For two consecutive nights, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has ignored the recent report from AP detailing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But on Friday, the MSNBC host devoted a segment on his Countdown show to discussing an email written by Abramoff that disputes President Bush's claim that he does not know Abramoff.
Olbermann compared Bush's memory to the excellent memory of Richard Nixon, recounting the story of Nixon's 1959 meeting with the Chicago White Sox in which the then-Vice President knew all of their names. After reading an email Abramoff wrote to Kim Eisler of Washingtonian magazine in which Abramoff claimed Bush "has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met," Olbermann brought aboard correspondent David Shuster to discuss whether Bush has been honest in his denial of knowing Abramoff.
Shuster listed a number of reasons Bush should remember Abramoff: "He lobbied George W. Bush when Bush was governor of Texas on an education issue, he gave $100,000 to the Bush campaign in 2000, he served on the Florida recount team, he served on the Bush transition team in 2000. He's a long-time friend of Grover Norquist, the President's closest advisor outside the White House. Abramoff is a longtime friend of Karl Rove, the President's closest advisor inside the White House. Oh, and did I mention that Jack Abramoff's former personal assistant, Susan Ralston, is now Karl Rove's personal assistant, Susan Ralston?"
Shuster concluded: "I mean, it defies logic to anybody who knows this story for the President to say, 'I don't know him.' It's possible, I suppose, that the President wants to forget him, but the betting here in Washington is that on this one, Jack Abramoff is the one that's telling the truth."
But Olbermann ignored the AP story posted Thursday describing some of Reid's interactions with Abramoff, and the contributions made to Reid's campaign that came from some of Abramoff's clients at about the time the Senator had responded favorably to Abramoff's requests on behalf of those clients.
Below is a complete transcript of the segment from the Friday February 10 Countdown show:
Keith Olbermann: "Presidential memories are often prodigious things. Legendary is President Nixon who, while still Vice President, greeted the 1959 baseball team, American League champions Chicago White Sox, recognizing 24 out of the 25 players by face alone. When he came to the 25th and didn't know him he said, 'You must be Joe Stanka.' Joe Stanka, a minor league pitcher just promoted from Sacramento who would appear in exactly two big league ball games in his life, said, 'Yes, Mr. Vice President, I must be Joe Stanka.' Our fourth story on the Countdown, the way disgraced D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff tells it, George W. Bush's memory may rival Nixon's. The question is: 'Who's the Stanka?' At his press conference on January 26th of this year, the President said he does not know Abramoff, doesn't remember having had his picture taken with him, but in a series of emails to the national editor of Washingtonian Magazine, Kim Eisler, Jack Abramoff says now they met nearly a dozen times, and not just at holiday party photo-ops. In fact, Abramoff asserts he was even invited to the President's ranch in Texas, that would have been in August 2003, but he could not attend because he would have had to travel on the Sabbath. He questions the President's assertion the President doesn't remember meeting him at all, quoting: 'He has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met. It was one [of] his trademarks, though of course he can't recall that he has a great memory. The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything. Who knows?' Who knows, indeed. Perhaps MSNBC's David Shuster does. He joins us now from Washington. Good evening, David."
David Shuster: "Hi, Keith."
Olbermann: "So is it possible that while Abramoff seems to remember these presidential meetings with such clarity that Mr. Bush truly has forgotten them? I mean, every president has aides who fill them in quickly and almost surreptitiously with the personal details before the flesh gets pressed to make it appear as if the President remembers everybody he's ever met."
David Shuster: "No, I don't think it's possible at all. I mean, look at Jack Abramoff's past. He lobbied George W. Bush when Bush was governor of Texas on an education issue, he gave $100,000 to the Bush campaign in 2000, he served on the Florida recount team, he served on the Bush transition team in 2000. He's a long-time friend of Grover Norquist, the President's closest advisor outside the White House. Abramoff is a longtime friend of Karl Rove, the President's closest advisor inside the White House. Oh, and did I mension that Jack Abramoff's former personal assistant, Susan Ralston, is now Karl Rove's personal assistant, Susan Ralston? I mean, it defies logic to anybody who knows this story for the President to say, 'I don't know him.' It's possible, I suppose, that the President wants to forget him, but the betting here in Washington is that on this one, Jack Abramoff is the one that's telling the truth."
Olbermann: "Maybe we found the Joe Stanka. Are we ever going to figure out just how much contact the President had with Abramoff or is this always going to be the he said/he said thing?"
Shuster: "Well, this is where the White House really doesn't have the cards to play as long as they keep trying to say we're not going to release these photographs. I mean, remember, Jack Abramoff has these photographs, he still has them, and while the prosecutor may be telling him, look, don't put out the evidence just yet, at a certain point, according to friends of Jack Abramoff, he may, sort of, get pushed over the side by saying, look, if people are going to say that I stink or they don't remember me or they're not friends with me, that instead of just showing some of the reporters these photographs and maybe he will then release them. And that's the one thing that Republicans on Capitol Hill are terrified of, and that is if the White House releases the photographs now, at least they can do it on their terms. If Jack Abramoff or Jack Abramoff's friends release these photographs, then it's on Jack Abramoff's terms, and that's where it could be really embarrassing."
Olbermann: "And it could be embarrassing also because, again today, the White House press secretary, Mr. Mcclellan, was asked about this, in particular, the Abramoff email, and he basically blew if off, saying that the President's previous comments about not knowing Abramoff still stood. Do you ignore questions at one's press secretarial peril because of that wild card of the photos?"
Shuster: "Well, I think for Scott McClellan, he's got a history of knowing that sometimes things that he is told is not essentially accurate. I mean, just think back on Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and their involvement in the CIA leak case. I think this is one of the situations where Jack Abramoff knows the truth, President Bush knows the truth, and Scott McClellan is sort of caught between them, perhaps not having seen the photographs himself, and, in fact, in some conversations with reporters, including this one, it seemed to me that McClellan has not seen these photographs, so he's relying on what other people tell him, and maybe that provides Scott McClellan some deniability. But that can also lead to problems if, in fact, these photographs come out later, and if, in fact, Jack Abramoff did not see President Bush at just holiday parties."