'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, January 26th, 2010
Video via MSNBC: Oddball, Quick Comment (spending cuts), Quick Comment (Leno), Worst Persons
Via YouTube: Quick Comment (spending cuts), Quick Comment (Leno)
The toss: Misunderstanding
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Turley, Robert Reich, Howard Fineman, Mary Manheim
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Republican operative who ran the pimp scam on ACORN is arrested, charged by the FBI, as part of the scheme to tamper with the phones in the offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Arrested with James O'Keefe, three others, including the son of the acting U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge.
He, one of two men claiming to be telephone repairmen, quote, "each dressed in blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts, and construction-style hard hats." O'Keefe, quote, "later admitted to agents" that he videotaped the others on a cell phone camera.
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
The deep felony legal trouble O'Keefe and the others face - with Jonathan Turley; the politics - with Richard Wolffe.
Can you hear me now?
Partial freeze, total cold reception. The president's plan to freeze large swaths of domestic spending for three years. Paul Krugman, "It's appalling on every level." Former Obama campaign adviser Robert Reich, "Wall Street is delighted, but it means Main Street is in worse trouble than ever."
Should we have seen it coming from the third debate?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THEN-SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An across the board spending freeze is a hatchet and we do need a scalpel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Our special guest: Robert Reich.
And the "Quick Comment": Why was the president so lighting fast to respond to Republican calls for spending freezes but to Democratic calls for health care changes?
Supreme Court pushback: Senators rally to stop unlimited campaign advertising by at least the foreign corporations.
And the real O'Reilly.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: You've got to kidnap Pelosi and Reid.
No waterboarding. Well, maybe with Nancy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And we have to find out who the Mona Lisa really was, so bring me the head of Leonardo da Vinci.
All the news and commentary - now on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.
Would you believe who that "gate"? Four people, among them: the anti-ACORN conservative activists whom House Republicans to honor in congressional resolution, and the son of the federal prosecutor in Baton Rouge arrested yesterday inside the New Orleans offices of Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Two of them claiming to be and dressed as telephone repairmen, with conservative boy wonder James O'Keefe recording it all.
They are charged in a criminal complaint, having entered under false pretenses for the purposes of committing felony and words like "bug" and "wiretap" are being thrown around.
You think the story is likely to blow over? June 17th, 1972, five men carrying electronic equipment and photographic gear arrested in a burglary of Democratic Party headquarters in Washington trying to tamper with phones there. That story is, today, remembered as Watergate. Richard Wolffe will address the half of this political scandal; Jonathan Turley, the sobering fact that a potential jail time maybe even heftier.
The U.S. Attorney's Office today announcing the arrests; the FBI's criminal complaint and affidavit describing an extraordinary series of events. Suspects Joseph Basel and Robert Flanagan - Flanagan, the son of acting U.S. Attorney Bill Flanagan - each dressed in blue denim pants, blue work shirts, light green fluorescent vests, tool belts and construction-style hard hats, arriving at Senator Landrieu's office and claiming to be telephone repairmen, and asking for access to the main phone at the Landrieu reception desk.
After handling the phone, the two asking for access to the main telephone closet under the pretense of needing to perform work on the main telephone system in Landrieu's offices. They then directed to another building where prosecutors say they again misrepresented themselves. Already at Landrieu's office when the men got there was this guy, the conservative activist James O'Keefe, infamous for his undercover work in which he as a pimp accompanied by young women posing as prostitutes, exposed how several workers at ACORN, the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now, appeared to be offering the women advice on how to misuse government funds.
Having gotten a taste for the limelight, as the result of this hidden camera work, Mr. O'Keefe, the criminal complaint saying, admitted to having recorded the two fake telephone repair men with his cell phone.
O'Keefe, Flanagan and Basel later arrested by the U.S. Marshall's Service, along with the fourth young man, Stan Dai. Prosecutors saying only that Mr. Dai assisted in planning the operation. In other words, they're not saying much.
The affidavit though for - thus for, though, reveals that Flanagan and Basel have admitted to federal agents that they were not telephone repairmen and that they entered the office of Senator Landrieu under false pretenses. O'Keefe and Dai have also admitted to federal agents that worked with Flanagan and Basel in the planning, coordination and preparation of the operation.
The FBI agent concluding: "There's probable cause to believe that Flanagan and Basel, by false and fraudulent pretense, attempted to enter and did, in fact, enter real property belonging to the United States, for the purpose of willfully and maliciously interfering with the telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America."
If convicted just of these charges - and there could be others - the men face each a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Senator Landrieu commenting tonight in a written statement, "This is a very unusual situation," she says, "and somewhat unsettling for me and my staff. The individuals responsible have been charged with entering federal property under false pretense for the purposes of committing a felony. I am as interested as everyone else about their motives and purpose, which I hope will become clear as the investigation moves forward."
Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, author of "Renegade."
Richard, good evening.
RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I just read from this FBI affidavit. Let me do it again, "maliciously interfering with a telephone system operated and controlled by the United States of America."
If some Democrat operative, liberal, young liberal, liberal with a video camera, were alleged to have done this in the offices of a Republican senator somewhere in this country, no matter how rinky-dink the actual hat operation was or what color hat he was wearing, would not the right-wing echo chamber have already jumped to treason by now?
WOLFFE: Well, if not treason, then possibly terrorism.
It's easy to look at all of this, and you hear about the ridiculous costumes which seem to have been taken from the Village People, and think, well, this is just a joke. I mean, the whole thing has seemed ridiculous.
He has, and Glenn Beck has, described him as some sort of Sacha Baron Cohen figure. But the truth is, that the impact of O'Keefe all along has been this is quote/unquote, "some new form of journalism." There is nothing about investigative journalism that allows people to impersonate people, and attempt to wiretap any phone - never mind a federal office.
So, you know, the interesting thing here is: what the conservatives would say about a hypothetical Democrat for doing this. It's what they said about O'Keefe at the time: this man was supposed to be the future of journalism. There was a column - typical column in the "Washington Times" where Richard Rahn of the Cato Institute said that O'Keefe was a role model for millions of Americans and a true American patriot.
There are serious questions here tonight about not just the credibility of O'Keefe and his previous work, but about all those people who held him up as some kind of shining example for the media and for America's youth.
OLBERMANN: Well, he is a role model for those who are interested in going into the production or starring in our MSNBC series "Lockup."
Look, it was almost by accident, of course, when we were talking about the original Watergate, and there's nothing, at this point, that suggest these two things are exactly equivalent other than the coincidences about the phones and the break-in. But the background raised from a third-rate burglary to a president instructing his staff how to cover up crimes, by - almost by, accident we got the information.
Is this being, at this point, taken seriously politically in Washington? And is there, in fact, any indication that O'Keefe has ever gotten a dime from any Republican or conservative organization?
WOLFFE: We don't know what his funding has been. There have been lots of questions asked, and not much information has come out. But we know for one fact that he's media sponsorship. The web of media coverage that has promoted this guy from having an interesting YouTube video to being a serious political topic, that leads to congressional resolutions, has come through this very strange and new nexus of certain Web sites like Andrew Breitbart's work. And also, FOX News.
So, a model that really began in the '90s with Drudge and Lewinsky now is much closer to the political mainstream. Someone like O'Keefe, without any checks and balances on what he does, can find his way being pushed heavily online, into FOX News and into the top part of the agenda of Republican - of some Republican members of Congress.
OLBERMANN: Even if he freelanced this - let's assume that's - what we have now is what is all there is. Will it be possible for Republicans to run from this man after they - as you point out - spend so much time building him up on the ACORN story? And we're not just talking about bloggers, 31 House Republicans supported a resolution to honor him after the ACORN pimp sting.
WOLFFE: Yes. There should be pressure on the members of Congress who held him up as an example, to at least revisit of their opinions. Because we're not talking about someone being accused of unethical procedures in their pursuit of journalism, this was targeted towards a United States senator.
So, at the very least, there needs to be some kind of revisiting and I just think what we're seeing here - this story popped up in September, it was a critical period to trash the Obama administration, tying in ACORN now with the ACORN stories through the election. This wasn't - it didn't pop out of nothing and it was an incredibly important tool for the Republicans to caricature an attack progressives and also, Barack Obama.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC's Richard Wolffe, I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this. Great thanks, Richard.
WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: For more on the criminal charges, let's turn to Jonathan Turley, constitutional law expert and law professor at George Washington University.
Jon, good evening.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony - we know that this means they each face 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But this is just the start conceivably of what they may be facing?
TURLEY: Well, it's very likely just a start. First of all, this provision, when you tack on with the intent to do a felony, kicks it up to 10 years. It goes dramatically down without that felony. But that raises the question: what is the felony?
Well, often times in these cases, the prosecutors will take a lead pipe cinch charge - something that really can't be knocked out easily as a basis - as a foundation for the charges to get them into the system. And then you see them add charges, which called "count stacking," particularly on a group of 24-year-olds, to see if one of them is going to cooperate - people like young Flanagan who may be getting pressure from his father to cooperate, or young Basel. That's not going to include O'Keefe. He is - if I was the defense attorney, I would probably tell O'Keefe that he's likely to be the target and they're unlikely to come to him with a deal.
But the first that they often do is they will start to stack counts.
That leads us to what that felony is.
Now, what's fascinating about the affidavit by the agent is it doesn't refer to finding electronic devices in their possession. Now, the most obvious felony would be under 2511. You know, they were charged under the section 1036, which is the false pretenses, going into federal property.
But 2511 is the one that deals with electronic surveillance. And it is illegal to have electronic surveillance devices. It's illegal to attempt to engage electronic surveillance.
If that's the felony, then they're looking at probably 20 years or more, depending on whether they would run consecutively or concurrently.
OLBERMANN: And any time that you're thinking of doing something like this, when it's going to take place on federal property, that should be the signal to wave the guy off when he comes up with this idea?
TURLEY: Well, occasionally, you'll get a client in criminal cases where you just have to say, "You know, you're an embarrassment to hardworking criminals around the world." And in this case, I just cannot imagine how these individuals found each other, let alone came up with what is the most boneheaded idea I have ever seen.
And, you know, it's hard to imagine what a defense would be. The best they would have would be that this is a prank, that they're basically PETA protesters. But PETA protesters don't ask to see phone banks, they don't put on elaborate schemes to try to get into a telephone system.
That's what's so odd about the affidavit omitting any reference to devices. I - it's hard to imagine what they wanted in the main telephone system, except to interfere with it.
Now, it also says malicious interference, and the only malicious interference that I can think of to be the basis of a criminal charge, would be to either interfere literally with the phone system, to try to cut it off or to tap it. Either one would be a very serious felony. These people are looking at a very serious charge which is likely to grow in the coming days.
OLBERMANN: So, I would assume then - you mention the prospect here of trying to turn, if you're the prosecutor, Flanagan, Basel and Dai against James O'Keefe. Would there be any attempt to turn James O'Keefe, to see if there's anyone above him who helped him with this, funded it, planned it, anybody else connected to it? Are they interested in that? Or is this the sort of crime they want to try to punish the people who tried the actual operation inside a senator's office?
TURLEY: Well, as a defense attorney, you often look at what your assets are. And one of them, quite frankly, is whether your client could be of assistance to the prosecution, whether it could go further up. Someone like O'Keefe seems to operate as a lone wolf.
It's very common, however, to see charges brought to a wider group of people, particularly if there's electronic devices involved, and we don't know if there are. But those aren't exactly just laying around. Someone usually has to help them. These guys don't exactly strike me as the brightest bulbs in the barn. So, there could be other individuals.
But, O'Keefe, if I was the counsel, I would look at him as the most likely target. Young Flanagan is in a serious problem because a generous plea for him could be viewed as favoritism for his father.
Jonathan Turley of George Washington University - I think we probably will be speaking about this again soon, too. Thank you, Jon.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: One thing this does help bury the notion of a left-wing media. On the evening newscast tonight, ABC, CBS, NBC, a feature on a half court basketball shot, some bowling highlights. There was even a sound byte from Mary Landrieu about Haiti. Not a word about this story.
By the way, in case their actions did not invite the comparison, one knee touch from Mr. O'Keefe. His attorney is named Michael Madigan. Michael Madigan was counsel to Senator Howard Baker on the Watergate committee.
Now, if you're thinking that a clever White House would find any plausible reason to postpone the State of the Union address now to just let tap Watergate or whatever it is play out for a little while, like a couple of months, you're showing some admirable creativity, because when the president makes an economic proposal and get slammed on it by Robert Reich, that president is on thin economic ice.
A "Quick Comment" and Robert Reich - next.
OLBERMANN: And now, tonight's first "Quick Comment" and the topic is response time.
The president is elected. He is at the helm of a 20-vote margin in the Senate, at 77-vote margin in the House. His campaign is predicated on change, reform.
At the time of his inauguration, polling shows the public places health care reform third in its priorities, behind only the economy and counterterrorism.
But that polling also warns the new president, he only has a narrow window in which to act before the public gets scared by the details. He promptly delegates it to Congress, Congress loses message control on it to a bunch of white guys in 19th century hats who were pretending they are neither races nor corporate-funded, and another bunch of white guys screaming at town halls.
The president then loses the meat of the bill to influence peddlers paid nine figures by big business. And he loses the members in his own party who are own by those big business. Then he looses his own voters in a special election in a liberal state, because - as polling there shows - they are upset that health care reform did not go far enough.
Three hundred seventy-one days after the inauguration, there is no health care reform and there may not be. Meanwhile, a Republican senator is elected - one not 20. His vague platform includes cutting domestic spending using a pickup truck while wearing a barn coat.
A week later, the White House is going to use the State of the Union to propose cutting domestic spending for three years. It's nice to see the president is finally responding quickly and decisively, too bad it's not to the needs and desires of his own party, more importantly, the majority of the American people.
OLBERMANN: Recalling what the president said just yesterday, quote, "I'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president." That should speak for itself. But a reasonable translation is certainly this: I would rather do what is right than what is politically expedient. Thus, it also reasonable to wonder why he seems to be moving towards, if not to, the right. And with no less, an idea that has already died politically and been criticized by two economists, once enthusiastically supportive of the president's economic policies: a spending freeze.
From Robert Reich, who will join us in a moment, "Wall Street is delighted, but it means Main Street is in worst trouble than ever."
From Paul Krugman, "It's appalling on every level."
From other economists, "does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way." "A cheap political trick likely to backfire."
"And speaking of politics, why not, at least, get some concession from blue dog Democrats in exchange for the freeze?" posits Ezra Klein of "The Washington Post."
Worse, the administration can't really believe Republicans will actually agree with them on this. Not even this. No, they'll just move the goal posts - like Senator John McCain, who, today, along with Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, proposed a measure that would do - go, of course, much further. The McCain-Bayh plan would install a spending freeze at an earmark moratorium until the deficit is eliminated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Our proposal is not just a spending freeze. Our proposal must put us on a path to a balanced budget and bring the spending down as a percent of the gross domestic product. The president's serious, and I believe he is. He should also say tomorrow night that he will veto the first appropriations bill that comes to his desk that has an earmark on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Which raises the "oh, by the way" quality to this. The presidential candidate who proposed the spending freeze was, of course, Senator McCain. And the idea was heartily rebuffed more than once in those presidential debates not so very long ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The problem with spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are currently underfunded. I want to increase early childhood education, and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy, I think doesn't make sense.
Let me tell you another place where I'd like to look for some savings. We're currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq, when they have a $79 billion surplus. It seems to me that if we're going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we've got to look at bringing that war to a close.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And in another largely symbolic move, the administration confirming that the president will announce a salary freeze tomorrow night for senior White House officials and top political appointees.
Let's bring in, as promised, professor of public policy, University of California at Berkeley, and the former United States secretary of labor, Robert Reich, also the author of "Supercapitalism" now out in paperback.
Thanks again for your time tonight, sir.
ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As you understand this idea, economically, what is it supposed to achieve and will it achieve that?
REICH: Well, I don't know. That's a very, very good question. Now, if the economy were at full capacity, if everybody had a job, if we were worried about inflation, just the economy overheating, that maybe then, under those circumstances, you want to get the deficit down. But we're not there.
OLBERMANN: Am I correct in assuming that on a personal level, the quotes that you have given out, your criticism of this has been - has been painful to you?
REICH: Well, the policy's been painful to me, Keith.
REICH: My criticisms aren't painful. I mean, look, I see this really as an attempt to basically calm a lot of the conservative Senate Democrats, Birch Bayh and Kent Conrad, and Dianne Feinstein, and even Joseph Lieberman, who's not, obviously, a Democrat, but were saying to the president, "Look, if you don't do something about the deficit, we are growing to not vote for an increase in the debt limit."
But what the president really needs to do is not pander to that. He really needs to explain to them why deficit spending right now, when the economy is in such bad condition, is so important.
OLBERMANN: The idea also that there's a - that there's a mixed message over the continuum, people are not suddenly going to say, well, this is the president who has - who has been tight with the purse strings all this time. Doesn't it, in some way, kind of retroactively reinforce the fact that he was put in this position of having to spend at a time when you have to spend?
REICH: Yes, and he frames the debate in the wrong way, Keith. I mean, it makes people think that the way out of our predicament is to sort of tighten the reins and to embrace fiscal austerity, when actually that's exactly what we can't do. I mean, again, there's so much spare capacity in the economy, so many people are unemployed, six Americans for every job opening.
Right now, consumers are not spending, and businesses are not investing. And so, government has got to pick up the slack until the economy begins growing again.
OLBERMANN: You know this, probably better than I do. There's nothing that this White House has been more proud of than its effect on - and it's tried to prove a negative to actually measure how much it didn't happen because of what they did. But nothing they're more proud of than the effect of what they did on the economy since they took office, and what was, in fact, prevented.
It's almost as if that entire process is being repudiated for - as you suggest - something that doesn't even - it's not - it's not a sea change, it's barely a ripple in the water. It's just - it's a symbolism that doesn't seem to appeal to anybody.
REICH: Yes. That's right, Keith. I - you know, if there hadn't been a stimulus, the economy would probably right now be registering about a 13 percent level of unemployment, things would be much worse. The real problem with the stimulus, honestly, that it was not big enough, is not big enough.
But - and the states right now are mounting an anti-stimulus package. They are - you know, they're cutting teachers. They're cutting firefighters. They're raising taxes. I mean, this is the time when the federal government has got to be active, not regressive.
OLBERMANN: What would you suggest that he do tomorrow night that would both contribute to the economic recovery and give some sort of - some sort of a symbolic pandering to these people he wants to want to pander to? Is there any such a thing?
REICH: Well, I don't think he should symbolically pander or pander in reality.
I think the president has got to say, "Look, my job is to get jobs back and I'm not going to bail out Wall Street, that's not the way it's going to go. The private sector is not creating jobs now. So, the only way to create jobs is, we are going to have to spend. And, by the way, I'm not going to bail out Wall Street. I'm going to bail out Main Street. I'm going to give help to homeowners and to small businesses and to average working people."
That's the theme.
OLBERMANN: That's the one. Robert Reich, former labor secretary, author of "Supercapitalism," as we said now, out in paperback - great thanks for your time again tonight, sir.
REICH: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We will have complete coverage of that State of the Union speech tomorrow. I'll bring you our pre-address coverage, of course, beginning at 8:00 Eastern. Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews join me for the preview and the reaction. Then special edition of Countdown live at about 10:30 Eastern. And Rachel's show would be live an hour after that.
For the president's first official State of the Union, the White House chose to emphasize a symbolic spending freeze instead of emphasizing the Supreme Court decision that utterly unfreezes corporate spending on political advertising. Some senators are picking up that flag, especially when it comes to foreign corporate interference in our elections.
Plus, Bill O'Reilly proposes kidnapping and waterboarding the speaker of the House in public and on tape he says this.
OLBERMANN: Nancy Grace, accused of hounding a woman to suicide on live TV, will not let them even put her deposition in the case on videotape.
But first, exactly two weeks after the earthquake that brought Haiti to its knees, American troops pulled a man out of the rubble at Port-Au-Prince. He is alive. There are perhaps two or three million men and women in desperate need of shelter on the island.
This is where my friend Craig Crawford comes in. At his website, he's collecting funds for practical help. There's the link to Craig's site, Trail Mix. They're called shelter boxes from a British organization that assists disaster victims through catastrophes like this. They cost just under 800 bucks each. Craig is looking for 10 donations each. Each shelter box supplies ten disaster victims with a tent and other life saving equipment for six months. Well done, Craig.
And on that note, let's play Oddball.
Even here at Madam Tussaud's, we cannot escape politics. Yes, the first lady joining her tuxedo clad husband looking lustrous in a replica of her inaugural gown. She is the third first lady to be immortalized in wax, following Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. Students from Harlem on hand for the unveiling festivities, that is until a wax figure of Michaele Salahi in a red sari crashed all the fun. Not doing more jokes about that, hey?
Beijing, China, hello? A sneak peek at the World Chocolate Wonderland. It's like your standard amusement park with a Twix. Eighty tons of chocolate needed to create the displays, including a life sized chocolate BMW, the chocolate replica of the Great Wall of China, which is actually made of chocolate. No word yet on whether the park's management will be contracting any Umpa Lumpas.
The effort to keep the Chinese chocolate cartel and also Britain's billionaire yo-yo industry from deciding our elections. Seriously, Howard Fineman tonight on the push-back to the Supreme Court opening Pandora's Box, next on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Less than a week after the Supreme Court opened the doors for foreign corporations to start flooding the airwaves with commercials to defeat any politicians who oppose them, and to elect those who do their bidding, Democrats are now at work on a new law to slam the doors shut once again. Congressman Chris Van Hollen telling ABC News that he and fellow Democrat Chuck Schumer, of the Senate of course, are already drafting legislation that would prevent foreign corporations from running ads in the US for or against American political candidates.
Staffers for the two Democrats met with White House officials to discuss methods of legislative push-back against the high court ruling. One possibly scenario, floated by Van Hollen on this news hour last night, involves requires a company officer to appear on camera at the end of the company's political ads to declare their responsibility for them.
For instance, just to make up an example, I'm Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney. I approve this message. Get out of my way.
The ruling came down after John Roberts, promoted by President Bush from his Bush v. Gore 2000 team to Chief Justice of the United States, took it upon himself to expand a case being argued by both the conservative group Citizens United and the AFL-CIO. The court's five conservatives subsequently issued a ruling that went beyond even the parameters being argued in the case. The activist court writing new legislation from the bench, tossing out decades of legal and judicial precedent, including its own, to grant corporations, which the founding fathers did not consider individuals, the rights of individuals, rich individuals.
Let's bring in MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, also of course senior Washington correspondent and political columnist of "Newsweek Magazine." Howard, good evening.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE": Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Why the specific concern, and seemingly the first concern about foreign corporation jumping into the American attack ad game?
FINEMAN: Well, because even if you accept the argument of the Supreme Court that corporations are individuals for the purpose of constitutional law and the Bill of Rights, the Constitution protects Americans. It's not about protecting the free speech rights of everybody around the planet, as wonderful as that would be. And especially in the election context, if we're talking about influencing elections, which are at the very core of speech, I think that's an American activity, at least as regards American elections.
OLBERMANN: On the law here, if it is free speech, it's free speech. What kind of constitutional language or even free speech principle justifies limiting speech based on nationality, to ask the devil's advocate question?
FINEMAN: No, I think it's a good question. I think the answer is sort of what I said, in that the Constitution applies to American citizens and people here in the United States. That's what the Bill of Rights is about. It's about individuals. The Supreme Court has now said corporations are individuals for free speech purposes.
By the way, I think that's a question you ought to ask the Supreme Court and they probably will be asked, because whatever statute Chris Van Hollen and Schumer and other senators - I know there are a lot of senators interested in this - come up with, if they manage to pass it, will immediately be challenged in the Supreme Court. I would guess, based on my reading of the decision, thrown out by the Supreme Court, thereby opening the flood gates for the very kind of thing that the founders, I think on one level, were trying to avoid.
They had just fought a revolution. They were just writing a Constitution for the new United States. The last thing they wanted to do was empower the British businessmen of London to get back into deciding who the candidates should be.
OLBERMANN: I'll call the Supreme Court immediately. We'll have them on the show tomorrow night. And they'll sing for us, right here.
But there is one really annoying juxtaposition here. How can the right argue, with one voice, that an individual human who is accused of a crime should not have free speech, even in chains to defend himself in a courtroom, but a group or company that, for all we know, is funding terrorism somewhere else in the world or here, should be permitted to buy free speech in and into our living rooms?
FINEMAN: Well, that's obviously a very, very good question. But the thing to remember about this is that individuals who make up corporations, who own stock in corporations, have free speech rights, obviously. The question - and the question the court dealt with here - is whether for-profit corporations - not charities and so forth - but for-profit corporations, business corporations, could dip into the entire stream of their profits, and use that for electioneering purposes, as long as they don't coordinate it with the candidate. That's what's at issue here.
So - and that's what the Supreme Court said they could do. Yes, unions can do some of this stuff, too. But unions don't have the profit streams of hundreds of billions of dollars that American corporations do. And you could argue that shareholders would have their rights limited by this, because the speech that the corporation could pay for might not be the speech that the shareholders want.
OLBERMANN: I'm going to throw a curveball at you about the breaking news with which we led this hour, the Who Dat Gate, the arrest in Mary Landrieu's office, because we have a statement here. I want to know if you think this is where this is going. This is from the Democratic party chair in Louisiana, Michael McHale, who has stated "this is a Louisiana Watergate. Louisiana families are shocked and outraged that these men would break the law to carry out their political agenda, with this Watergate-like break-in and attempted wiretapping. Given his ties to some of the players involved, Senator Vitter should immediately denounce the actions of these four men and anyone who may have instigated, supported or assisted them."
Two uses of Watergate in one sentence from the chairman there. It's pretty good stuff.
OLBERMANN: I'm tempted to say the phrase Louisiana Watergate is a redundancy. But, yeah, I think - I think there's somebody - there are people who have a lot of explaining to do. This does have the feel of something where, if you pull a thread, some interesting garments are going to come unraveled, and everybody is going to be very interested to see where it goes.
OLBERMANN: Telephone repairmen outfits and pimp outfits. Those are the garments in question. Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, as we compete to see who can get the Huey Long reward in this particular scandal in Louisiana. Thank you, Howard.
FINEMAN: You're welcome, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You want to buy a picture? A nice picture? You like it.
The plan to dig up Da Vinci to find out who this really is.
I know who this is, but even I did not expect him to say the first thing he would advise the question is kidnap and water board Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
When Rachel joins you at the top of the hour, there are even newer details on the breaking news. The right wing's boy wonder of the Acorn video arrested in Senator Landrieu's office, as he filmed two associates trying to tamper with her telephones. They now face ten years in prison and possible additional charges.
OLBERMANN: Bill O'Reilly advocates the kidnapping of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.
Now the second of tonight's quick comments. A man named Joe Queenan, who used to be funny, has written one of the least tasteful things ever to appear in "The Wall Street Journal," which is saying something. It's about the Jay Leno/Conan O'Brien saga. "The most appropriate parallel to the debacle that has humiliated NBC took place in central Europe in the late 1930s. It happened at Munich."
Oh, no, God, no, don't. "Jay Leno, much like Adolf Hitler" - Warm up Fonzie's motorcycle and cue the sharks.
"Jay Leno, much like Adolf Hitler, is a master of making secret demands for foreign territory and then acting like the wronged party.
First, he pretended that he wanted to annex only the first half our
O'Brien's 'Tonight Show.'"
Well, at least we're done with the Hitler references. "Here he was mimicking Hitler, who insisted that he merely wanted to annex the German speaking Sudetenland, not all of Czechoslovakia."
There are five more references to Hitler by name, in what apparently was Mr. Queenan's fatally mistaken impression that he was writing something satirical or funny or something that should have been published in any venue other than he "White Power Weekly News." But at least he stopped at Hitler. "It's enough to make Josef Stalin blush."
Yes, Joe Queenan, you're right. You are.
OLBERMANN: So dig up Leonardo da Vinci after nearly 500 years so you can prove who the Mona Lisa really is. What are you going to do, ask him?
That's next, but first tonight's worst persons in the world.
The bronze to Orly Taitz Limbaugh. After claiming that "for people who are prejudiced, when you say banker, people think Jewish." He then revealed himself as one of them. "Guess who Obama is assaulting. He's assaulting bankers. He's assaulting money people. A lot of those people on Wall Street are Jewish."
So the Anti-Defamation League rightly called out Limbaugh, pretty
gently actually, calling his remarks borderline anti-Semitic. Not only did
Limbaugh lie in trying to claim he didn't say anything offensive. He then
had his flunky guest host attack the national director of the Anti-
Defamation League, Mark Stein, saying "this disgusting craven little twerp"
that's the head of the Anti-Defamation League. There's a certain irony in calling that man a "disgusting craven little twerp." - "thinks that the fount of anti-Semitism is Rush Limbaugh. This guy is a buffoon. the ADL should be ashamed of themselves, should be embarrassed at having this guy."
ADL protests borderline anti-Semitic remarks. Limbaugh boot liquor twists that into "the fount of anti-Semitism is Rush Limbaugh." Nice job, Rush, having your flunky do your dirty work for you.
The runner-up, Nanny "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" Grace. She's to give a deposition Thursday in a case in which she's being sued for wrongful death by the family of Melinda Duckett, the woman who committed suicide in 2006 after appearing on Grace's everybody is a guilty program on Headline News. Grace strongly questioned Ms. Duckett about the disappearance of her son and Ms. Duckett went home and killed herself. Or, as Nancy Grace would tell the story, if it had not been about her: Nancy Grace hounded Melinda Duckett to death and should go to jail for 960 lifetimes. No one is innocent.
This is besides the point. Ms. Grace has made a nice living parading the lurid and tawdry crimes of the worst and saddest people of the country in front of a camera, figuratively dragging dead children in front of the studio lights, and positioning herself as the avenging angel in pancake makeup, with consummate and awful skill merging the worst of criminals with the worst of television. So naturally for the deposition Thursday, in a case in which she may be the guilty party, she doesn't want the deposition videotaped. A woman who exploits victims and perpetrators alike on TV will not defend herself on camera.
But our winner, Bill-O, summoning his inner Bill-O. This is from a public appearance on Long Island, in which O'Reilly fantasizes about being the main adviser to President Obama and to make it easier for Republicans to achieve, quote, detente with Democrats, calling in the CIA director Mr. Panetta giving him a secret job to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You've got to kidnap Pelosi and Reid. Don't hurt them. Don't hurt them, OK? But take them to an undisclosed location. No water-boarding. Well, maybe with Nancy. So that's what I would do, I'd kidnap Reid and Pelosi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I know, every time I tell you about O'Reilly, somebody says, oh, it's just posturing, you're trying to get ratings, you're obsessed with O'Reilly, you're a less version of him. Then you hear a tape like that, from an unguarded moment, in an environment in which he thinks he's among friends, and starts with the violence fantasies.
Just like the Tiller the Killer drum beat, Bill O'Reilly is, at heart, a danger to the safety of elected leaders in this country. Ha ha ha, how funny it is to joke about kidnapping the Speaker of the House and water-boarding her. He says it because he wants somebody to do it. When I call him on it, I don't care if fewer people watch this show as a result. This man is dangerous year in, year out. He was dangerous to George Tiller. He is dangerous to Nancy Pelosi. And if you want to live in a country where people like Bill O'Reilly can encourage hatred and violence, just pretend this is a phony showbiz feud. It isn't.
Bill O'Reilly, who said all that in public, today's worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: More breaking news in the arrest at Senator Landrieu's office in New Orleans. The Associated Press is reporting a listening device has been picked up in a car a few blocks away. I think we now can call this an attempted bugging. Rachel Maddow will have the latest in a few moments.
In the interim, Lisa Delgiocando (ph) the current best guest, though some have suggested it's Izzy Naples (ph), possibly Constanzo Davelos (ph). I always bet on Alfred E. Newman, myself. For decades, there was the weird theory that it was the painter.
The question, who dat? Britain's "Daily Mail" reporting Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage and officials in France have agreed to have Leonardo da Vinci's body exhumed so they can prove the Mona Lisa is a self portrait. Here is a split screen. What is believed to be a an authentic self portrait of da Vinci on the left, his masterpiece on the right, without the beard. You make the call.
The "Mail" writes that da Vinci's, quote, "presumed homosexuality and love of riddles led him to paint himself as a young woman." The artist, died in 1519, is believed to be buried in a tomb at Amboix (ph) castle at France. However, no one is sure what they will find inside the tomb. Scientists would have to first check any DNA they recover from any bones they could find against the DNA of da Vinci's living relatives. Then according to Italian anthropologist Georgio Groupioni (ph), "if we manage to find his skull, we could rebuild Leonardo's face and compare it with the Mona Lisa. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability."
Joining me now is Mary Mannheim, forensic anthropologist and director of the LSU Faces Laboratory. Welcome. Thank you for your time.
MARY MANHEIM, LSU FACES LABORATORY: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Is this a good enough reason to dig him up?
MANHEIM: Well, personally, I believe that it would be very difficult to compare the skull - the skull itself even to a painting. There's so many different variables that you have to consider. I personally do not believe that it's a good enough reason to dig him up.
OLBERMANN: And is it realistic, though? In terms of reconstructing somebody's face, can you actually compare the results, even if you get something here, to a two-dimensional painting? If this all works and there's something to work with, is it going to produce the results these historians want?
MANHEIM: Well, you're looking at all kinds of problems with dimensions. You're looking at comparing something that you might create in three dimensional to something in two dimension. You're looking at an artist's rendering of a female subject. I think it would be very, very difficult to compare these two.
OLBERMANN: Da Vinci was in his '50s when he painted the image of the young woman, obviously much younger than that. Would the facial structure even be the same, considering the age disparity?
MANHEIM: Well, certainly the bone would be the same. But the soft tissues - as you know, everything falls down by gravity as we get older. The nose elongates. The ears elongate. You would certainly see a very different image in the younger versus the older individual.
OLBERMANN: What is -
MANHEIM: Also -
OLBERMANN: Yeah, go ahead.
MANHEIM: I was just going to say, also, the images that I have seen of da Vinci show him with a beard. So the beard will mask a lot of things. It will hide a lot of things. So you wouldn't be able to actually see the lower part of his face.
OLBERMANN: What is likely to be in a 500-year-old set of bones, presuming there is anything still there. Is there DNA left or what?
MANHEIM: There could be DNA left. It's according to the condition of the remains. It's according to how well preserved they were. I understood that - or I understand that actually he was exhumed or disentombed and moved hundreds of years ago. So they have to have find out, first of all, if it's even da Vinci with whom they would be working. That in itself is a major puzzle.
OLBERMANN: From Baton Rouge and Louisiana State University Faces Laboratory, forensic anthropologist Mary Manheim, great thanks. Great thanks for being a good sport, as we look through this with some seriousness.
MANHEIM: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. We'll see you before and after the State of the Union tomorrow. But first, speaking of Louisiana, and the very latest we mentioned from the Associated Press, a federal law enforcement official, wishing to remain anonymous, said one of the suspects in the phone scheme resulting in the arrests at Senator Mary Landrieu's office in New Orleans was picked up in a car a couple of blocks away with a listening device that could pick up transmissions.
So, Rachel Maddow, are we thinking that James O'Keefe's friends from the Village People were trying to tamper with Senator Landrieu's phones so they could listen in on her Super Bowl predictions? Is that it?
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: Or maybe it was all just a big misunderstanding.
OLBERMANN: They were looking for some other senator's office to dress up for the party this afternoon or yesterday afternoon.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END