'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Wednesday, June 17
Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Worst Persons
Guests: Eugene Robinson, Rachel Maddow, James Risen
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Trying to have his constituency cake and eat it, too. The president does not savage the Defense of Marriage Act; he gave same-sex partners of federal employees some benefits granted to heterosexual partners. The president does not extend them health care nor Social Security; he gave them relocation expenses. The president does not issue an executive order to give those few benefits, he produces a memo that will expire the same day his presidency does.
The hurried half measures that have enraged the LBGT community as worse than nothing, and enraged the far-right as worse than anything, and were apparently decided on to save a Democratic fundraiser that is now taking on water.
As the president's approval rating is taking a hit, down five points since April, to 56, with the numbers apparently coming out of support for his handling of the economy. Today, more handling in the greatest change in financial regulation since the Great Depression.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES: We did not choose how this crisis began. But we do have a choice in the legacy this crisis leaves behind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The crises left behind by Mr. Bush-putting a face on the systemic, warrantless wiretapping, the NSA read the personal e-mails of ex-President Clinton.
Too bad they're not the "party of no" when it comes to taking their pants off. Republican hypocrisy costs the fourth-ranking senator in their caucus his party leadership role.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: It's absolutely the worst thing that I've ever done in my life.
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OLBERMANN: And-here now the news. What do you mean the media doesn't criticize Obama? I just flattened him a minute ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It's very hard for me to swallow that one. First of all, I've got one television station that's entirely devoted to attacking my administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Huh! Why has the Weather Channel been so hard on him?
And Worsts: Newt Gingrich says his political philosophy is summed up by one passage from the Declaration of Independence-which he promptly misquotes.
All that and more-now on Countdown.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: At what point do you have to say enough?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
To quote Senator Obama when he was running for the White House, "When it comes to federal rights, the over 1,100 rights that right now are not given to same-sex couples, I think that's unacceptable and as president of the United States, I'm going to fight hard to make sure that those rights are available."
Earlier tonight, from the Oval Office-in our fifth story on the Countdown-President Obama granting only a handful of rights to same-sex partners of federal employees, except, of course, any federal employees in the military-they are still not allowed to admit being gay because of "don't ask, don't tell"; except, of course, any benefits like health care or Social Security-the White House prevented from extending those because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which the Obama administration defended just last week.
The president today is requesting that the director of the Office of Personnel Management and the secretary of state extend some benefits to same-sex partners of some employees. Why just a request instead of something more forceful?
Mr. Obama signing a memorandum, not an executive order, as such a document that will expire the moment his presidency does.
Last week, Obama's Justice Department defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in a brief urging the Supreme Court to dismiss a legal challenge to the federal ban on same-sex marriage, that piece of legislation limiting what it is that today's memo can actually provide to federal employees in same sex partnership-again, the big ticket items, like health care insurance, Social Security, off the table. A White House fact sheet notably vague on provisions, the domestic partners of civil service employees, it identifies potential benefits such as long-term care insurance, sick leave to care for non-adopted, non-biological children; for the partners of Foreign Service employees, benefits like the use of medical facilities abroad, medical evacuation from foreign posts, inclusion of family size, for housing allocations.
At the White House tonight, the president speaking in opposition to his own Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory. I think it interferes with states' rights and we will work with Congress to overturn it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Wouldn't it be easier to simply refrain from asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the challenge that would overturn DOMA for you?
We rejoin the president already in progress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: We've got more work to do to ensure that government treats all citizens equally; to fight injustice and intolerance in all its forms; and to bring about that more perfect union. I'm committed to these efforts, and I pledge to work tirelessly on behalf of these issues in the months and years to come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Day before yesterday, Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote an impassioned letter to the president about his administration's defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. Quoting from his letter, "I hold this administration to a higher standard than this brief. In the course of your campaign, I became convinced-and I still want to believe-that you do, too. This brief should not be good enough for you.
The question is: Mr. President, do you believe it's good enough for us? If we are your equals, if you recognize that our families live the same, love the same, and contribute as much as yours, then the answer must be no."
Joe Solmonese was in the Oval Office for tonight's signing ceremony and has been good enough to join us now.
Joe, good evening.
JOE SOLMONESE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: What is that memo sign today? Is it a make good? Is that an IOU? Is it an insult? What is it?
SOLMONESE: Well, I mean, whether it was a memo or an executive order, I think, matters less than what it ends up doing for federal employees who go to work tomorrow with a different set of benefits.
You're right about the fact that the president did not convey health care benefits to federal employees-which is what all of us, of course, look to and think about when we talk about benefits. He can't do that under the law. Congress has to do that.
But it does make it easier for same-sex couples to provide health care for their children, to take on things like family and medical leave policies, long-term health care, disability.
So there are things it does, but what I was really looking for and what I think the community is looking for-at least in the context of this move-is the conveyance of health care benefits to federal employees.
OLBERMANN: Could the president have put more teeth behind it than he did or was that what he is-as you noted-the limits that he is-that he is operating under? Did he do the maximum he could right now today in the real world?
SOLMONESE: Well, under the law as it stands-I mean, in terms of the benefits that can be accessed under today's law-you know, as I said, he did what he could do as well as the nondiscrimination policies that will cover sexual orientation and gender identity.
But, again, what I was looking for was that extension of health care benefits. He cannot do that. Congress has got to convey those benefits under the current law. The president couldn't do that if he wanted to.
I was looking for him to call on Congress to do that. It is a bill called the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act that would do that. It's sponsored by Tammy Baldwin in the House, Joe Lieberman in the Senate. I was happy to walk into the Oval Office and see Joe Lieberman standing there and to have the president call for that bill.
So, that's what I was looking for and I think that, you know, ultimately, that move and the passage of that legislation will provide federal employees at least-which is the nation's largest work force-with the full complement of benefits that they and we are looking for them to be able to receive.
OLBERMANN: The other piece of legislation under discussion here, what the president said about wanting to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, what does that mean? Does it mean enough when his Justice Department has just defended that act?
SOLMONESE: Well, I mean, you know, I think that the only thing that will really satisfy me and members of the community in the aftermath of that-not the defense-not just the defense but obviously the language that was in that defense, the language that, to my way of thinking, went way over the line. I think the only thing that is really going to appease people in the aftermath of that is overturning DOMA, is overturning, you know, the two aspects of DOMA-the ability to move marriage from state to state and the ability to get the federal benefits that go along with marriage.
OLBERMANN: Why did you decide to go to the White House tonight? You seem-if not completely in tune with the president right now-at least empathetic to his position. Is that-is that going to react-or is it-more outrage members of your own group might not react in the same way that you did?
SOLMONESE: I wanted to be there tonight. I wanted to hear what the president had to say. I knew that this was the very beginning-again, and I stress very beginning-of a set of moves that he would make to make, you know, the federal workforce a more equitable place for our community. But I wanted to hear what he had to say about DOMA, I wanted to hear what he had to say, you know, about the recognition that he needed to not just undertake the acts that he did but really call on Congress to give him, you know, what I see as the other half of this equation which is the health care benefits.
So, I was happy that he spoke out the way he did. I had an opportunity afterwards to speak privately with him and Congresswoman Baldwin and Senator Lieberman about getting this legislation to his desk in an expeditious manner. So, you know, I wanted the opportunity to do that and I felt like I had it there.
OLBERMANN: Did he get your letter? Did he have a reaction to it?
SOLMONESE: He did get my letter. I-we didn't have an opportunity in the mixed group that we were with to talk about it, but I know that he got it and I spoke to a number of people at the White House over the last few days who got it, who absolutely understood, you know, why I would write it. And many of whom agreed with the points that I made in it.
OLBERMANN: Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, it's always a pleasure, sir. Great thanks for your time tonight.
SOLMONESE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: For more on the political fallout, let's turn to our own political analyst, Richard Wolffe, author, of course, of "Renegade: The Making of a President."
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The seeming disconnect. The president is saying tonight he wants to work with Congress to overturn this Defense of Marriage Act, as it's been entitled even though that probably doesn't really describe what it does, and last week, the Justice Department filed with the Supreme Court a brief asking SCOTUS to not overturn DOMA.
What-I'm missing something. What am I missing?
WOLFFE: Well, you're missing some politics and some legalese. I mean, there is a legal point here, which is that the Justice Department does uphold the laws. Do they have to do it in the way they did? Even though they had to write a brief, the tone of the brief was understandably insulting to many people in the community.
So, that's one piece of it. On the other hand, his statements-the president's statements on overturning DOMA, for want of a better word, is real. It does require Congress to take steps.
The question-as many people in the community are asking-is:
when. That's where the policy comes in. Why not now?
OLBERMANN: Joe Solmonese is a statesman and also a very adept politician.
OLBERMANN: He seemed to be trying to keep one foot on either side of this fence here. To what degree is-to what degree was this a mistake or a series of errors on the part of the White House in the last couple days? And was this influenced by this DNC fundraiser that was supposedly involving so many significant figures from the LGBT community, which obviously was not happy about this briefing regarding the Supreme Court and DOMA?
WOLFFE: Right. Well, the White House insists that it doesn't pay any attention to the kind of lobbying that goes on and the interest groups.
WOLFFE: In fact, they have a conscience and they are especially vulnerable to pressure when that pressure says, "Hey, remember how you spoke in the campaign."
Now, there is a warning sign. There was a warning sign, I think, in the campaign that this was a candidate who did not explicitly and repeatedly did not support same sex marriage. So, you know, for anyone who was just listening to the stuff about DOMA and sort of ignoring other stuff then maybe they were listening, they hearing what they wanted to hear.
So, maybe this isn't the first priority, but holding them to the language and the principles, I think, is effective with this White House, no matter how much they protest.
OLBERMANN: Certainly, there is a difference though between actively supporting same-sex marriage and filing a brief on behalf of retaining this thing that is seen to be a club against any chance of that. It's not-it's not just you're no longer supporting; you're actively opposing.
WOLFFE: Right. And that's why it's going to be important for people who are allied with this White House, because they have the ear of the White House, to say, "Hey, you did make that public statement that you're going to work with Congress to repeal this and you promised it on the campaign trail, so hold true to it."
OLBERMANN: What happened to "don't ask, don't tell"?
WOLFFE: They kicked it down the road. Look-a part of this is because they want to avoid the problems that Bill Clinton had. I mean, that's-to be honest, if Bush came in saying anything about Clinton, well, so is this White House, and expending political capital on this cultural issue for them right now is not what they want to do.
Now, that's politics. The question is again-how do they compromise the politics with the principle? When do they do it? Is this going to be kicked all the way down the road into a potential second term? That's why the activists need to keep on their message and keep on this White House.
OLBERMANN: The nature of the message today, a memo-a mere request, not an executive order. Can't you or I file a request, you know, a memo to the OPM director?
WOLFFE: Yes. You could. We could. And for a president who is spending several hundred billion dollars on various pieces of the economy, he has the power to move things along at the pace he wants to.
OLBERMANN: Well, then that to me is a mystery by itself.
But, Richard Wolffe of MSNBC, author of "Renegade" just out now-thanks again for your time. Thanks for coming in.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One leading indicator is down 5 percent in a little over a month. Another has dropped a whopping 14 points. Bad economic news? Well, there's some of that, too, for President Obama, but those numbers right e there, those are from his new polling.
OLBERMANN: The president promising the biggest reworking of the financial system since the Great Depression, while his poll numbers just took their first big reworking downwards ever.
If Bush administration domestic spying did not resonate as loudly as it could have because it did not have a public face, it now does have one, and a hugely familiar one.
And, Newt Gingrich offers a quote to live by from the Declaration of Independence and gets the quote wrong.
You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Irony-just as the president gets around to attacking the folk room with which the Republicans enabled the corporate piracy that triggered the financial crisis, deregulation. There is tonight's fourth story on the Countdown: Another set of numbers not from the economy is coming into play. Tonight's NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll showing that even though the president's approval rating is still 56 percent-that is down five points from just two months ago when it was 61 percent. Possibly most telling-a huge drop in support among independents, down 14 percent over the same period.
The president's plan announced today calls for the most comprehensive overhaul of our financial system since the time of the Great Depression. The focus: restoring the regulations stripped out over the last decade, more power for the Federal Reserve, more protection for consumers, more regulation of Wall Street.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: First, we're proposing a set of reforms to require regulators to look not only at the safety and soundness of individual institutions, but also, for the first time, at the stability of the financial system as a whole. Second, we're proposing a new and powerful agency charged with just one job: Looking out for ordinary consumers. Third, we're proposing a series of changes designed to promote free and fair markets by closing gaps and overlaps in our regulatory system-including gaps that exist not just within but between nations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The Republican National Committee reaction was predictable. It called the plan too predictable. And Jeb Hensarling, the top ranking GOP member on the House Financial Services Committee, said the bill would create a bailout nation.
"Newsweek's" senior editor Dan Gross joins now us from Stanford.
Dan, good evening.
DAN GROSS, NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE: Good evening, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: Well, sir. And yourself?
OLBERMANN: Can a president sell more regulation without hammering home this fundamental idea that certainly he believes that the economic mess started with less regulation? He didn't seem to be doing that.
GROSS: Yes, they have been very, I think, charitable to the sort of prior regime. And, you know, it's not a question necessarily of less versus more, but of good versus bad. I mean, we had, really, tragically bad regulation.
There is a degree to which they didn't have the tools but, you know, a good craftsman never blames his tools. And we had regulators who were, you know, to say they were asleep at the switch would be an insult to narcoleptics everywhere.
OLBERMANN: I heard that phrase about a good craftsman before somewhere.
How does giving more power though to the Fed work-no matter what the sell is and no matter what the argument is? Because the Fed didn't really work, did it, during the meltdown last year?
GROSS: Well, during the meltdown, the Fed actually did a pretty good job, because it started throwing money at everything. It was in the years before the meltdown that it did, A, a very bad job of anticipating what would go wrong and, B, a bad job of sort of staying on top of these new developments.
You know, Greenspan would always say, you know, credit default swaps, these hedge funds, it's not my job to regulate these things. This isn't within my purview.
What this new blueprint is saying is that a future Federal Reserve chairman, even if he is a libertarian ideologue, won't have the ability to say that because they want to explicitly tell the Fed that your job-aside from controlling interest rates, looking after inflation, and monitoring these banks-your job is now explicitly to look after these components of the system, these institutions, like AIG, that can get so big that they can swamp everything else if they fail.
OLBERMANN: If anything, Dan, the economy has stabilized-obviously not totally, but certainly, measurably in the last month or six weeks. Why would this president's approval numbers weaken especially on his handling of the economy? In that category alone, it's down four percentage points in the last four or five or six weeks.
GROSS: Well, I think two things. First, there was a sense, you know, that we're going to have another first 100 days, and the first three months, all this great stuff was going to happen and cure everything. That didn't actually happen in 1933. It's not going to happen in 2009.
With every day that passes and as President Bush slips into the horizon, Obama owns more of this economy and Bush owns less of it.
And while there are signs of stability, things are actually still
getting worse. They're just getting worse at a slower rate. We are having
you know, jobs are going down, housing prices are going down. The markets are clearly below where they were a year ago.
So, it is-you know, we're all looking desperately for those green shoots. What we're seeing instead is a lot of material they use to fertilize green shoots.
OLBERMANN: The phrase from Mr. Hensarling of the House Financial Services Committee, "bailout nation," haven't we been bailout nation since middle, last week of September?
GROSS: There is this sort of concerted or maybe not so concerted attempt by Republicans to pin all these bad things that happened last year on Obama. Richard Shelby was talking on one of the weekend shows about how Obama bailed out the banks last September. So, you know, all of his other powers he can sort of teleport through time.
I would trace the sort of "bailout nation" to March of '08, when Bear Stearns first went down and we had this extraordinary intervention continued right through the summer. We are bailing out all sorts of people, but it started last spring and last summer.
OLBERMANN: Dan Gross of "Newsweek"- joining us from Stanford, Connecticut, tonight. Many thanks, Dan.
GROSS: Good to be here.
OLBERMANN: The girl wanted what they announce after every hockey game. Tonight, three stars. Oops! Now, the tattooist responds here on Countdown.
And three Republican congressmen compare themselves to the oppressed minority in Iran. I didn't know you'd had an election stolen from you and then had been shot at. I'm very sorry to hear it.
Worst Persons is ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Bests in a moment. And beware the evil senses.
First, on this date in 1880, pitcher John Montgomery Ward of the Providence Grays pitched a perfect game against the Buffalo Bisons - 27 batters up, 27 batters down at the Messer Street Grounds in Providence. Since Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs had just thrown a perfect game on the 12th, Ward's was the second perfect game in baseball's National League in five days.
The next one in the National League would come on June 21st, 1964. Two of them in five days, and the next one 84 years later-and it would be thrown by future senator, Jim Bunning.
Let's play Oddball.
And we begin with the story of the 18-year-old Belgian girl who allegedly fell asleep at the tattoo parlor. She says she asked for three star tattoos and wound up with 56 of them. The girl is now suing, saying, of course, she can have the ink removed but will still be scarred for life. It is a sad story that's gotten tons of media over the past few days, but we were waiting to get the other side of the story.
The tattoo artist, Rouslan Toumaniantz, who applied the 56 stars to the girl's face, is silent no longer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROUSLAN TOUMANIANTZ, TATTOO ARTIST: She stood during the session. She went down on the couch, stood up, looked in the mirror, went down and not only can I say it but I have one witness who saw everything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now, how could you possibly thought anything to go wrong in his hands? You know what? Fifty-six stars is not looking too bad right about now.
Here in New York, highlights from yesterday's anti-Letterman, Sarah Palin protest from in front of the Ed Sullivan Theater. An angry mob-an angry small grouping of literally tens of protestors took to the streets a day ago and their message was clear, "David Letterman must be stopped at all costs."
But, as this video shot by a reporter from "New York" magazine also demonstrates there was at least a little love at the anti-Dave rally. There it is. Indeed, some protestors in the background even found time to get past their differences and pretend to suck face. Congratulations, gentlemen, and a baba booey to you both, Richard and Sal (ph).
Bill Clinton in the news tonight twice-the report that the Bush NSA was reading his e-mails. And the ironic end for a Nevada senator who claimed Mr. Clinton had erased his credibility by having an affair. These stories ahead.
But first, time for Countdown's Top Three Best Persons in the World.
Number three: Best way to destroy your reputation, the Michigan's Adventure Amusement Park. Former marine Joshua Hoffman, a quadriplegic, who can no longer speak, victim of a sniper's bullet in the neck in Iraq went to the park obviously not to take any rides but just to see his fiancee there-which is when Michigan's Adventure told Mr. Hoffman he would not be admitted unless he paid full price and full price for his nurse. Somebody told a relative that there was no proof that Hoffman was actually injured. He could be faking it.
Number two: Runner-up, best continuing performance as a nutjob-
Congressman Steve King of Iowa making a joke about Gitmo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: We can avoid this criticism and shut down an operation that's actually been built up to accommodate the people that are there now, including the Uighurs, who are now wasting away in MargaUighurville from what I understand. I can't even quite say it because I get Jimmy Buffet and Warren Buffett mixed up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Yes. See, the Uighurs were innocent and Bermuda finally
agreed to take them in. But sure, Congressman, make fun of a people that -
a system that you fought for, jailed without warrant or trial, and they turned out to be not guilty. Ha, ha, ha.
Number one "best continuing performance as a nutjob," Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who has decided that she has had enough of the latest invasion of privacy created by the Obama administration, she will only provide the bare minimum information it requests.
"I know for my family, the only question we will be answering is, how many people are in our home? We won't be answering any information beyond that." What scurrilous Obama innovation is Bachmann patriotically going to protest? Next year's National Census. Don't tell her we've had a Census every 10 years since 1790. Don't tell her Washington was president then and not Obama.
OLBERMANN: What might have been the most pervasive governmental invasion of privacy in American history has not been universally acclaimed such in part because it did not have a face, a lead victim. Our third story, that has now changed. Meet the face, former President Clinton.
A former NSA analyst speaking anonymously in a series of interviews has described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans' e-mail messages without court warrants. This, according to The New York Times investigative piece co-written by James Risen, who will join us in a second.
The former analyst added that his instructors had warned against committing any abuses, telling his class that another analyst had been investigated because he had improperly accessed the personal e-mail of former President Bill Clinton.
And while that analyst's training obviously occurred during the Bush administration, two intelligence officials confirmed that the program is or was at least earlier this year still in operation.
And closed door hearings by three congressional panels are raising new concerns about the entire NSA surveillance program. From the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, Congressman Rush Holt, quote: "Some actions are so flagrant they can't be accidental."
Mr. Holt disputing claims by NSA officials that the overall collection was inadvertent. And according to three intelligence officials, despite new procedures requiring the NSA to go to FISA court first and tap second, the agency has still exceeded the legal boundaries of eight to 10 separate court orders and thus improperly collected the communications of possibly millions of Americans.
Joining us now as promised, James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting on the Bush administration's domestic spying program.
Thanks, once again, for your time tonight, sir.
JAMES RISEN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: The example of abuse that was cited by that instructor, the one that involved the former president, Mr. Clinton, is there any indication that that was a rare exception or stuff like that happened all the time? Any gauge?
RISEN: I think it sounded like from the former NSA analyst that we interviewed that it was rare to access the e-mails of celebrities or famous people, but that it was fairly routine according to him for people to access the e-mails of girlfriends or wives or other people that they might know.
And that the caution they were being given by the instructors was in addition to these examples of famous people like President Clinton. Others were-they were also cautioned, don't look at your girlfriend's e-mails, don't look at your wife's e-mails.
And so it was interesting. It sounded like from this analyst's perspective that someone-something like Clinton e-mail accessing was fairly rare but that it was more common for analysts to be looking at the e-mails of people they know.
OLBERMANN: Boy, the mind reels at either possibility. But to what extent has what has been described as over-collection-how-do we know how much of that has survived into the Obama administration?
RISEN: Well, what we do know is that between late 2008 and early 2009 for several months this fairly large scale over-collection continued. The Justice Department issued a statement in April saying that they had put a halt to it.
But as you've mentioned Congressman Holt, who chairs a new special Select Intelligence Committee, told us that he is not convinced that the NSA has actually handled this properly or has put an end to it. And he said that he believes that it's not inadvertent and that as he said, this may be a flagrant problem that is continuing.
Other people on the Hill seem to disagree with that, but it's-there seems to be both a short-term problem with these incidents and also a larger issue of how much e-mail collection is now legal under the new law.
OLBERMANN: And to the point of taking it into the secret FISA court, you also wrote that incidents of over-collection had been reported to that court and an administration official said, quote, "the court was not happy."
Are there consequences to the court not being happy or does nobody, again, as you just pointed out, know exactly what's legal and what's not even in FISA court?
RISEN: That's a big problem. And, in fact, as Congressman Holt told us, one of the things that he's afraid of is that so many of the policymakers, including Capitol Hill, and the courts, don't really understand the technology that the NSA is using and that that's a real problem.
We're not sure what happened with the court. We do know that there was a serious issue that the NSA had to explain to the FISA court fairly recently.
OLBERMANN: Well, Congressman Holt, as you noted, disputing the notion that it's always accidental and this might be a parallel example of abuse. It might be related, it might not. But as you know, the former NSA analyst, Russell Tice, was here a couple of times and told us that he had been directed to monitor these large groups, including one group being journalists on the premise that they were being culled, they were being taken to the discard pile.
In fact it turned out that the discard pile was also being saved and perhaps analyzed. Do the congressional oversight committees think that they're getting straight answers from the NSA when you could have something as easy as that shell game that Tice described?
RISEN: Well, I think there's a division within Congress on this. Senator Feinstein said today that she believes that the NSA is following the law. As you pointed out, Congressman Holt disagrees with that. And so I think there is some division in Congress.
It's unclear where the oversight is right now and how much of this is carryover between the Bush years and the Obama years. So I think we'll have to continue to follow that.
OLBERMANN: Is it clear where the current administration stands on where they want this defined?
RISEN: Well, I thought it was a very interesting exchange today in Congress between Attorney General Holder and Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold tried to get Attorney General Holder to agree that the Bush warrantless wiretapping program had been illegal and Attorney General Holder refused now to use that word "illegal" in applying it to the warrantless wiretapping program.
And that was very interesting, and as Senator Feingold said, it represented a change from the Obama campaign's position on that.
OLBERMANN: It certainly did. James Risen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter of The New York Times, it's always an education, albeit a scary one. Thank you, sir.
RISEN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Remember when Republicans would wail that any vote against any military funding was a betrayal of our troops? Guess who just betrayed our troops?
And the quote from the president: "I've got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration." Who could he possibly mean? "Worst" ahead.
And then when Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, the really big picture in Iran. What is the long-term impact of the protests on our hopes of leading Iran away from nukes?
OLBERMANN: In 1998 he explained that an extramarital affair erased all of President Clinton's credibility. Today he had to erase his role as fourth-ranking Republican in the Senate because of an extramarital affair. Republican holier-than-thou hypocrisy as usual winds up destroying a Republican. That's next.
But first, time four Countdown's number two story, tonight's "worst persons in the world." The bronze shared by Republican congressmen David Dreier, Pete Hoekstra, and John Culberson, they are comparing themselves to the oppressed bloggers, tweeters, and voters of Iran.
Dreier, at a congressional hearing: "I wonder if there isn't more freedom on the streets of Tehran right now than we are seeing here." Ask that of one of the guys in Tehran with a bullet through his thorax.
Hoekstra, by Twitter: "Iranian Twitter activity similar to what we did in House last year when Republicans were shut down in the House." Absolutely. Since you're both using Twitter.
Culberson: "Oppressed minorities include House Repubs. We are using social media to expose repression such as last night's D clampdown shutting off amends." Honest to God, boys, this oppressed minority crap, this martyrdom stuff is not only childish and delusional and embarrassing, but it is an insult to real oppressed minorities in Iran and elsewhere.
You know, the people who are getting shot at, not you Republican fat cats whose suffering consists of having to get the second-, fourth-, and sixth-best parking spaces instead of the first, third, and fifth.
The runner-up? Newt Gingrich. His latest column, full of delusions and self-congratulations, includes his nugget from history that he hopes will guide us through these perilous times. "If you go to the National Archives, you'll find the words that are fundamental to America, written in the Declaration of Independence. 'We are endowed by our creator,'" and this is in quotes, mind you, "'with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,'" unquote.
Actually you won't find that, because that's not what the Declaration of Independence says. It says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Wow. Close, Newt. It's too bad there's no place you could verify a quote that you think is in the Declaration of Independence that you have in fact pulled out of your own backside.
Speaking of which, our winners, the FOX News Channel. We're assuming that's who the president of the United States meant in this interview with John Harwood of our sister station CNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDNET OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I've got one television station that entirely is devoted to attacking my administration and you'd be hard-pressed if you watch the entire day to find a positive story about me on that front.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Now, Mr. President, you could just call them by one of
their many pseudonyms, "Fixed News," "FOX Noise," "ClusterFOX." Over there
to FOX News Channel, there was no doubt to whom the president was
referencing, morning, noon, and night. Morning: "Look we're just balancing
things out. When you watch the other channels, the news channels, it's all
you know, you don't hear a lot of the criticism. There is one network devoted absolutely to being his cheerleader."
That is mindless crap. Here are the issues I've disagreed with the president on: on White House transparency, on Don't Ask Don't Tell, on prosecuting torture, on investigating the Bush administration, on military commissions, on the speedy withdrawal from Iraq, on eavesdropping, on the Defense of Marriage Act on earlier in this show, this token treatment of same sex partners of federal employees.
These are cases in which I have used the phrase "the president is wrong" or, "Mr. President, you're wrong." And that's just my show, to say nothing of Rachel or Chris's or Ed's or the day-time programming, which as late as Monday had that buffoon John Ziegler on just before he staged a massive protest of David Letterman that drew 40 people in New York, a smaller crowd than waits in line here for the guy selling shish kebab from a cart.
The night response? "I don't think the president is afraid of FOX. He is a very smart and tough man, but I do think he holds a grudge. There is a huge FOX audience that he represents since he is the president of all Americans."
Well, it's good that you recognize that since such a disturbing percentage of the FOX audience will not concede that this is in fact the case. FOX News, which is not only a political entity but probably more of a political entity than is the Republican National Committee right now, only it's fraudulently disguised as some sort of news organization.
FOX News foments the beliefs that Barack Obama was not born in this country or if he was, somehow he obtained the White House improperly, or if he actual got there properly, he shouldn't get to stay there.
And with ever-increasing irrationality, FOX no longer bothers to separate the legitimate means by which he will some day leave there and the illegitimate ones. It is propaganda and bullying and fear-mongering dressed up to look like not merely like news, not merely like the truth, but like the only truth.
Maybe that's why Obama would not use the name of the organization. He couldn't call it the FOX News Channel without bursting into laughter. FOX News Channel, a brand name, like "Virgin Brand Condoms." Today's "worst persons in the world!"
OLBERMANN: A champion of opposite marriage denounces his advocacy for the opposite of marriage. The party that once declared against-or any vote against military funding was a vote against the troops just voted against the troops. Our number one story, Republican hypocrisy ends up costing Republicans.
Today Senator John Ensign of Nevada resigning from his leadership post as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, this after yesterday's revelation. What happens in Vegas gets disclosed at a late afternoon news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), ARIZONA: Last year I had an affair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Senator Ensign acknowledging he had a consensual extramarital affair with a former aide who just so happened to be married to another former aide. He apparently likes staff Christmas parties nice and awkward.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENSIGN: If there was ever anything that I could take back in my life, this would be it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Or might it be the day during the Lewinsky controversy in which he said it had erased President Clinton's, quote, "credibility," and called it an embarrassing moment for the country.
And while Senator Ensign is left to wallow in his own infidelity, ooh, look, a kitty. This morning the House Republicans rolled out their health care plan, all four pages of it, lower health care expenses, fewer bureaucrats, and a lot less numbers.
As with their rival budget, the Republicans' ballyhooed the health care plan without announce what it would cost. House Republicans, who once said voting against funding for the troops was betraying them, also voted against the $106 billion war funding legislation passed in the House anyway.
All but five Republicans voted against the troops because in the bill there was also a $5 million increase for the International Monetary Fund to help aid countries during the global financial crisis.
Time now to call in our MSNBC political analyst, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson.
Gene, good evening.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Well, just to round this out, John Boehner said, including that money for the IMF was politicizing the bill. They used to put everything they could find into the military bills didn't they?
ROBINSON: They sure did. I mean, but now they are shocked, shocked to find any sort of politicizing of legislation. I mean, you know, where are our standards? This selective amnesia or this feigned selective amnesia that the Republicans have about how they ran the city and this country for all of those years is extraordinary.
I don't think anybody is particularly buying it, but it seems to be, you know, their strategy and they're going to double down on it I guess.
OLBERMANN: Why aren't the Democrats out there broadcasting the fact that House Republicans just-to use their own terminology, the terminology of hypocrisy again here, that they just voted against the troops?
ROBINSON: You know, that beats me, actually. I was up on the Hill today and what I was hearing from Democrats was more astonishment and you could understand this, really, but five Republicans actually voted for it.
Given the sort of no, no, no drumbeat that we've heard from the Republicans recently, that was-you know, that was-I guess, seemed like the headline. But I would agree with you that that would seem to be a point the Democrats might want to emphasize seeing as how, you know, voting against the troops is equivalent to treason. So, you know one wonders why one hasn't heard more about that.
OLBERMANN: Well, we will hear more when those five Republicans who voted yes will be beaten severely by either Boehner or Cantor.
OLBERMANN: Over to the Senate and Mr. Ensign, why do Republicans-I mean, Democrats might stray out of fidelity with perhaps the average American percentage of doing that. But very few of them ever carried off this family values game. But the Republicans, it seems as if every six months or so somebody gets caught having no values at all.
Why does this-not only does it happen, why does it keep happening?
ROBINSON: And it will keep happening, Keith. The reason is that you have to assume that Democrats and Republicans are going to stray into infidelity at roughly the same rate, but one party sets itself up as the arbiter of morality in America, and the center of standards, and decries the licentiousness of the Democrats and so forth.
And so once the party takes that attitude, then, you know, the odds play themselves out. And so these-you know, these eruptions happen, so to speak. And it always blows up into a huge embarrassment. And Ensign is just the latest in a string. I mean, you and I have done this story before.
OLBERMANN: Yes-no, I know. And we did that other story before, too. Now it's the GOP health care plan which they've rushed out, waved banners, look, here it is, look at this, four pages.
Now you'll notice there are no actual financial figures in here. What, how can you-but-I mean-don't you have to-if it's going to cost less don't you even have to at least include one total number at the bottom, let alone maybe 350 different numbers somewhere?
ROBINSON: One would think. One would think. But if-you know, if the Republican idea of health reform is not to do health reform, then-which it seems to be, and just keep the same system and, you know, say, gee, we hope it gets better, then you don't really have any numbers to throw out there.
It is ironic, however, that they are in the middle of this huge push to try to tar the Democratic plan on the basis of cost, saying this is going to cost too much, we're in a recession, how could you think of this, you're going to raise taxes, you know, and all of that.
And that's-you know, that's a legitimate line of attack. But then to come out with your own, and I put it in quotes, "plan," and not to put any figures on it, it tends to rob the whole effort of a certain credibility, at least the way I see it. And I wonder if other people won't see it the same way.
OLBERMANN: Well, the Ernie Kovacs quote comes to mind. "The money means nothing. The money is nothing therefore the money means nothing."
OLBERMANN: Gene Robinson of The Washington Post, and of MSNBC, when we're lucky enough to have him, thank you, Gene.
ROBINSON: Good night, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And that's Countdown for this, the 2,239th day since the previous president declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
And now to analyze what the protests in Iran might do to the nuclear ambitions of Iran, ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": Good evening, Keith, thanks very much.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END