Thursday, April 30, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Thursday, April 30, 2009
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons

Guest: Roy Gulick, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, John Dean, Michael



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

Swine H1N1 flu: No reason to panic. Just because last night the president said you shouldn't get on any plane if you're feeling fluish and then this morning the vice president said you just shouldn't get on any plane.


VICE PRES. JOE BIDEN, UNITED STATES: I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not just going to Mexico, it's you're in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.


OLBERMANN: The political fallout and a little calm talk from an expert on the media panic over what appears to be not much worse than your average flu outbreak.

Rebranding the GOP: It unveils "The National Council for a New America." Good idea. Remind everybody how you F'ed-up the old America.

Condoleezza Rice explains - al Qaeda has been a greater threat to the U.S. than was Nazi Germany. Also, she tells students at Stanford, she didn't authorize torture, she merely forwarded on the authorization for torture.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance.


RICE: That's what I did.


OLBERMANN: Our special guest, John Dean, who says that statement by Dr. Rice just happens to be her admission to the crime of conspiracy.

Bad timing: Miss California joins an anti-gay marriage political group, just as the Miss California pageant directors reveals she not only got breast implants, but they paid for them. Performance-enhancing drugs?


CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA: I have no comment for that. Next question.


OLBERMANN: And another gift from the gods. Bill O'Reilly does a webcast.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: O'Reilly. (INAUDIBLE). O'Reilly, (INAUDIBLE) you're selling out.


OLBERMANN: Now, who can argue with that?

All that and more - now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's OK. It's really not your fault.



OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

The media overreaction to the H1N1 virus, swine flu, sufficient enough tonight for a network television medical expert to say on air that the media was overreacting and so would be any American school that closed its doors without clear evidence that one of its students had been affected. On the other hand this morning, the vice president the United States said, "I wouldn't go anywhere in confine the places right now."

Our fifth story on the Countdown: Politicians, panic or the swine flu

which is the most hazardous to your health?

Vice President Biden on "THE TODAY SHOW" first defending the Obama administration's decision not to close this country's border with Mexico. Then this .


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Let me ask this. And this is by no means a gotcha type of question, I promise. But if a member of your family came to you .


LAUER: No, Mr. Vice President - if a member of your family came to you and said, "Look, I want to go on a commercial airliner to Mexico and back within the next week," would you think it's a good idea?

BIDEN: I would tell members of my family - and I have - I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now. It's not just going to Mexico, it's you're in a confined aircraft when one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me.

I would not be, at this point, if I - if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway. So, from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you're out in the middle of a field and someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft .

LAUER: Right.

BIDEN: . or a closed container, a closed car, a closed classroom, it's a different thing.


OLBERMANN: He did not add: hold your breath until next Tuesday.

Within two hours, the White House released this statement from the vice president's spokesperson, which reads in part, "The advice he, the vice president, is giving family members is the same advice the administration is giving to all Americans, that they should avoid unnecessary air travel to and from Mexico. If they are sick, they should avoid airplanes and other confined public spaces, such as subways. This is the advice the vice president has given family members who are traveling by commercial airline this week."

The secretary of homeland security is offering the same interpretation of Mr. Biden's intent, quoting, "I think the vice president, if he could say that over again, he would say, 'If they're feeling sick, they should stay off the public transit or confined spaces because that this is indeed the advice that we're giving."

Criticism of Mr. Biden's remarks by the travel industry unsurprisingly swift, from an American Airline spokesman, by way of example, "To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fear-mongering."

Let the de-mongering begin.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you feel sick, if you are exhibiting symptoms, flu-like symptoms - coughing, sneezing, runny nose - that you should take precautions, that you should limit your travel. And I think he just - what he said and what he meant to say.

I understand what he said and I'm telling you what he meant to say.

Which was that .



OLBERMANN: And at the Department of Homeland Security news conference this afternoon, the question raised again: Are all modes of transportation safe? The answer was: yes.

Let's call in our own Howard Fineman, also, a senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for "Newsweek" magazine and not wearing a mask.

Good evening, Howard.



OLBERMANN: In the context of commentators asking if this was actually a bio-terror attack and the "Associated Press" reporter kicking off that news conference last night, asking if we maybe should close the border with Mexico, if the president considered it. What the vice president said wasn't that much of a gaffe. On the other hand, it was the vice president.

What's the reaction been in Washington?

FINEMAN: Well, part of the reaction is eye-rolling and there goes Joe Biden again. And we know Joe, and that's what he does. He's not a loose canon, sometimes, he's a whole flotilla. But, this was serious, because it had potential economic effects and it sort of amped up, as you said, this sort of semi-paranoia that's already abroad and in the land.

And there's a lot of backing and filling first by the vice president's office. That wasn't adequate. That was a modified, limited hangout, as they used to say in the old Nixon days, and it required, basically, the HHS, the CDC, the DOT and Robert Gibbs to set the story straight. So, it was taken seriously. It wasn't a funny matter.

OLBERMANN: One death in this country, and tragic as it was, technically it was not that of an American citizen. But in a paranoid time, is there a limit to the success of efforts to correct what the vice president said?

FINEMAN: Well, they certainly, in the administration, tried hard to correct it and swiftly. The first statement wasn't adequate to the task, but they did have Ray LaHood of DOT, they did have Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security, they had Robert Gibbs out there being laughed at any press room even as he tried to correct the record. Gibbs said to me later, he said, "Look, this was a teachable moment."

But it's not the kind of teachable moment that the administration wished it had to take time for today. They got a lot of other stuff going on.

OLBERMANN: The president was the first public official to go out there and say, as he did last night, "Don't get on public transportation if you have these certain flu-like symptoms." Now the vice president is taking it further, presumably further than he intended to or was supposed to intend to - what is this sense of possible political overreaction, for the most noble of reasons, and you'd rather have that than the other kind of reaction, but if it's piled on top of media overreaction - I mean, FOX used the graphic last night that read, "New Black Death, question mark."

Things gotten out of hand in the media and in the press conferences more than they have in terms of medically?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it seems like at times, a closed loop between a political establishment and the media to the detriment perhaps of the American people, who are all keeping their kids home from school. I don't know that it's necessarily wise for the president to have gone out there and sort of act like he was in an episode of "Grey's Anatomy." And Joe you know, Joe Biden took it a step beyond that this morning with - and didn't have the ability to be exact in his language about it.

I think the other problem here, Keith, is that the administration has been focused on economics, rightly so. There's a hang-up in a lot of the confirmation and appointment of administration staff, including a lot of people in the health care end of things. HHS secretary only confirmed yesterday. No surgeon general, no head of the FDA, who by the way, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, who had been New York City health commissioner, be the superb person to be out there talking about this.

I don't know that the president and the vice president should have gotten involved at this level, because that in and of itself amps up the sense of crisis.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the president last night tried to medicate the country and also fix our car engines for us. It was kind of a busy night for him.


OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC .

FINEMAN: Yes, it was.

OLBERMANN: Thank you as always, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The CDC's official count of U.S. cases of swine flu, H1N1, has topped 100 for the first time. It's across 17 states. Fort Worth, Texas, has become the first major city school district close. It did so today. But most people in this country who have gotten ill have recovered.

The World Health Organization is calling the flu by it's new name, influenza A H1N1, reports 236 cases worldwide and that is across 11 nations.

Joining us now, the chief of infectious diseases at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Dr. Roy Gulick.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: Before we talk - precautions. Give me a little context on this. I mean, right now, assuming the thing does not mutate and become more virulent than it is right now, that what we know about it still is true next week, next month, next year - isn't this surprisingly similar to seasonal flu outbreaks, in any way (ph) right now?

GULICK: It's very much like the flu that we see every year. Flu is a common viral illness. It causes symptoms in people that tend to resolve over seven days. It's transmitted easily from person to person, and some people forget the flu can be a very severe illness. That is 36,000 people in the U.S. die every year from flu-related complications.

Now, many of those people are either the very young, less than two years, or the elderly, over 65, or people with chronic conditions, such as heart disease or pulmonary disease. But flu is a major killer in any year. What's different about this flu, the swine flu, is that it's a new virus.


GULICK: And so, so essentially no one has immunity to this virus because we simply haven't seen this virus before. But the epidemic, as we're looking at it right now, looks very much like an outbreak of seasonal flu.

OLBERMANN: Is there a point at which you say - all right, we're probably in a safe zone here, and we don't have to worry about this becoming suddenly so virulent that it would kill more than the average of 100 people a day who die from flu or complications of ordinary flu?

GULICK: Well, I think what's raised the concern about the swine flu is that the fact in Mexico, that over 150 people have died, and that struck people. And we didn't really know how many people were infected. In fact, we still don't today. More than 2,000 cases are suspected and it maybe many, many more.

OLBERMANN: And the assumption on that, as I understand it from my friends in the medical profession, is this: that that's a very - it originated near a corporate farming pig farm operation in one of the poorest parts of Mexico, where people are not likely to have the money to seek immediate medical care. And by the time anyone got any attention early on the stages of this, as it spread, it was too late for them. That this - any kind of flu can be fatal if untreated, and that perhaps, that's why that was such a heavy, fatal yield in Mexico. Is that the assumption of this?

GULICK: Well, we really don't know.


GULICK: We don't know all the answers. Another theory is simply that many, many more thousands of people have been infected with the flu, and what we're seeing is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the deaths.

OLBERMANN: The precautions on this, I would assume that there were people who heard what Vice President Biden said today. They said, "Oh, that sounds pretty good to me. I'm not getting in a plane, I'm not getting to a subway, I'm not getting in a car with strangers, I don't know." Do we have to go to that sort of extreme or anywhere close to that?

GULICK: No, we're not. And I think people knees to use common sense. I think the most important this is - if you're sick, if you have the flu, don't go to work, don't go to school, don't ride public transportation. Stay home. Take care of yourself.

And for people who are coughing or sneezing, use tissues. Wash your hands frequently. These are common things we should be doing with every flu outbreak and this one is no exception.

OLBERMANN: Based on what the president said last night, what the vice president said last night, a lot of the media coverage. I refer to Tim Johnson saying on ABC tonight he thought there had been media overreaction to it. Would you think that we have sort of picked this up and run with it to a greater degree than we should have?

GULICK: Well, I think people do need to know what the facts are. And one thing that I've been impressed with is that things can change day to day. So, I think it's important that the word is out there, but people need to know what to do to protect themselves. And the fact that we're talking about it and saying this is not really all that different than the average flu outbreak, most people who have had the swine flu are actually getting better. And most people have had by far the most, have had mild disease.

As you said, there's been one death here in the country, and it was a young child who had an underlying medical condition.

OLBERMANN: And who had presumably contract it'd before he came to this country, too.

GULICK: Possibly.

OLBERMANN: Possibly. Yes.

GULICK: Again, I don't think we know for sure.

OLBERMANN: Dr. Roy Gulick, the chief of infectious diseases at New York Presbyterian Hospital - thanks for coming in. We appreciate the perspective.


OLBERMANN: And the common sense here.

The key to H1N1, of course, in the future is its unpredictability. That's true for politics, too, especially oddly, the politics of prosecuting torture. For better or worse, each time President Obama seems to give the Bush administration the chance to wiggle out from the grave responsibilities and recriminations of torture, somebody from that administration tries to wiggle back in. When a student at Stanford University claimed the Nazis were the greatest threat America ever faced, the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, interrupted and said that the Nazis never attacked the American mainland and al Qaeda did. The Nazis, she implied, were not a great threat as al Qaeda.

And, oh, by the way, according to our guest, John Dean, regarding torture, Dr. Rice admitted to her part in a criminal conspiracy. Oops!


OLBERMANN: Rebranding the Republicans. Bright, fresh ideas from John McCain and Mitt Romney? Condoleezza Rice not only insists al Qaeda was worse than the Nazis, but she may have also admitted to criminal conspiracy on tape. John Dean analyzes.

And the congresswoman who called the story of why hate crime victim Matthew Shepard was murdered a, quote, "hoax," has today made it worse.

Worst Persons is ahead on Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just two days after the defection of Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, the Republicans' rebound has begun. In our fourth story:

The new plan to - as Texas Senator Cornyn put it the other day - regain its status as a national party. House Republican Whip Eric Cantor and other top Republicans today are announcing the formation of the National Council for a New America. A response apparently to polls showing more and more Americans approve of the direction of the current America.

The council's agenda does not include classic vote-getters such as gay or immigrant bashing or even abortion, instead it promises, quote, "To build a stronger country through common sense ideas." Common sense ideas it will get from experts. The group now, quote, "gathering the expertise of national leaders and doers."

Who are these leaders and doers reinventing the Republican Party? Former Republican Chairman Haley Barbour; current Bush, Jeb Bush; current Bush want-to be, Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana and mocker of volcano monitoring; Mitt Romney, who's vaguely reminiscent of his late father, Michigan Governor George Romney; and, of course, John McCain, who already reinvented the Republican Party just a year ago into smaller form.

Left out, current GOP chair, Michael Steele, who bragged today that he has already transformed the GOP's historic big tent into a hat.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN: The four of us are - let's say for the sake of this example, all wearing a hat that says GOP, all right? You're from the West, you're from the Midwest, your from the South, I'm from the Northeast. You wear your hat one way, you like to wear, it you know kind of cocked to the left.


STEELE: Yes, you know, that's cool out west.


STEELE: In the Midwest, you guys like to wear west, in the west you wear it to the right.


STEELE: In the South, you guys wear it with the brim straight ahead. Now, the northeast, I wear my hat backwards. You know, because that's how we roll in the Northeast. So, but what do you recognize? We all are wearing the hat that says GOP.


OLBERMANN: His problem, as they said in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," people are not wearing enough hats.

And then there's the mysterious case of Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who blamed the ironically named Club for Growth, an anti-tax group, for pushing Specter out. And then, through a GOP campaign group he helps lead, began new robocalls targeting Specter - because he once associated with a Republican.


ANNOUNCER: We wanted to make sure that we properly introduced him to you. Former President George W. Bush said this about Arlen Specter.

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm here to say it as plainly as I can: Arlen Specter is the right man for the United States Senate. I can count on this man - see, that's important. He's a firm ally.


OLBERMANN: Let's try to sort this out with Chris Cillizza, White House reporter of "The Washington Post," the man who broke the Specter defection story.

Thanks for joining us, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, where to begin? The Republicans are making robocalls against Specter, but the calls are intended for Pennsylvania Democrats, specifically those who are voting in the Democratic primary. I'm really confused. What kind of - who is - what do they want somebody do - what do they want who to do in this case?

CILLIZZA: This is very Machiavellian. Look, Keith, there's two parts to this. One part is plain vindictiveness. They're not happy with the fact that Arlen Specter left the party, obviously, and they want to make life, at least in the short term, a little uncomfortable for him.

The other part is a strategy that has worked on a smaller scale in the past. In 2000, in the New York Long Island area, a guy named Michael Forbes left the Republican Party, became a Democrat. The Republican Party attacked him by supporting him, essentially saying here's something you might not know about Mike Forbes. He supports assault weapons. He votes against the assault weapons ban.

What wound up happening? An elderly librarian named Regina Seltzer won the Democratic primary and Republicans picked up the seat. Now, Arlen Specter is not Michael Forbes, but I think that's the blueprint that they're trying to use.



CILLIZZA: You don't sound convinced.

OLBERAMNN: Well, I just - it is - it's so labyrinthine, I don't know that anybody could - who reached that conclusion could repeat it twice. In other words, who was involved in making up this plan could actually say, "Well, OK, that's what the plans for, OK, repeat what the plans for," and I don't think they could come up with the same answer, it's so complex.

But let me ask you about this new thing, the National Council for a New America. Is this when like - when they did not like "Old Europe"? I mean, why do Republicans hate "Old America"?

CILLIZZA: You know, I actually think, Keith, I'll sound a note of disagreement. I actually think this is not the worst thing Republicans have ever done. Look at our - "The Washington Post" poll, they are very close to rock bottom at this point. Twenty-one percent of people in "The Washington Post" poll are self-identified as Republicans. It's the lowest number since 1983 in our poll.

You have Arlen Specter switching parties this week. It doesn't get any lower than this. I don't thinks it's a terrible idea to try and get out into the country, though, as you pointed out and this would be pointed out many times by Democrats - Haley Barbour, John McCain, Mitt Romney, these are not new faces - Jeb Bush - these are not new faces.

Does that mean they can't push new ideas? No. But it does speak to the leadership vacuum that exists in the Republican Party at the moment.

OLBERMANN: In excluding social issues from the National Council for a New America agenda, are we seeing maybe two kinds of splits within the GOP - not only big and broad versus small and pure - but also fiscal conservative versus social conservative? Or are those, in some way, the same conflict?

CILLIZZA: I think it's a similar conflict though I think you've got the right idea, Keith. I do think that you are seeing a split. You're seeing - what this National Council for a New America, you could essentially call it the establishment wing of the Republican Party and not be too off. Eric Cantor, the House minority leader, who is the guy who started this group, said we've invited everyone.

But the truth of the matter is, the people who were announced on the front end are establishment Republican types. People who weren't announced: Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Mark Sanford - now, all these people are national leaders of a sort, but they're much more movement conservatives than they are establishment conservatives.

And I think the socialist issues thing you're on to something too, Keith - I'll just reference it very quickly, "Washington Post" poll, 49 percent of people in our most recent poll now favor legalizing gay marriage. That's - in three years ago, there was 36 percent. The trend is not moving the right direction for social conservatives.

OLBERMANN: And the next poll you have you to ask, if people are not wearing enough hats.


OLBERMANN: Because Michael Steele needs to know this right now.

CILLIZZA: I have many hats.

OLBERMANN: Yes, Chris Cillizza, among his hats, White House reporter of "The Washington Post" and author of "The Fix" at - as ever, thanks, Chris.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: So last year, it was Governor Palin against the back drop

of a turkey-killing machine. And now, what is she sitting on? Is that a -

is that a dead - no!

And in Bests, Billo, the webcaster guess the location of his own office wrong. We'll go to the maps when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. And it turns out Bill O'Reilly is lost, literally.

First, this is April 30th, thus eight days since Sean Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded for a military families charity; thus seven days since I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he lasted; thus, five days during which Sean Hannity has reneged on his promise. Perhaps, I should have started with something that did not terrify him, like a dunk tank.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Alaska where Governor Sarah Palin's state celebrates 50 years in the union. To commemorate the anniversary, the governor invited the boys from the TV show, "Orange County Chopper," to build an Alaska-themed bike. Before we air a clip from the show, recall that the famous turkey interview that the governor gave before Thanksgiving last year, you might remember after the interview, the Palin people said they were not pleased with the backdrop which makes the setting for this interview a little curious. Here is it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you snowmobile?

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) ALASKA: Oh, yes. Snow machine.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of a snowmobile have you got?

PALIN: We got an Arctic Cat, we got a couple of different kinds, different race machines.


OLBERMANN: It's a bear chair. Not a full stuffed bear, just a chair draped with the skin and head of a dead animal. What you can't see in that picture is that her feet were resting on an ottoman. (LAUGHTER)

To the cat walk, where for years, we've been cataloging the epic struggling between beautiful people and the ability to fancy walk - a fancy pageant walking. A bruising battle between the models and the law of gravity. Unfortunately, tonight, Sir Isaac Newton has claimed another victim.

From the interweb, we think it's in Brazil, watch as this lady makes her way down the runway. You think the black square in the middle of the runway might be her downfall. No, she dodges that, plays to the crowd, and then - yoink! Mugging for the fans will get you every last time.

Condoleezza Rice suggests al Qaeda was or is more of a threat than the Nazis were. And, by the way, John Dean thinks she has just admitted to criminal conspiracy. Well, big day for her. He joins us next.

And then Miss California pads her resume, joins an anti-gay marriage group just as the pageant reveals it put up the money so she could pad something else.

These stories ahead, but first time for "Countdown's" top three best persons in the world. Number three, best explanation for total confusion. Bill-o has started online web chats. Not that kind. Anyway, I think we figured out something that's wrong with him - everything that's wrong with him. He's lost. Not metaphorically, I mean geographically, he's actually lost.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: I am on the 17th floor on the Avenue of the Americas in New York City. This is Rockefeller Center. Right across the lane is NBC, who we don't like. And it's pretty interesting that they're on one side of the street. We're on the other, of course, looking down there on the left side of the street.


OLBERMANN: OK. Here's the problem. Let's go to the maps. This is the standard cartographic view of New York City, avenues up and down, streets across, going up the map in ascending order. It's just as he describes it, Fox, there, your lower left-hand corner. Down from the intersection of 48th street, NBC, just up from the intersection at 49th street. Traffic flow is uptown, as indicated by the red arrow.

The problem is obvious. Fox is, in fact, on the left side of the street. NBC is on the right side of the street. You tell a cab driver in New York, going up the Avenue of the Americas, let me off on the left side, where NBC is, he's never going to stop. And you're going to wind up with a fare on the meter of just over a million dollars.

Now, let's look at this second map, that slightly skewed bill from Bill-O's office. There again, not only is Fox still on the left side of the avenue. But it's also on the left side of 48th street. And there we are, NBC, on the right side. Well, there you have it. Bill has no idea where he is. Come on, boy, this city is perfect for you. The streets are consecutively numbered. By the way, only tourists say Avenue of the Americas. We New Yorkers call it Sixth Avenue.

Number two, best defense, an unnamed marching band baturn - in English, that is a baton twirler, from Courts Hill California. As she walked to school, a 17-year-old was grabbed by two men who tried to rob her. So, she hit the first guy in the nose, then kicked the second one in the groin, then hit both of them with the baton, repeatedly. Then they ran away.

Number one, best community uprising. A bully in Castwick High School (ph) in Ontario, Canada shouted anti-Asian slurs at, and threw a punch at a 15-year-old fellow student, whom he did not realize was a karate black belt. The Asian victim broke the bully's nose with one punch. The victim was promptly suspended and arrested. The victim's family, fearful of more anti-Asian hate, was ready to move out.

Then an amazing thing happened, 400 of the kids' fellow students all dressed alike, many carrying signs supporting him and denouncing racism and bullying, walked out of school in protest. Police are reconsidering which one to charge in that case.


OLBERMANN: Condoleezza Rice was the secretary state of the United States. She was the national security adviser to the president of the United States. And yet, in our number three story tonight, it is sadly no longer surprising how much she can get wrong in the span of about five minutes, taking questions from university students. And, oh, by the way, in the process, may have also admitted to a crime.

The clip from this Monday is up on Youtube. We lacked the time to set her straight on everything she got wrong. But the World Trade Center towers, they had 110 stories, madam, not 80. But we will take on two narratives she tried to advance from historic and present day. First, in justifying what she will not call torture, Ms. Rice appeared to suggest that al Qaeda was the greatest threat the United States of America has ever faced.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even in World War II, as we faced Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat America has ever faced, even then -

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, but they - they harmed our allies.

RICE: Just a second; 3,000 Americans died in the Twin Towers and in the Pentagon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five hundred thousand died in World War II.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We did not torture the prisoners of war.

RICE: And we didn't torture anybody here, either.


OLBERMANN: Forget that Germany's ally did attack the homeland, and that the Nazis overran Europe and much of Asia and had an unquestioned program to develop actual nuclear weapons, and the inter-continental missiles that would drop them on this country, and were doing so as early as 1943. If the criteria for water boarding is attack on the homeland, what, then, Ms. Rice of the Civil War, when Confederate troops attacked Maryland and Pennsylvania and Lincoln did not water board? What of the Revolutionary War, when British troops killed more than 3,000 Americans, and Washington did not water board.

What, Dr. Rice, of the War of 1812, when British troops burned much of Washington, D.C. to the ground and Madison did not water board.

But Ms. Rice hurt her case even more rhetorically by invoking kind of Nixonian defense, the one that went, if the president does it, it's not illegal, and legally, by admitting, as Nixon's White House counsel will momentarily explain, to a crime in conveying Mr. Bush's authorization thereof.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is water boarding torture.

RICE: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture. So, that's - and, by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency. And so, by definition, if it was authorized, by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.


OLBERMANN: Returning to our program, once again, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, also, of course, author of "Broken Government" and "Worse Than Watergate." Welcome back, sir.


OLBERMANN: You can explain what Dr. Rice just probably unintentionally admitted to there?

DEAN: Well, it's quite surprising. She clearly admitted she's not an attorney, because she wouldn't have made the statement she made. She was trying to say she hadn't authorized anything. Then she proceeded to say that she, indeed, passed orders along to the CIA to engage in torture, if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice.

This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it's known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it is known in American law. And this, indeed, is a crime, if it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.

OLBERMANN: Was this more the Nixon/Frost defense, or was she trying to say that President Bush only authorized methods that were already legal and, since that included water boarding, therefore, working backwards, water boarding must have been legal?

DEAN: Well, it's a little fuzzy what she was saying and she was obviously trying to extricate herself and keep herself at a safe distance that she was only operating under some general guidance of the president making things legal. So, it's not clear whether this is a full-throated Nixonian type defense, Keith, or whether it's a lot of confusion of the facts, and just throwing things up there to try to protect herself.

OLBERMANN: Ultimately, though, I mean, Dr. Rice, or Secretary Rumsfeld or Vice President Cheney or all of them, singing as a, you know, a barber shop trio, could sit there and say, yes, we signed and we conveyed all kinds of authorizations regarding water boarding. Does it matter at all, if they had been put above the law by the subsequent president and the subsequent Congress?

DEAN: Well, you know, it may not matter as it turns out in the United States. But, I've got to tell you, I think it is going to matter what they say, and how they say it, and when they say it abroad, because there are, indeed, investigations going on. We had news yesterday that Judge Garzone in Spain is, indeed, proceeding with an investigation and inquiry there. He's not announced any specific names but he is certainly looking at these.

These kinds of statements are going to come back and be very interesting to any investigator.

OLBERMANN: I don't want to overstate this point or put too fine a point on it, either. But if President Obama says water boarding was torture, which is what he said last night at the news conference - there was no equivocation about that - is he not admitting now he, in a sense, that he, too, is in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the obligations to investigate and prosecute torture, because that's the part we never seem to remember about the Geneva Conventions. The second part says, if there is evidence of it in your country, you, the leaders of that country, are supposed to do something about it, at least in terms of an investigation?

DEAN: That's very true, Keith. And, indeed, he is, indeed, in violation, if the United States does not undertake investigation of this or ultimately prosecution, if that's necessary. It's not only the Geneva Convention. The Convention Against Torture, also, requires this.

There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like torture light. The world community, I think, is going to hold the United States responsible and if we don't proceed, somebody is going to proceed.

OLBERMANN: John, you saw the president's answers on those questions about torture and water boarding, and did the previous administration authorize it and engage it, and did they break international law in doing so. He seemed to - to give all the elements out of which you would make a yes to that question without ever saying yes. Do you think there is a possibility he's doing this deliberately to hope there is a greater groundswell for prosecution of this in this country? Or what was the nature of that kind of what certainly sounded like hair-splitting from here?

DEAN: Well, it is interesting. The "New York Times" poll just earlier this week came out that 62 percent of the American people do not think there should be investigations and prosecutions of torture. So there is not a broad public support for this, this idea of proceeding in any way against these people. So that might well be what he's doing. And he clearly does want to avoid the political consequences of this, and any blow back that occurs from any investigation he might undertake.

So, I think he's going slowly, which is appropriate. And he has given it to his attorney general, who is going to make ultimate decision.

OLBERMANN: John Dean, author of "Worse Than Watergate," and "Broken Government," always of great help in trying to understand this subject. Thank you, John. All the best.

DEAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of bizarre confluences, Miss California joins an anti-gay marriage group just as the California pageant directors revealed they paid so she could have a little something extra at the Miss USA contest, breast implants.

Worsts, Congresswoman Foxx with a non-apology apology. Blaming the media for her unconscionable claim that the motive for the homo phobic murder of Matthew Shepard was a, quote, hoax. When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest, Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard.


OLBERMANN: Miss California embellishes her portfolio with membership in a political group fighting gay marriage, while the Miss California pageant committee admits it paid for her to embellish her portfolio in an entirely different way, if you know what I mean. That's next, but first time for Countdown's number two story, tonight's worst persons in the world.

The bronze to Bill-O the clown. This webcast I mentioned earlier, gold mine. No makeup, comb-over not reinforced, nobody reigning him in. Fabulous, thank you, Bill. Here is Bill on the first 100 days of the Obama presidency.


O'REILLY: He wants to give health care to people who can't afford it, for whatever reason. Some of these people could afford it if they'd stop drinking, you know, a quart of Gin every day.


OLBERMANN: There it is, what Bill-O really thinks of the folks.

Our runner-up tonight, Karl Rove, another op-ed in the Murdoch Street Journal, during which Rove pulls off the most dishonest thing you can do in a newspaper, or, as Murdoch also did this on Fox, on television. "Now Mr. Obama," Rove writes, "is asking, as he did in a townhall meeting last month, why not do a universal health care system, like the European countries? Maybe because he was elected by intimating that would be extreme?"

Except Mr. Obama did not ask that. Richard in California asked it. In the online townhall on March 26th, Obama read it and answered it, pointed to it, and read it and answered it.


OBAMA: Now, the question is, if you're going to fix it, why not do a universal health care system like the European countries.


OLBERMANN: Obama then answered the guy's question by saying we can't do it like the European countries. Congratulations, Mr. Rove. Anybody can be a scum of the Earth in one thing like politics, but it takes a man of super genius to be the scum of the Earth of politics and then in journalism.

But our winner, again, Congresswoman Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. She is now blaming her remarks, before the passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill by the House, on ABC News. She called the story that Shepard was beaten, his skull fractured, then tied to a fence post for 18 hours and left to die, because his murderers knew he was gay, a, quote, hoax.

The congresswoman now calls that choice of words poor and offers the standard insincere apology. Quote, "I am especially sorry if his grieving family was offended by my statement." You are either sorry or not, Congresswoman. The burden does not lie on if somebody else was offended. "I was referring to a 2004 ABC News "20/20" report on Mr. Shepard's death.

ABC's "20/20" report questioned the motivation of those responsible for Mr. Shepard's death. Referencing this media account may have been a mistake, but it was a mistake based on what I believed were reliable accounts."

The girlfriends of the two murderers testified at their trials that the men had plotted beforehand to rob a gay man and were not under the influence of drugs at the time. In the ABC report, though, one of the women said she had lied under oath just to enhance the murderers' gay panic defense. Also, the murderers suddenly claimed they had been high on Meth for a week.

However, several interviewees also insisted to ABC that one of the murderers had known Matthew Shepard socially and known he was gay. Congresswoman Foxx apparently didn't see that part of the report.

Congresswoman, you are digging yourself in deeper. Apologize, sincerely this time, or resign. Get out and take your myopic view of the world with you. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, today's worst person in the world.


OLBERMANN: After going rogue at the Miss USA Pageant, Miss California Carrie Prejean was enjoying her new title as self-appointed champion of opposite marriage. Pageant officials are now retaliating. They've outed her for having breast implants. Our number one story, Miss California now being accused of using performance enhancers.

The good news is this increases her chance of dating Alex Rodriguez someday. The Miss California organization's co-executive director Shanna Mokler (ph) claiming that not only did Miss Prejean get breast implants, but that the Miss California Organization paid for them.

"Breast implants in pageants is not a rarity. It's very common. I don't personally have them," she said, "but, you know, they are." Adding a little saline to that wound, Miss California USA pageant officials also released this statement, "we are deeply saddened Carrie Prejean has forgotten her platform of the Special Olympics, her commitment to all Californians, and solidified her legacy as one that goes beyond the right to voice her beliefs, and instead reveals her opportunistic agenda."

Today, Miss Prejean, head held high, while channeling her inner and partly silicone Anita Bryant, joining forces with the National Organization for Marriage's campaign against same sex marriage. After being praised for choosing truth over a tiara, Miss Prejean was asked about the implant imbroglio.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you respond to the personal attacks that the Miss California Organization is going against you, going on "Access Hollywood" and talking about, you know, breast implants?

CARRIE PREJEAN, MISS CALIFORNIA: I have no comment to that. Next question?


OLBERMANN: Looking for a cue card? Joining me now, columnist for the "Village Voice," and author of "La Dolce Musto," Michael Musto. Good evening, Michael.


OLBERMANN: No, all I said was good evening.


OLBERMANN: There it is there, Miss California is opposed to same-sex marriage, which is at least marriage between two human beings, but she has fully endorsed now marriage between a man and a woman who is partially made out of plastic.

MUSTO: She is dumb and twisted. She's sort of like a human Barbie Doll. You tell Perez Hilton you are against gay marriage. That's like telling Simon Cowell you're against screeching a show tune. This is the kind of girl who sits on the TV and watches the sofa. You know, she thinks innuendo is a Italian suppository.

Can I keep going? On the pageants now, they really should have easier questions, like what is your middle name or what show was Seinfeld on. This girl is a ding-dong. I didn't even like her earrings.

OLBERMANN: The cruelest cut of all. The outcomes here, too; Perez Hilton looks like an intellectual titan and some sort of civil rights leader. And the new poster girl against same-sex marriage is not just a boob, but a fake boob. This is a real win for this cause, is it not?

MUSTO: Perez is the new me, let's leave him alone. And using the C word is something I would do. But yes, Carrie Prejean, however you say it, she is getting something off her chest. But what she really needs to get off is the price tag there. In the meantime, she's ratcheting up so much sympathy for the gay movement, she might as well be a paid spokeswoman for her. I'd say dethrone her, but we couldn't even get rid of Bush, couldn't impeach him for international war crimes. We are supposed to get rid of an beauty contestant for having falsies and an opinion?

Let her deflate, as it were, and just let her keep going. Eventually, she'll just be looking for a husband who only wants the virgin in the world with breast implants.

OLBERMANN: The morale in this is what, never cross a beauty pageant official who knows you have implants?

MUSTO: Yes, exactly, that's it. This has escalated to a public shaving. What Kokler has left out, Keith, is they also paid for Carrie to cut off her penis, and sand her Adam's Apple and get a head to toe waxing. I know for a fact that Carrie Prejean was Harry Prejean, a homophobic man, who liked marriage so much, he did it three times. Now he's a babe who needs a brain implant. Maybe they could inject some fat from her butt. Oh, they have?

OLBERMANN: Kind of lost in this, Michael, this claim by Shanna Mokler, who herself was Miss USA, was in "Playboy," that implants are commonplace in pageants. I mean, Congress went crazy over artificial performance enhancements in baseball. Should there not be Congressional hearings into this, as well?

MUSTO: Wait, you are telling me a lot of beauty contestants are fake?

Oh, next, you're going to tell me their personalities are artificial, too. Yes, I think there should be Congressional hearings into this. Congress should wash their hands with Purell, get together in a big enclosed room, and decide how all this is like baseball. When I look at Carrie Prejean, I think of basketball, don't you?

OLBERMANN: Maybe - maybe softball. You said personality, personality - there is no personality in this, is there, in these pageants?

MUSTO: No, I said a brain implant. There's no talent. There's no personality. There's just parading down the runway like a ding dong, trying to cure cancer and find the right handbag to match her navel. It's so obsolete, it has to be stopped. But I watch it every year.

OLBERMANN: There it is, your guilty pleasure. The one and only Michael Musto of the "Village Voice," as always, good to talk to you, Michael.

MUSTO: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 2,182nd day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, April 29
video podcast

Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons

Guest: Chris Matthews, Richard Wolffe, Howard Fineman, David Axelrod>

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Our housekeeping here, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" live tonight at 10:00 Eastern. She'll be followed by a live late-night edition of "Hardball" with Chris Matthews at 11:00.

And right now, a full hour of Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

President Obama has just concluded his third formal news conference on this - the occasion of his 100th day in office. In October of 2008, before he'd even won the election, he said, quote, "The first 100 days is important, but it's probably going to be the first 1,000 days that makes the difference." Accordingly, in our fifth story tonight: President Obama's news conference on a completion of his first 100 of his first 1,000 days, he referenced hundreds upon hundreds of days. We will later on this hour drill into detail into Mr. Obama's replies regarding newly Democratic senator, Arlen Specter, and other issues.

But if watching him tonight you got the sense Mr. Obama has tried to accomplish 1,000 days worth of chance in 1/10th the time, that is likely no accident. But the questions and the answers tended to focus more on the days to come. And on one issue, on the days that preceded his arrival in that White House, Mr. Obama asked the seemingly simple question twice, on whether Mr. Bush, by sanctioning waterboarding had sanctioned torture. Instead, he condemned Mr. Bush's decision by invoking one of Mr. Bush's heroes.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: The British, during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture." Churchill understood: you start taking short-cuts, and over time, that corrodes what's - what's best in the people. It corrodes the character of a country.


OLBERMANN: And in addition, he said to the damage done to the country's character, there remains the simple fact that it does nothing - nothing better than honorable interrogation, to prevent damage to the country itself.


OBAMA: The public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individual that were subjected to these techniques, doesn't answer the core question. Which is, could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?


OLBERMANN: Mr. Obama himself provided the well-documented answer: no, it does not make us safer. It did, as we now know, make us less safe in the whole certainly, and while he was less than meticulous about answering the question of whether Mr. Bush had sanctioned torture, he got a chance to display his sense of humor - by being overly meticulous with a very different kind of question.


JEFF ZELENY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most from serving in this office? Humbled you the most? And troubled you the most?

OBAMA: Now, let me write this down.


ZELENY: Surprised, troubled .

OBAMA: I've got - I've got a - what was the first one?

ZELENY: Surprised.

OBAMA: Surprised.

ZELENY: Troubled.

OBAMA: Troubled.

ZELENY: Enchanted.

OBAMA: Enchanted. Nice.


ZELENY: And humbled.

OBAMA: And what was the last one? Humbled?

ZELENY: Humbled. Thank you, sir.

OBAMA: All right.


OLBERMANN: Watching Mr. Obama for us tonight, MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman, also, senior Washington correspondent and political columnist for "Newsweek" magazine.

Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN: The overarching message that the president was trying to send tonight - what do you suppose it was?

FINEMAN: Well, mine is admiration for Jeff Zeleny of "The New York Times," for getting a four-part question.


FINEMAN: Knowing that the "A" student President Obama would be determined to fill up the blue book, you know? Look, the overarching message here is, to me, one of a guy who says, "On the one hand, boy, if I'd been dealt a lot of crises to deal with, two or three times the number that a typical president has," that's what he said, and yet a guy who clearly relishes the job, and who doesn't mind drilling down into specificity. I mean, this is a guy who said at the beginning of the press conference, "Don't forget to wash your hands .


FINEMAN: . and cover your mouth when you cough," who says, "I'm not an auto engineer," and yet he also throws out the line, "By the way, G.M.'s got a lot of good product." How does he know? He seems to know.

And who seemed to be pretty up to, not only the challenge but the specifics all the way around; complaining in answer to Jeff Zeleny that he had learned to his chagrin that he couldn't order the bankers to do things or the Congress to do things, saying he knows he has to coax his way through this job on this big ocean liner but still being patient and determined to do it as fast as he can.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, it has been a major subject here, and it seems to have been broadened out as to a major subject in the mainstream media recently - the subject of torture, and the previous administration. I'm not sure if the president came anywhere close to clarifying where he stands on that. We're going to have David Axelrod on later in this hour, and obviously we'll try to press for some sort of answer from him on this.

But we did get some information here about where this administration stands, not just in terms of the subject, but also in terms of the attempts made to defend the previous use of so-called "enhanced interrogation" by the previous administration.

FINEMAN: Well, it's a fascinating thing, Keith, because moral concerns about the war in Iraq and the methods and the rationale for the war are one of the main things that launched the Obama candidacy and presidency. And every time he tries to settle this question, he makes it more complicated.

As you and Rachel Maddow pointed out a few minutes ago, by saying that the rationale used in the legal memos to justify this torture, and that's what Obama says it was, waterboarding is torture, he came right up to saying that those people need to be questioned in some other place. And then he said, he stopped himself before he went off the edge of the cliff, and he said, "But it was a mistake," as if there are no legal consequences.

The fact that the president of the United States, once again, in a nationally televised press conference said, "Yes, indeed, waterboarding was torture," doesn't settle the question. It means that international forces are going to continue to try to bring this up legally. It means that court cases will continue to be filed. It means Congress is going to continue to demand to investigate it.

So, rather than shutting it off, the president sort of complex, both specific and vague answers, is just going to keep the argument going. And it's going to be something that is going to daunt and dog him all the way along.

OLBERMANN: Well, yes. You know, I've been thinking in those terms too, obviously, from my point of view in my commentator role, all the time of this - these 100 days of this presidency and in the months beforehand when it was imminent and his positions were becoming clear, or so we thought.

I'm wondering now, having heard that careful answer and the second careful answer and the third careful answer about state secrets and how if you're inheriting a bunch of legal cases from the previous administration, you can't turn the ship around in one week and may have to continue to file and then you decide how to rewrite these laws and - because they are, as he said, overly broad.

It's as if - is it possible that he is deliberately keeping this unanswered because there is more information to come? He needs a more broader political support, more questions from Americans, from the media. Is there - is there a sense that maybe this isn't just the "A" student filling up the blue book, but a deliberate attempt to keep this alive but undecided for the time being?

FINEMAN: I don't think he wants to really keep it alive. I think he knows he can't give a definitive answer. He's commander-in-chief now, Keith. In addition, he's no longer a candidate, he's president. He's auto engineer in chief, and surgeon general with the hand-washing. But he's also commander-in-chief, and you noticed in his answer to Jeff, that he talked about his admiration for the troops, that his love of the military from the top brass on down.

He's got two wars going on and he's got a deteriorating situation in Pakistan. I thought one of the sub-headlines of tonight was his basically declaring Pakistan as practically a failed state. We've placed a lot of emphasis on it.

He's got a terribly dangerous and volatile situation there. He needs the support of the military. He needs the enthusiastic advice and backing up of the Pentagon. He's got a much broader portfolio.

And he's going to try to not antagonize the crowd that helped get him launched, while at the same time making sure that he is telling both the troops and the intelligence community that every tool he can possibly allow to happen without - as he'd put it - corroding the character of the country, will be available to them in the war on terror.

OLBERMANN: By the way, he used, in fact, the term "fragile" to describe essentially the internal infrastructure, the simple day-to-day life in the nation of Pakistan.


OLBERMANN: But as to the fragility .

FINEMAN: Yes, I though that was remarkable.

OLBERMANN: . of our politics here, he tried to redefine bipartisanship when the subject of the change of parties of Mr. Specter came up - seemingly this sort of user's guide for Republicans, and it was suggesting, you know, bipartisan means - sometimes you lose but sometimes I will incorporate your ideas.

Was he actually trying to talk to the American voter rather than the Republican Party there? And if so, what was the message?

FINEMAN: Yes. I think he was trying to project the air of sweet reasonableness to the American people - many of whom have bought it so far; basically told Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in sort of "Rump parliament" of Republicans in the Senate, "You know, I'll be glad to deal with you as long as, quote, 'hardcore principles' aren't involved. If it's hardcore principles, it's my way, because number one, your methods didn't work. Number two, the American rejected them."

So, I think he wants to cut a deal with McConnell on health care. I think he was signaling to Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate - we can do a deal on health care. Let's see if they do it. As a backup, by the way, the budget says they can steamroller with the 60-vote if they need to and they're going to have those votes now.

OLBERMANN: Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek" - much thanks as always for your time, sir.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Of course, what the White House meant by some of these answers can probably best be answered from within the White House. So, joining us now from the West Wing - as promised - White House senior advisor, David Axelrod.

Good evening to you, sir.


OLBERMANN: Let me start with the president's characterization of the Bush interrogation techniques, the legal - the legal basis on which they were enacted as a mistake, but he did not and would not say that the previous administration had sanctioned torture. Is that a fine line or a fine hair being split there?

AXELROD: Look, Keith, I think his view on the techniques in question are very, very clear. He banned them. He did it within a couple of days of entering office. And his feeling is, that now, we have to move on. We've got a lot of challenges facing this country and it's time to look forward and not back.

OLBERMANN: He was asked specifically about documents that have been referred to, specifically by former Vice President Cheney, that Mr. Cheney and others who support his position say would verify that lives were saved through the enhanced interrogation methods of the Bush administration. I wanted to clarify the president's answer to that because he said he had read the documents.

Are they in fact the same documents that Mr. Cheney refers to - the ones that he has sought?

AXELROD: Yes, I believe so. And I think it's fair to say that the president has read widely, he's consulted widely. I think he's made the decisions he's made with full knowledge of what he - what he was doing and with a full commitment to both our values and our national security. And there's nothing in those documents that would change his view.

OLBERMANN: He also said that those documents don't address a larger question. Not only the morals and ethics, if there are any that apply to this, but the idea that there was no - there's been - left out of the discussion that if there had been any information gleaned from these processes, that they might not have been obtained from other means, other less invasive means - let's use that term, I just make it up off the top of the head.

But one part of this really struck me here, that - the idea that the whole process, did it make us more safe? Is he - what is - what are the components of his calculations to determine whether or not the entire process had made us more safe?

AXELROD: Well, I think, he - as he said tonight, Keith, the issue is

you have to look at this in its totality. First of all, there's some ambiguity about what techniques yield what information.

But leaving that aside, the question is, whether surrendering our moral authority, engaging in techniques that become recruitment tools for al Qaeda, propaganda tools for terrorists ultimately make us safer. And his feeling is, the answer is no. And that, you can't look at these things in isolation, you have to look at the impact of them in terms of our standing, and in terms of what it does in other parts of the world.

OLBERMANN: I don't want to devote the entirety of our time together on this, but I .



OLBERMANN: One last question about it.


OLBERMANN: And this is to suggest - this is not to imply that the president would either not want to influence this outcome, nor wish to get fully involved in it. But if there is no further action regarding the Bush administration's interrogation techniques, if there are no commissions, if there are no prosecutions - do you think President Obama will be satisfied by that outcome, if that is the outcome?

AXELROD: First of all, Keith, there is a review of much of this going on within the Senate Intelligence Committee right now. So I think that's an important thing to note.

I think that the president feels strongly that lessons have been learned from what's happened before, much of which has been in the public domain. That was one of the reasons he authorized the release of the memos. Much has been learned. It's informed his decision in banning these techniques, and now, it's time to move forward and deal with the - not just the national security challenges we've faced, but myriad of other challenges that he discussed tonight.

OLBERMANN: The question of swine flu and closing the border with Mexico. You can get extremely specific on this. Howard Fineman made that observation that he was, in fact, reminding us all to wash our hands and essentially to cough into our sleeves. One bit of information - had this been raised before, that the president suggesting that if you had flu-like symptoms, maybe you shouldn't get on an airplane, maybe you shouldn't get on a form of public transportation? Or was that something he introduced to this discussion?

AXELROD: Well, I think that those are observations that he has gleaned from conversations with public health - with public health officials. Obviously when you have a situation of this sort, anything - when you start displaying symptoms, anything that keeps you out of the range of others and certainly enclosed areas is a sensible thing to do.

And so, I think he was imparting all kinds of advice that has been shared with him, and it was important to use the forum he had tonight to share that with the American people.

OLBERMANN: Last point, David. Would the president prefer to pass his agenda with Republican votes regardless of Mr. Specter's new affiliation, without - regardless of the immanence presumably of the seating of Al Franken as the senator from Minnesota or are they still an essential component to what you all want to do?

AXELROD: Well, look, I think it's always healthy to have a broad majority supporting your initiatives. And we're going to work - as he said, we're going to work with them where we can. What we're not - what we can't do is embrace a failed economic doctrine that helped get us into the situation we're in, and that's what we're not going to do. And we're not going to suspend progress in service of a larger number of votes.

What we - this country has enormous challenges right now. We have to move forward. We're going to move forward. We're going to do it in concert with anyone who wants to work with us.

And if there are people who don't want to work with us, we have to move forward. We can't wait.

OLBERMANN: White House senior advisor, David Axelrod, joining us from the lawn of the White House. Thank you again, sir.

AXELROD: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Ironically, for all the words the president spoke today, perhaps the most penetrating ones may have come from an unlikely source in an unlikely venue. "There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party." That's the reaction in the op-ed columns of "The New York Times" to the defection of Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party from Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine - Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. Well, Republican for now. Next.


OLBERMANN: Tonight, the president had a news conference. This morning, he'd had a face-to-face with the newest Democratic senator who isn't Al Franken. The Specter defection or Spect (ph) defection. How the conservatives claim this is for them, addition by subtraction. Chris Matthews is next.

Then a remarkable discovery in an endless file of public records. An e-mail from May 2004 by an FBI agent in Iraq seeking further guidance about interrogation techniques that could be used based on what he said was, quote, "an executive order signed by President Bush."

And Worsts: The North Carolina congresswoman who calls the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard, a quote, "hoax."

All ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: President Obama's embrace of Senator Arlen Specter as a Democrat is now official. In our fourth story on the Countdown tonight:

Aside from tonight's news conference, the president welcomed Mr. Specter at the White House this morning, and among Republicans, precious few - read one - publicly expressing much interest in learning from Specter's defection. The president made clear he understood Senator Specter's assertion that he will not be an automatic 60th vote, he mentioned it again on the news conference this evening.

But the president also focused on the obvious benefits of the senator's switch.


OBAMA: I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues like health care, like infrastructure and job creation. I think the vote on the Recovery Act was a classic example. Ultimately, he thought that was the right thing to do. And he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time.


OLBERMANN: That obviously, the president at the news conference tonight.

Senator Specter, this morning, pointedly extending his hand as well.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (D) PENNSYLVANIA: I do think, Mr. President, that I can be of assistance. You have projected the administration that I feel very comfortable with.


OLBERMANN: And White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today left no doubt that the president would campaign and raise money for Senator Specter if asked.

As for Republicans, out of those pretending not to care about Specter's departure, there was one exception. Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, writing in the op-ed pages of "The New York Times," where she clearly disagreed that the party line that Specter's loss was a matter of local politics, quoting, "The political environment that has made it inhospitable for a moderate Republican in Pennsylvania is a microcosm of a deeper, more pervasive problem that places our party in jeopardy nationwide. There is no plausible scenario under which Republicans can grow into a majority while shrinking our ideological confines and continuing to retract into a regional party."

But the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, today voiced what seems to be a sentiment straight from Boss Limbaugh, quoting, "It clarifies the two parties. In the long run, it may actually change the whole dynamic of 2010 and 2012." He might be right but perhaps not in ways he expects.

Chris Matthews joins me now from Burbank.

Chris, good evening.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, "Hardball" HOST: Good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The Democrats' side as personified by the president is something from the sports world here about this change in parties for Specter: Don't gloat, don't celebrate, act like you've been in the end zone before.

MATTHEWS: Well, you have to wonder what the Democrats gain here, because if Specter is right, that he couldn't possibly win the Republican primary next year, the Democrats would have had that seat for the asking. So why did they want to turn over his seat to someone who's been a Republican for all these years if they could have had it? So if Specter is right and he's finished as a Republican, the Democrats would have gotten that seat automatically.

I wonder why they're willing to give so much away to have the president say he'll fight Joe Sestak, a good Democrat, or Pat Murphy or someone like Allyson Schwartz or Josh Shapiro, any one of the candidates that could have run for that nomination. Why is he saying to them, I'm going to fight you on behalf of Arlen Specter?

It's a hell of a good deal for Arlen. I guess I don't figure out what the good deal is for the country. Unless - unless, this president has decided he needs Arlen's vote for health care.


MATTHEWS: Because health care is the most important. It is to me, by the way, a very important issue, if not the most important. And he needs that vote this year. And if Arlen stayed on the Republican Party, he's forced to stay over there - he wouldn't have gotten that health care vote, because Arlen would have been kissing up to people like Bob Asher and the Republican bosses in Pennsylvania between now and next April.

So, it was a short term gain, a sort of like a draft pick they traded for or gave away. They gave away a future younger senator to get a current one who would vote their way in the short run.

OLBERMANN: For a Pennsylvanian to be named later. But besides that vote .


OLBERMANN: . as you suggest on health care, which would be the, I guess, the great insight here, that that's probably what this is about, in the short term, anyway. Is there .

MATTHEWS: That's what the president said tonight.


MATTHEWS: The president, he said that tonight.

OLBERMANN: Is there anything else they could be getting out of Specter in the short term that could be added on to that list?

MATTHEWS: No, I think it's an all gain for him to get the president to say he's going to endorse you, to get the Democratic Party - and wanting to get the Democratic organization in Pennsylvania, to get Eddie Rendell and the rest - he got everything. He got - apparently, his seniority, he's going to be chairman of appropriations or something like that in a year and a half. So, he got everything on the table.

I thought there was really news tonight, Keith, that I don't think anybody's grabbed on to. One is, the - and these are questions that would come up if you had more follow up. He wouldn't answer the question - the president - as to what he would do in extremists. He was asked what would you do if there was an imminent threat and you had somebody in captivity, and you had to decide whether to grill him, somebody you caught in the middle of an operation, for example. He didn't answer that.

He did allude to something very interesting. He said - as you pointed out - that Pakistan, the most dangerous country in the world is fragile. He said that we have some kind of a confidence level - did you hear that?


MATTHEWS: On their nuclear weapons. Somehow, we've got some kind of a deal, some fence operation, where we fence that off and we know we can go directly to some generals and that's going to be protected. No matter what happens to the government over there - I mean, even if the Taliban overthrows the government in Islamabad, we've got some deal at the last minute where they're going to protect those weapons from the crazies. I thought that was fascinating.

OLBERMANN: Well, you know, he's .

MATTHEWS: I think the other thing is - yes, go ahead. I'm sorry.

OLBERMANN: No. But to that point, he said the military of Pakistan understands how important those - it was as .


OLBERMANN: . if there were - as if that answer were directly meant for 16 generals in Islamabad.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Like he had some sort of side deal with the brass over there, that if anything happens, they'll - what are they going to FedEx all the weapons to us at the last minute? Bury them? Blow them up? How do they keep them out of the hands from a government that's about to take over the capital? I think that's a fascinating revelation.

I thought, tonight, he offered some other things - the issue of abortion. On a number of fronts, he's obviously looked at his polling and he wants to soften his image. He doesn't want to look like too big a government guy, like I want to run all these corporations, automotives and et cetera, banking. He really wants to look like he's really pushing back from that.

He wants to be very pro-military. He made a big point of that - he's very pro-military.

He wants to lessen the harshness of the reputation he's getting by the people complaining about the Notre Dame speech, that he's too pro-choice. He wants to pull back from that by offering up the story that I didn't hear before, that there's a task force in the Domestic Policy Council that's looking at ways to reduce - I think he meant: to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, the number of situations that would lead a woman to make a decision about an abortion.

I thought that's very positive. I thought it was interesting. He dropped that out tonight.

OLBERMANN: And reaching out by the way .


OLBERMANN: Reaching to both - and reaching out to people from both camps, both the anti-abortion .


OLBERMANN: . and the pro-choice camps in that - somehow involving them in that task force.

MATTHEWS: Yes. And I think that's what you hear from people like Ryan of Ohio, people on both sides who are pro-choice and pro-life, on both sides, who would like to radically reduce the number of people who choose abortion because they didn't use birth control or didn't practice whatever. They didn't - they put themselves in this situation where abortion was an option when a lot of people obviously don't want to be in that situation.

So I think he was - it's very interesting that he was doing that.

It was a very subtle message to the pro-life community, I think.

OLBERMANN: Chris Matthews, who will not only bring you a special news conference edition of "Hardball," live tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern but also tonight, graces the stage of "The Tonight with Jay Leno" on your local NBC station. Safe trip home, my friend.

MATTHEWS: Hey, thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As Sen. Specter and Snowe decry those who have radicalized the Republican Party, the president took a chance in Missouri today to reach out to them.


OBAMA: Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I'm not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation.


OLBERMANN: Hey, you don't like that phrase, "tea bag?" Explain your complaints to him, not to me.

And a serious conversation. Bonne chance - one of the lawyers who paved the way for torture calls his legal opinion at the time, quote, "a good faith analysis of the law." While 2004 FBI E-mail surfaces which refers to an executive order by President Bush about interrogation techniques.

And a couple of loose screws in Congress. Ms. Bachmann tops yesterday's historical gaffe. Another congresswoman trying to defeat a hate crime bill calls the story of the murder of Matthew Shepard a hoax. You will not believe what she said. Worst persons ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Just a week after he volunteered to be waterboarded for charity, there is finally some kind of vague comment out of Sean Hannity about the offer here for $1,000 for every second he might last, a comment through an intermediary not like, you know, living up to boast or anything.

The other big-talk, no-action conservatives who defended such torture even before the president was asked about it tonight, a new development, an E-mail from an FBI agent in Iraq asking five years ago for clarification about President Bush's executive order on interrogation techniques. What executive order was that?

Worse, the hate crime legislation inspired by the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard. One congresswoman hateful, deceitful argument against it, calling it a hoax with Matthew Shepard's mother present. You are watching the post-presidential news conference edition of Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: There are the agenda items President Obama seeks and the ones he must confront like the now-staggering body of evidence that our country tortured under the previous administration and in a systematic way. In our third story in the Countdown, the president tonight offered his latest attempt to frame the issue while new evidence keeps rising to the surface.

First, the president, when asked whether the previous administration had sanctioned torture.


OBAMA: Waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion, that's the opinion of many who have examined the topic. And that's why I've put an end to these practices.

I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the - whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.


OLBERMANN: But, add this to the vast landscape of interlocking evidence, a document from the ACLU trove of records on this subject spotlighted today by Jason Leopold of the "," an E-mail dated May 22nd, 2004, in which a senior FBI agent stationed in Iraq seeks further guidance about what interrogation techniques may be used.

The E-mail notably refers and refers six times, to an executive order specifically named, quote, "Executive Order signed by President Bush authorized the following interrogation techniques among others: sleep 'management," use of M-W-Ds (military working dogs), 'stress positions' such as half squats, 'environmental manipulation' such as the use of loud music, sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, et cetera."

The E-mail could have significant implications, particularly since it followed the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib. The E-mail seeks guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were required to report harsh interrogations that may have violated FBI standards but were within the guidelines of that executive order.

The understanding of the E-mail's author is that these enhanced interrogation techniques, approved by the executive order, were, quote, "still on the table but that certain techniques can be used only if very high level authority is granted."

The author of the E-mail claims that FBI personnel have had no direct involvement in the Abu Ghraib abuses. The E-mail points that the evidence of a direct link between President Bush and specific interrogation techniques employed in Iraq. Let's turn now to MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe. Richard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: That E-mail and a nugget it contains or nuggets, in a moment, but President Obama and the news conference first. The three answers that he gave on torture tonight, including one on state secrets - did they represent a shift in this balancing act that he's tried to maintain on this subject? And why is he still out there on the tight rope?

WOLFFE: Well, first of all, there is a shift against what I think has become a fairly widespread idea that he was going squishy on using the word "torture." I saw no sign that he was shying away from describing the so-called techniques as what they are, which is torture.

And secondly, I respectfully disagree with what Chris Matthews suggested. One of the ideas that is very pervasive was, at that time - it's still now - is that somehow, under duress, presidents of any kind have to use or have to reserve torture as one of the tools in the toolbox.

Well, he went to some length to explain this anecdote about Winston Churchill and he said Churchill was under incredible duress. London was being destroyed. He held detainees but he said Britain didn't do that because that's not what he represented.

I think that was a very clear explanation, as clear as he would want to make it, moving forward, that no matter what the situation, no matter how imminent the threat, no matter how dire the circumstances, he wasn't prepared to do that kind of thing.

So to the extent there's a shift there, I think it's resetting the debate about how these decisions get made. Because you have to think back to the post-9/11 era. Everyone says, well, you know, the last remaining defense is that things look very good now that looked very bleak then.

That's the moment a country gets tested. What this president is saying you can keep your values even in a time of duress.

OLBERMANN: And yet, to borrow a phrase from journalism, as willing as he has been to go into the depth that he has, including this description of this as torture, to describe legal rationales for it as a mistake, to make that Churchill analogy, which is also a political flush in a card game, given who Churchill is always quoted by in this country.

WOLFFE: Right.

OLBERMANN: All of those elements, he's buried the lead. He will not answer that question, is waterboarding - as a torture, did that mean the previous administration sanctioned torture? It would seem to be a natural conclusion to everything else he said. Why is he not prepared to write the opening paragraph of the story?

WOLFFE: Well, on one level, I think there is a desire to move the debate beyond the question of to prosecute or not to prosecute. They want to have a debate about what the values of this country are and will be and what's appropriate in national security given those values.

There is, of course, a legal jeopardy here. And to prejudge a case, to get drawn into a legal issue anymore than they already are or will be, is something they're reluctant to do, partly for political reasons, partly for legal too.

Having said that, no matter what their concerns are, they are already sucked into this one. In Spain, the judge that pursued Pinochet in Chile is now saying that because of the memos that have been released, what we once knew by intuition, the judge said, we now know for a fact.

So whatever happens, this administration, this president, what they have released and what they have said is going to be part of a legal proceeding whether here or overseas on this question of the legal liability of senior Bush administration officials.

OLBERMANN: And to that point, we will see obviously what, if anything, develops from that FBI E-mail. But assuming its authenticity, this describes techniques approved by an executive order that seemed to mirror some of the abuses right out of Abu Ghraib. But pardon me, what executive order was this?

WOLFFE: Well, there's obviously a lot we don't know. It's pretty clear from the public reports, from the news reports, that the methods at Guantanamo Bay and presumably from the CIA sites were exported to Abu Ghraib.

If anyone has the belief that this was somehow some enterprise concocted somewhere in the Pentagon or on the ground, then, over time, if they see it already, we are going to see this go up to the highest possible levels. That is very clear.

Whether it's this executive order or something else, what's going to change the politics, I think, is putting together President Bush's statements at the time, blaming some low-level people, or Donald Rumsfeld saying at that time that it was just because these people had digital cameras that it was so shocking.

Putting that together with the private paperwork that is now coming out, that's what's going to change people's opinions because people will see that frankly, there was a deception going on. And I think the politics will change as a result.

OLBERMANN: And a constant deception. There might as well have been a cabinet level position in charge of deception. Perhaps there was. Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, as always, great. Thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The famous, anyone? Anyone seen "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." This piece of American history that Ben Stein was asking the class about? Michele Bachmann completely screws it up on the floor of the House. A wonderful confluence of politics and culture.

And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, in the wake of the president's news conference, her special guest, senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett.


OLBERMANN: Countdown's number two story tonight. This is April 28th(sic), thus seven days since Sean Hannity offered to be waterboarded for a military families' charity, thus six days I offered to donate $1,000 per second that he might last, thus five days during which the cowardly Mr. Hannity has reneged on his promise.

But there was news on this today from a Hannity surrogate. On "The View," Elisabeth Hasselbeck indicating that Hannity's excuse for begging off would be based on the somewhat tortured logic - forgive me - that he already gives enough money to charity so he doesn't have to do this even though it was his idea. And I am not permitted to talk about another big-talk, no-action conservative blowhard because it's only a free country for Hannity and her.


ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Sean does a lot for - he has concerts all over the United States to support the troops, raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars for our military men and women and their families. He doesn't need this to do it.

And Keith Olbermann, by the way, had nothing to do with this conversation. He is trying to get in on what happened on Sean's show which kind of kicks his behind in terms of ratings and capitalize on that.


It's a ploy. He's just trying to get people to invite him into this conversation. He wasn't invited into the conversation nor the challenge.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": It is free speech, honey. But what about the fact that Sean Hannity is not doing it? Come on.

HASSELBECK: He's not doing it.


Wait a minute. If they really want to raise money for their cause why doesn't Keith match the amount of money Sean raises in his freedom concerts?


OLBERMANN: May I see your invitation to the conversation? Maybe I'll do that, too, Elisabeth. But first, we have to get past the fact that right now, Sean Hannity is ducking because he's terrified. Worsts - next. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just a second. I've got to change the date on my watch - 29th. It's the 29th, not the 28th. All day, too.

Time for Countdown'S number one story, tonight's worst persons in the world. The bronze to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. We're all laughing at her historical gaffe yesterday about Jimmy Carter and swine flu. It turned out she topped herself on the floor of the House.

The Carter gaffe first, "I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under a Democrat President Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it is an interesting coincidence."

Yes, the swine outbreak was in February 1976 when Republican Gerald Ford was president 11 months before Carter was inaugurated. But on the same day, she pulled this whopper, "FDR applied the opposite formula, the Hoot-Smawley Act, which was a tremendous burden on tariff restrictions and then, of course, trade barriers and the regulatory burden and taxpayers. That's what we saw happen under FDR. The American people suffered for almost 10 years under that kind of thinking."

Seriously, congresswoman, you are a buffoon. Smoot-Hawley, not Hoot-Smawley. It was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. And not only was it passed in 1930, three years before Franklin Roosevelt became president, but it was written by two Republicans, Sen. Reed Smoot and Congressman Willis Hawley. It was signed into law by a Republican President Herbert Hoover over the pleading of all the economists and big bankers, even the head of J.P. Morgan, and it was repealed under FDR in 1934.

I know, I know, congresswoman. You weren't paying attention in history class in high school. You were too busy going to the movies. But it was in the movies, in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" where Ben Stein, the economics teacher, asked his class, "Anyone? Anyone?" where anyone raise or lowered. He was asking about the Smoot-Hawley Act. Hoot-Smawley. Hoot-Smawley.

We let this woman vote on actual pieces of legislation. But it's worse that that. We let her drive a car. Hoot-Smawley.

Runner up, Rupert Murdoch,. The Audit Bureau reports the average American daily news paper lost just over seven percent of its circulation during the last six months compared to a year ago. Some did better, some did worse. The circulation of the "L.A. Times" dropped 6.6 percent. That of the "New York Times" dropped 3.6 percent.

But the biggest loss in the top 25 market - Murdoch's "New York Post." Circulation is down 20.5 percent. This other piece of the Murdoch empire, the cornerstone of the reactionary, the jerk, half-fiction racist, xenophobic, retaliatory conservative media and one out of every five readers has vanished, three times as fast as "New York Times" readers.

How can the stockholders of News Corp. continue to indulge Rupert Murdoch's personal political agenda, vanity press? How can the folks not stand up and say, "Rupert, you owe me money."

But our winner, and this is the most despicable thing said on the floor of the House in decades. This feature is Congresswoman Virginia Foxx from the fifth district of North Carolina, Winston-Salem, arguing against the Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill.


REP. VIRGINIA FOXX (R), NORTH CAROLINA CONGRESSWOMAN: The hate crimes bill that is called the Matthew Shepard Bill is named after a very unfortunate incident that happened where a young man was killed. But we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him. The hate crimes bill was named for him. But it is really a hoax that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.


OLBERMANN: Congresswoman Foxx you are the only hoax here. One of Matthew Shepard's killers admitted under oath that he knew he was gay, that they lured him from a bar by pretending to be gay themselves. Then they robbed him, pistol-whipped him, fractured his skull, tortured him with sharp implements and they tied him to a fence post in rural Wyoming. He was not found for 18 hours.

There is no excuse for Congresswoman Foxx's remarks. She is, at best, callous, insensitive, criminally misinformed. At worst, she is a bold-faced liar. And if there is a spark of a human being in there somewhere, she should either immediately retract and apologize for her stupid and hurtful words, or she should resign her seat in the House.

She is not worthy to represent this country nor any of its parties nor any of its peoples. She is our shame. And adding to our shame, she said all that as Matthew Shepard's mother sat in the House gallery. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, fifth district of North Carolina, today's worst person in the world.

That is Countdown for this the 2,181st day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

And now, with reaction to the president's news conference tonight from his adviser Valerie Jarrett, ladies and gentlemen here is Rachel Maddow. Good evening, Rachel.