But, you know, I just thought it was kind of interesting how she was seated near Simon as well. So he could just like, sort of, point to her. And he doesn't give his opinion about Sanjaya anymore.
OLBERMANN: They moved her. It is not like an - the luck of the draw, she is sitting in the front row.
MILITO: I know. And then she's crying. And then Sanjaya comes down and hugs her. You know, this isn't 1965, and the Beetles are coming off an airplane.
OLBERMANN: But that's not the same crying. She looks like she is in pain.
MILITO: She did look like she was in pain. You know, I know this is horrible, I wanted to smack her through my television. I really did.
OLBERMANN: Maybe that's why. It's either that or the fact that she's from riverside. But one more thing about Sanjaya, my girlfriend pointed this out, he is a dead ring for Jack Black's sidekick in the movie, "Nacho Libre," Esqualito (ph), played by Hector Jimenez.
MILITO: Yes, he could be.
OLBERMANN: Have we ever seen them in the same place. Is Sanjaya actually Esqualito?
MILITO: No, we haven't. They could be twins separated at birth, definitely. He also looks like the product of Michael Jackson and Prince, if they had a love child. Think about that.
OLBERMANN: That is a comforting thought.
MILITO: I thought you'd like that.
OLBERMANN: Why don't you think about playing a Michael Jackson work force block tomorrow.
MILITO: Like "Beat It" to start it.
OLBERMANN: To Paula Abdul, she was on David Letterman earlier this week. It didn't seem quite right, Letterman asked her rumors about the drinking and drugs, and she denied, but she said this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA ABDUL, "AMERICAN IDOL": This behavior is because many, many years ago it happened, I was abducted by aliens, and my body is just a vessel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now, could she have been telling the truth there, or has she stroked out lately. She sounds like a record you've just taken out of its groove.
MILITO: Yes, she's a little whacked out. I mean, she kept saying, I have been in the business 20 years. Nobody ever sees me in gossip columns, blah, blah, blah. You know, I think - Because Letterman hinted about how Simon Cowell wants to sleep with her. So maybe, my theory is they have, and she did say that he has little Ben, small Ben. You heard that? So maybe that is the way she is.
OLBERMANN: Let me look at my cards here. Do what Letterman did at the end there.
MILITO: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Sum this up for me, bringing the little girl out to cry on queue, she cried at the stage director, I'm sure. Is the show as phony as pro wrestling? What is this?
MILITO: Should I say yes? I am not the princess. But yes, I think the show works as long as it has been working, because they do have plans and they do do things to make it bigger than life every season. People keep saying, oh, this is the last time. It is going to go down. And it doesn't go down. It gets more and more poplar. So, maybe it is like pro wrestling.
OLBERMANN: You know what I'm think, the next plot line, an on air firing of one of the judges.
MILITO: One of the judges?
OLBERMANN: Yes, I'm looking for that next year.
MILITO: That could be.
OLBERMANN: It could be your big chance. Our very own "American Idol" princess, Maria Milito, of course, of New York's Q-104.3, as always, great thanks.
MILITO: Thank you for having me.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this, the 1,438th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END