Countdown with Keith Olbermann, March 12, 2007

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KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Going, going, Gonzales. The outcry against the attorney general. It`s more than just him firing federal prosecutors for political reasons. It`s him listening to Karl Rove about firing federal prosecutors for political reasons.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: For the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down.


OLBERMANN: Paul Krugman of "The New York Times" on the politics and the hidden danger, ones who did administration dirty work to keep their jobs. Jonathan Turley on turning the attorney general`s office into a center for political reeducation. You say Dubai, and I say, Hello. Halliburton moving its headquarters to the United Arab Emirates, avoiding U.S. taxes, avoiding U.S. laws. Rudy Giuliani, too liberal, or too often married? John McCain, too newly conservative? Mitt Romney, too Mitt-like (ph)? Newt Gingrich, too nuts? The Republicans may have another option, an antiwar option.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I`m here today to announce that my family and I will make a decision on my political future later this year.


OLBERMANN: The crime is bad enough, but stalking your 101-year-old victim, and attacking her on video? More than just a mugging, a psychological issue, perhaps.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m not bitter against anybody, but I think he did a terrible thing.


OLBERMANN: Nine children and an adult buried today after last week`s horrific house fire in the Bronx in New York City. And one commentator actually says the real story is his deduction that the children burned alive may have been illegal aliens. And the cartoons, "American Idol"`s Antonella Barba will not pose for "Playboy." Well, really, at this point, why don`t they just download her photos like everybody else? All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN. Good evening. As Karl Rove`s hand in firing federal prosecutors for political reasons became visible, as the influence of his death star seeped into yet another White House controversy over the possible ouster of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, this aside (ph), acknowledging that there is nothing worse than quoting oneself. When asked recently by an interviewer for a one-sentence reaction to Mr. Gonzales, my word-association response was, I`d like to see his diploma. Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, evidently a lot of congressional Democrats want to see it too, and to see him leave, and to find out why he would be listening to Karl Rove about who does and who does not prosecute a nation`s wrongdoers. In a moment, Paul Krugman of "The New York Times" joins us to discuss the fallout, but first, the details. Mr. Rove drawn into this scandal over the weekend, the New Mexico Republican Party chairman naming names in an interview with the McClatchy newspapers, saying that he had complained to the White House senior adviser about the now-former U.S. attorney for that state, David Iglesias, who testified to the Senate on Tuesday, the state party chairman claiming that Mr. Rove told him of prosecutor Iglesias, quote, "He`s gone," the White House now acknowledging it had approved the firings but that it had not signed off on any specific names, spokeswoman Dana Perino further conceding that Mr. Rove served as a conduit for complaints to the Justice Department about federal prosecutors. Mr. Rove`s "He`s gone" statement could also soon apply to Attorney General Gonzales, in the Senate, the Republican Arlen Specter saying that the resignation of Mr. Gonzales was, quote, "a question for the president and attorney general, because there have been lots of problems," Democrat Joe Biden saying Gonzales himself would be, quote, "better off" if he resigned, while Chuck Schumer, the Senate`s number three Democrat, having today called on Karl Rove to testify before Congress, was yesterday damning the attorney general with faint praise.


SCHUMER: Attorney General Gonzales is a nice man, but he either doesn`t accept or doesn`t understand that he is not longer just the president`s lawyer, but has a higher obligation to the rule of law and the Constitution, even when the president should not want it to be so. And so this department has been so political that I think, for the sake of the nation, Attorney General Gonzales should step down.


OLBERMANN: As promised, we`re fortunate now to be joined by Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University`s Woodrow Wilson School, as well, of course, as op-ed columnist for "The New York Times." Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Is the attorney general`s culpability in this going to get swallowed up in the Karl Rove swamp? And is the whole issue going to get swallowed up in the, in the, the swamp that is the Bush administration?

KRUGMAN: Well, there is a problem of so many scandals for -- competing for our attention. And, you know, there`s also -- this administration has been really good at defining scandal down. You know, there are big stories, like the, you know, the Justice Department stuffing the Civil Rights Division with anti-civil rights lawyers, that just completely fly under the radar. And I`m not sure even this one is going to get the attention it deserves.

OLBERMANN: And even behind it, as you pointed out, what about the prosecutors who were not fired? Should we be, perhaps, more concerned with those men and women, the people who might have been willing to do administration dirty work in order to keep their jobs?

KRUGMAN: Sure, or to advance their careers. And, look, aside from one, which I assume we`ll get to, Carol Lam, the firing of the prosecutors was shameful. But what you really worry about is what the guys who were not fired did in order to keep on the administration`s good side. We have some -- you know, we have quite a lot of evidence. We have individual cases. There was one in New Jersey where the federal prosecutor did what sure looks like an attempt to aid the campaign against Senator Bob Menendez. But we have statistical evidence. Donald Shields (ph) and James Creighton (ph) did a study of press reports of attorneys` actions across the country, and they found that while that the statewide races, it was sort of rough parity, at the local level, it was seven to one investigations or charges against Democrats compared with Republicans, which strongly suggests you have a real pattern in which the U.S. attorneys` offices are being used to -- for political purposes, and it just happens that these eight guys who got fired weren`t going along with the program.

OLBERMANN: In this bigger picture, regarding the attorney general, would things have reached this stage, prominent senators insisting on his resignation, Senator Specter saying what he said, as quickly as they have, had it not been for the guilty verdict last week in the Libby trial? Is there a connection there? Was there a tipping point of some kind?

KRUGMAN: Yes, I think there`s are a couple of things. One is that the Libby trial reminded everybody of the thuggish nature of what goes on in a lot of this administration. The second thing is that it probably shows that, you know, you can actually get these guys sometimes (INAUDIBLE) put some courage in. And, you know, there`s actually suddenly been more cooperation from the administration. I think that particularly Gonzales has got to be looking back at his own testimony, in which he asserted that there is no political role in those firings, and wondering, you know, how close to the line of perjury did he skirt? And he better not do it again.

OLBERMANN: Are there loose ends still here? Is there, is there stuff that we should be looking for answers to in the days and weeks ahead that we, that we really haven`t explored yet?

KRUGMAN: Sure. The biggie in the firings is Carol Lam, the U.S. attorney for Southern California. And she`s been on a roll. She`d convicted Duke Cunningham, corrupt Republican congressman. She`d gotten indictments just two days before leaving office against defense contractor and the number three man at the CIA, who`s a Bush loyalist who was put in there when they were trying to purge the agency. And she was investigating Jerry Lewis, who is a powerful Republican congressman on the -- that was the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The big question has got to be, was she fired to stop those investigations? And then, you know, we need more of those numbers, the Creighton and Shields numbers are interesting, they`re very revealing. But we really need to know a lot more about specifically what went on all across the country. New Jersey, there are strong suspicions. There`s questions in New Hampshire. There`s questions in Kentucky. We need to know exactly what`s going on in terms of the misuse of the Justice Department.

OLBERMANN: One more thing. Do you have an interpretation on the meaning of this White House admission about Rove as a conduit? What -- that seems such an odd statement (INAUDIBLE).

KRUGMAN: Well, I think they probably figure there are too many people who know that he was involved. And they`re not trying to deny that, but they`re going to try and say, Well, you know, it`s nothing, the conduit is trying to say, Well, you know, he wasn`t actually putting political pressure on, he was just passing on what other people were saying. He might keep his head out of the news, but I don`t think it`s going to help Mr. Gonzales.

OLBERMANN: Paul Krugman of "The New York Times" and Princeton University. Many thanks for some of your time and your insight tonight, sir.

KRUGMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: For more on the politics at work, as well as the full legal implications of this, to say nothing of the fact that Alberto Gonzales`s only real qualifications for his post might be that his initials, AG, are the same as the abbreviation for attorney general. Let`s turn to constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University. Jon, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Your thoughts on Paul Krugman`s point that the bigger issue here might be the prosecutors who were not fired, and whether or not they might have been willing to go along with the administration to either advance their careers, or just to hold onto their jobs?

TURLEY: I think that`s everyone`s concern, that not what did these people fail to do that got them fired, but what the other people did do that kept them in their jobs. I mean, you`re talking about a pretty impressive group of people. These U.S. attorneys were not ACLU wannabes, these were tough prosecutors who actually carried some controversial lines for the administration. But they still were not up to snuff for the purposes of the administration. You also worry what this tells other U.S. attorneys. I mean, the impression is that if you go after someone like Jerry Lewis or other powerful people like Cunningham, that you`re really risking your career, and that maybe you`d be better suited finding other targets. Now, that may not be accurate, but I got to tell you, it`s a lot more convincing when you find out that Karl Rove was a conduit of anything on this issue. There`s no reason for the president`s political adviser to be communicating anything about U.S. attorneys continuing in office. I`m surprised someone picked up the phone on the other end. It`s just on its face very inappropriate.

Originally broadcast, 3.12.07