'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Guest: Markos Moulitsas, Scott McClellan, David Rivkin, Chris Hayes
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, GUEST HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories
will you be talking about tomorrow?
The Massa media tour: The now former congressman does another about-
face on television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FMR. REP. ERIC MASSA (D), NEW YORK: I wasn't forced out, I forced
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: But the saga gets nastier with reports that Massa was
being investigated not for just salty language but for groping male
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASSA: Yes, I did. Not did I grope him, I tickled him until he
couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: In Washington, D.C., as Nancy Pelosi looks for the votes
to pass health care reform, protesters take to the streets, sounding off
against the insurance lobby.
And, how's this for motivation to pass reform?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: If this passes and it's five
years from now, and all that stuff gets implemented, I am leaving the
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: History according to Karl Rove. As his political memoir
hits the bookstores, Bush's brain is already hard at work, twisting the
truth on WMD in Iraq and the lies continue about the outing of Valerie
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think you owe Scott McClellan any kind of
apology for what he stood and said to the media on those three occasions?
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISOR: No. None whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: A Countdown exclusive, Scott McClellan will join us.
The CBS News producer who attempted to blackmail David Letterman
pleads guilty. We'll have the latest.
And Senator Lindsey Graham joins the growing chorus of conservatives
who are outraged by Liz Cheney's "Al Qaeda 7" ad. We'll talk to another
name on that list, Obama critic and former Reagan Justice Department
official, David Rivkin.
All that and more - now on Countdown.
O'DONNELL: Good evening from New York. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in
for Keith Olbermann.
We asked former Democratic Congressman Eric Massa to appear on
tonight's program with me, but he said no. I may be the only guy Eric
Massa has turned down, because Glenn Beck asked him to appear on his
program earlier tonight and Massa said yes.
He gave new details about previous high jinx, essentially rescinded
his claim that Democratic leaders forced him out. But mostly what he did
was make Glenn Beck apologize for his entire program. Not hyperbole,
you'll see it.
Just yesterday, Rush Limbaugh, Beck and others said how important it
was to listen to Massa. Limbaugh backtracked today saying, "All I knew was
this guy was telling great stories about Rahm Emanuel." But then new
stories emerged today that the House Ethics Committee has been
investigating Massa, not just for comments, but allegations he groped three
staffers and behaved inappropriately with interns. Massa today denied
wrongdoing, but said his departure from Congress which he had portrayed as
part of the Democrats plan to pass health care was, in fact, his own fault.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MASSA: Can I just start off with something?
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS HOST: Sure.
MASSA: I wasn't forced out, I forced myself out. I failed. I didn't
live up to my own codes. I own this. I take full and complete
responsibility for my misbehavior, and goodness only knows what allegations
are going to throw at me. There's even new ones today, and we'll talk
about that. I own I'm not blaming anybody.
BECK: OK. Well, let me - let me -
MASSA: Now they're saying I groped a male staffer. Yes, I did. Not
only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four
guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday, it was kill old guy.
You can take anything out of context.
By the way, we all live -
BECK: Was your wife at that one?
MASSA: No, it was a townhouse. We all live together, all the
bachelors and me because nobody can afford in Washington, D.C. to pay the
outrageous rents. My chief of staff had a conniption and said, you can't
live there. That's not congressional. So, I moved into my office.
But it's true. And here's the point, Glenn, no matter how - no
matter what I say, it doesn't matter. If somebody on my staff was
offended, was uncomfortable, thought I was inappropriate. I own that.
It's why I resigned.
We all signed a code that I wrote - a code of ethics in January,
because we wanted to tighten the ship up. That's why I resigned. I mean,
I don't know how else to put it. I own this misbehavior. It doesn't make
any difference what my intentions were. It's how its perceived by the
individual who receives that action. And we set it up so that it could be
BECK: Your name is at stake here.
MASSA: And that -
BECK: No, no, no. Not just your name.
MASSA: Everybody's name.
BECK: Your children's name.
MASSA: That's right.
BECK: OK. So, there are - there's something called honor. You are
a Navy guy.
MASSA: So the only other thing -
MASSA: Glenn, the only thing I can do is slit my wrist and bleed out
here. I'm telling you, I was wrong. I was wrong. It's why I've -
BECK: Wait, wait. No. What you're saying to me is they took it
MASSA: No, I'm saying my behavior was wrong. My behavior was wrong.
I should have -
BECK: What was wrong about it?
MASSA: I should have never allowed myself to be as familiar with my
staff as I was. I never translated from my days in the Navy to being a
BECK: All right.
MASSA: But I did not - let me -
BECK: Tickle fights in the Navy. I've never been in the Navy. I
don't know of tickle fights in the Navy.
MASSA: Let me show you something.
BECK: You're going to show me tickle fights?
MASSA: I'm going to show you more than tickle fights. That's the
crossing the line ceremony.
BECK: Harry, can you get this?
MASSA: That's the crossing the line ceremony in 1983. If you were to
take this out of context today -
BECK: I don't know if you can show this. Really - yes.
MASSA: Can you imagine transporting back to this today? It looks
like an orgy in Caligula.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Maybe he should have tickled Glenn Beck. Glenn Beck bet
his entire show on Eric Massa and lost. As you saw, Beck strived mightily
to recruit Massa to fight the evil powers Beck world sees at work in this
country. But face-to-face with the man he himself invited on to blow the
whistle on all that corruption, Beck failed to get any - any - evidence
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BECK: Is there anything new to his charges of corruption? We've told
about you corruption on this program over and over and over again. Do you
believe what he says about corruption in Washington?
This is where I want you to go.
BECK: You tell me something that I don't know about corruption. Do
you believe what he's saying about corruption? The other part of it is
corruption. Do you believe what he says about corruption?
You claim that the system is corrupt. I agree with you.
Tell me something about the unions and how the unions are working or
any corrupt - I don't care, any kind of corruption.
You have talked about corruption. But we all complain about
corruption. Is there anything specific that you have?
MASSA: I'm telling you what happened.
BECK: - on corruption and you don't really have anything except what
I say. I think blood shoot out of my eyes. OK.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
O'DONNELL: In fact, Beck not only failed to substantiate his
conspiracy theories, but when he asked what people can do to rid America of
the evil he sees, Massa could not have disappointed Beck more.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: Tell us what you know. Make a difference now. Pick up a
shovel and show us where to throw the dirt.
MASSA: So, the most important thing that people can do is to get
involved. I mean, it's that simple.
BECK: No, no, no, no.
MASSA: And vote.
BECK: You are in, no, no.
MASSA: So - OK, go ahead.
BECK: Please don't - please don't be a commercial.
MASSA: All right.
BECK: Everybody knows that.
MASSA: All right.
BECK: People - you're in, you claim that the system is corrupt. I
agree with you.
MASSA: Demand that we do one thing in Congress, and that's change
campaign finance reform because nothing else matters until we do that.
Until we do that, nothing will change.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: And that was it. But with still almost half an hour to
fill, Beck grew desperate and openly begged for dirt on Rahm Emanuel.
Here's what happened next straight through to the end of the show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BECK: Did he threaten, harass or intimidate you?
MASSA: He made it very clear that I better vote with the president.
BECK: Did he do it in a threatening or intimidating or harassing -
MASSA: Well, I wasn't intimidated because, you know, I'm - do I look
like someone who's going to intimidate? So, I did not - I actually took
it to be more humorous, like, you got to be kidding me.
MASSA: But, then, again, he and I are not friends. By the way, and I
owe him an apology. I do, because on my radio show, I went over the top.
I said he'd tie his kids to the railroad to get a vote. He wouldn't do
that. He'd tie my kids to the railroad to get a vote, but maybe not his.
And so, in hyperbole, I was guilty. I went over the top. Enough said on
BECK: America, I'm going to shoot straight with you. I think I've
wasted your time. I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of
your time, and I apologize for that. Because I think we could have spent a
lot less time - you're backtracking a lot. You're a lot -
MASSA: I'm not backtracking. I'm telling you what happened.
BECK: - on corruption, and you don't really have anything except
what I say. You don't. You're now apologizing to Rahm Emanuel.
MASSA: That was sarcastic, Glenn. Did you get that?
BECK: No, I didn't. But -
MASSA: I said he'd tie my children to the railroad tracks.
BECK: OK. All right. OK.
MASSA: Listen, Rahm Emanuel is very good at making enemies and he's
not very good at making friends. An that's one of the reasons why this
administration is having such a hard time getting things done, because what
has to be done now deals a lot to do with open dialogue and consensus-
building and compromise. And you can't compromise when someone's coming at
you with a finger in your chest.
MASSA: You simply can't do that, there is no compromise. It's my way
or the highway. I once said that someone tell me, you got to vote with the
president. This is the president's first piece of legislation. And I
said, the president didn't vote for me.
BECK: Congressman - former congressman, thank you very much.
MASSA: Thank you.
BECK: My best to you and your sweet wife and your children. Back in
This is why I said I'm sorry I've wasted your time. We learned a lot,
I think, but what we learned I don't think affects you at all.
From New York, good night, America.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
O'DONNELL: Let's bring in MSNBC political analyst and grope-tickling
expert Howard Fineman. He's also senior Washington correspondent and
political columnist for "Newsweek."
Howard, it seems like Glenn Beck really did meet his match today. The
craziest guy at FOX -
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
O'DONNELL: - meets the craziest man on Congress on live on TV for an
hour - and nothing happened?
FINEMAN: Well - first of all, Lawrence, the notion that the entire
Navy is like this giant riving pile of people tickling each other is - it
was a great one. And you can tell Glenn Beck just sinking on that one,
among many other things.
I actually think the White House thought that something did happen,
because as a result of this show especially, you know, the hopes that Rush
and Beck and others had to kind of somehow use Massa as a battering ram to
try to destroy the credibility of the White House on health care, it didn't
happen. As a matter of fact, I think even for FOX viewers, if they looked
at this for the whole hour and saw that those two guys together oppose
Obamacare, it might even make FOX viewers want to vote for Obamacare if
those two were against it.
So, actually, the White House tonight was surprised and delighted with
O'DONNELL: Yes, John Boehner was playing it a little bit safe today
when reporters were pressing him about Massa, he said - he just - he said
to reporters, watch Glenn Beck today. So, how did that work out for
FINEMAN: Oh, my gosh, it didn't work out for them at all. I mean, on
one level, Lawrence, yes, first of all, it was great television because it
And you can see that Glenn Beck wasn't quite sure what he was going to
get. He was sort of like an 8-year-old, you know, hoping to get a big
tasty bowl of ice cream with, you know, chocolate sauce on it, instead it
was sort of a big hunk of overripe cheese, you know? It was terrible and
he couldn't stand it within 10 minutes of the thing - because as you
pointed out, Massa backtracked on blaming Rahm Emanuel.
He didn't have any eyewitnesses for this supposed famous shower
confrontation scene. He blamed himself. He said it was his fault.
He had the ridiculous notion that somehow he was incorporating the
Navy's crossing the line ceremony - which is a thing when you cross the
equator and so forth - that this is how he was conducting his life, Massa
admitted to groping. He said flat-out, yes, I groped these people.
Now, that was more than enough to kill whatever credible - smidgen of
credibility Massa may have had as a critic of the way the White House
operates. And then the way the things work around here, at least for the
time being, the White House will get a news cycle or two of breathing
spaces. They really do twist arms and try to get Obamacare passed.
O'DONNELL: Howard, what happens to Massa now? When he resigns the
House, does the ethics committee investigation end immediately?
FINEMAN: Yes, I think the investigation will end because they really
can't - they could probably do something after the fact - I don't think
they generally do that, if somebody immediately quits the Congress, which
he has done. And said he did it because of his personal behavior. And,
Lawrence, he's pleading nolo contendere there.
Now, there could be a civil suit, perhaps. There could be separate
criminal charges, but I doubt it. Although in "The Washington Post," his
former staff member did come forward by name to accuse him of improper
behavior. Where that goes from now, I don't know.
But I will tell you that, you know, the White House didn't force this
guy out, that's not true, and he admitted as much. But it is true that the
White House was very happy to see him discredited, and also, frankly glad
to see him gone.
But I believe them when they say they did not watch this ethics
investigation to try to force him out. As a matter of fact, they were
hoping until last week, to try to convert him to vote for the bill. He was
on the list of liberals who - you know, who wanted a single-payer plan,
they were hoping to convince at the end.
It's also not true that at the time he decided to leave, that they
were pressuring him to get out because they wanted 216 votes in the House.
At the moment he decided to quit, the Republican Congressman Nathan Deal
was still leaving, which would have already brought it to 216 without
O'DONNELL: Howard, quickly, before we go - who has done more damage
to the image of the Navy, Congressman Massa or the Village People?
FINEMAN: Well, I would say Congressman Massa. It's too bad they
didn't show those close-ups from what I gather was his Naval Academy
yearbook. I would like to see what that crossing the line ceremony
actually did look like.
O'DONNELL: I have a feeling we are going to get our hands on those
Howard Fineman of "Newsweek" and MSNBC - thank you for covering the
crazy congressman beat for us tonight.
FINEMAN: Glad to do it, Lawrence. Thank you.
O'DONNELL: Coming up: the final push for health care reform.
Protesters take to the streets of D.C. to show lawmakers on Capitol Hill
they do want the Democrats to get something done.
And the man known as Bush's brain starts his book tour. We'll discuss
how Karl Rove is trying to run away from the facts with our exclusive
guest, former Bush White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
O'DONNELL: Coming up: Protesters hit D.C., demanding health care
reform. And Rush Limbaugh helps Nancy Pelosi whip votes in the House.
And later, conservative legal scholars continue their all-out assault
against Liz Cheney, and now, conservative politicians are joining the
cause, too. Senator Lindsey Graham takes Liz to task. That's next.
This is Countdown.
O'DONNELL: An angry crowd of thousands took to the streets of the
nation's capital today to sound off on health care reform. No, the tea
partiers were home watching this one on TV. Today's demonstrators were in
favor of changing the system, Americans fed up with rising premiums and the
insurance executives who impose them.
Today's protesters marched through downtown Washington headed toward
the Ritz-Carlton where they hope to make a symbolic citizens arrest of
insurance industry executives who were holding their annual meeting at the
hotel. Before they set out, the crowd was cheered on by former Vermont
governor and DNC chairman, Howard Dean, also a former family physician.
This morning, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told ABC News
that he does not believe health care reform will cost Democrats in
November's midterm elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, I think this will be
an accomplishment that members can be proud of, not just in this election,
George, but for decades to come. We'll have finally done something on
health insurance reform that means something real to American families, to
small business owners that are struggling with those high costs. That's
what's important to the American people. We were sent here to do
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: More evidence that Democrats might be able to sell reform
once it passes. In a private Democratic poll obtained by Jonathan Cohn of
"The New Republic," 51 percent of voters opposed reform, as did 47 percent
of older voters. But once the benefits of reform were explained to voters,
the number of independents opposed to health care legislation dropped to 39
percent. Among older voters, it dropped to 37 percent.
And doing his best to incentivize Democrats, Rush Limbaugh has warned
that if health care reform passes, he will leave and move to Costa Rica,
where the government, of course, provides socialized health care for all
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: Where would I go for health care?
UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, if the doctors had to go into the federal
LIMBAUGH: I don't know. I'll just tell you this - if this passes
and it's five years from now, and all that stuff gets implemented, I am
leaving the country. I'll go to - I'll go to Costa Rica.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Let's bring in the founder and publisher of Daily Kos,
Markos Moulitsas, also, of course, the author of "Taking the System."
Markos, in your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine the Democrats
could clever enough to write and maybe pass a health care bill that could
provide health care coverage to 30 million Americans and get rid of Rush
MARKOS MOULITSAS, DAILYKOS.COM: Well, it's definitely the cherry on
top, so to speak. And this is a great accomplishment, I think. I mean,
it's not everything that we wanted as progressives. It's a long way
But as a first step, it's actually a very, very important first step.
And I look forward to all its provisions implemented in four years. I look
forward to improvements on this legislation in those four years, and I
definitely look forward to Rush Limbaugh leaving the country.
O'DONNELL: Now, you know, when Alec Baldwin once threatened to leave
the United States if Bush won re-election, Limbaugh had a great time with
that - you know, went on and on about it endlessly and specifically mocked
the idea of moving to Canada because of Canada's socialized health care
system. Rush said on the air, he didn't know where he would have to go to
have the health care system he wants. I'm not sure the health care system
Rush wants exists anywhere on the planet.
Do you know where you might recommend for Rush to find his absolute,
perfect private sector health plan?
MOULITSAS: Well, it wouldn't be Costa Rica, but I'll tell you, what
would probably work - I think Somalia would be great for Rush. I mean,
it's a libertarian paradise. Everybody has guns. There's not much of a
government. There sure as heck isn't government-run health care.
So, I think, if you're talking about Rush's world view, I can't
imagine a better place than Somalia - as long as he can find himself a
nice $20 million pad in Mogadishu.
O'DONNELL: Now, the sharpest criticism I have heard of the Obama
bill, the Democrats' bill, came on this show last night by Dennis Kucinich.
I mean, it made me wonder if Dennis Kucinich had been sitting at that, on
the Republican side of the table at the big forum with Obama. It might
have turned out differently.
Kucinich criticizes this from his perspective on the left. It doesn't
do enough. And he goes through and knocks down Democratic talking points
point by point.
How is the how - is the Kucinich position being received out there in
the liberal blogosphere?
MOULITSAS: Well, it's definitely a very Ralph Nader-esque approach, I
think, to politics - a very unrealistic and self-defeating approach. I
mean, Ralph Nader paved the way for eight years of George Bush and wars and
in attacking our civil liberties and our economy.
And I'm going to hold people, like Dennis Kucinich, responsible for
the 40,000 Americans that die each year from a lack of health care. And I
don't care if you're a Republican or you're a conservative Democrat or
you're somebody like Dennis Kucinich. The fact is, this does a heck of a
lot for a lot of people.
And like I said, it's not perfect. It definitely needs to be
improved. But it's a first step. And God knows it's taken us a long time
to even get our toe in the door given the corporate interest that are
arrayed against any kind of real reform.
So, I think this is a first step. It's definitely not the end of the
path. It's not the ideal solution. But we have our foot is in the door,
and if somebody like Kucinich wants to block that, I find that completely
O'DONNELL: Now, is it - is it reprehensible enough to mount a
primary challenge against him? We've seen that some Democrats are
dissatisfied with Blanche Lincoln on the moderate side, being too moderate.
They want to challenge her in the primary.
Is it possible to be too liberal and not practical enough and,
therefore, merit a challenge in a primary? Especially if Dennis Kucinich
votes as he promises he will, votes against this bill in the House of
MOULITSAS: Yes, absolutely. I don't think he gets a pass. I don't
care what his excuse is.
The fact is, this is a good first step. And he's elected not to run
for president, which he seems to do every four years. He's not elected to
grandstand and to - and to give us this ideal utopian society.
He's elected to represent the people of his district. And he's not
representing the uninsured constituents in his district by pretending to
take the high ground here. He's undermining this reform. He's making
common cause with Republicans, and I think that's a perfect excuse and
rationale for a primary challenge.
O'DONNELL: Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos - thanks for your time
MOULITSAS: Thank you very much.
O'DONNELL: Coming up: the man who tried to extort $2 million from
David Letterman finally gives up his fictional defense. We'll tell you how
much jail time you can get for trying to extort your girlfriend's
And a Countdown exclusive: Former White House Press Secretary Scott
McClellan joins us to discuss Karl Rove's memoir. How much fact? How much
O'DONNELL: For Karl Rove, campaigning for George W. Bush has never
ended. From the State House in Austin, then the White House, and now in
his new book, "Courage and Consequence," Rove tries to push his old boss
into the greatest presidents category. "Many of the nation's most
accomplished presidents, Lincoln, FDR, Reagan, were polarizing figures
during their times in office."
There seem to be no bombshell revelations in this book. But there are
a lot of denials. For instance, he says he had nothing to do with the 2000
South Carolina primary rumor that John McCain fathered a black baby out of
wedlock. He claims he was not involved in the Swift Boating of John Kerry,
in any way, though Rove, who never served a day in the military, admits he
He also insists that George W. Bush was right on Iraq, in a chapter
unpersuasively titled "Bush Was Right on Iraq." However, Rove allows that
without the threat of WMD, the campaign for war in Iraq would have sunk.
"Would the Iraq war have occurred without WMD? I doubt it. Congress was
very unlikely to have supported the use of force resolution without the WMD
We'll see what our next guest says about that. Scott McClellan worked
alongside Karl Rove in the Bush White House for six years. He will join me
exclusively in just a moment. First, this morning, Karl Rove left the Fox
den to sell his book on "The Today Show" and Matt Lauer challenged him on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": From Bob Woodward's book, "State of
Denial," he writes, "in October 2002, the top intelligence officer, Major
General James Spider Marks, in charge of looking for WMD in Iraq looked at
a list of 946 WMD sites and found, quote, he couldn't say with confidence
there were any weapons of mass destruction or stockpiles at a single site."
KARL ROVE, FMR SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, that's one,
but there were -
O'DONNELL: You said it was worldwide. There was disagreement?
ROVE: There was a consensus. It doesn't imply that everyone agreed.
But it implies that the preponderance of evidence and the majority of
agreement was that there WMD. Again, it's a worldwide consensus. You can
go back and try to rewrite history. But, at that moment, we as a nation
were faced with the belief that he had WMD, that he was a threat to the
stability of the region. And after 9/11, the calculus changed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Scott McClellan was the White House press secretary to
George W. Bush from 2003 to 2006. He is the author of the "New York Times"
bestseller "What Happened Inside the Bush White House and Washington's
Culture of Deception."
Karl Rove was the second source in Bob Novak's column, in which he
outed CIA agent Valerie Plame. Karl Rove told you, Scott, that it wasn't
true, that he was not a source. He lied to you. He allowed you to repeat
that lie to the press. Matt Lauer asked him about it this morning. Let's
just play that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAUER: On September 29th, 2003, on October 7th, 2003 and on October
10th, 2003, Scott McClellan, the press secretary for the White House, went
before the media and said, in no uncertain terms, Karl Rove had nothing to
do with giving her name.
ROVE: I didn't know her name. I didn't give her name. Bob Novak got
it from some place else. I'm not clear -
LAUER: Are we splitting hairs here? Did you know Scott McClellan was
giving out information that was not factually correct?
ROVE: He was accurate. I did not give her name. Her name was given
to Bob Novak by Under Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a fact that
nobody in America knows for three years. When they find it out in August
2006, it's a hoe hum. In fact, the "Washington Post" writes an exculpatory
editorial saying, wasn't - why didn't we know about this before? And it's
no big deal.
LAUER: Do you think you owe Scott McClellan any kind of apology for
what he stood and said to the media on those three occasions?
LAUER: No, none whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Scott McClellan, I knew that Rove was the source
apparently before you did. I was the first to reveal that on "The
Huffington Post," that he was the source to "Time Magazine," to Matt
Cooper. You were out there in repeated instances having to deny that he
had anything to do with that. How does it make you feel when you watch him
today on "The Today Show" say he doesn't owe you an apology for anything.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A couple of
things. First of all, I did receive personal assurances from Karl, and
that's why I went out there and said what I said. The president also
assured me that Karl had told him he wasn't involved in any way.
I think what you're seeing is that Karl is continuing to live in his
own world here. He's the only one that thinks he was not involved in any
effort to expose Valerie Plame's CIA employment. He continues this cover
story that I didn't know her name, and for that reason, he didn't leak her
he couldn't have leaked her name. That's the cover story he's stuck
with for a long time now.
The interesting thing is that Karl Rove actually did apologize to me
on three occasions, back in July 2005, when it became known that he was
involved, as you were talking about a second ago, and helped to expose.
Karl personally called me on the phone, said, I apologize for what you're
The next day, in the senior staff meeting, he apologized to me in
front of the entire senior staff. And then, later that day, I came back to
my office, after the press briefing, and found a handwritten letter in my
chair, written by Karl Rove, apologizing yet again.
So I think it's kind of interesting. I'll leave it to other people to
judge what it says about someone who will privately make such an apology
but is afraid to make that same apology publicly when the cameras are
rolling, and the spotlight's on him.
O'DONNELL: Well, Scott, what does that tell us about the value of the
book? Just looking at that one chapter, that one situation where he's
publicly saying there's no reason for me to apologize to Scott McClellan,
and he has, in act, apologized to you three times, in front of several
witnesses, according to what you just said. What could possibly be the
page turning value of this kind of book?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that there is much. Nothing in it
surprises me. I probably could have written this book from Karl's
perspective myself. I know exactly where he's coming from. You know, the
reason Washington is broken and so poisonous is because - and people don't
want anything to do with it - or most people don't at least - is because
there's too little candor and too much intellectual dishonestly.
Unfortunately, and not surprisingly - but unfortunately, we get both of
that - both of those from Karl Rove in this book.
You talked about the Iraq War in the beginning, and showed some clips
about what he continues to say about the Iraq War. Let me just mention the
key narrative in his book about the Iraq War. Karl tries to spin this
narrative that since Bush didn't deliberately or sinisterly lie the nation
into war, then somehow he was completely honest in how he went about - or
the Bush White House went about selling the Iraq War to the American
Well, he creates this false choice based on a false premise. Yes, the
intelligence community said there was biological and chemical weapons.
They believe that to a high degree. But we did not stop there in selling
the war. The case was built around Saddam Hussein being a grave and
gathering danger because he had biological and chemical weapons, because he
was close to having a nuclear weapon, because he had relations with al
Qaeda, and because he had those relations with al Qaeda, that he might soon
attack the United States.
Caveats and contradictory intelligence and doubts were ignored or
downplayed. And innuendo and implication were used in excess to try to
sell this to the American people.
The fact of the matter is that Saddam Hussein, the intelligence said,
was not likely to attack the United States unless he felt like his survival
was at stake and he was about to be attacked by the United States. He did
not have relations with al Qaeda, at least not operational relations with
al Qaeda. And on the nuclear intelligence, there was a strong dissenting
view about whether or not he was reconstituting his nuclear weapons
So the truth is that the White House embraced more of a political
marketing campaign than a campaign based on candor. And that is a great
disservice to the American people, and the men and women in uniform, when
we're going to war. The campaign should have been based on candor. It was
not. It fell far short when it came to openness and forthrightness. And
that's why the president's credibility was so damaged after it became known
that there was no weapons of mass destruction to be found.
O'DONNELL: Before we go, the attitude we see from Karl Rove about all
this, is that emblematic about a larger, collective approach that existed
in the White House in the ramp up to the war?
MCCLELLAN: Well, look, Karl Rove is someone who's always had this
mentality that politics is war. And he believes in winning at all costs.
That means embracing political spin and political manipulation to achieve
what your goals are. And, you know, it's kind of like the Japanese
soldier, long after World War II was over, they refuse to accept or believe
that World War II has ended. How do you reason with someone like that?
O'DONNELL: Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary, thank
you for your time tonight. And thank you for your contributions to this
MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Lawrence.
O'DONNELL: Coming up, the real courage and consequence of
conservatives; the Republican backlash against Liz Cheney continues.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a military lawyer for 30 years, is the latest to
take Liz Cheney back to law school.
And David Letterman reacts to the end of the blackmail plot against
him. The suspect pled guilty today and will spend time behind bars.
O'DONNELL: In a Manhattan courtroom today, a sudden about face from
the man who attempted to blackmail David Letterman. Former CBS News
producer Robert Halderman admitted he tried to extort millions from "The
Late Show" host. Letterman told viewers about the plot last October while
confessing to affairs with female staffers. As for Mr. Halderman, his
story telling ended today. Our correspondent is Rehema Ellis.
REHEMA ELLIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Robert Halderman,
a long time journalist at CBS, told the court he was remorseful for
attempting to blackmail the talk show host about his relationship with
Stephanie Burkett, Letterman's employee and Halderman's former live-in
girlfriend, saying, "this was a thinly veiled threat to ruin Mr. Letterman
if he did not pay me a lot of money."
As part of his plea bargain, Halderman was sentenced to six months in
jail, five years probation and 1,000 hours of community service.
ROBERT HALDERMAN, FMR. CBS PRODUCER: I apologize to Mr. Letterman,
his family, Stephanie Burkett, her family, and certainly to my friends and
ELLIS: His defense attorney explained why Halderman accepted the plea
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We weighed the prospects of going to trial, and
thought this was the best way to resolve it.
ELLIS: Letterman's attorney issued a statement from the TV host, who
thanked the prosecutors and said, "on behalf of my family, I'm extremely
grateful for their tireless efforts."
This case began last fall when Halderman was charged with a messy and
bizarre effort to blackmail Letterman. Halderman wanted two million
dollars for what he claimed was a screenplay about a popular late night
talk show host who slept with women on his staff. Prosecutors said
Halderman was desperate, in debt, and furious after learning Letterman was
having an affair with his girlfriend.
DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": Hello, this is blackmail many.
ELLIS: Letterman went to police and then confessed to his audience.
LETTERMAN: I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.
ELLIS: Now with the case resolved, some wonder if this chapter in
Letterman's career will have any lingering effect.
PHIL CARTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": The analytical headline is, Dave
pulls it off. He faced it down. He answered the questions. And he's
moving on. His career isn't suffering at all.
ELLIS (on camera): Halderman begins serving his sentence in two
months. As part of the plea arrangement, he cannot discuss or profit in
anyway from this case. Lawrence?
O'DONNELL: Rehema Ellis, thank you.
Last night, Ken Starr, of all people, made his debut with me on
Countdown to attack the shameful rhetoric coming from Liz Cheney about
lawyers representing terror suspects. Tonight, we bring you another
prominent conservative attorney. David Rivkin on the dangers of Liz
Cheney's legal opinions, next.
O'DONNELL: The condemnation against Liz Cheney's reckless attack on
Justice Department lawyers is mounting daily. And now Senator Lindsey
Graham, Republican of South Carolina, has joined the bipartisan criticism
of not just the ad, but the wholly un-American viewpoint that underlies it.
The web ad, you will recall, straight from Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol's
group Keep America Safe. It labeled as "The al Qaeda Seven" lawyers who
represented Gitmo detainees. It even called the United States Department
of Justice the "Department of Jihad."
Now Senator Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee
and the Judiciary Committee, as well as a Navy JAG lawyer in the reserves,
has spoken out; "I've been a military lawyer for almost 30 years. I
represented people as a defense attorney in the military that were charged
with some pretty horrific acts. And I gave them my all. This system of
justice that we're so proud of in America requires the unpopular to have an
advocate. Every time a defense lawyer fights to make the government do
their job, that defense lawyer has made us all safer."
Senator Graham also said, I'm with Kenneth Starr on this one. Mr.
Starr was, of course, my guest on this program yesterday, responding to Liz
Cheney's tactics. Starr has signed a letter denouncing Cheney's web ad.
The letter, joined by some of the strongest defenders of Bush anti-terror
policies, clearly condemned Cheney's shameful series of attacks.
Let's bring in David Rivkin, a lawyer who has served in the
administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, including in the
Department of Justice. He has been a vocal critic of certain Obama
administration policies, including its decision to try 9/11 conspirators in
a civilian court. But he signed that letter.
Mr. Rivkin, I have to ask you, how does it make you feel when you hear
the Department of Justice, where you took an oath to serve, called the
Department of Jihad by a former vice president's daughter?
DAVID RIVKIN, FMR. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It is enormously
unfortunate. I think that these kinds of expressions do not belong in a
reasonable discourse about difficult policy issues. I hope we can move on
and, again, deal with this as a civilized society. We should not be
engaged in ad hominem attacks.
Lindsey Graham, by the way, is absolutely right. Lawyers in our
system are not the same as their clients. The views of clients are not
ascribed to lawyers. And what the lawyers have done here is, indeed,
essential to - in the long run, to the benefit of our justice system.
Even though I disagree very much with the positions taken by those lawyers.
O'DONNELL: If you were to speak to Liz Cheney or William Kristol
directly, what would you say to them regarding this ad?
RIVKIN: I would say it's unfortunate. I think we should not be
demonizing the people involved, particularly the lawyers. Let's
concentrate on the policy positions. There's plenty of opportunities to
argue what is the right way to try enemy combatants, what are the right
detention policies. Let's not impugn the integrity of people. That is
But, frankly, Larry, it's inappropriate whether it's done by the left
or the right, because we've had numerous instances in the past where Bush
administration lawyers are being impugned.
O'DONNELL: It's one thing to have these kinds of ideas coming from
people who have never studied the Constitution. But could you have
imagined something like this coming from a law school graduate like Liz
RIVKIN: I would probably say - again, I'm not comfortable slamming
anybody, be they lawyers on one side of this controversy. I imagine people
get carried away with passion. That unfortunately happens. You have
people passionately believe there are serious mistakes being done by the
Obama Department of Justice, which you espouse. And I really hope we can
put this behind us and concentrate on the policy.
And again, as Senator Graham had to say, in our adversarial justice
system, we need able lawyers on both sides of every dispute. I would never
ascribe the view of lawyers based upon their clients. It's just totally
O'DONNELL: How can we put this kind of argument behind us? How can
we, going forward, discuss this area of the law, this evolving area of the
law, in which the Supreme Court has had to make some novel rulings,
including rulings that favor some of these lawyers that are being
condemned. How should we conduct ourselves in this dialogue going-forward?
RIVKIN: I'll tell you what, Larry, if it were up to you or me, I
think we could do it by concentrating on the policy position. Let's argue
passionately. Let's argue with serious intellectual content. What
advances our national security interests? What's most consistent with our
values? Let's stop ascribing lack of patriotism, lack of integrity to
people with whom we disagree.
Again, that goes for both sides. Look, there's no fundamental
difference between slamming the lawyers who are working in the Obama
Justice Department, their former clients, and slamming John Yoo or Jay
Bybee for their clients and their positions.
O'DONNELL: David Rivkin, formerly of the Justice Department and the
Reagan and the first Bush administrations, thank you for your insights on
RIVKIN: Good to be with you.
O'DONNELL: That will have to do it for this Tuesday edition of
Countdown. I'm Lawrence O'Donnell, in for Keith Olbermann. Our MSNBC
coverage continues now with "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW." Sitting in for
Rachel is Chris Hayes. Good evening, Chris.
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