Monday, March 8, 2010

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, March 8th, 2010
video podcast

Guests: Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sam Stein, Chris Hayes, Ken Starr, David


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories

will you be talking about tomorrow?



passing health care will play politically, but I do know that it's the

right thing to do.



O'DONNELL: The president takes his health care message out of the

Beltway bubble to Pennsylvania.


OBAMA: The insurance companies continue to ration health care based

on who's sick and who's healthy, on who can pay and who can't pay.


O'DONNELL: In the Senate, Chris Dodd is now the 37th Democrat willing

to pass the public option through reconciliation. And House leaders make

Congressman Dennis Kucinich their latest target to switch from "nay" to

"yay" on health care. Our guest: Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

The bizarre saga of Congressman Eric Massa. First, there were

allegations of misconduct with a male staffer, then details of a naked

shower fight. And now, one brave FOX News conspiracy theorist is coming to

the rescue.


ANNOUNCER: Americans have a right to know the identity of the al

Qaeda seven.


O'DONNELL: Now, 19 conservative lawyers and policy experts say that

Liz Cheney ad "undermines the justice system." One of them is former

independent counsel Kenneth Starr. Our guest: Kenneth Starr.

Back to the Kodak Theater -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This seemed like a better idea in rehearsal.


O'DONNELL: All the highs and lows and the history made at last

night's Oscars.

And Sarah from Alaska continues to write Tina Fey's material for her.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: If it was good enough for

God, scribbling on the palm of his hand, it's good enough for me, for us.


O'DONNELL: All that and more - now on Countdown.


PALIN: We're going old school tonight.



O'DONNELL: Good evening from Los Angeles. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in

for Keith Olbermann.

Many on the left have complained about the watered down provisions in

the Democrats' health care reform bill, but only one liberal in the House,

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, went so far as to vote against it last

November. He didn't just vote against it. He denounced it point by

Democratic talking point.

It was assumed that Kucinich definitely would be voting against it

again, but with the possibility that a single vote could decide the fate of

the final legislation, the effort to change the mind of the gentleman from

Ohio is in full force tonight. Ahead, my interview with Congressman


First, the latest details. President Obama today delivered his most

direct and energized pitch in months in support of his proposal to reform

the nation's health care system. Outside Philadelphia, the president

literally and proverbially rolled up his sleeves to argue that now is the

time, finally, to fix the system.


OBAMA: Since we took this issue on a year ago, there have been plenty

of folks in Washington who've said that the politics is just too hard.

They've warned us we may not win. They've argued, now is not the time for

reform. It's going to hurt your poll numbers. How's it going to affect

Democrats in November? Don't do it now.

My question to them is: when's the right time? If not now, when? If

not us, who?


O'DONNELL: The president warned that without reform, insurance

premiums will just keep going up and insurance companies will keep making

money even as they lose customers.


OBAMA: And even if some people drop out, they'll still make more

money by raising premiums on customers that they keep. And they will keep

on doing this for as long as they can get away with it. I mean, there's no

secret. They're telling their investors this. We are in the money. We

are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are

going to be put under hardship.

So, how much higher do premiums have to rise until we do something

about it? How many more Americans have to lose their health insurance?

How many more businesses have to drop coverage?


O'DONNELL: To wavering Democrats, the president argued that passing

reform was the right thing to do.


OBAMA: So, I'll be honest with you. I don't know how passing health

care will play politically, but I do know that it's the right thing to do.



O'DONNELL: To Republican claims that they want to start over with

health care reform, the president asked in effect, why didn't you do it

when you had the chance?


OBAMA: I got all my Republican colleagues out there saying, well, no,

no. We want to focus on things like costs. You had 10 years.


OBAMA: What happened? What were you doing?


O'DONNELL: Senator John Cornyn today promised that Senate Republicans

will do everything they can to block health care legislation from coming to

a majority vote. He added that Republicans should and will run on

repealing health care reform in this year's mid-term elections if the bill

becomes a law.

Meanwhile, Senator Chris Dodd became the 37th Senate Democrat to

support passing the public option by reconciliation - something that just

might bring Dennis Kucinich closer to supporting the final bill.

As promised, we are joined now by Congressman Dennis Kucinich,

Democrat of Ohio, and former presidential candidate.

Congressman Kucinich, as we've discussed on this show, you're facing a

two-vote - two-stage vote process in the House. First, vote on the Senate

bill as is. Then vote for a reconciliation bill to correct everything

that's wrong with the Senate bill that you just voted for.

Will you vote yes for the Senate bill?


keep in mind I voted against the first version of the bill in the House. I

told the president twice in two different meetings that I couldn't support

the bill, didn't have a robust public option and if - at least, if it

didn't have something that was going to protect consumers from these rapid

premium increases. And you know what? The White House counts me as


The fact of the matter is, I listened to the president in your news

story here, and to hear the president, you'd think that he was for single-

payer, at least a public option. But he's not. This bill represents a

giveaway to the insurance industry, $70 billion a year, and no guarantees

of any control over premiums, forcing people to buy private insurance, five

consecutive years of double-digit premium increases.

I mean, I'm sorry. I just don't see that this bill is the solution.

The insurance companies are the problem and we're giving them a version of

a bailout.

O'DONNELL: So, did we just get a "no" there, Congressman? Will you

vote against the Senate bill at the first stage of this process in the


KUCINICH: If that sounded like a "no," you're correct.

O'DONNELL: OK. Will you be comfortable if it turns out you are in

effect the single vote that defeats health care reform?

KUCINICH: Every vote counts. And I'm one of 435 members of the House

of Representatives. The White House has known my position. It's not a

secret. Democratic leaders have known my position.

You have to remember that I carried a single-payer proposal to three

Democratic national conventions, three times to the platform committee,

twice as a presidential candidate.

We need health care reform. We need Medicare for all. We need to

join the rest of the industrial world in being able to provide health care

for our people as a basic right, but the fact is that one of every three

health care dollars goes for corporate profits, stock options, executive

salaries, advertising, marketing across the paperwork. This bill doesn't

change that. This bill doesn't change the fact that the insurance

companies are going to keep socking it to the consumer.

So, you know, if the White House is ready to go back and have a robust

public option as Jacob Hacker iterated with 125 million people being able

to negotiate and knock down the insurance premiums, then we have something

to talk about. But otherwise, you know, I need some - I need to hear more

about what they're proposing. And what they proposed so far isn't anything

different than I voted against.

O'DONNELL: Do you fear for the Democratic Party if there is no health

care reform bill passed? Do you think that outcome politically for the

Democratic Party will be worse than passing this flawed bill?

KUCINICH: I think the Democratic Party is in political trouble right

now because we have 15 million people unemployed and we have another 11

million or 12 million people under employed. The economy is stagnant.

We've given bailouts to Wall Street. We haven't taken care of Main Street.

We got - 12 million people could lose their homes this year and a quarter

of the population is under water with their mortgage.

I mean, the economy is stagnant. That's really the key issue.

Is health care a problem? You bet it is. Would it be helpful if

everyone in this country had health care? Yes it would, but not in a

giveaway to the insurance industry.

If you have $70 billion a year, put it into health care. You don't

have to give the insurance industry their cut because somehow, you know,

they have so much influence in the political process. This bill that's

going from the Senate to the House is just another version of Medicare Part

D which was a giveaway to pharmaceutical companies.

O'DONNELL: What do you say to the president and Democrats who say,

let's get this passed and then we can build on it with future legislation?

KUCINICH: You're building on sand. There's no structure here.

You're building on a foundation of privatization of our health care system.

That's the problem. The insurance companies are the problem.

They're nothing to build on. We build our hopes on the insurance

companies and all we're going to have is more poverty in this country.

And people aren't going -

O'DONNELL: Congressman Dennis Kucinich -

KUCINICH: - people aren't going to get the care that they need.

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

KUCINICH: Remember, insurance companies make money not providing

health care. That is a fundamental truth about our health care system.

O'DONNELL: Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, you have

been consistent throughout this debate. Many thanks for your time tonight.

KUCINICH: Thank you very much.

O'DONNELL: For more, let's turn to Sam Stein, political reporter with

"The Huffington Post."

Sam, does Congressman Kucinich represent the only consistent Democrat

in the House of Representatives? When I think of what Nancy Pelosi was

saying six months ago or eight months ago, there will be a public option,

all these promises Democrats have made, all these issues that they've said,

you know, we will vote, I will vote against it if it doesn't have the

public option, if it restricts abortion, every - it seems to me, every

liberal except Dennis Kucinich has let every one of those principles

collapse up to this point, haven't they?

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: It's a fair point to make. In many ways,

the conservative wing of the Democratic Party has been a lot more rigid in

their ideological purity than the liberal wing and I think that's a - when

this is all said and done, there's going to be a lot of reflection among

the progressive caucus about what exactly went wrong in writing this bill.

But, yes. You know, Congressman Kucinich is sticking by his

principles. Talking to him back stage, he wants a robust public plan and

nothing short of that I think is going to win his vote, and there's going

to be a lot of chatter about what this means - whether he now represents

sort of the Ralph Nader of health care reform in reference to the 2000

election or whether what he's doing is principally correct.

O'DONNELL: And he represents, as far as we know, a group of one at

this point, doesn't he?

STEIN: Yes. From my reporting and that of my colleague Ryan Grim,

it's tough to get a sense of anyone who's joining Congressman Kucinich on

this. I talked today with Senator Bernie Sanders who probably would be his

counterpoint in the Senate in terms of the liberal base of the Democratic

Caucus, and Senator Sanders is behind this legislation even though it does

not have single-payer which he wanted, even though there's not likely going

to be a public plan, and even though the provision that would ostensibly

provide a foundation for single-payer has its own weaknesses.

So, yes, Congressman Kucinich stands alone.

O'DONNELL: Now, there's more trouble on the other end of the

Democratic Party, Bart Stupak and the abortion language problem. How many

votes does he represent? If he's going to be asked to vote on the Senate

bill with the abortion language it currently has, if he's a "no" vote on

that bill, how many go with him?

STEIN: It's a great question. You know, inquisitive minds want to

know, I think, including Speaker Pelosi's office. It ranges anywhere from

four to 11, maybe up to 13, but, you know, when it all comes down to what

happens between now and an actual vote. The problem here is that there is

no conceivable compromise other than to allow abortion language to be voted

upon outside of the health care bill. As you know very well, it's tough to

adjust abortion language in reconciliation. It has no budgetary impact.

So, the only conceivable solution to this is to allow a separate bill

to be voted upon but Congressman Stupak doesn't want that because he knows

very well that that bill would be defeated in the House and the Senate.

So, in some respects, he's becoming the Jim Bunning of health care reform.

He's letting his objections to this one provision ostensibly, or possibly

derail the entire package. So, we'll see.

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, the tricks of reconciliation in the Senate

actually do allow for anything to go through, absolutely anything if you

have 60 votes for it. So, it seems - it seems conceivable.

STEIN: But there's not 60 votes. But there's not 60 votes in the

Senate with Stupak's language.

O'DONNELL: Well - what would it do to Republicans if there is a

Stupak amendment in the Senate in reconciliation? How - and they need,

and there has to be a vote to override the parliamentarian ruling it out

which is 60 votes? Wouldn't antiabortion Republicans feel compelled to

actually vote for, in effect, Stupak in that situation?

STEIN: It's actually intriguing hypothetical because it does pit the

pro-life constituency within the Republican Party against the community

that surrounds it. You know, I would suspect they'd find another way to

vilify the legislation and talk about how the provisions don't go far

enough, that they would find a way to defeat health care reform, because

for them I think this debate has proven one thing. They're more interested

in defeating the legislation than advancing core principles or belief.

They think there's more to gain by handing Barack Obama this defeat.

O'DONNELL: And, quickly, Sam -

STEIN: Sure.

O'DONNELL: - before we go, the president seemed to do well out on

the road today with the local audience, but how did he do with the audience

back in Washington today?

STEIN: Well, it's a good question because, you know, the real

constituency he needs to win over are the skeptical members of the House of

Representatives. You know, Obama now does seem to be practicing what he

preached. Back, I think, a couple months ago when he was briefing House

Democrats on the Hill, he kept telling them that you can't run away from

this legislation, that no matter what, you're going to be attacked or

you're going to be credited for it. You're going to own it.

So, now, he is ostensibly owning it. He is saying, "This is my bill.

I'm going to run with this and I'm going to push House members to follow

me" - which is a welcome sign for the caucus.

O'DONNELL: Sam Stein of "The Huffington Post" - thanks for your

reporting. Thanks for your time tonight.

STEIN: No problem. Thanks, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Coming up: health care reform's bizarre new side show

starring Representative Eric Massa. First, he said he was resigning

because of his health. Now, he claims he's being forced out by Democrats.

But as he pushes that theme, he continues to admit to being at the center

of one inappropriate situation after another.

And later, the right is rising up against Liz Cheney. Her own party

now says Liz Cheney's attacks on lawyers who defend terror suspects are

unjust, shameful, and destructive. Our guest: Kenneth Starr.


O'DONNELL: A funny thing happened on the way to the resignation of

Congressman Eric Massa. Instead of taking responsibility for inappropriate

language or conduct with male staffers, now he's saying Democrats forced

him out because he was a "no" vote on health care. This is now his third

reason for quitting in the past week. I can't wait to hear the next one.


O'DONNELL: Congressman Eric Massa, Democrat of New York's 29th

district, resigned today, under allegations that he sexually harassed a

male staffer. Mr. Massa's first said he is leaving because of health

problems, and then just yesterday, the congressman indulged in a sudden

diatribe against his fellow Democrats, saying that they are getting rid of

him so they can pass health care reform.

During a nearly 13-minute rant on a radio show yesterday, Congressman

Massa tore into the Democratic Party, saying that it wants him out because

he voted no on the health care reform package last November. But here is

Massa in his own words describing the wedding incident which led to

allegations of sexual harassment.


REP. ERIC MASSA (D), NEW YORK: I was with my wife. And, in fact, we

had a great time. She got the stomach flu. I went down to sing "Auld Lang

Syne" and with cameras on me, and I'm talking three of them filming me, I

danced with the bride and I danced with the bridesmaid.

Absolutely nothing occurred. I said good night to the bridesmaid. I

sat down at the table where my whole staff was, all of them by the way


One of them looked at me and as they would do after, I don't know 15

gin and tonics and goodness only knows how many bottles of champagne, the

staffer made an intonation to me that maybe I should be chasing after the

bridesmaid. And his points were clear and his words far more colorful than

that. And I grabbed the staff member sitting next to me and said, "Well,

what I really ought to be doing is fracking you." And then tousled the

guy's hair and left.

Now, was that inappropriate of me? Absolutely. Am I guilty? Yes.


O'DONNELL: Fracking you. Massa claims that House Majority Leader

Steny Hoyer lied about how the harassment allegation was brought to the

House Ethics Panel, but Congressman Hoyer says, through his spokesman,

there is zero merit to that accusation.

Mr. Massa also described an incident when he was serving on a Navy

ship during Desert Shield which led to an allegation of misconduct. Massa

explained that he walked in on his room mate, who was, quote, "busy

remembering his spouse."


MASSA: And I walked in and instead of embarrassing him, I smacked him

on the leg and said, if you need any help with that, let me know, and I

went to bed. And he was so hideously embarrassed, he moved out of the

state room.


O'DONNELL: Massa also called White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel

the "devil's spawn" and recalled a supposedly naked incident in the house

shower during which Emanuel supposedly complained about Massa's vote on the

budget. Massa will be on Glenn Beck's show tomorrow.

Let's bring in Washington editor of "The Nation," Chris Hayes.

Chris, 39 Democrats voted against the health care reform package last

November. But former Congressman Massa says that he - inevitably only he


CHRIS HAYES, THE NATION: Only he, right.

O'DONNELL: - has been pushed out over that vote. They found a way.

The Democrats decided, you know, let's have a sex scandal. That's what we

need this week. You know, take it away.

HAYES: Well, look, it doesn't pass the sniff test. I mean, it

doesn't make any sense why they would fabricate and engineer this whole

thing. And, you know, the most serious allegation, right, is that this

ethics complaint has been trumped up. My sense of it, the procedures are

such that ethics complaints are submitted to this committee. That they're

reviewed, it's all sealed.

You know, if it's actually true, you know - then, you know, Massa's

got a point, but there's absolutely nothing to suggest this notion is true.

And the whole story doesn't really add up both what he says about it, the

fact that we've had this weird back to back, you know, he's not running for

re-election, and now he's going to resign. So, none of this is really

adding up right now.

And remember, the only person we're hearing from about this right now

is Massa, himself. You get a sense that there's a lot more to the story.

O'DONNELL: If anything he was saying was true, if he was in some

sense being forced out because of that vote, the answer of that is simply

to not leave.

HAYES: Right.

O'DONNELL: He voluntarily left today. Doesn't that kind of prove,

you know, which side is telling the truth here?

HAYES: That's what's so bizarre about this whole incident is that he

on the day that he resigned, he's running around complaining about being

forced out. It's like, dude, don't resign. I mean, I honestly don't

understand what his point is. It sounds like, you know, that he was forced

out. He resigned today.

So - and not only did he resign. If he is being truthful about the

allegations against him, he came out and said them, right? So he could

have just nipped this in the bud, given the exact same interview and not

resigned, and voted against health care to screw over Rahm Emanuel and

whoever else. There has to be more to the story behind why he resigned

other than this, you know, fit of pique.

O'DONNELL: All right. Here is where Glenn Beck is going to go

tomorrow. Here's my - here's my best prediction.


O'DONNELL: He's going to say the Democrats know how to take care of

their own when they want to. Look at Charlie Rangel.


O'DONNELL: They let him stay there under the clouds, you know, for

over a year now. What do the Democrats say back to that? What's the

difference between the Massa situation and the Rangel situation?

HAYES: Well, I mean, the Rangel situation is different insofar as

there has been a process and the ethics committee conducted the process

and, you know, they're following the ethics committee recommendations. I

think, to be honest, Rangel looks bad. You know? And that they, you know,

they - at least he stepped down from the chairmanship. But the Democrats

should be embarrassed about Rangel and a lot of the allegations are quite


What's weird about the Massa thing is they're going to turn around and

turn him on its head, right, because here's a case in which all the ethics

procedures have been followed. Here is someone who's being - who had a -

it appears a sexual harassment complaint filed against him. He, himself,

chose to resign. They are now in the case of defending the person who has

the ethics complaint against him.

So, in the same way that they can point to a double-standard on the

other side, the arrow points back at them exactly for that reason.

O'DONNELL: Chris Hayes of "The Nation" - thank you for handling this

weird one for us tonight.

HAYES: Just a salty old sailor, Lawrence. Just a salty old sailor.

O'DONNELL: There you go.

Coming up: is honor dead in the Republican Party? Consider the

growing uprising of Republicans who are sharply criticizing Liz Cheney.

Kenneth Starr - yes, that Kenneth Starr - joins us to explain why Liz

Cheney's views are shameful, even harmful.

And later, a big night of firsts at the Oscars. The history you heard

about and the history that you might have passed you by - ahead on



O'DONNELL: Our next guest is a newcomer to this program. In the

past, his work has been criticized from this desk as sharply as Keith has

ever criticized anyone. Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who

investigated President Clinton, has now gone public criticizing the recent

attacks by Liz Cheney and others on Justice Department lawyers who once

represented or did work on behalf of alleged terrorists.

The issue sufficiently important that Keith weighed in today about

Judge Starr's opinion on this to say, "that's how seriously we both take

this, that even we agree on it."

This, of course, is the web ad produced last week by Liz Cheney and

Bill Kristol's group, Keep America Safe, labeling Justice Department

lawyers the al Qaeda Seven, and propagating the slur "Department of Jihad,"

because seven then unidentified DOJ lawyers, in addition to two others

already known, had represented or did work on behalf of terrorist suspects.

As we reported last week, a group of conservative lawyers, many of

them deeply involved in prosecuting detainees, sharply rebuked the ad.

This weekend, that rebuke grew louder. The voice of Ken Starr and more

than a dozen others, including top Bush justice and defense lawyers, some

of the strongest defenders of Bush anti-terror policies, joined this

chorus. They signed a letter saying, "that the past several days have seen

a shameful series of attacks. We consider these attacks both unjust to the

individuals in question, and destructive of any attempt to build lasting

mechanisms for counter-terrorism adjudications. Such attacks also

undermine the justice system more broadly. Whatever systems America

develops to handle difficult detention questions will rely, at least some

of the time, on an aggressive defense Bar. Those who take up that function

do a service to the system."

Joining me now is a co-signatory of that letter, former federal Judge

Ken Starr, former independent counsel, and solicitor general, who currently

serves as dean of Pepperdine University Law School. Dean Starr, the notion

that anyone who defended an accused terrorist or, as Mark Tyson today says

in "The Washington Post", anyone who defended drug dealers or mobsters,

should not be allowed to work as prosecutors, let alone be in the national

security apparatus, it has a certain obvious appeal to it. What do you

teach in law school at Pepperdine Law School about that issue?


important for lawyers to be willing to take on unpopular causes, to make

sure that power is checked, that there are, in fact, arguments being

advanced on behalf of those who have been subjected to governmental power.

So this is in the finest traditions of our country.

I hope school children still learn about the example of John Adams,

because we certainly teach it in law school. John Adams taking on the

British Red Coats, who of course were charged with the Boston Massacre -

and some colonialists were killed. Some patriots were killed. And so

Boston was inflamed by this in terms of popular opinion. But John Adams

considered that one of his finest hours to take on that representation.

And he successfully defended seven of the British troops charged with these

very serious crimes.

It wasn't a career-enhancing move for John Adams, but he did OK in the

fullness of time. But he didn't apologize for that. He knew that that was

a duty of our system of law, where we protect the liberties of all - and

the constitutional rights, of all persons. That's what these lawyers were


O'DONNELL: Bill Kristol wrote yesterday about getting people to sign

this letter that, "knowing establishment lawyers, I'm sure they'll get a

few. The legal fraternity doesn't like criticism of lawyers." Your reply

to Mr. Kristol?

STARR: Well, I love Bill Kristol. I view him as a friend. But he's

wrong on this one. And it is simply not consistent with the great

traditions of our country and certainly not with our profession. Lawyers

have an ethical obligation - I mean, an ethical obligation to be willing

to take on unpopular causes. That is an obligation that goes with the

profession. It goes with the territory.

So one needs to be courageous at times, and to be willing to stand up

to power, and to say, look, I'm going to make the best arguments that I can

as a zealous advocate on behalf of this particular client. So lawyers who

did that with respect to the detainees were acting in these very fine

traditions. They knew it was going to be controversial. But they deserve

commendation. They do not deserve criticism at all.

The only criticism would be did they take some action as lawyers that

it was somehow unethical or improper? No such charge has been made. This

was really unwise and really an out of bounds characterization and

challenge to good, honorable lawyers.

O'DONNELL: You do have the sentence in this letter that says "such

attacks also undermine the justice system more broadly." Could you expand

on that? What is involved here beyond just terrorism cases?

STARR: It's the broader principle of taking on the unpopular cause.

We need to encourage young lawyers and law students to do that which all of

us who have been in the profession for, as I have, several decades to know,

this is very important. Don't just take on the popular causes. It's the

people who really do need representation, who may be excluded from the


The great example that's used - a lot of law students have read this

before they enter law school - is the story in "To Kill a Mockingbird" of

the lawyer, Atticus Finch, who was defending an African-American defendant.

Did that make Atticus Finch in that small southern town popular?

Absolutely not. He became a pariah in his own community.

But he explained to his children - Atticus Finch explained to his

kids, I've got to do this as a matter of conscience. It wasn't just his

conscience. It was the conscience of a profession, a great profession that

John Adams embodied, Thurgood Marshall embodied, and many lawyers, day in

and day out, embody by being willing to stand up to the crowd and saying,

no, we stand for the justice system, and that everyone has his or her right

to representation.

And John Roberts, by the way, our chief justice, spoke very eloquently

to this in his own confirmation hearing, when questions would be raised

about, well, you represented this client or you represented that client.

And part of our traditions that John Roberts reminded the Senate, reminded

the country, is that you do not impute the cause of the client to the

lawyer who is called upon to make sure that that client's rights are being


O'DONNELL: I see the - in the background shot there, Pepperdine

University. You're situated at the most beautiful law school campus in

America. What provoked you to throw yourself back into the public eye into

this kind of controversy? There were enough names on this letter without

you signing it. What about this particular attack on the Justice

Department motivated you to step back into a controversial lime light?

STARR: Well, I don't think it's controversial at all. The principle

is clear. The principle is long established. I believe in that principle

fervently. So a number of us feel very strongly as well about protecting

the Department of Justice. Note how it's named. It's not a Department of

Law Enforcement. It's a Department of Justice.

And so we want to attract lawyers who have in the past responded as

private practitioners or academics to the call to serve in some way that

then is going to perhaps attract some criticism. But then we need in the

profession to rally around those who have stepped up in the past, who have

shown courage, who have been bold, and who have been willing to respond to

the call of duty.

And some of these lawyers, by the way, responded to the call of duty

from military lawyers saying, we need help. Walter Dellinger, the former

solicitor general under President Clinton, wrote a very important piece

that I think everyone should read who is really thinking maybe there's some

question. There is no question here because he talked about the story of

an individual in his law firm who is now one of the people who is being

attacked by these very unfortunate and ill-conceived ads or messages. That

he responded to a weekend call that came in from military lawyers that we

need help on this. These are military lawyers who were assigned to defend.

O'DONNELL: Pepperdine Law School Dean Ken Starr, former independent

counsel, and former federal judge, thank you very much for your invaluable

perspective on this tonight.

STARR: My pleasure, Lawrence. Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, Sarah Palin says as a kid her family used to

cross the border and go to Canada for government health care. Except she's

told the same story before and her family went to Juneau for treatment.

The truthiness of Palin returns.

And the best and worst of last night's Oscars. Did some history

making wins make up for the show going into overtime?


O'DONNELL: Last night's Oscar broadcast was seen by 41 million

people. That's up roughly five million from last year. And if you were

not watching last night, we've got you covered. Here's our own Lee Cowen.


LEE COWAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Last night's Oscars

seemed as predictable as the color of that famous carpet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You will never be one of the people!

COWAN: "Avatar," the highest grossing movie ever, sure got talked

about a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that the director of "Avatar," James Cameron?

COWAN: But in the end, it received as many jokes as it did technical


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This seemed like a better idea in rehearsal.

COWAN: But what the Oscars may have lacked in suspense made up for in

curious moments.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is so exciting. This is so -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let a woman talk.

COWAN: It was that Kanye West flashback, when one producer crashed

another producer's acceptance speech? Not exactly Academy classy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was awkward. But it was actually really

entertaining at the same time.

COWAN: Then there was the almost unfurling of a banner to save

dolphins, and the almost remembering of every star who had died, but

somehow forgetting Henry Gibson, Bea Arthur, and Farrah Fawcett.

(on camera): So there were a few glitches, but this year's Oscars did

have one thing that many of them don't: history and a lot of it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, the time has come.

COWAN (voice-over): Kathryn Bigelow the director of the war drama

"The Hurt Locker," is the first woman to ever go home with a best director

Oscar, a point the Academy's orchestra couldn't let go without a musical

punctuation mark.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not so sure we need to hear the orchestra play

"I Am Woman" when she was walking off the stage after giving her speech.

COWAN: And there was another. Although screen writers sometimes fade

compared to actors -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A collaboration between handsome, gifted people,

and sickly little mole people.

COWAN: Screen writer Jeffrey Fletcher shined. He became the first

African-American screenwriter to win an Oscar, this one for writing


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is for everybody who works on a dream every


COWAN: So while best actor Jeff Bridges will be remembered for his

heart -

JEFF BRIDGES, ACTOR: Thank you, mom and dad, for turning me on to

such a groovy profession.

COWAN: And best actress Sandra Bullock will be remembered for her

humor -

SANDRA BULLOCK, ACTRESS: Did I really earn this or did I just wear

you all down?

COWAN: After 82 years, Oscar will be remembered for turning a page,

Hollywood style.

Lee Cowan, NBC News, Los Angeles.


O'DONNELL: Coming up, her choice to be the Republican vice

presidential candidate was all a part of God's plan, she says. And now her

decision to write notes on her hand for a speech simply means she's just

like God. Details next on Countdown.


O'DONNELL: Sarah Palin has railed against health care reform, warned

of imaginary government-run death panels, ginned up fears of a socialist

takeover in Washington. But in an interesting reversal, Sarah Palin now

endorses a nationalized health care system, because her family may have

taken advantage of one. Speaking at an event in Calgary, Canada, Palin

told an audience of lobbyists and conservative politicos that she and her

family would cross the border to a nearby city for care. "My first five

years of life we spent in Skagway, Alaska, right there by Whitehorse.

Believe it or not, this was in the late '60s. We used to hustle on over

the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse. I remember

my brother. He burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing, and my

parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse. And I

think, isn't that ironic? Zooming over the border getting health care from


Ironic? Certainly. And odd, considering in 2007, a different version

of that story published in "The Skagway News," when Palin visited the town

as governor: "Palin drew from her Skagway past to illustrate her point.

Her brother burned his foot badly jumping through a fire, and her mother

had to take him down to Juneau on the ferry to the hospital."

Palin continues her defense of the incident involving her infamous

palm notes used at the Tea Party convention. Palin favorably compared her

note taking with that of a much more popular leader - god. Here she is

speaking at a pro-life fund-raiser in Ohio.


SARAH PALIN, FMR. GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Then somebody said to me the

other day, Isaiah 49-16. You need to go home tonight and look it up.

Before you look it up, I'll tell you what it says though. It says, hey, if

it was good enough for God scribbling on the palm of his hand, it's good

enough for me, for us. He said - in that passage, he says, "I wrote your

name on the palm of my hand to remember you." I'm like, OK, I'm in good



O'DONNELL: Joining me now is David Weigel, reporter with "The

Washington Independent." David, Sarah Palin is now comparing herself to

God. Is her audience down with that?


specifically talking about Jesus' address to the Tea Party convention,

right? I mean, I - I think this is either brilliant pandering or the most

unconvincing pandering I've ever heard, except that I wasn't there. But I

hear nothing but cheers coming from the audience. Maybe they were clapping

while - you know, they were clapping her to encourage her to move on to

something else.

But she's not quite right. I don't know why she keeps bringing this

issue up. She, I thought, had a good response to this hand note issue when

she wrote "hi mom" on her hand the next day, after this little mini

scandal, when she was at an event in Texas. Why not leave it there? This

really, clearly is getting under her skin.

O'DONNELL: Well, yeah. Normally when a politician gets caught in a

problem like that, they make one reference to it, maybe the Jay Leno thing,

maybe the thing about the mom, like you said, and then they're done with it

and leave it behind. She seems to be fueling it, maybe on the notion that

she's always best when that big media machine is attacking her. And the

more she can bring it up, the more she can get attacked for it. And does

that - is that the dynamic she's trying to create?

WEIGEL: I think that's true, especially something like this, where

she can convince this crowd that they're all in on something that the elite

gotcha media, like us, don't understand, even if it really doesn't make

sense. This chapter of Isaiah she's talking about doesn't really mean this

at all. She was writing energy and new American ideas, but she wants to

worry this point, because the more they think the media is out to get her,

the more they like her. They're liking her more. I can see the meter

rising as we talk about her right now, as we try to make fun of this.

O'DONNELL: Now, turning to her praise of the Canadian health care

system; you know, she did say it was the '60s and Canada didn't go full

single payer until 1972. So we're not so clear. But it's the two

different stories. When she's in Canada, she says my brother's burnt foot

we took him to Canada. When she's in Alaska, she says my brother's burnt

foot we took him to Juneau. Now her brother had two feet to burn. So I

guess they're both possibly true. But is this just whatever the audience

wants to hear?

WEIGEL: It is. But the curious thing about the Canadian version of

this story is that she was talking, as you said, to an audience of Canadian

conservative cabinet members, Canadian - conservative members of

parliament, officials in that government, who are governing a country that

has not collapsed despite having nationalized health care.

Again, this conservative government has been in power for a few years

now, and has not really tried to undo and bring itself back to the best

health care system in the world, like the one Palin's brother had on the

day of the week that she said he went to Juneau. I mean, that I think is

the - forget the hypocrisy here. She's trying to pander to these

politicians by saying, thank goodness I got health care before you wrecked

your health care system. No Canadian believes that they've wrecked their

health care system.

O'DONNELL: David Weigel of "The Washington Independent," thanks for

patrolling the Palin beat for us tonight.

WEIGEL: Thank you very much, Larry.

O'DONNELL: That'll have to do it for this Monday edition of

Countdown. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" is up next. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell,

in for Keith Olbermann. Thanks for watching.