'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for January 22, 2009
Video via MSNBC: Worst Persons
The toss: Baseball cards
Guest: Paul Eaton, John Dean, Russell Tice, James Risen
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Victory with honor: Obama orders Gitmo closed, orders harshest interrogation techniques banned, orders detainees evaluated for possible war crimes trials.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We intend to win this fight. We're going to win it on our terms.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And the new president and his new secretary of state meet a revitalized State Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I've given you an early gift - Hillary Clinton.
HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I believe with all of my heart that this is a new era for America.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: A new era for the old administration: Mr. Cheney throws Mr. Bush under the bus. Scooter Libby, quote, "was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice and I strongly believe that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."
Worsts: Where your bailout dollars went? To Merrill Lynch's CEO who redecorated his office. Two chairs for $87,000, a credenza for 68 grand and a garbage can for $1,400 - a garbage can.
And, National Security Agency whistleblower Russell Tice is back to reveal more of the awful truths. The NSA eavesdropped not on suspected international contacts between Americans and possible terrorists; the NSA eavesdropped on all domestic communications - everybody's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSELL TICE, FORMER NSA AGENT: It didn't matter whether you were in Kansas or in the middle of the country and you never made a communication or a foreign communications at all. They monitored all communications.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Tonight - who ordered it and why. Why were journalists, in particular, targeted? And the reaction of one of those journalists who says he already knew the NSA had been eavesdropping on him. James Risen of the "New York Times."
All that and more - now on Countdown.
(on camera): Good evening, from New York.
Having spent his first full day in office enacting orders to make his administration open and transparent, President Obama is spending this, his second full day, starting to reclaim America's moral high ground in the world.
Our fifth story on the Countdown: The president signing an order to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by one year from today. Sixteen retired generals and admirals surrounding the president in the Oval Office as he signed that executive order and it was not the only one. Mr. Obama also is directing the CIA to shut down its network of secret prisons on foreign soil, the so-called "black sites."
The Gitmo order, as expected, is requiring an immediate review of the 245 detainees still being held at the U.S. naval base there, to determine whether they should be transferred, released or prosecuted. Who might need to be transferred? A small group of about 20 terror suspects who, apparently, cannot be prosecuted now because the evidence in some cases remains top secret.
Countdown's Republican of the Week, Senator John Cornyn, declaring today that they better not end up in his back yard. Mr. Cornyn announcing today that he intends to send a letter to the president in order to inform him that the Guantanamo detainees are dangerous, so he does not want them sent to Texas.
Democratic Congressman John Murtha, with no qualms about transferring any detainees to Pennsylvania, is saying today that they would be, quote, "no more dangerous in my district than in Guantanamo."
The president today is saying, just because closing Gitmo and ending torture won't be easy does not mean it should not be done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This is me following through on not just a commitment I made during the campaign, but I think an understanding that dates back to our Founding Fathers, that we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it's easy, but also when it's hard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And in his first White House news briefing, the new press secretary, Robert Gibbs, disputing any criticism that America's safety is being compromised.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes what he did today will enhance the security of the American people, that it lives up to our values as Americans, and that it will protect the men and women that we have in uniform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The president and Secretary of State Clinton jointly announcing the appointment of two heavy-hitters to broker peace overseas: former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who helped to write the peace deal that ended the war in Bosnia, named the special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan; and former Senate majority leader, George Mitchell, who brokered peace in Northern Ireland, named special envoy to the Middle East.
Meantime this morning, the fog lifting to some degree at Foggy Bottom in Washington. Secretary Clinton seeming to have liberated her underlings at the State Department upon her arrival there with her message that U.S. foreign policy is under new management.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: I want you to think outside the proverbial box. I want you to give me the best advice you can. I want you to understand there is nothing that I welcome more than a good debate and the kind of dialogue that will make us better.
(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: By the way, it appears we have Secretary Clinton's successor as junior senator from New York finally. Andrea Mitchell reporting tonight that Upstate New York congresswoman, Kristen Gillibrand, has been asked by Governor David Paterson to come to his office at 11:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow at the state capitol in Albany, making it likely she is the choice.
We'll focus in on the security changes in the administration in a moment with retired General Paul Eaton. First, let me call on our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFEE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Two days in, and by any fair measure, I think this doesn't look like just change, a mere change. It appears to be some sort of sweeping change.
WOLFFE: Well, these are sweeping changes. I mean, unimaginable both in tone and substance from what we've heard for the last eight years. In two areas, I think, you've got to kind of break this down here between the stuff that was heavily-telegraphed through the campaign, on Guantanamo Bay, on torture, this is a candidate who spoke about these subjects everywhere to huge applause, I might add, who has followed through.
So, that's going to be welcomed for his supporters, and for the doubters, well, there are details, those to be worked out, important details. How do you deal with the hardcore detainees? What kind of judicial process do they set up? But still, a process is there and it's very significant break with the past.
The other half of this, on the Middle East, is something we didn't hear through on the campaign. The tone that this president took when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict was something he never adopted through the campaign. He was ultra cautious that hearing a president talked about humanitarian needs, the infrastructure needs of the Palestinians as well as the security needs of Israelis is a striking contrast from everything we've heard for a very long time from the White House.
OLBERMANN: How will this be read internationally in terms of the symbolism not just of what's been done today and yesterday but the symbolism of the immediacy?
WOLFFE: Well, these are exactly the issues on which many countries around the world are assessing whether or not President Obama is living up to the hype and the promise. The things that they value are American leadership on morals and justice when it comes to Guantanamo Bay as well as the security issues.
Often, when you hear the debate on the right, it's as if the rest of the world is opposed to fighting against terrorists, which isn't true. What they oppose is the way it's been done. And when it comes to the Middle East, you've got to understand how much, even allies in the Arab and Muslim world, wanted to hear a president say that he had some sympathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people.
I recall an early summit in Crawford, at the President Bush's ranch, where the Saudi royal family brought in TV screens and videos to show him the suffering of the Palestinian people because they didn't believe that he'd seen it.
OLBERMANN: Kind of to that end, Secretary of State Clinton's reception at State today, was that staged, expected, spontaneous? What was that?
WOLFFE: Well, knowing the State Department, I suspect it was all of the above. You know, they have a way of being spontaneously staged. And Colin Powell, to be fair, he had a rapturous welcome when he first came in. A lot depends on how these new secretaries of state manage the building, how open they are, whether they really have an open-door policy, whether they welcome out-of-the-box thinking.
What they don't like and what they are really reacting to is the way their role in the administration, the Bush administration was downplayed. The lower role that diplomacy had in all of these hot spots, especially in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, and what they want to see is policies that they can work with, that they can sell around the world in a way that the Bush policies were very, very hard to communicate and sell.
OLBERMANN: So, a lot of the top of the list items, the headlines on your heavy underlined stuff on that page already addressed on days one and two. What's next? The domestic spying, the NSA eavesdropping we've heard about in such jaw-dropping detail, and we are going to hear more about that later in this hour. Is that near the top of the president's remaining agenda?
WOLFFE: Well, I suspect not. I think people who were hoping for that to come after Guantanamo Bay and torture may well be disappointed. Remember, as a candidate, soon after he clinched the nomination, Obama actually backtracked on the whole eavesdropping issue.
And I think he wants to preserve some of those powers. He wants them to be legal. There need to be warrants for this kind of thing but I think he's going to preserve the idea that they can scoop up a lot of intelligence. The question is: Does it have some kind of oversight? He's for a minimal oversight. And I think the civil liberties people may well be unhappy with that.
OLBERMANN: Yes, legal would be nice. Oversight would be nice.
Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek" - thank you, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Among the military leaders with President Obama at today's signing ceremony, as mentioned, the retired U.S. Army Major General Paul D. Eaton, standing three generals to the right of the president. During the transition, he met with Mr. Obama to discuss ways to restore America's image in the wake of allegations of torture and he's kind enough to join us now.
Thank you for your time this evening, sir.
MAJOR GENERAL PAUL D. EATON, U.S. AMRY, RETIRED: Keith, great to be with you again. And it's been a blockbuster day. The performance of our president was nothing less than terrific, great courage, and I just say it was a wonderful, wonderful session with him.
OLBERMANN: The Republicans are already complaining that any detainees released overseas are going to return to the United States and attack it. They have some constructions in which detainees will wind up in city jails and be released by city judges in this United States and suddenly be on the streets of Baltimore or something.
How do you believe the decision to close Gitmo is actually going to practically effect homeland security?
EATON: Well, Keith, first, we - our soldiers detain bad people overseas every day. And then they are sent back into the government system, and in Iraq and in Afghanistan, they will see those same people come back to them. So, it's happening right now because we don't have any really good policies on how to manage our detainees.
With respect to the detainees that we have in Guantanamo, the president has appointed a very senior commission from the executive branch that will review on a case-by-case basis and recommend to him how to manage the particular detainee. And we'll have to go through all 245 cases that we have in Guantanamo right now.
OLBERMANN: The criticism from the right is not the only criticism the president has gotten on the second full day of his presidency. Human rights groups who think that President Obama has left some wiggle room on the subject of torture by creating a task force that will study the effectiveness of the army field manual techniques which are supposed to be the gold standard on this. Is there validity to that criticism?
EATON: Well, first, I'd like to highlight that we, the retired generals and admirals, have been working with the organization of Human Rights First, admirable in their work and the prosecution of the way ahead on how to restore our moral standing in the world. And the - a critical component of that is how you handle your detainees? How do you conduct interrogations?
The decision today by the president of the United States to use, as a single standard, the army interrogation manual and the 19 methodologies within is absolutely appropriate. Now, the idea that you might review and conduct an analysis is appropriate. We do that in the armed forces. We do that in business.
We take a look at our tactics, techniques, procedures, we review and, if warranted, if necessary, you may make some adaptations. But, this president has been absolutely clear that we will not torture in an absolute understanding of what torture means.
OLBERMANN: General Eaton, with so much of what has happened at Gitmo, not to mention the mere existence of this facility there, was it completely avoidable to begin with that the Bush administration could have handled this at least some degree better than they did from the very start of this whole sorry story?
EATON: Keith, absolutely. They allowed Guantanamo to become a recruiting poster for al Qaeda. And the fact that we are going to take it down, that we are going to turn this gulag that we have created into a pure naval installation which is how it started, the prison at Guantanamo will cease to exist and will stop being a recruiting method for al Qaeda.
The reason it went south, the reason it became a disaster, a public relations disaster, was incompetent management of the prosecution of those men we imprisoned down there. Seven years without a trial is just flat wrong.
OLBERMANN: The retired Major General Paul Eaton - once again, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.
EATON: My pleasure, Keith. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: What is yet to be done or more correctly undone, perhaps that which National Security Agency whistleblower Russell Tice told us about last night, 24/7 eavesdropping on the computer and phone traffic of journalists, of ordinary Americans, too.
Tonight, a reporter who says he'd already know the NSA had to have been monitoring him reacts. And Russell Tice is back because the illegal, secret eavesdropping was not limited to e-mails and phone calls, and yet again, it is worse than anybody thought.
OLBERMANN: NSA whistleblower, Russell Tice, returns with more harrowing details of how your government listened to you, not listened to you as in was responsive to your needs, rather, literally listened to you. James Risen of the "New York Times," part of the media Tice says was targeted for the 24/7 surveillance, says he knew it. He'll join us for reaction.
And next, former Vice President Cheney, about three days out of office and already is hugely critical of former President Bush. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: How have the mighty fallen. Former Vice President Cheney is criticizing former President Bush for not pardoning former Valerie Plame outer, Scooter Libby.
Our fourth story tonight: Now, they're eating each other's carcasses.
The ex-vice president is telling the "Weekly Standard" magazine that, quote, "Scooter Libby is one of the most capable and honorable men I have ever known. He's been an outstanding public servant throughout his career. He was the victim of the serious miscarriage of justice and I strongly believed that he deserved a presidential pardon. Obviously, I disagree with President Bush's decision."
We're joined by John Dean, White House counsel during the Nixon administration, author of "Worse than Watergate," "Conservatives Without Conscience," and "Broken Government."
John, thanks for your time tonight.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So, why didn't Bush pardon Libby?
DEAN: I'm not sure anybody can fathom George Bush's motives and actions, maybe even including George Bush. But it's clear that he decided that the commutation he gave him that kept him out of prison was enough and I suspect he decided that he'll leave his vice president, former vice president to take care of the future care and feeding of Mr. Libby. So, he decided to do nothing more, obviously.
OLBERMANN: If it's unfathomable, I guess the answer to this question is probably, "We don't know," but should the failure to pardon Libby be seen as some sort of snub of Cheney by Bush since Libby was Cheney's guy?
DEAN: I'm not sure snub is the right word, but maybe it is - again, in this vague area we're dealing in, as to his motives and actions.
But it's clear, Keith, I think, particularly, that the fact that by the end of the administration, Cheney had lost his clout with this president. And this is a good example - you know, internally, that Cheney pitched as hard as he could to do this and now he's doing outside that Bush has made a mistake. But it's clearly something that Bush may have just said, "I've had enough of the backfiring Cheney schemes" and decided to take no action.
OLBERMANN: Ultimately, despite what we were - many of us we're expecting or fearing at the last minute, no wave of 50 pardons. In eight years, he only pardoned 189 people. That is a modern low. He commuted 11 other sentences. His totals on both scores well less than half of the Bill Clinton total. Is there any reason, any explanation as to why he came in so under the pardon budget?
DEAN: You know, presidents actually like to grant pardons and the reason that generally prohibits them from doing more of it is the political cost that's often involved. That's why they frequently wait until the end of their term to do it.
And I think with Bush, he's man that, as I've watched him over the last eight years, takes good care of Bush and his family and his very close friends. But he's actually a pretty cold fellow. And I don't think his compassionate conservativism actually reached to the charity of pardons. I think that would explain the reason he didn't do it.
OLBERMANN: Is there a possibility - you know, this may be paranoia speaking here - but could he have pardoned more people than we know? And do pardons have to be announced by the president?
DEAN: They don't have to be announced. By tradition, custom and actually some regulations they are announced. But those are, indeed, created just by past practice and not by necessity. The pardoning power, Keith, of the president is probably his most plenary power in the Constitution. It's a clear grant that he can do what he wants.
So, I think that the fact that he might have, indeed, if he felt there was some national security reason, have indeed issued secret pardons. He could have done it and it would only become known if the person who got the pardon somehow needed, say, in a prosecution for torture maybe, would have to say, "Well, I've been pardoned by the president" which would actually have a limited effect.
OLBERMANN: Why would it have a limited effect, John?
DEAN: Because it wouldn't cover international law, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Of course. John Dean, the author of "Worse than Watergate" and "Broken Government" - great thanks. And we'll go hunting for secret pardons later on during the week, I guess.
OLBERMANN: One of the great scandals since Watergate. Russell Tice's revelations that the NSA eavesdropped on everybody, especially journalists. More mind-boggling details tonight from Mr. Tice.
And Biscuit, the ice bound doggie. Try to keep Biscuit from being put in the basket when Countdown continues.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. And now, the press secretary to Congresswoman Kristen Gillibrand tells MSNBC, all of the prospective New York Senate appointees have been invited to the governor's mansion, not just Congresswoman Gillibrand.
First, on this date in 1947, KTLA Los Angeles signed on, the first commercial TV station west of Mississippi. Eleven months later, reporter and announcer, Stan Chambers, joined the station. He's still working there. In fact, he's on the newscast tonight reporting on high school students bringing blankets to the homeless of L.A. - 61 years and two months on the same job.
Way to go, old friend.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin on a frozen lake in Indiana where the Indianapolis fire department is trying to save Biscuit the dog from a chilly trip to the chuck wagon in the sky. Biscuit disappeared earlier in the week but she was spotted yesterday on an ice flow. That's when Indy's finest sprung into action and scooped up the little pooch. Hungry and slightly stunned, Biscuit is in good shape. She's also now set to star in the movie version of her journey, "Ice Dog Millionaire." I forget to the mention the dog is wealthy.
To the Australian Open Tennis Tournament where the ball people are under fire. First, this is Juan Martin Del Potro lining one into a net-minder's noodle. I'm not sure why they put them there. Same thing with his lady who took a Marat Safin forehand to the forehead. The net judge was not seriously injured in either case and for her trouble Safin gave his victim a little sugar. Keep it fair. Keep it fair.
Tonight, part two of the remarkable revelations of NSA whistleblower Russell Tice. How the agency spied on all communications on this country, yours and mine and especially reporters. James Risen of the "New York Times" will also be here to react.
And in "Worsts," comedian Rush Limbaugh is back, talking about his favorite subject, how we all have to grab our ankles and bend over.
These stories ahead.
But first, time for Countdown's Top Three Best Persons in the World.
Number three: Best misplaced trust, Nancy Charlez of Fort Worth, Texas. A scratch-off lottery ticket seemed to be a $20,000 winner. She says a friend volunteered to take it to a gas station to see if it was legit. That was the last she saw of it. Her friend came back empty-handed telling Ms. Charlez a man in a white pickup truck had taken the ticket from her. Ms. Charlez says that's, quote, "a bunch of bull corn."
Number two: Best rerun. Billo the Clown, "The media is flat-out corrupt and will not bring a skeptical eye to President Obama. I'm going to become Paul Revere. Now, I'm not legally changing my name to Paul Revere" - thanks for telling us that - "I'm not legally changing my name to Paul Revere but you can call me Paul because I will be warning you about the economy, about the terror factor, about the corrupt media."
OK, Paul, I'm sure you'll be happy to know John Gibson went on the air in April 2006 and said, "Call me John 'Paul Revere' Gibson riding my horse through the night." Billo, you are borrowing from John Gibson.
And number one: Best van hiding place. An unnamed red light runner in Phoenix hands over his keys to the cops and tries to escape them by hiding under a nearby moving van. Moments later, cops hear a cry of pain. The driver had come back and driven off, driving over the hiding suspect in the process. Remarkably, the guy is OK; though he says his back hurts a little.
OLBERMANN: Before last night, we already knew the Bush administration had spied on some U.S. journalists inside the U.S. Last night, on this newscast, we revealed the new allegation that Mr. Bush's National Security Agency was systematically, 24 hours a day, monitoring not just individual reporters, but entire U.S. news organizations, as well as other organizations, the identities of which we still don't know.
Tonight, in our third story, Russell Tice, the NSA whistle blower, who revealed that breath-taking claim on this program last night, returns and he is breaking more news.
First some context; in the "New Yorker Magazine" last year, reporter Lawrence Wright revealed that the FBI had asked him about phone calls he made to a British lawyer who was representing former jihadist, calls the FBI thought were made by Wright's college aged daughter. More than wire-tapping was at work here. The name of Wright's daughters was not in the phone records. So how the hell, Wright demanded, did the FBI know his daughter's name.
In 2007, Wright asked Mike McConnell, then director of national intelligence. His reply, I don't know. When Wright found it troubling that his daughter's name was on some NSA list somewhere, McConnell said, quote, it may be troublesome. It may not be. You don't know.
As Mr. Tice is about to clarify now, we know. But first, yesterday, we asked the NSA to comment on his allegations. The agency declined, saying only, quote, "NSA considers the Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens to be sacrosanct. The intelligence community faces immense challenges in protecting our nation. No matter the challenges, NSA remains dedicated to performing its mission under the rule of law." That from a Bush hold-over at NSA. No reply yet from the Obama White House.
Returning to our program tonight, Russell Tice, former NSA analyst, now a very public whistle blower. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
RUSSELL TICE, FMR. NSA ANALYST: Good evening. Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Last night, we discussed collection of phone and e-mail data, envelope info, like the length of the call, but also the content. The information they collected on journalists and other people was more than just phone and e-mail info?
TICE: As far as the wiretap information that made it to NSA, there was also data mining that was involved. At some point, information from credit card records and financial transactions was married in with that information.
So the of lucky U.S. citizens, tens of thousands of whom are now on digital databases on NSA, have no idea of this, also have that sort of information included on those digital files that have been warehoused.
OLBERMANN: Throwing that kind of information in there, too, your credit card records, where you have spent your money; does that make it clear to you who used this information or why it was used or what the goal was of gaining it? Do you have any better idea of what all this stuff was used for?
TICE: Well, the obvious explanation would be if you did have a potential terrorist, you want to know where they are spending money and whether they purchased an airline ticket and that sort of thing. But once again, we're talking about tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens that have been caught up in this trap, that - they have no clue. You know, this thing could sit there for ten years and then potentially it marries up with something else, and ten years from now, they get put on a no-fly list and they won't have a clue why.
OLBERMANN: All of these tens of thousands of people that you refer to, do they at least have possible ties to terrorists, like the story of this "New Yorker Magazine" reporter, where there was a phone call made as a starting point? Or do they not even have that?
TICE: In most cases, they don't have that at all. This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate. Like I mentioned last night, the one to two minute pizza delivery call, things of that nature, of which an innocent citizen could be easily tied into these things.
Once that information gets to NSA and they start to put it through the filters there, where they have language interpreters and stuff, and they start looking for word recognition - if someone talked about the daily news and mentioned, you know, something about the Middle East, they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says potential terrorist. Of course, this U.S. citizen wouldn't have a clue.
OLBERMANN: This massive thing, obviously, did not grow of its own accord. Do you know or do you have an educated guess as to who authorized this and who developed this?
TICE: I have a guess where it was developed. I think it was probably developed out of the Department of Defense. And this is probably the remnants of Total Information Awareness that came out of Darpa. That's my guess. I don't know that for sure.
OLBERMANN: The previous reports of individual incidents suggest they were looking for leak sources. In 2006, the former NSA director Michael Hayden was asked if he targeted political opponents of the Bush administration and he refused to answer. Was he? Was that one of the factors in determining which journalists they targeted?
TICE: I don't know the answer to that. But, you know, from the avenue I know about, everyone was collected. So they sucked in everybody. And at some point, they may have cherry picked from what they had. I wasn't aware of who got cherry picked out of the big pot.
OLBERMANN: Do you know who got to see the data?
TICE: I started looking into this. That's when ultimately they came after me to fire me. They must have realized I stumbled on to something. After that point, I had no ability to find anything else out.
OLBERMANN: To your knowledge, is all this still going on?
TICE: I do not know whether it is going on or not going on. I haven't had access or knowledge for some time now.
OLBERMANN: Can you be specific at all about the news organizations you mentioned last night, how many or which ones? Was it everybody who worked at a news organization or people reporting on national security issues?
TICE: I have to be careful about answering that because of sources and methods.
TICE: So I'm probably going have to unfortunately pass on that one.
OLBERMANN: That's the only one of these questions you have. We'll give you that one. Russell Tice, former NSA intelligence analyst, once again, scaring the crap out of us, but thanks for doing so. It is better to be informed and scared than uninformed and not know what is coming. Thank you, sir.
TICE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: One reporter who has investigated this eavesdropping has long contended he was been eavesdropped on by the NSA. James Risen of the "New York Times" joins us next for his reaction.
Still Bushed; a soldier electrocuted by bad Halliburton wire in Iraq.
Negligent homicide, the Army now says.
And when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, her special guest, Robert Redford on what the Bush administration did to the environment and what the Obama administration needs to do to what the Bush administration did.
OLBERMANN: The NSA had access to all Americans' communications, may still have, with certain groups monitored, quote, 24/7, 365 days a year, happening all the time, according to our previous guest, Russell Tice, and also credit card records. One of many targeted groups were journalists.
So, in our number two story, do any of these journalist targets know they were targets? Let's turn to "New York Times" investigative reporter James Risen. He and a colleague at the time won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for their disclosure of the Bush administration program of warrant less wiretapping. A federal grand jury has been trying to get him to divulge confidential sources for "State of War," the book he wrote on the CIA.
Thanks for your time, sir.
JAMES RISEN, AUTHOR, "STATE OF WAR": Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: Do you believe you have been a target of this NSA wiretap program?
RISEN: What I know for a fact is that the Bush administration got my phone records. Whether that was obtained by the FBI or the NSA, my lawyers and I have been trying to investigate that. We're not sure. But we know for a fact that they showed my phone records to other people in the federal grand jury. And we have asked the court to investigate that.
OLBERMANN: So your overall reaction to what Mr. Tice said tonight, what he said yesterday about the targeting of all journalists would be what?
RISEN: It's - I don't know. I can't confirm what he said. But it's really worth pursuing, and it's worth investigating.
Here's what I do know, is that the NSA has far greater capability than has ever been made public. All you have to do is look back at what we reported on about the eavesdropping program, and to remember that the famous hospital scene, where this was this big Constitutional crisis between Bush and the Justice Department lawyers, who were battling him over whether the program was legal. What they eventually disclosed was that they were arguing over a part of the program that nobody even today knows the specifics of.
So there is a large amount of operations and capabilities that the NSA has that most people don't know of its existence, including me. So that's, you know, one of the things I think is interesting about what he said.
OLBERMANN: Yes. I know exactly what you mean by that. Obviously, we have to - since we have such limited information, there's a lot of theory going into this. What do you make of this one? The government, if Mr. Tice is correct, wiretaps or wiretapped journalists 24/7, then focuses in on any investigative reporter who is divulging or getting near information it considers too valuable or too much in some way?
RISEN: Yes. That's clearly the great fear and the threat that - of the kind of capability that he is talking about. Is it possible that all they have to do is turn a few switches and knobs and suddenly narrow the field of what they're looking at. He made the point, and I thought it was interesting - and I don't know if it is true or not - that his job was to minimize the collection on journalist, but he said that it is quite possible that they could be reverse engineering that to actually gain that, collect that information.
That's the great threat and the fear that I thought was interesting and something really worth pursuing.
OLBERMANN: It almost suggests a kind of NSA equivalent of Google for anyone of us out here, you, me or the viewer.
OLBERMANN: Not to miss the obvious. Is the desired ultimate result, having been on both the investigative end of this and the recipient end of this, do you think that the ultimate result is suppression of reporting, either through direct coercion, or a chilling effect, that this could have every time somebody could contemplates pursuing, publishing, broadcasting a risky story?
RISEN: Yes. That is certainly part of it. I think the more direct part is to frighten people in the government from talking. It is to have a chilling effect on potential whistle blowers in the government, to make them realize that there is a big brother out there that will get them if they step out of line. I think that's the more direct chilling effect on the source, rather than on the reporter so much.
We have a large organization that will support us. In my case, in my leak investigation, Simon and Schuster has been supporting me for my book. But, you know, the whistle blowers don't have that.
OLBERMANN: As Mr. Tice well knows right now. James Risen, of the "New York Times" and author of "State of War," with a unique perspective on this. And we thank you for sharing it.
RISEN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Turns out we have thrown good money after a company that had just paid at least three billion dollars in bonuses to its own staff, and a CEO who just spent 057,000 dollars on chairs for his office, three chairs for his office. Worst persons next, but first because they may be gone, but their deeds outlive them, the headlines lingering from the previous administration's 50 running scandals, Still Bushed.
Number three, Gonzo-gate. Wonder why the former attorney general may yet face indictment. Because he remains relentlessly clueless. Videotape now of Alberto Gonzales with Cox newspaper reporter Ken Herman at that big Bush farewell bash in El Paso on Tuesday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALBERTO GONZALES, FMR. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The last thing he said - He was getting off the plane. He kissed me on the forehead and said, stay strong.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any tears shed on the plane by anybody?
GONZALES: By me, yes. There were a few.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why?
GONZALES: I think just pride. Love and appreciation for the man and what he did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Mr. Bush still calls Gonzalez "Fredo." I don't know about you, but I really would worry about getting a kiss on the head from a man who thought of me as Fredo.
Number two, Halliburton-gate. An Army criminal investigator has now rendered judgment on one of the deaths by electrocution in Iraq due to faulty wiring done by the Halliburton spin-off KBR Inc. The investigator says the death of Staff Sergeant Ryan Mason, when he was electrocuted while taking a shower a year ago this month, was negligent homicide. So somebody damn well better end up in jail for it.
Number one, the other aspect of torture-gate. This has probably been in the back of your head all this time that we were detaining foreign nationals at Gitmo and in Gulags in Eastern Europe, never charging them, denying them counsel or appeal or habeas corpus. After they were finally liberated, wouldn't at least one of them sue us? Mohammad Sayad Ichbal (ph) of Pakistan was seized nearly seven years ago. Our people claimed he had talked about building a shoe bomb and had gone to Afghanistan.
We stuck him in Gitmo. We left him there. No charges. We just sent him home. His attorney here is now suing the U.S. government. No figures yet mentioned. No, the only figures are the kinds of figures you'll hear are the propaganda numbers still being broadcast on places like CNN, that 61 released detainees have now been linked to some kind of terror activity.
Professor Mark Denbow (ph) of Seton Hall told Rachel last week that he has been studying these the released Gitmo statistics for a while. The Bush administration, he says, made at least 43 attempts to quantify the number recidivist ex-detainees. And the professor said, quote, their numbers have changed from 20 to 12, to seven, to more than five, to two, to a couple, to a few, 25, 29, 12, and then 24. Every time the number has been different. In fact, every time they give a number, they don't identify a date, a place, a time, a name or an incident to support their claim.
Here is a wild guess: the administration just made the numbers up, like Joe McCarthy used to. Which is what Mr. Ichbal should do. Make up a really high number and sue us for that. Then make up a higher number and sue George Bush personally for that.
OLBERMANN: The flow of the show tonight required us to do a little lineup juggling. So we close with Countdown's number one story, tonight's worst persons in the world.
The bronze to John Gibson of Fox News. Oh, that's right, he got fired from TV. He is on Fixed News Radio now.
Tells this story: "I'm minding my own business at dinner. Suddenly, I hear Gibby. I look up and there is Phil Griffin, the guy who runs MSNBC. He looks at me and says, going left is the right thing to do. I guarantee you he doesn't have a political bone in his body. He was looking for ratings."
If that's true, it explains why we fired John Gibson. As usual, if it is a Gibson story, it is twisted, misremember, poorly reported one. Griffin came over to say hello to the woman Gibson was dining with, another former MSNBC employee, whereupon Gibson said to Griffin, so, you guys went liberal. Griffin replied, we are not going liberal. We are going smart. It was the right thing to do.
This kind of bad reporting would be a little more heinous if it weren't for the fact that John doesn't really realize that he never fully recovered after he fell off a horse and hit his head five years ago.
The runner up, Comedian Rush Limbaugh, continuing his "I hope the president fails" crap as a guest on the manatee's program, an exclusive interview. "You know, racism in this country is the exclusive province of the left. We are witnessing racism all this week that led up to the inauguration. We're being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles, bend forward, backwards, whichever."
Limbaugh also complained that his critics are not, quote, listening or parsing my words. I think we are, actually. These words fit in with his previous observation that when it came to support from gays or African Americans, quote, "Democrats will bend over, grab the ankles and say, have your way with me."
And they also fit in with his previous comment that criticism of the governor of Alaska was "pure sexism. She didn't put up with it. And she didn't bend over and let them have their way."
I'm parsing his words. He sure spends an uncomfortable amount of time describing himself and others bending over and grabbing his ankles.
But our winner, John Thain, the CEO of Merrill Lynch. Our pal, Erin Burnett of CNBC, with a little enterprise reporting today that Mr. Thain paid out at least three billion dollars in bonuses to his people and spent 1.2 million redesigning his office. A garbage can for just 1,400 bucks, Roman shades 7,300, fabric for the Roman shades 11,000. Shades are not sufficient for Mr. Thain. He also had four pairs of curtains for 28 grand.
A commode with legs - that's really just a chest of drawers, not a toilet - 35,000 dollars.
A light fixture for 19 grand. Two guest chairs for 43,000 each. An antique chair for 18,000, an antique credenza for 68 large, a mahogany pedestal table for 25 K. A very good bargain, what is described mildly here as just table for 5,800, and, lastly, an area rug for 87,000 dollars.
The area had better be all of Merrill Lynch's 10281 zip code and it better cover all the homeless people in the neighborhood. Though Mr. Thain's office redecorations took place early in the year last year, they were, in effect, part paid for by you. His company Merrill Lynch was taken over by Bank of America using at least 20 billion dollars of taxpayer bailout money.
Hey, you know what? We want it back. Even though Mr. Thain has today been fired. That's ex-CEO John "why don't you go live in your 1,400 dollar garbage can" Thain, formerly of Merrill Lynch, today's worst person in the world!
And that's Countdown for this the 2,084th day since the previous president declared mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END