'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Monday, January 23rd, 2012
Guest host: David Shuster
watch whole playlist
#5 'Get Newt!', Joe Williams
#5 Breaking news on Newt Gingrich, Craig Crawford
#4 'State of the Union', Rep. Lynn Woolsey
# Time Marches On!
#3 'Complex System Fail', Kate Sheppard
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
#2 'Say Anything'
#1 'Leaving, For Now', Rep. Loretta Sanchez
YouTube, Current.com (excerpt)
printable PDF transcript
On the show: David Shuster, Kate Sheppard, Loretta Sanchez, Joe Williams, Craig Crawford, Lynn Woolsey
DAVID SHUSTER: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? All eyes turn to Florida as the candidates turn on each other.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH: I think he's been dancing on eggs trying to figure out how to find a version of Romney that will work.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY: Speaker Gingrich has also been a leader - he was leader for four years as Speaker of the House. And at the end of four years it was proven that he was a failed leader, and he had to resign in disgrace.
SHUSTER: With state polls now showing Gingrich ahead in the Sunshine State, is there any way Romney can slow Newt's surge? The president lays his plan ahead of Tuesday's State of the Union, and it sounds slightly occupied.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA: An America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.
SHUSTER: Who could possibly disagree with that?
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOEHNER: If that's what the president is going to talk about Tuesday night, I think it's pathetic.
SHUSTER: Representative Gabrielle Giffords is set to resign.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: I will step down this week.
SHUSTER: She's leaving Congress to focus on her recovery. What impact will her departure have? And stunning new revelations about White House influence over disclosures in the BP oil spill. Journalist Kate Sheppard joins us with the details. All that and more now on "Countdown."
SHUSTER: Good evening. This is Monday, January 23, 289 days until the 2012 presidential election. I'm David Shuster sitting in for Keith Olbermann. Eight days out from the Florida Republican primary and with Newt Gingrich gaining in the polls, Mitt Romney has begun lashing out frantically while Gingrich portrays himself with a straight face as an anti-establishment outsider. In our fifth story on the "Countdown," two polls we don't often cite on this program - because they lean right - show former House Speaker Gingrich with a nine-point lead over Massachusetts Governor Romney in Florida while one organization with greater credibility, Public Policy Polling, tweeted this late Sunday: "First night of our Florida polling, Romney and Gingrich are neck and neck." Those results are now reflected as well in the latest Gallup National Tracking Poll. It has Romney and Gingrich essentially tied with Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum well behind. And if Newt's success has been a surprise of the GOP campaign so far, Mitt Romney warned today of a different sort of surprise from Gingrich if Gingrich wins the GOP nomination for president.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: People should know if there's going to be an October surprise. And in the case of the Speaker, he has got records that could represent an October surprise. We could see an October surprise today from Newt Gingrich.
SHUSTER: So what would Romney like Gingrich to do? How about clarify his consultant's role with the federal agency conservatives like to blame for the housing crisis?
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Release all of the work product associated with his work at Freddie Mac. And also return the funds they made from Freddie Mac.
SHUSTER: And like any contemporary candidate, Romney emphasized that demand in his latest attack ad.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MAN: Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: And I offered advice and my advice as a historian.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MAN: An historian? Really?
SHUSTER: Well, that is what Newt said. While Mitt added this:
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: Let's see the records from the ethics investigation, let's see what they show. Let's see who his clients were. That could represent not just, ah, evidence of lobbying but potentially wrongful activity of some kind.
SHUSTER: Wrongful activity? That sounds like it could be a crime. Even worse than this.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) ROMNEY: He's been working as a lobbyist and selling influence around Washington.
SHUSTER: For his part, Gingrich today seemed to enjoy batting away Romney's attacks.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: I did no lobbying, period. He keeps using the word "lobbyist" because I'm sure his consultants tell him it scores well. It's not true. He knows it's not true. I actually publicly was against giving them any more money.
SHUSTER: And Newt got in a few attacks on his own out on the stump.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: If you've been campaigning for six years and you begin to see it slip away, you get desperate. And when you get desperate, you say almost anything.
SHUSTER: And if calling your opponent desperate is the theme of the day, you certainly want to use it in your latest attack ad.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MAN: Mitt Romney will do and say anything to become president. Anything. Maybe that explains all his flip-flops.
SHUSTER: And a short time ago, Gingrich made public the contract he had with Fannie May and Freddie Mac. While reports and no doubt the Romney campaign are now poring over the details, the quick release by Gingrich serves as a reminder of how slow Romney has been to make public his own tax returns, something Romney finally plans to do tomorrow. Meanwhile, Rick Santorum seemed happy to have escaped South Carolina alive and still campaigning.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM: We are down to the final three guys who can be president.
SHUSTER: While Santorum seemed to forget Ron Paul, who is doing better than Santorum in that Gallup Poll, he managed to get in his own digs on Gingrich.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) SANTORUM: When Newt was Speaker of the House, within three years the conservatives in the House of Representatives tried to throw him out and in the fourth year they did.
SHUSTER: But to Gingrich the big issue isn't Republicans rejecting him in the '90s, but the so-called establishment he claims to be threatening today.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GINGRICH: We're going to make the establishment very uncomfortable. I'm happy to be in the tradition of Ronald Reagan as the outsider who scares the Republican establishment. And frankly, after the mess they've made of things, maybe they should be shaken up pretty badly.
SHUSTER: Whatever Ronald Regan, Hollywood star, California governor, two-term president meant to Republicans then, this is what Newt Gingrich, House Speaker, multimillionaire, author and college professor means to many Republicans now.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS CHRISTIE: This is a guy who's never won anything. This is a guy who's had a very difficult political career at times and has been an embarrassment to the party.
SHUSTER: Embarrassment. For more on the frantic campaigning under way in Florida, we're joined by Joe Williams, White House reporter for Politico. Joe, thanks for being with us tonight.
JOE WILLIAMS: Hi, great to be here.
SHUSTER: The polls. Public Policy Polling has Gingrich and Romney neck and neck in Florida. Gallup has them neck and neck. What does Gingrich have to do to build on his momentum, what does Romney have to do now to slow him down?
WILLIAMS: Well, you're already seeing it. Gingrich is going to keep on the gas. He's proven to be, aside from Rick Perry, one of the guys who can get under Romney's skin. You've heard him very deftly talk about how Romney's been running for president for six years, how Romney has - playing his game - is trying to stiff-arm the American public with his taxes and is only trying to respond to Gingrich's own attacks. [Perry] attempts to have Romney come clean about his. By the way, Florida, which I lived in for a couple of years, seems to be a state tailor-made for Newt Gingrich in that the northern part may as well be Dixieland. I mean, southern Alabama. You've got the panhandle, where a lot of people vote religious conservative. The middle of the state, where you've got some moderates and a large conservative base to work from, and the south, where Gingrich's message on immigration will probably be quite well received among the Cubans and some of the other Spanish-speaking immigrants who live down there, and that's a very big important part of what they want to see their candidates talk about.
SHUSTER: Gingrich's message going in to this Monday night debate seems to be that he's going to essentially put out the information, his contract with Freddie Mac, Freddie Mae - Fannie Mae - get it out there. In the initial look, and we've only had this for an hour, anything stand out to you or to your colleagues, and what should people be looking for when they look at the Fannie Mae–Freddie contract?
WILLIAMS: Well, what they should be looking for is what Gingrich got in exchange for the money. What does the contract spell out that they want him to do? Is it going up to Congress and convincing people to vote in favor of certain contractual privileges that Fannie Mae wants? Is it they're expecting him to appear in certain places to talk about what the housing program will do? What are the numbers, and what was he to get in exchange for those numbers? The information is still quite warm. So we haven't gotten all the way through it yet, of course, but those are the touchstones that could prove either a problem for Gingrich or an opportunity for him to explain more fully about what he was doing and what his role was.
SHUSTER: And for Mitt Romney, the document dump comes tomorrow when he releases, as far as the Romney campaign is concerned, two years of Mitt Romney's tax returns. How should we be reading those? There's gotten a lot - There's been a lot of play, of course, on the 15 percent carried interest rate that he gets for his investments. Is that the key figure we should be looking at?
WILLIAMS: That's one of the key figures probably. What I expect to see is that his overall income is just astronomical. It's going to be something that mere mortals like us, who earn a wage for a living, can probably not really comprehend. But also, the fact that he's paying a much lower tax rate than the rest of us and a lot of his solutions are talking about cutting the tax rate for people who have high incomes even further, which could pose a very good opportunity for the Democrats, if he is going to be the nominee, and squarely puts him in the 1 percent that a lot of people have been talking about.
SHUSTER: And as again, this evening, reporters, the Romney campaign and all the campaigns, essentially, pore over these documents that Newt Gingrich has now made public, his contract from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. There's some other news about Gingrich supporters, and that is, The New York Times is reporting that the Gingrich super PAC has just gotten another $5 million, this time from Dr. Miriam Adelson, who is the wife of donor Sherman Adelson, who gave Newt's PAC $5 million a few weeks ago. Sherman Adelson, as we know, is a titan in the gambling industry. So we can assume, I suppose, that as president, Gingrich will protect those interests. But in the short term, what does the cash infusion do for the Gingrich supporters other than make television stations in Florida even richer because of all the money the super PAC can now spend on ads there?
WILLIAMS: Well, if there's nothing like friends with money, then there's nothing like friends with money who are willing to give that money to you in your pursuit of the presidency. What it does is, it enables him to level the playing field a bit more with Mitt Romney who, as we all know, has got gazillions to spend, and after the South Carolina primary, when Gingrich so roundly defeated him, you can almost hear the Newt - the Mitt Romney death star gearing up to unload on Gingrich with everything they have. They've already started it now. This enables him to play a little offense as well as defense, not only with the aforementioned TV ads, but also with flyers, with Get Out the Vote, with more organizing, which he didn't necessarily have a lot of going in to this race. And remember, this is a guy who was left for dead, left for dead literally, politically. When this campaign started back in the early fall. He was off cruising in Greece. People thought he wasn't serious. Now, he is a serious player, and that money gives him the ability to do that.
SHUSTER: And I - quick correction - I said Sherman Adelson. It's actually Sheldon Adelson, as we know. Sheldon Adelson, the one who gave the first $5 million to the Gingrich super PAC. In any case, Joe Williams, White House reporter for "Politico." Joe, thanks as always for being on the program. We appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: My pleasure.
SHUSTER: For more now on Newt Gingrich and his new role as a self-professed anti-establishment outsider, we're joined by Craig Crawford, politics blogger at craigcrawford.com, author of "The Politics of Life." Craig, what is the establishment that Newt Gingrich claims to be threatening?
CRAIG CRAWFORD: Well, guess what, Newt?! You are one. Anybody who is third in line for the presidency and later on became a millionaire historian lobbyist is a member of the establishment. But, in truth, what he is appealing to - and I don't know what's more amazing, that he makes this claim or that he gets away with it - but what he's appealing to are conservative grassroots Republicans who do believe there is such a thing as big government Republicans, many who think George W. Bush was one for the Medicare Part D Plan. That's what he's appealing to, and he's getting away with it because, guess what, there's such a thing in politics as public amnesia, and a lot of these folks just don't remember those years that you've been talking about.
SHUSTER: And is there possibly a contrast then, between Newt Gingrich trying to appeal, perhaps to the tea party, with his anti-establishment rhetoric and information that's going to start coming out tonight and overnight as reporters have a chance to pore through this contract that he got, a huge contract from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, and you add all these things up, his millions in income and then this contract and then his own proposals that would cut his own taxes by a half million dollars, this is hardly an insurgent renegade out there. But, you know what? It's like he watched the game tapes from those tea party rallies of a couple of summers ago, and he just became one. He actually even looks and sounds like that guy that went after Arlen Specter in the town hall. I remember all the videotapes of that. It's like he just studied that and just absorbed their language and their resentment and made himself one on his home computer or something, just created the model.
SHUSTER: It also seems like he has studied crisis communication - or the ideas you get the bad news out there as quickly as possible and try to deal with it immediately. What do you make about Newt Gingrich's document jump and the fact that he's essentially been able to send the message that "hey, there were questions about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Here are my documents, Newt - Mitt Romney, look how long it's taken for him to release his tax returns"?
CRAWFORD: Yeah, it's going to be dueling release demands. I mean, next, Newt will be demanding the release of Romney's grandfather's birth certificate, who people say - or his father's birth certificate, who people say was born in Mexico. It could be going back and forth. But, I mean, I think the Romney campaign, it's been amusing, David, down here in Florida, to see Mitt Romney, Mitt Romney in a panic. He is just totally panicked. I mean, last night at an event, he got so worked up at some hecklers, he told them to go take a hike. I mean, I haven't heard insults like that since "Leave It to Beaver."
SHUSTER: What are they making, Craig, down in Florida about both the dueling document dumps, but also this sort of line from Gingrich about being the anti-establishment candidate?
CRAWFORD: What is driving the Romney campaign to complete distraction is that, that it's working. We saw it in South Carolina, and I think we're seeing it here. Gingrich has Marco Rubio, the tea party senator here, he's got his campaign manager, he's got the lingo down, and every time the media - and this is the beauty of how he attacks the media - when we in the media say, "Hey, wait a minute, you're a fraud, you're no anti-establishment," he just attacks us for it. So, you know, "I'm appalled you would ask such a question." I don't think there's enough time for a lot of these folks to really see this about him.
SHUSTER: And how do you see the document dump playing out? I mean, assuming there are no huge bombshells in documents Newt Gingrich is releasing tonight. And let's just assume to be fair, that there's nothing totally new or unexpected in the Mitt Romney tax returns released tomorrow. What sort of impact do these dueling dumps have on Florida eight days from now?
CRAWFORD: I don't think very much because now they just figure both have released it, unless like you say there are some big bombshells in those things. I think going forward, it's these debates, of course, that are gonna make the difference and we're gonna see Romney - what Romney is trying to do is capture some of that anger and some of that stylistic - going after that resentment that Gingrich has done so well. And I saw him try to do today, here in Florida, David, and he's just very awkward with it. It doesn't come naturally. But he's trying to show it. I think he got more upset when those undocumented workers trimmed his hedge too low.
SHUSTER: Craig Crawford, who writes the Trailmix blog at CraigCrawford.com. Craig, thanks as always, we appreciate it.
CRAWFORD: You bet.
SHUSTER: And by the way, as information does come out from Newt Gingrich's document dump tonight, as far as his, Freddie May - Fannie and Freddie contract, we will of course bring you those details throughout the show. But coming up, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords injured in a shooting 12 months ago, has announced that she's going to resign from office this week. You will hear why in her own words. Plus, remember the BP oil spill? New documents released today show the White House initially tried to downplay the size of the disaster. You're watching "Countdown."
DAVID SHUSTER: Article 2, Section 3 of our Constitution says, "The President shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union." The president will fulfill that duty tomorrow night. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured last year in a shooting, says she will attend the State of the Union speech, but Giffords also says she's going to step down this week to focus on her ongoing recovery. Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign is now playing up the former Speaker's latest attack on President Obama. The problem is that Gingrich has some of his facts wrong. And there's a new report out today about the pressure the Obama White House brought to bear on government scientists analyzing that BP oil spill. The emails are not pretty. Is it time for the president to fire the aids involved?
DAVID SHUSTER: On Tuesday, President Obama will deliver, for the third time, his State of the Union address. And with the added significance of the upcoming election, this State of the Union is a big one. In our fourth story on the "Countdown," there is now every indication the president has settled on a central theme, not only for his speech Tuesday night, but also for his re-election campaign. In a video released to supporters over the weekend, President Obama previewed the State of the Union address. He made it clear that the interests of the 99 percent will be a key component of his agenda in 2012.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA: In a lot of ways, my address on Tuesday will be a bookend to what I said in Kansas last month about the central mission we have as a country and my central focus as president. And that's rebuilding an economy where hard work pays off and responsibility is rewarded. And an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules. We can go in two directions. One is toward less opportunities and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go, building an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
SHUSTER: Of course, no matter what President Obama says, Republicans will disagree - as the Speaker of the House made clear in his reaction to the president's preview video.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOEHNER: It sounds to me like the same old policies that we've seen. More spending, higher taxes, more regulations. Now, the same policies that haven't helped our economy, they've made it worse. And if that's what the president's going to talk about Tuesday night, I think it's pathetic.
SHUSTER: No, Speaker Boehner, having 84 percent of the country disapprove of your Congress, that is pathetic. Fortunately for Republicans, Speaker Boehner will not be giving the official response to the State of the Union address. That honor goes to Indiana governor Mitch Daniels. And if his response is anything like his blistering response to last year's State of the Union, we are all in for a show.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) MITCH DANIELS: You caught me. I didn't watch it.
WOMAN: Oh, you didn't?
DANIELS: I was watching the Purdue game, as long as it was, as it was watchable.
SHUSTER: Bring in someone who will watch the State of the Union, Representative Lynn Woolsey. Congresswoman, thanks for your time tonight.
LYNN WOOLSEY: Oh, thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: With the message the president laid out in his preview, does this speech strike you as a State of the Union or part of his re-election or both?
WOOLSEY: Well, it needs to be both because the country's waiting for some big and bold leadership, and he needs to lay out the distinction between the 99 percent that he represents and the government of and for the 1 percent that, uh, particularly these new Republican presidential candidates represent, and the members, the Republican members of the House - and he can do that. He needs to have a lot - big, bold jobs plan. And he needs to talk about, uh, saving the housing problem that we've got going on in this country, and, uh, cutting more out of defense and ending the war in Afghanistan. People are waiting for those kinds of, uh, programs and policies and his commitment. And, uh, he can do that. His, He, He must.
SHUSTER: Well, from what you've heard of the president's speech so far - specifically with jobs or housing or the military - do you think he is going to be going far enough, as far as what you want, in the speech tomorrow night?
WOOLSEY: Well, I hope he will. And I hope he'll talk about ending the war in Afghanistan before 2014 and show us that there can be a path to a smarter security for our country, and for the United States and our national relationships-
SHUSTER: What about-
WOOLSEY: Sorry, international relationships.
SHUSTER: What about, uh, do you think he is going far enough? Or do you want to hear more from him on, essentially, pushing for a system where the rich are not holding all of the cards?
WOOLSEY: And that is - He must, uh, push for the 99 percent over the 1 percent. Because that's the only way, that and cutting defense funding, that we will be able to have a, a jobs bill, that we'll be able to provide jobs like the Congressional Progressive Caucus has proposed for 5 million people in two years. But that's by cutting defense, and by, uh, making the wealthy pay their fair share.
SHUSTER: What do you make, Congresswoman, about Speaker Boehner's response? And does that indicate that this coming year is not going to be - is it essentially going to be the same as last year when GOP obstructionism made anything, essentially, impossible?
WOOLSEY: I believe he has no intentions of making anything happen that would look like a success for the Democrats, and particularly for President Obama. And he - what he's going to learn from that is, the people of this country know that he doesn't care about them.
SHUSTER: There are more calls for members of Congress, like last year, to sit with members of the opposing party. Does that have any impact on fostering bipartisanship or is it really all just for show?
WOOLSEY: We're not that, that bi- uh, you know, -partisan. We know how to get along with each other. We're humans. We're all in here working our fannies off, but we just don't like what they're working for, and we think they are going a totally wrong direction - because they are.
SHUSTER: We're going to talk about this later in the show, but what was your reaction to the news this weekend that Representative Giffords is going to be stepping down this week?
WOOLSEY: Well, I'm so proud of her, she has, the fight she has, the battle she's fought, the way, her dignity. And the very idea that she's going to, uh, resign so that somebody else can run in her seat and be prepared instead of holding on to that seat until she retires is, it just says so much about who she is as an individual, and who she and Mark are as a couple. And she will be, just thinking she was going to come back, uh, kept us - there was a lot of hope for all of us. But knowing that she will concentrate on her own physical health, uh, and she'll take care of Gabby, that's the most important thing. And she will be leaving with, totally surrounded by love.
SHUSTER: Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us tonight.
WOOLSEY: You're welcome.
SHUSTER: And just ahead, we will have more on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who of course was injured in that assassination attempt a year ago. There is video that she's released of her announcing that she's going to step down. We will play some of that for you later in the show. But up next, did the primary results in South Carolina get your attention? The bug-eyes you don't want to miss as "Time Marches On!"
DAVID SHUSTER: Coming up, Newt Gingrich's claims about President Obama are completely lacking in fact. Wait, Newt Gingrich is not telling the truth? I don't believe it!
First the "Sanity Break," and it was on this day in 1984 Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden, here in New York City, to win his first-ever World Wrestling Federation championship. His victory led to what came to be known as "Hulkamania," a period of several years where Hulk Hogan transcended the sport and became a national celebrity.
An interesting side note about Hulk Hogan's defeat of the Iron Sheik - this match appears to be the basis for Rick Santorum's entire understanding of U.S.-Iranian relations.
"Time Marches On!"
We begin by checking in with the infant reaction to Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina primary.
VIDEO: Baby bugs out to dad's motorboat mouth.
Really? That Newt Gingrich? I'm sorry, I'm now being told this is actually the babies Michele Bachmann impression. Somewhere, Marty Feldman is proud.
To the Internets and any kids who are watching, turn the TV off now because there are monsters living in the drawer next to your bed. Apparently they feed on ballpoint pens - but the good news is this: they look like adorable kitties.
VIDEO: Drawer monsters battle ballpoint pens.
Now, where did I put the dog? Finally, we check in with an Obama campaign worker who just heard Gingrich won the South Carolina primary. We tried getting an interview with him, but he was too busy jumping for joy.
VIDEO: "Hoppy" dog frolics.
I can't wait to see how he reacts if Gingrich chooses Santorum as his running mate.
"Time Marches On."
Just ahead, racially charged or not, Newt Gingrich's claim about the food stamp president is now controversial for another reason - Newt got some of his facts wrong. But just ahead, the Obama White House wasn't very happy with the reports from government scientist at the start of the BP oil spill. Emails show the White House pressured to downplay the damage. This is "Countdown."
DAVID SHUSTER: We bring you "Countdown," live, each night at 8 p.m. Eastern. Primary replays at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. Eastern, and don't forget to watch tomorrow night at 9 p.m. Eastern for special coverage of President Obama's State of the Union and Republican response. That's tomorrow evening at 9 p.m. Eastern time.
DAVID SHUSTER: Information flow is vital when complex systems fail. Newly released documents reveal how information was fumbled from the top down following the worst oil spill in history. In our third story on the "Countdown," in the weeks after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, any decent estimate of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico was nonexistent. BP claimed not to care, supposedly exerting its energy into plugging the well, while in the White House, officials seemed indifferent to releasing an accurate figure.
And so they settled on a placeholder estimate of 5,000 barrels per day. Now, emails released by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility today reveal efforts by the White House to downplay the scope of the spill. An explosion in the spring of 2010 onboard the BP-leased rig left 11 men dead and released 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico before it was capped three months later.
Marcia McNutt, director of the U.S. Geological Survey and head of the government's Flow Rate Technical Group, recounted frustrations felt between scientists trying to estimate the flow of oil and the White House, trying to do damage control. Quote: "I cannot tell you what a nightmare the past two days have been dealing with the communications people at the White House, DOI and the NIC, who seem incapable of understanding the concept of a lower bound. The press release that went out on our results was misleading and was not reviewed by a scientist for accuracy."
Officials cited the scientists' lower estimate of oil spilled per day, 25,000 barrels, as the maximum amount gushing from the Deepwater Horizon when one person with the White House communications department suggested, "How about saying that several lines of evidence suggest that the flow is 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day but that the rate could be as high as 25,000 barrels per day?" McNutt, in an email, explaining the situation to her colleagues, insisted that the bottom line could not be simplified because the 25,000 is a lower bound, not an upper bound.
Let's bring in Kate Sheppard, reporter with Mother Jones magazine and a, and a "Countdown" contributor. Kate, thanks for your time tonight.
KATE SHEPPARD: Thanks for having us.
SHUSTER: The Obama administration repeated BP's own faulty estimate that 5,000 barrels of oil a day were leaking into the Gulf for the first few weeks of April before they officially released their own estimate of 25,000 barrels per day in May. Ultimately, the figure turned out to be more than double. Why is this story important now?
SHEPPARD: Well, this has always been a really important figure to pin down because the amount of money that BP will be fined, in the end, is completely contingent upon this figure. The fines range from $1,000 to $4,000 per barrel, so that barrel-per-day figure is absolutely crucial to determining just how much oil was spilled into the Gulf and how much BP will have to pay up.
SHUSTER: This group, PEER - they have also filed a complaint against Dr. Bill Lehr, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He led the Plume Analysis Team. What are the arguments being lodged against Dr. Lehr?
SHEPPARD: So PEER, which represents watchdogs within the government, is - has basically aired concerns that they say come from the scientists who are on the team who indicate that, that Lehr may have downplayed the size of the spill and gone with some lower figures in this report than, than what they were finding in their own studies. And so PEER is accusing him of being the one who, who wrote those lower figures into the report and then filed a complaint today to that effect.
SHUSTER: Has there been any fallout for members of the White House communications team who were involved in this? Has anybody lost their job, and if not, why not?
SHEPPARD: Not that I know of, to date. And this isn't the first time that, that complaints have been directed at the White House communications job with regard to the oil spill and these estimates. At the time of the spill, people were saying that these figures were pretty low. Several months later, when there were additional reports put out, the White House was again accused of, of being overly optimistic about how much oil was gone. And even the Oil Spill Commission, which the president appointed to look into the spill, dinged the White House for, for basically screwing up the communications on this and creating a lot more public confusion and distrust than, than they needed to.
SHUSTER: The response of the Deepwater Horizon spill on behalf of the White House and other agencies was so ineffective. Do you think anyone has learned a lesson here?
SHEPPARD: You know, it is not entirely clear to me that anyone has. And, and if anything, looking back now, almost two years from the spill, it seems like everyone's forgotten about it and just kind of hopes it will go away. And it's still not even clear just how much BP will ever be held accountable for what happened in the Gulf and the, the pressure on, on them to pay up, it just seems like it's, it's not, it's not anywhere near what it was a year and a half ago.
SHUSTER: But as far as the ongoing lawsuit and the efforts to try to reach some sort of settlement, are there more documents that are still to come out related to that?
SHEPPARD: Well, PEER is currently involved. They've filed a Freedom of Information request with various government agencies, related to this question of how big the spill was and what the government agencies knew and when they knew it, and so we're looking - I'm expecting that - there will - more documents will come out of that FOIA request. They've actually filed a subsequent lawsuit in order to make sure that they get those documents, and so that's something to keep an eye out for, going forward.
SHUSTER: And then, Kate, back to the White House just for a final question here, and that is, you mentioned that the White House communication shop has been criticized before. Back then, or even today, as these new reports come out, what is the White House response? Do they just ignore and not return reporters' phone calls on this?
SHEPPARD: Well, the response currently is that because this is involved in an ongoing lawsuit, they can't really comment, which is understandable. But, in general, it seems like they haven't really acknowledged a lot of these complaints, publicly at least.
SHUSTER: Kate Sheppard. Kate, with Mother Jones magazine. Kate, thanks so much for coming on. We appreciate it.
SHEPPARD: Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: You're welcome. Up next, Newt Gingrich continues to call Barack Obama the food stamp president, but based on official statistics, the title actually belongs to President George W. Bush. And later, we will bring you Gabby Giffords' own explanation as to why she has now decided to resign from Congress. You're watching "Countdown."
DAVID SHUSTER: It was just over a year ago when a gunman opened fire in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords has now decided to leave Congress and focus on her continuing recovery. And Newt Gingrich says President Obama has put more Americans on food stamps than any president in history. Nonpartisan fact checkers say the distinction actually belongs to President George W. Bush.
DAVID SHUSTER: In presidential campaigns, it's not unusual for candidates to get things wrong. Sometimes they twist the facts. Other times, they take things out of context. And occasionally, they throw the truth out the window even as they claim to be stating something as fact. And that takes us to Newt Gingrich. For weeks, in a standard stump speech, the former House Speaker has been hammering President Obama, calling him a food stamp president. And in the last GOP debate, Gingrich went even further.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) NEWT GINGRICH: The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.
SHUSTER: Actually, Mr. Speaker, what makes everybody uncomfortable is when you or any politician get the facts wrong. And when you say that more people have been put on food stamps by President Obama, Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan organization, says you're wrong. Factcheck.org obtained official statistics from the Department of Agriculture going back to January 2001.
And according to the statistics, the number of food stamp recipients under President George W. Bush rose by nearly 14.7 million. Under President Obama, the number of food stamp recipients has risen by 14.2 million. In other words, the food stamp program has grown by 444,574 fewer under President Obama than during the Bush presidency. Now, I can hear the Gingrich supporters screaming, "Wait a second, Shuster! President Obama had two terms, and Mr. Obama's not even finished with one!" That's true, except now that the economy is strengthening again, the latest Obama trend is a decrease in food stamp recipients. In October, for example, the number of Americans getting food stamps declined by 43,528.
To be fair, if Newt Gingrich or anybody else wants to claim the total number of Americans on food stamps has increased under President Obama, that's fine. And if anybody wants to point to the total number of 46,224,722 and say the U.S. is an entitlement society, well, that is an interesting point. One out of seven Americans is currently getting food stamps. But even here, we should keep some perspective. You see, as Republicans like to forget, the economic downturn began in December 2007, going into the final year of the Bush 43 presidency.
Over the next 12 months, before Barack Obama was sworn in as president, nearly 4.4 million Americans were added to the food stamp rolls. Since then, given the continued rough economy, the increase has continued as well. But here are some other reasons. The stimulus bill President Obama and Congress passed in 2009 added benefits making the program more visible. The stimulus also made more people eligible. Furthermore, at the time the bill was signed, the administration and a majority in Congress felt that helping the poorest in our society was the right thing to do economically and morally. And some lawmakers felt we were especially obligated to help the poor, given the help the Bush administration had given to failing banks.
Still, in the Gingrich campaign there is not much perspective or precision. Mr. Speaker I appreciate, you want to slam President Obama. And if you want to argue he is perpetuating an entitlement society that preceded him, go for it. But it's time for U.S. political leaders on both sides of the aisle to make their arguments based on facts. And your claim that President Obama has added more Americans on food stamps than any other president in history, that is flat-out wrong.
You are rewriting history, which is ironic, given the importance most Ph.D.'s such as yourself attach to historical accuracy. So Mr. Speaker, please clean up your sloppy and inaccurate rhetoric. Our fellow citizens, the voters, they deserve better.
DAVID SHUSTER: In one of the final acts of her tragically truncated congressional term, Gabby Giffords of Arizona will attend the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday. She will sit between fellow Arizona congressmen, Republican Jeff Lake and Democrat Raul Grijalva. In our No. 1 story on the "Countdown," Giffords says she's stepping down to focus on her ongoing recover from last winter's shooting. Meanwhile, her unexpected announcement opens what will be a highly competitive race to fill her highly competitive congressional seat.
(EXCERPT FROM VIDEO CLIP) GABBY GIFFORDS: I will step down this week. I'm getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.
SHUSTER: President Obama called Giffords an inspiration, writing in a statement, "I'm confident that we haven't seen the last of this extraordinary American." At her Tucson office today, Giffords officially completed the Congress on Your Corner event at which she was shot. She spent time with staff and those who were with her at the time of the shooting. She hugged Daniel Hernandez, the intern credited with saving her life. Giffords was shot in the head on January 8, 2011, in a spree that killed six people, including a federal judge. Twelve others were wounded. The accused shooter, Jared Loughner, was found not competent to stand trial. A new report on prison doctors' efforts to restore his fitness for trial is expected Wednesday. Loughner faces 49 federal counts, 14 of which carry a possible death penalty. As for the future of Giffords' 8th Congressional District seat, Republican Governor Jan Brewer will schedule the special elections once Giffords officially leaves office. The primary is expected to be held in April and the general in June. Then in August there will the regular primary election to pick nominees for November's 2012 election for the full two-year term that starts next January. Complicating matters - redistricting. Ninety percent of the 8th District will now become part of the 2nd District. Giffords was heavily favored to win re-election in this traditionally red state. Under the new lines, Democrats will pick up a few percentage points in voter registration to poll roughly even with registered Republicans in the adjusted district. However, independents will make up nearly a third of the electorate. Just by calls for Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, to fill his wife's seat. Kelly has said he's not interested. Tomorrow he will attend the State of the Union address as a guest in the first lady's box, along with, of course, his wife will be down on the floor.
Let's bring in Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Democrat of California. She serves with Congresswoman Giffords on the Armed Services Committee, and together they are the only two female members of the Blue Dog Caucus. Good evening, Congresswoman. Thanks for joining us.
SANCHEZ: Thank you so much for having me tonight.
SHUSTER: Sure. First, your thoughts on the timing of the resignation. Did representative Gabby Giffords confide in you beforehand? Are you surprised?
SANCHEZ: Actually, I'm not that surprised. It's been a year and I think that Gabby and Mark wanted to take the time to see how she would do. I think that being able to stay away in a sense from Congress and really work on her recovery has shown us that she can make incredible progress. And I think it's a very good thing for her to decide that she really wants to concentrate on that. There's a lot of stress to the Congress, and she has, I mean, she has a real life to live. I mean, I know that at one point she spoke about wanting to have children. There's just a whole bunch of things that she needs to get on with her life, so I'm very happy for her actually.
SHUSTER: Her first return to the House chamber to cast a vote was extraordinarily emotional. What do you imagine it's going to be like tomorrow as she essentially says goodbye?
SANCHEZ: Well, first of all, she's not going to say goodbye. Gabby, we want her to get well, she'll work on that, but she has a lot of friends in the Congress, many who have flown out to Arizona to see her. She'll, I think, continue once in a while to come to Washington. We certainly care about her. So it's not a goodbye, but I think as far as what's going to go on in the chamber, I think she'll bring such an electricity to it. Just really great feelings from all of us because we really do enjoy her as a colleague, and more importantly, you know, one of the nice things is that when you look at Gabby today, you see those pieces that really make Gabby be Gabby. And they're there. They're still there and so -.
SHUSTER: What do you mean?
SANCHEZ: You know, her smile, her twinkle to her eye, I mean, she gets it. Her personality traits are still there, and it's what makes Gabby, Gabby. So she just needs to get physically well and get fully recovered, and we may see her come back at some point.
SHUSTER: It does sound as if her district is going to have several elections in a short span of time. Giffords was a Democrat in a conservative state. Do you think Democrats can hold the district?
SANCHEZ: Absolutely. First of all, the district has gotten better. Secondly, I think there's a lot of goodwill by the people of Tucson and Arizona. I have a lot of family in that area. My father and mother are both from that area near Tucson, and there's a lot of goodwill that Gabby has brought. She's shown that a Democrat can govern well there. And I've got to tell you, I've been completely, just, amazed at the work that Gabby's staff people have done to keep the issues of the people of Arizona before the Congress, to work hard on constituents' services. So I think there's a lot of goodwill for Democrats out there. And of course we have some really good candidates out there. Some state representatives and others who are considering the run.
SHUSTER: Were there any filing deadlines that played a role, as far as the understanding of her timing?
SANCHEZ: I don't think this was about filing deadlines. I mean, honestly, most of us probably would have loved to have seen her serve out this coming year. I think this was more about Gabby. And I think that's very important because Americans saw that Gabby could get well if she was allowed to have the type of environment that she needs to do that. And so, again, I think it was the one-year mark. She and her husband took a look at it and said, "How do we feel about this?" And they have things to do together. They have real considerations, you know. Gabby was a young woman, 40, when this happened to her. She had planned to start a family, I believe, with her husband, and you know, she's lost a year now and she's got to get well, and I would hope if she still wanted to do that, that she would have the ability to do that.
SHUSTER: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. And Congresswoman, thanks as always for coming on the program. We appreciate it.
SANCHEZ: Thank you.
SHUSTER: And that is our show for tonight. A reminder to join us tomorrow evening for the president's State of the Union address. Special coverage right here on "Countdown" on Current TV. I'm David Shuster, on behalf of all of us here at "Countdown," thanks for watching the show. Have a great night everybody.