Thursday, March 26, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, March 26, 2009
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Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons
The toss: In my prayers

Guest: Chris Cillizza, Chris Kofinis, Lawrence O'Donnell, John Dean, Amanda Terkel

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

Heard of the president's budget? Meet the Republican fudge-it. The GOP finally proposes an alternative to the president's spending bill - only - it has no numbers in it, a budget without dollar amounts.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) REPUBLICAN LEADER: Here it is, Mr. President.


OLBERMANN: Umm - fudge.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the "party of no" has become the party of no new ideas.


OLBERMANN: Au contraire, Michael Steele reveals his amazing idea, his fight with Boss Limbaugh, his pro-choice statement then his apology for his pro-choice statement - it was all part of the plan.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: If I do something, there is a reason for it. Even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is a rationale, there's a logic behind it. It's all strategic.


OLBERMANN: Peddling paranoia: Now, former Speaker Gingrich tries to terrify people into thinking the economic recovery means dictatorship is near.


NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Look, it absolutely moves you towards a political dictatorship.


OLBERMANN: The same man who just, over two years ago, proposed limiting free speech, shutting down Web sites, wholesale domestic spying - that kind of political dictatorship Newt likey.

Bushed: Dick Cheney's old friends at KBR who have electrocuted at least three - maybe a dozen American servicemen in criminally negligent barrack showers. The problem gigantically larger than first feared, 7,000 KBR showers in Iraq have electrical dangers.

And Joe McCarthy, Jr. strikes again. It's Jeff Zucker of NBC forcing to write anti-O'Reilly blog posts, but it's John Podesta who runs Jeff Zucker. "Podesta's Website is devoted to hurting any prominent person who disagrees with liberal politics. And Podesta's mainstream media is, of course, NBC News."

But a push to boycott O'Reilly's advertisers now gains momentum. Spokesman Mark Schirmer of Ford Motor Company, quote, "I agree with you about the rantings of the hopelessly pig-headed Mr. O'Reilly. It demonstrated how moronic O'Reilly really is. What Bill O'Reilly does or says is not important." Oops!

All that and more - now on Countdown.


BILL O'REILLY, TV HOST: Yes. Bikinis are everywhere.


OLBERMANN (on camera): Good evening from New York.

After weeks of criticism that they were only attacking the president's budget but had absolutely nothing to propose in it's stead, the Republican leadership on the Hill today announced it was presenting exactly what its critics have been demanding - a Republican budget.

In our fifth story on the Countdown: It doesn't contain a single actual number in it nor indications of spending parameters or any costs. Thus technically, it would not meet any definition, dictionary, textbook, colloquial or Pig Latin, all of the word "budget." Fudge-it? Perhaps.

But though the Republicans have today offered a plan with no plan, and that don't worry, RNC Chairman Michael Steele reveals today he had a plan, a super-secret, double-reverse fake plan, in which it would appear that he and Boss Limbaugh were feuding.

First, the Republican fudge-it. The GOP leadership of the House eagerly releasing what it hoped looked like an alternative to the president's one. They even giving it an official-looking blue cover, all an attempt to counter Mr. Obama's challenge that they needed to back up their criticism with actual ideas.


BOEHNER: Two nights ago, the president said, "We haven't seen a budget yet out of Republicans." Well, it's just not true because here it is, Mr. President.


OLBERMANN: A slight problem for the minority leader, the first question he got out of the gate, "Excuse me, where are the details?"


BOEHNER: Details.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes. There is no detail in here.

BOEHNER: This is the - this is the blueprint for where we're going.

Are you asking about some other document?


OLBERMANN: No. No, that document - the one with the pretty blue cover and nothing in between the front page and the last. Where is the actual budget in your budget, sir?


BOEHNER: As Mr. Ryan pointed out, he'll have his alternative budget details next week.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It will be built on these principles?

BOEHNER: Built on these principles right here.


OLBERMANN: Republican leader Boehner claiming that President Obama had done the exact same thing by talking about his administration's principles in his joint address to Congress, you know, that first year equivalent of the State of the Union, and presenting his budget details later - only that would not be the same thing at all.

Even the "National Review's" reporter in attendance slammed the Republicans for unveiling a sham fudge-it. David Freddoso writing online, quote, "I was not the only reporter in the room during the delayed press conference who had expected to see some numbers, at least ballpark."

At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs marveling at the Republican fudge-it, all 19 pages of it.


GIBBS: I will note that there are - there's one more picture of a windmill than there is of a chart of numbers. There's - just for your knowledge - there's exactly one picture of a windmill. It is interesting to have a budget that doesn't contain any numbers. I think the "party of no" has become the party of no new ideas.


OLBERMANN: It's the Don Quixote fudge-it. It has a windmill.

Time now to call in Chris Cillizza, "Washington Post" White House reporter and author of the paper's political blog, "The Fix."

Chris, good evening.


OLBERMANN: When the Republicans have ticked off even the reporter from the "National Review" at the news conference, is it time for somebody there to admit they may have a problem with this?

CILLIZZA: This is a classic political example, Keith, of putting the cart before the horse. You know, I think, there was such a concern, rightly so, that the party of no-label was catching on. That's always the concern for the minority party in Congress especially when you don't control the White House, that you're simply cast as the opposition and people like to rally behind ideas not simply behind, no, we don't want to do this but we're not going to offer anything else.

So, I think there was some consternation, maybe a little bit too much quick movement to try and say, "Here's our plan." You know, I think Paul Ryan, who is supposed to be the guy, who was from Wisconsin, who is going to lead the Republican alternative budget, he is a serious person. He is someone who has talked about running statewide.

I think he may be a little ill-served by his some of this leadership because they put him out there without a plan really to talk about. And we all know, when it comes to the budget, or frankly, anything else in government, the devil is in the details. Anyone can put out a blueprint. But figuring out how it all adds to something is the tough part.

OLBERMANN: And it adds up to 19 pages in which it calls for lower spending and lower taxes and the end of bailouts, and they - and bringing the national debt under control. And yet, even though there are no specifics and no ways of that to be achieved, it seemed as if Mr. Boehner was shocked and actually annoyed when reporters, you know, began to ask for details.

Did the Republicans honestly believe they could turn in the math homework without any numbers in there? I mean, that the teacher was going say, "Oh, nice folder"?


CILLIZZA: I was - as a big fan of Trapper Keepers, Keith, I'm always drawn to nice folders. But .


CILLIZZA: You know, I think there was sort of a messaging problem here. Some people on that stage seemed to think that this was going to be sort of a blueprint, talking points, an outline - but a lot of people in the audience - reporters, I mean - clearly expected this to be a specific proposal.

You know, you've heard John Boehner say, "Next Wednesday, Paul Ryan is going to roll out the alternative budget with all the details." Well, if they had billed it as, "We are going to roll out the blueprint today, the rough outline, the conservative core on which this is going to be built, and then next Wednesday, we are going to give you all the details," they might have gotten a little bit of criticism but at least reporters would have known what was coming.

The problem was, I think, the expectation was, this is the day when we get the Republican alternative, the Republican fiscal sort of image of what they want this country to look like economically. And what we got was really sort of a talking points and pillars of the Republican Party with very little detail.

OLBERMANN: Yes. And those are talking points that have been repeated again and again. It's not like you need to .


CILLIZZA: Right. There is nothing new under the sun in that proposal.

OLBERMANN: Yes, anyone could have written those 19 pages. So, what is the hold up with the numbers? Do they have to come in from Boss Limbaugh's office? Or is there some trying - some realization that there is no way to pay for everything in the manifesto without doing exactly what Obama has done? Or what's the hold up?

CILLIZZA: You know, Keith, I don't know. And so, I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt that this was a public relations screw up.


CILLIZZA: And not an issue that they don't have the numbers. I do think that Paul Ryan is going to give us a proposal. The problem that he has now is that everyone thought the proposal was coming on Friday. So, even if - on Thursday, excuse me - so if they come out with this proposal, it's going to get less attention. It's the boy who cried wolf to a certain extent. Oh, we already heard the story. You already said you were putting out an economic proposal, a budget proposal, and look what we got.

OLBERMANN: Yes. We already got the nice folder. What do you got on top of that? You got like maybe one of those plastic ones? Those loose leaf notebooks?


OLBERMANN: Chris Cillizza of the "Washington Post" and, awaiting whatever the Republicans have as a gift at the next press conference - thank you, Chris. Have a good evening.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith. You, too.

OLBERMANN: So, no Republican plan - no Republican plan about the economy, but remember Pee-wee Herman riding side saddle on his bicycle and being suddenly flung from it, crashing head first into the lawn, staggering to his feet in front of a bunch of kids and announcing, "I meant to do that"? Tonight, the political equivalent of that comes to us from RNC Chairman Michael Steele, who contends that everything from his fight with Boss Limbaugh to his own 180 on a woman's right to choose, was all prearranged - all part of a master plan - his master plan. I meant to do that.

Steele's trap - telling CNN's Don Lemon that he would consider a run for the White House but only if, quote, "That is where God wants me to be at that time." Well, maybe not God's plans. Steele then is claiming that his fight with Limbaugh was at least his plan all along.


STEELE: I'm a cause-and-effect kind of guy. So if I do something, there's a reason for it. Even it may look like a mistake, a gaffe, there is - there is a rationale, there is a logic behind it. It helps me understand my position on the chess board. It helps me understand, you know, where the enemy camp is and where those who are inside the tent are.

DON LEMON, CNN: It's all strategic then?

STEELE: It's all strategic.


OLBERMANN: Let's bring in a strategist - Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis.

Good evening, Chris.


OLBERMANN: All right. We'll get to the idea that he pre-plans his gaffes on purpose in a minute. But if Steele meant for, say, the fight with Limbaugh to happen, does this not contradict his previous assertion and Limbaugh's and everybody else's it was Democrats who've been behind the Steele/Limbaugh battle and they over-inflated it and it's all - everybody else's fault? It turns out, oh, no, this was planned.

KOFINIS: Yes, just a little bit. This whole Steele saga is becoming a surreal, comical disaster. I mean, what's so funny, putting aside the fact that they are no longer blaming Democrats for this whole Rush Limbaugh fiasco, apparently, this was all part of Michael Steele's master plan. He meant to insult Rush Limbaugh, then he meant to apologize, and he meant to basically distract everyone from the focus of his job which is to rebuild the Republican Party.

The part that's odd about that is, he is basically saying that he meant to insult Rush Limbaugh - which, I think, means he has to apologize again.


KOFINIS: I'm starting to get confused. I lost myself in these whole strategery of the argument.

OLBERMANN: Yes. So, if these are preplanned gaffes, if this is his strategy, would that not tell us he's probably a really bad strategist?

KOFINIS: Yes. I'm not sure it's fair to call Michael Steele a strategist. I mean, what he is basically doing is real damage to the Republican Party. And I think, if you talk to Republicans privately, they would all probably agree.

It's come to point now where there clearly needs to be some kind of intervention amongst the Republican leaders to basically tell Michael Steele to stop - stop talking to the press. You're not helping either the Republican Party or yourself.

OLBERMANN: Are you suggesting that you would like to see an intervention on behalf of the Republican Party coming? I think you need to fess up here. Isn't it in every Democrat's interest in the world, every liberal's interest in the world, and possibly, other planets to donate money to any campaign that involves him or keeps him in the forefront? Isn't he the best thing maybe the Democrats have going this side of the president?

KOFINIS: I'm afraid to say yes because they may actually listen. The reality is, he is a real disaster. And every day seems to get worse.

You have to wonder what the real master plan here is. And he likes - and he uses the chess analogy in part of his interview. He's not Bobby Fisher, that's for sure. I mean, this is just one misstep after another. And it seems he's like a rogue agent, out there on his own, making these press interviews without any consultation with either his staff or the Republican Party, and just talking, seemingly talking out of, you know, thin air, addressing every question with no idea where the answer is coming from.


KOFINIS: But, again, for our purposes, it's a good thing.

OLBERMANN: Subtract the party part of it - out of it. Just - let's just say this is a politician; you are not interested in which party he belongs to. You're not interested in his points, you're looking purely at it - strategist to strategist. If somebody said to you, "Look, I'm doing this deliberately, I'm picking this fight deliberately so I can find out who's - you know, where the enemy camp is and where those inside the tent are," would you say, I don't think you know what you are talking about"?

I mean, have you ever heard anybody tries something like deliberately start a controversy internally, inside either party, just to see where everybody is standing?

KOFINIS: Yes. This must be Michael Steele's super-secret strategy of gaffes and how to rebuild the party through gaffes. It just doesn't make any sense. It is not a strategy.

Listen, if you are being serious about this, look at the model of Howard Dean in terms of how he rebuilt the Democratic Party. And there's a couple of ways you can do that. You can rebuild the parties through, you know, focus on fund-raising, focus on grassroots, maybe a combination of both.

The reality is, what Howard Dean did was focus on this 50-state strategy. It was very smart. It built a grassroots foundation that led to then, you know, President Obama. It was a very smart strategy.

Michael Steele is no strategist. Unfortunately, I think the Republican Party knows that as well.

OLBERMANN: The Democratic strategist, Chris Kofinis - all of whose gaffes are unintentional.

Thank you, Chris.


KOFINIS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, the next thing you know, Newt Gingrich will come out and admit that he too meant to do that. His pitch today, regulating the financial industries is leading us towards political dictatorship. His pitch 27 months ago, that terrorism meant we had to increase domestic spying, to monitor those who would threaten the status quo, and to break up their capacity to use the internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech.

So, Gingrich's complaint is not the laugh-out-loud, funny idea that the president is leading us towards a kind of dictatorship; it's that he's not leading us towards the kind of dictatorship that Newt Gingrich would like.


OLBERMANN: Newt Gingrich who, two years ago, proposed restricting the First Amendment and shuttering Web sites, and eavesdropping on people in the name of freedom, now says giving the Treasury Department the right to step in and save failing financial companies means dictatorship.

Bushed: Getting electrocuted in showers in Iraq built by Dick Cheney's old company. The threat is far worse than we know.

And so is the vast left-wing smear merchant conspiracy. It's so bad it was Bill O'Reilly's lead story last night. Find out who my secret boss really is. Maybe it's you.

Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The secretary of the treasury walked into Congress today, seeking unprecedented new powers for the federal government to oversee aspects of the financial world it has never had before.

Our fourth story tonight: Amid sincere debate over whether this is the right fix that the right-wing seizes the opportunity to call President Obama a new name - that in a moment.

Today, Treasury Secretary Geithner asked Congress to let the federal government oversee hedge funds, private investment firms, and pretty much any major player who wants to trade credit default swaps and other derivatives, to enforce new rules at the big financial firms, and to assess overall risk to the economy and to do something about it.

Some key Republicans support stronger oversight but the idea of the government seizing big financial firms had the free market founders of our current economy tossing new names at our communist, socialist, fascist president.


GINGRICH: We are seeing the biggest power grab by politicians in American history. The idea that they would propose that the treasury could intervene and take over non-bank, non-financial system assets gives them the potential to basically create the equivalent of a dictatorship.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: So, we put all these things together, that they control executive pay, that they can take over firms, retroactively tax people or target individuals as they did, you used the term dictatorship. That moves America towards a dictatorship?

GINGRICH: Sure. Look, it absolutely moves you towards a political dictatorship.


OLBERMANN: This from the man, who a little more than two years ago, proposed restrictions on the First Amendment in the name of counterterrorism, quote, "Break up their capacity to use the Internet to break up their capacity to use free speech." And no, Newt, the government could not seize financial firms it doesn't like, just the ones that are about to die. That's not dictatorship because, also, they are asking Congress to make it a law which would be subject to the interpretation of the courts. You can find all of this in your Constitution, sir, if you still have one.

With us now: MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O'Donnell, also, of course, contributor to, and former chief of staff to the Senate Finance Committee.

As always, thanks for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Scott Talbott told the "L.A. Times" that government power to take over dying financial firms was, quote, "an appropriate response to the crisis." He is the chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable which, surprisingly enough, represents big financial firms. If they are onboard, what is the Gingrich angle here and what constituency is he trying to represent?

O'DONNELL: Well, Gingrich is trying to fill a vacuum in Republican leadership in the Congress. That vacuum was clearly displayed in your first segment tonight, Keith, with John Boehner out there trying to do a press conference, pretending that they have an alternative budget, and being basically ignored. And so, the Gingrich key here is the use of inflammatory rhetoric that will please Rush Limbaugh so that he can be overshadowing Michael Steele and these others who are supposed to be leading this party.

And it's really - you know, the more you examine what he is talking about, the sillier it gets. You'll notice that he uses that phrase non-bank assets - meaning: Gingrich has absolutely no problem with the federal government seizing banks when they get in trouble through the FDIC. The FDIC is a very popular program which runs very well.

What Timothy Geithner is asking for, he is asking the democratic institution of the Congress to vote on in a very non-dictatorial way, basically extending that kind of financial supervision to these new financial entities that were not contemplated at the time that the FDIC was established.

OLBERMANN: But even Gingrich used the word potential in discussing dictatorship. It will not an actual dictatorship, but the equivalent of one and who knows what it means. But the weasel words in there, are they a tell here? Do they suggest that even Gingrich knows he's doing farce in this?

O'DONNELL: Yes. I mean, Gingrich does know the meaning of the language that he uses. But he wants to push it as far as he can, he knows that there is no one out there right now for - certainly, the right-wing of the Republican Party and the base of the Republican Party to be cheering for. And that they're watching things happen that they're not sure of. They don't completely understand.

And if Gingrich can come on and tell them, "It's socialism, it's dictatorship," he can be the leader of where we go from here. We know he's expressed public interest in running for president four years from now. This is part of that game.

OLBERMANN: To the substance of this. In his opening remarks, Mr. Geithner never mentioned the rampant deregulation of the recent years, and rather than reestablish the wall that President Roosevelt built, which separated the traditional banks from the high-rollers, the president and the secretary apparently want instead to start treating the high-rollers the same way we treat the traditional banks. Is there a reason not to return to the Roosevelt model?

O'DONNELL: Well, there is a little bit of toothpaste out of the tube situation here. But what happened is, in the late '90s, led by Republican congressional chairman, pushing what they called the Financial Services Modernization Act. This allowed the current situation to develop. And Bill Clinton signed that bill. It was also supported by Chuck Schumer and others who were interested in getting what Wall Street wanted.

What they did not do was enact an accompanying set of financial modernization regulations. There were - there were no accompanying regulatory oversight components to this. It was just - OK, you guys can now do things the way you want to. And, in fact, that's when the committees changed the name - House committee changed its name, from the Banking Committee to the Financial Services Committee because they understood themselves now to have jurisdiction over something much broader than banking.

And so, what Geithner is saying is, OK, 10 years later, we did this without any regulations, what are the reasonable regulations to put in place now to accompany this modernization?

OLBERMANN: So, we improve the name of the committee without improving the rules. That's government in action right there for you.

Lawrence O'Donnell of the "Huffington Post" and MSNBC - as always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And now, sports. Here is Mr. Gingrich trying to qualify for the Olympic kayak team.

And in Worsts: Glenn Beck hammers the president for using a TelePrompTer, asks what kind of conspiracy theories there would have been if President Bush have used a TelePrompTer.

But, Glenn, Bush did use a TelePrompTer. And, guess what? Glenn, that thing you are reading the words off of, that is also a TelePrompTer.

Worsts - ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Bushed in a moment, and the threat of death for our soldiers in Iraq by electrocution in their KBR-built showers, it's about 1,000 times greater than previously reported.

First, a lot of great birthdays on March 26th: actors Sterling Hayden and Alan Arkin and Leonard Nemoy and James Caan and Strother Martin, Nancy Pelosi, Tennessee Williams and Captain Kirk and Bob Elliott of "Bob and Ray" who since his last birthday had the pleasure of seeing his granddaughter hit the big leagues of comedy on the cast of "Saturday Night Live" in the same building in which he hit the big leagues in 1951. Happy Birthday, Bob.

Let's play Oddball.

We start at the Salto Belo Falls in Brazil where this fellow took the

express elevator to the basement via kayak. Pedro Olivia row-row his boat

a record 127 feet to the bottom of the falls and amazingly survived without

a scratch. The drop took exactly three seconds. It breaks the old record

by about 20 feet.

While it looks like they have just chucked a dummy over the falls, like in: the movie "The Fugitive," the stuntman and his friend appeared on the "Today Show" this morning to verify the story. Mr. Olivia then kayak off the Prometheus statue into the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

More stunt activity - this kind is unintentional or non-intentional. That's Neville Township, Pennsylvania. Neville is not a good driver. All right, the truck driver, whoever he is, needs to work on the cornering. Apparently he was packing cardboard which will sail on you if you go a little too fast on the edge. The accident happened just outside a chemical plant. So this could have been anything but funny. As it was, the driver was just slapped with a speeding ticket and cited for overturning his vehicle. He was not injured.


OLBERMANN: I don't have a mark on my conscience; that is what former Attorney General John Ashcroft has told an audience in Texas. Well, if you don't have a conscience, you can't have mark on one.

Speaking of, Bill-O invents another tier to the vast left wing conspiracy against him. Mark my words, before this is over, he'll be claiming I get daily phone calls from Stalin and Trotsky.

But first, because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration's 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.

Number three, legacy-gate with wrestling. One of the current top villains in the kaleidoscopic world of pro wrestling is Randy Orton. Monday at the WWE Raw event in Kansas City, Orton handcuffed another wrestler, then picked up the other wrestler's wife, then dropped her on her head, then kissed her. Orton got wildly booed.

Then the promotes played a video tribute to the troops, including a message from Mr. Bush. According to reporters, Mr. Bush got more thunderously booed even than Randy Orton.

Number two, support the troops-gate. Despite two years of public knowledge of the deplorable conditions for wounded vets, it gets worse. A memo summarizing a meeting between soldiers and the secretary of the Army includes the conclusion by these troopers that the recovery unit at Fort Bragg in North Carolina is so bad that they would rather be reassigned to active combat duty than to be treated there.

Commanders blame the injured troops, they say, for things they can't do because of their injuries. And soldiers in the recovery unit say the brass particularly likes to make fun of those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Number one, electrocution-gate. You're already aware of the no-bid sweetheart contract that the Bush administration gave to Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton and its spinoff KBR. That constituted one of the reasons we went into Iraq. You may also recall that anywhere from three to a dozen of our troops in Iraq have been electrocuted, when showers with wiring improperly installed by KBR shorted out. It was a nightmare and it was tragic, and it was one of the results of war profiteering, in which corporations cut corners to make even more money.

But the problem seemed relatively minor. It is anything but. The Pentagon document now indicates that these Dick Cheney electrocution showers were installed virtually everywhere; 94 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan or other Cent-Com facilities with KBR showers sought medical treatment for electric shock. KBR's own database lists a total 231 electrical shock incidents in Iraq alone.

The memo also indicates the military has begun to inspect all its bathrooms in Iraq, about 20,000 have been examined so far, and nearly 7,000 of them have already been found to have major electrical problems in the shower. There are at least 65,000 showers still to be inspected.

Incredibly, the Defense Contract Management Agency has decided that to fix the 7,000 showers with electrocution risks, and what could easily be 20,000 more, it will turn to KBR. Dick Cheney's old pals get billions of taxpayer dollars from a war Dick Cheney helped foment. Then Dick Cheney's old pals do a criminally negligent job and they kill some of the soldiers who are not killed in Dick Cheney's phony war. Now, to prevent Dick Cheney's old pals from killing even more Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon has assigned the urgent, essential, life or death repair work to Dick Cheney's old pals.


OLBERMANN: John Ashcroft may have exhibited an occasional ember of conscience as George Bush's post 9/11 attorney general. But in our third story tonight, all such embers eventually meet their end before Bush's cold breath. John Ashcroft is now a featured exhibit on the Bush legacy tour.

Former attorney general speaking at the University of Texas at Austin, beginning with self-deprecation about losing a Senate race to a dead opponent, and even a brief acknowledgment that yes, Mr. Bush made some mistakes, but - here it comes - not so many that a little distance can't fix it. Telling the audience, quote, "I think history will be very kind" to the former president. The chief architect of the Patriot Act then moved on to defending the Patriot Act that he largely authored.

Standing by his decisions, quote, I don't have a mark on my conscience. No conscience, no marks, as was discovered in the question and answer session.


JOHN ASHCROFT, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There are things that you could call water boarding that I am firmly convinced are not torture. There are things that you could call water boarding that might be torture. And the point that ought to be understood is that throwing a term around recklessly for its emotional content doesn't really get you anywhere.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now, White House counsel under President Nixon and author of "Worse Than Watergate" and "Broken Government," John Dean. John, good evening.


OLBERMANN: I know about the Medieval arguments about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Legally, are there multiple forms of water boarding I don't know about, that there is one that is legal and one that is illegal?

DEAN: I don't think so. I think water boarding is water boarding. Maybe this is a defense we haven't read about that John Yoo came up with, or the memo hasn't been released yet that says maybe how much water you pour may make it water boarding or not water boarding. But this is pretty silly, actually.

OLBERMANN: So Mr. Ashcroft also said he does not have a mark on his conscience. Clearly, somebody is not trying hard enough. Is it him or is it us?

DEAN: Keith, I'm not sure anything anybody did would make any difference. As you may or may not recall, I dealt with this at some length in my book "Conservatives Without Conscience," where I looked at this type of personality that really does not have a conscience. When they do actions, they get so wrapped up in their own self-justification and belief in what they are doing is right that they just don't see anything about it being wrong.

I think we have with Ashcroft a prototypical authoritarian conservative type. That is why he has no conscience about this.

OLBERMANN: Touching on that and that really disturbing but informative book that you wrote, does this extend even to factual - easily disproved factual mistakes? As an example, this other quote from Ashcroft last night, "I don't know of anybody who says that the president shouldn't have any authority to declare war."

Isn't that the essence of a 50-year dispute between the various branches of government, that has existed external to party lines for all that time?

DEAN: It is. It is a stunning remark on his behalf. Again, particularly coming from a man who served in the Senate and who knows well, I would think, that only the Congress has the power to declare war. This shows a very radical belief by this man - while Harry Truman, yes, did start a war or enter a war in South Korea some 50 years ago, and set a precedent, that didn't make it right.

Unfortunately, in politics and presidential politics, two wrongs often make a good precedent, even if they are not right.

OLBERMANN: They only make a third wrong. Do you think - you mentioned the memos we still expect to hear released of the Bush torture era, to be released by Mr. Holder, the Attorney General's Office today. Is it coincidence that John Ashcroft just appeared out of nowhere, a former attorney general, that he would be out there flying the Bush legacy flag last night, when maybe we are going to be hearing more of the records of his tenure and his successor's tenure under the Bush administration?

DEAN: I would think it took a while to set this up down at the University of Texas. So I'm not sure there is a direct relationship, although I'm sure he is quite conscious of what's happening and following this and maybe trying to soften the blow of what is yet to come. If he is not embarrassed by this, Keith, it is troubling.

OLBERMANN: Must be great to be able to go through life without a conscience and without embarrassment. To that point, Mr. Bush said what Mr. Ashcroft said last night, that history will be kinder to him. Other members of the administration said it during the administration. They are all out there now on this legacy tour saying it. Having studied this fairly carefully, what do they base it on? What do they actually think is going to be judged to this wonderful thing they did that the rest of us didn't see for eight years?

DEAN: I can't think of any president who has done well or been treated well by history who has gone out on a legacy tour to try to make that happen. Nixon tried it, of course, and spent his entire time after his resignation trying to get some tender kindness from history. Nixon actually got that after Bush arrived and made him look pretty good. I hope we don't have to get Bush looking good by getting something worse that will indeed be a very painful experience for the country if that has to happen.

OLBERMANN: Yes, if there is a worst, it is also the last president of the United States. John Dean, the author of "Worse than Watergate," "Broken Government," and, as he mentioned, "Conservatives Without Conscience," which is just a terrifying but, again, necessary book. Thanks, as always, John.

DEAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Bill-O the clown has a new leopard skin tinfoil hat.

Another conspirator identified in the plot to quote him accurately. Meanwhile, the pushed to get a sponsor boycott, a Ford spokesman calls O'Reilly, quote, hopelessly pig headed.

When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, Ana Marie Cox joins her about the story that Sarah Palin complained that nobody on the McCain campaign was there to pray with her on the night of the vice presidential debate. Needed to pray after it.

Glenn Beck complains about presidents reading teleprompters and he brought a dead fish. If you are confused, the fish is the one on the desk. Worst persons ahead, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Remember, the left wing smear merchants, especially those here at MSNBC have no ratings, no influence, no consequence. So last night, we were Bill O'Reilly's lead story. And Joe McCarthy Jr. has discovered another tier to this insidious conspiracy to infiltrate and destroy something.

That's next, but first time for Countdown's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Fox Noise news actress Megyn Kelly, decrying the death threats made against executives at AIG, calling them unbelievable. Adding, outrage is one thing. Death threats are quite another. Ms. Kelly, on Fixed News, Charles Krauthammer and Morton Kondracke hyperbolized about hanging them or boiling them in oil in Times Square. If you are really outraged by death threats, why do you go on with O'Reilly, when he writes of the assassination of Seymour Hirsch or me?

Our runner up, Glenn Beck. We rejoin his continuing break down, already in progress.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Meet my friend, Larry, the dead fish.

Here he is. Hello, Larry. Hello, America.


OLBERMANN: Larry is also a Fox News vice president. But back to Glenn; his latest issue, that President Obama reads speeches off a teleprompter. "It really bothers me, this teleprompter. It bothers me that this man doesn't - this man is always on prompter. You want to talk about a Manchurian Candidate. That's it. Who is writing every word for this man? We have a fraud in office. At least that is the way it feels to me."

He went on to describe what kinds of conspiracy theories there would be if President Bush used a teleprompter. Glenn, President Bush did use a teleprompter. People did write his speeches for him. And you use a teleprompter. Seriously, Glenn, see a doctor.

But our winner, Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas, back for another round of denying climate change. It's natural, see. "I believe the Earth's climate is changing, but I think it's changing for natural variation reasons. I think mankind has been adapting to climate as long as man has walked the Earth. When it rains, we find shelter. When it is hot, we get shade. When it is cold, we find a warm place to stay. Adaptation is the practical, affordable, utterly natural reflex response to nature, when the planet is heating or cooling, as it always is. Nature doesn't seem to adjust to people as much as people seem to adjust to nature. Adaptation to shifts in temperature is not that difficult."

Right. Congressman, let me hear you say that when it hits 145 in the shade in Waxahachi (ph) and the sun has just lit your neighbor's roof on fire. Congressman Joe with enough suntan lotion Barton, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: Just before the original Joe McCarthy self-destructed, the con conspiracies he saw swirling around him got much, much bigger. It wasn't just the Truman administration or the left wing intelligentsia that had been infiltrated by the communists. Now it was the entirety of the U.S. Army.

Our number story on the Countdown, the red baiter's virtual offspring, Bill "Joe McCarthy Jr." O'Reilly is repeating his ancestor's battle with hyperbole. First it was NBC running Think Progress to belittle him. Now it is Think Progress running NBC. Both of us being run by Barack Obama.

His lead story last night, this epiphany that the CEO of the Center for American Progress, former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, is somehow in control of NBC President Jeff Zucker. According to O'Reilly, "along with Zucker, this man Podesta is also driving the hate industry. Podesta's mainstream media is, of course, NBC News. That is the outlet Podesta uses."

Bill-O also repeatedly implies that Obama could be implicit it in all of this, since Mr. Podesta was Obama's transition team co-chair. Podesta was also a council on the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1980. Former Senator Allen Simpson of Wyoming was on that committee then. So Senator Simpson might be in charge.

Back to the Obama theory, Bill-O says to Dick Morris, quote, "so you have had two presidents that we know of on the record with attack teams working out of Pennsylvania Avenue. Now they don't have to do that anymore. They can work off a website and the White House doesn't have to be involved. I can't make any accusations. I don't want you either, because we don't know whether Obama knows anything about this. But Podesta has access to Obama."

O'Reilly also repeated the line that the managing editor of Think Progress, Amanda Terkel, had harmed a rape victim and her family. Bill-O wants us to care about all because, even though we have no influence whatsoever, quote, "a well coordinated, well financed cabal attacking dissent is a big story, especially because it involves Podesta, who has access to the president."

Now for a little clarity, Bill-O cares because Think Progress has pushed to get O'Reilly's advertisers to boycott his show is gaining momentum. Spokesman Mark Schirmer of Ford Motor Company, speaking for himself, not the company, "I agree with you about the rantings of the hopelessly pig headed Mr. O'Reilly. I work at Ford and support Ford, but have no idea how the decisions are made on where we advertise."

From UPS spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg, "further investigation is under way related to this placement."

From Capital One, regret but so far nothing else. Notably, that effort to involve advertisers is not about his right wing smear merchant nonsense, but rather for his continued use of stalker producers to conduct ambush interviews, especially when they involve chasing young women on country roads for two hours.

Joining me now, the managing editor of, Amanda Terkel. Welcome back.


OLBERMANN: Of course, your being a guest on this program two nights ago helped to fuel part of the conspiracy in O'Reilly's mind. Would you care to tell everybody then which it is? Is Think Progress running NBC or NBC running Think Progress or what? I have to write somebody a check. Give us the flow chart.

TERKEL: For the record, there is no tie between NBC and Think Progress. I'm quite flattered that Bill O'Reilly thinks we at Think Progress are powerful enough to have direct lines to the head of NBC News and the president of the United States. It is just a crazy conspiracy theory.

OLBERMANN: That is today. Yesterday, it was the other way around.

We owned you guys.

TERKEL: Right.

OLBERMANN: Tomorrow, who knows. As I said, it will be Trotsky and Stalin. The irony and shamelessness of this, him saying that your website is, quote, devoted to hurting any prominent person who disagrees with liberal politics and they don't want criticism and if you do it, they'll get you. Psychologically, I think this is known as projection. Aren't those his tactics? Weren't you a witness to that, a victim of them?

TERKEL: Absolutely. Bill O'Reilly needs to take a long look in the mirror. He said that paparazzi are the scum of the Earth and Americans are entitled to their right to privacy. Evidently, that only applies if you agree with Bill O'Reilly. If you don't agree with Bill O'Reilly, it is OK to be followed and harassed while you're on vacation or to have his henchmen come and accost you in your own garage. So it's only if you agree with him you get those rights.

OLBERMANN: Something that is actually happening that pertains to this tangentially; the O'Reilly sponsors responding to complaints about specifically that harassment tactic, some of the other ones that he has done in the last few years that have actually been borderline stalking stuff. Do you see that movement regarding the advertisers on that particular issue? Because they don't care about content, but they care about how people are perceived, whether or not they're stalkers. Do you see that issue gaining more traction with advertisers?

TERKEL: I hope so. I mean, what we are trying to do is just let advertisers know what their dollars are funding. Their dollars are funding this type of harassment. We want statements, do they agree with this or do they not agree with this. Hopefully that message will get back to Bill O'Reilly. I'm lucky enough that, even though this happened to me, I happen to write for a well read website. We would like to do our part to help make sure that this doesn't happen to other people.

This isn't a liberal or conservative issue. I have had people write in to me, saying I may not agree with your positions, but I find what O'Reilly did pretty despicable.

OLBERMANN: As I pointed out, when it was a left wing blogger who went to Long Island, found O'Reilly's house and was trying to confront him there, took pictures, tried to get pictures in there. It is inappropriate. It is a - there are some rules here and they apply in both directions to everybody, don't they?

TERKEL: I mean, I absolutely agree. I think there is one thing, we criticize what O'Reilly says. We put up video of his comments. But it takes it to a totally other level to go and actually find that person, disturb them while they are with their family, and make them feel uncomfortable and intimidate them.

OLBERMANN: Is there some sort of unintended usefulness at the end of the day in his escalating these conspiracy theories, the shaking of this tree? It doesn't expose your website or the left wing smear merchants office we have on the fourth floor. But ultimately he - again, there is this projection element here. He seems to be describing everything that he does and projecting it on to everybody else. Is that the silver lining here?

TERKEL: Well, I think a lot of people who have been watching his show recently are confused by what is going on. You have all of these conspiracy theories about this blog that suddenly has control over NBC News and the president, everyone in this well financed cabal. I think people watching are just scratching their heads a little confused. The more out there his conspiracy theories get and the more extreme his rhetoric or his tactics, I think he may be losing people who might agree with him ideologically.

OLBERMANN: That's right. Pick one Goldstein. It is either George Soros or it's Markos Moulitsas or it's me or it's you or Podesta or somebody. You have to have one. Otherwise, other people can't follow the story that easily. Amanda Terkel, managing editor of, thanks, once again, for coming on.

TERKEL: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 2,147th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.