Olbermann Attacks Bush's Honesty, Compares to Nixon's Watergate

On Wednesday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann led with the current controversy about President Bush and other administration officials claiming they had found biological weapons labs in Iraq even after a report had concluded that this was not the case. In contrast to FNC's Carl Cameron, who pointed out that Bush was just repeating what he had just read from a Defense Intelligence Agency report which had concluded, mistakenly it later turned out, they were bioweapons labs (see this earlier NewsBusters posting), Olbermann accused the President of knowing "they weren't mobile labs from the very start." Olbermann also compared Bush to the "Emperor with no clothes" and brought aboard near-regular guest and former Nixon White House counsel John Dean to discuss similarities between Bush's "abuse of power" and Watergate, asking, "Do you feel like you're living 1970 to 1973 all over again?" and later wondering if the administration had "cut the necessity for any truth out of the equation of government." (Transcript follows)

Olbermann teased his Countdown show: "The mobile weapons labs we, quote, 'found,' unquote, in Iraq, the ones the administration kept applauding itself for for months after Baghdad fell. Not only weren't they mobile weapons labs, but the President knew they weren't mobile weapons labs from the very start. How Nixonian is this? We will ask John Dean."

Olbermann then opened the show with his "Emperor's New Clothes" comparison: "It is one thing to be the emperor in the story of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' before you go to war. It is quite another to be such after war has begun and as the facts scream at you, 'The Emperor Has no Clothes,' to insist that this scream confirms that you are wearing the finest material in the world."

After discussing the story further with Joby Warrick of the Washington Post, the Countdown host then went on to list recent scandals involving Republicans, some not even involving the White House, declaring, "that this is not the first scandal to hit the White House will not come as news," and that keeping track of all the scandals "could become a full-time job."

Olbermann then cited Hillary Clinton's comparison of "Bush's abuse of power and that of President Nixon during Watergate" as he brought aboard John Dean to further compare Bush's ethics to those of Nixon. Olbermann opened by comparing Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler to Scott McClellan: "Of course, the only thing missing from this equation as comparison would have been a press secretary like Ron Ziegler getting up and saying something about how he didn't respect the journalism, the shoddy journalism of the Washington Post, no, wait, we just, we just had that today, the Joby Warrick and today's Post. Is that the complete set? Do you feel like you're living 1970 to 1973 all over again?"

After accusing the administration of "manufactured outrage" in his second question to Dean, Olbermann used his third question to wonder if the administration has "cut the necessity for any truth out of the equation of government: "That list of the last couple of weeks' harvest of scandals that I just read, are we missing the forest because of all the trees? And there are a lot of them. That ignoring the policy or action or even the political affiliation of this presidency and this administration. Just looking at the framework of operations, the mechanics, the flow charts, has this administration basically cut the necessity for any truth out of the equation of government?"

Below is a transcript of the opening of Olbermann's Wednesday April 12 Countdown show, followed by his interview with John Dean:

Keith Olbermann, in opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? No hits, it's just the misses that keep on coming. The mobile weapons labs we, quote, 'found,' unquote, in Iraq, the ones the administration kept applauding itself for for months after Baghdad fell. Not only weren't they mobile weapons labs, but the President knew they weren't mobile weapons labs from the very start. How Nixonian is this? We will ask John Dean."

Olbermann, opening the show: "Good evening from New York. It is one thing to be the emperor in the story of 'The Emperor's New Clothes' before you go to war. It is quite another to be such after war has begun and as the facts scream at you, 'The Emperor Has no Clothes,' to insist that this scream confirms that you are wearing the finest material in the world. Our fifth story on the Countdown, new reports of honesty-challenged conduct at the White House, not with pre-war intel about WMD in Iraq, but with mid-war intel about WMD in Iraq. The purported mobile weapons labs, the ones that Colin Powell cited at the U.N., one of the most vivid arguments supporting U.S. military intervention in Iraq, finally located by allied forces just weeks after Baghdad fell, cited then as proof that there was too WMD in that country. But the Washington Post reports a Pentagon fact-finding mission in the weeks after the invasion had already concluded that these trailers had absolutely nothing to do with biological weapons. They were instead part of Iraq's vast stealth program to produce weather balloons. The three-page Pentagon field survey had made it back to Washington on May 27, 2003, yet President Bush was hailing the capture of those trailers just two days later and again just six days after that."

George W. Bush, dated June 5, 2003: "We recently found two mobile biological weapons facilities which were capable of producing biological agents. This is a man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder. He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he's got a big country in which to hide him. We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth."

Olbermann: "The members of that Pentagon fact-finding mission unanimously concluding the exact opposite, that the trailers were little more than, quote, 'the biggest sand toilets in the world.' A conclusion they reached rapidly, one team member telling the post, quote, 'Within the first four hours, it was clear to everyone that these were not biological labs.' The report stamped 'secret' and reportedly shelved, its findings apparently ignored as senior members of the administration -- Mr. Cheney, Mr. Powell, Ms. Rice, Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Bolton -- continued to claim the trailers were mobile weapons factories. The Washington Post expose on the report appearing under the byline of investigative reporter Joby Warrick. Thank you for your time tonight, sir."
...

Olbermann: "That this is not the first scandal to hit the White House will not come as news to you. So many eyebrows have been raised, so many timelines questioned that keeping just track of these scandals could become a full-time job, especially when we have now sunk to the level of weather balloons. It is our job. A quick refresher here, working backwards in just the last two weeks. The biolabs that weren't, that's today. The Republican New Hampshire phone jamming scheme tied to the White House. The GOP says it was the RNC, not the White House. The plan for Iran: Bombing the heck out of it. Scooter Libby testifying that Vice President Cheney told him that President Bush authorized the leaking of classified information to Judith Miller that Mr. Bush declassified for just that purpose. A Homeland Security media spokesman picked up in a sex sting charged with preying on teenage girls. Tom DeLay resigning from Congress. Mr. Bush replacing his chief-of-staff under pressure, and last by certainly not least, the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing on a motion to censure the President. Also this week, Senator Hillary Clinton invoking a comparison, briefly anyway, between President Bush's abuse of power and that of President Nixon during Watergate. Who better to call in to assess that comparison than Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who is also of course the author of Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. George W. Bush. John, good evening."

John Dean: "Hello, Keith."

Olbermann: "Of course, the only thing missing from this equation as comparison would have been a press secretary like Ron Ziegler getting up and saying something about how he didn't respect the journalism, the shoddy journalism of the Washington Post, no, wait, we just, we just had that today, the Joby Warrick and today's Post. Is that the complete set? Do you feel like you're living 1970 to 1973 all over again?"

Dean: "Not quite, but it's approaching that. I think what we're building to is the inoperative statement, as you'll recall, comes late in the scenario. The fact that Scott McClellan is having to defend himself the way he is is very reminiscent of what Ron Ziegler went through. It's a very tough job. Ziegler was very good at it and then felt very humbled by it when the rug was pulled out from underneath him. Typically press secretaries are not put in the full loop so they are able to go out there and defend themselves and defend a president without really, in a sense, compromising what they believe the truth to be."

Olbermann: "John, the serious part of the seemingly manufactured outrage, we're assuming something there, the outrage, the presented outrage today, you know, who leaked this document? How dare you suggest the President could have known this kind of detail about these tangential trailers? Is this a little inconsistent with the rationale for war which was predicated on the idea that the President knew all the details about all these tandential trailers and all these other places where WMD was supposed to be?"

Dean: "Well, it's obviously theater. It's a little cynical. It's a position that they can sell it and change their positions and get away with it. For those who don't really follow these stories closely, they might get away with it. But it's obviously a PR tactic, and it's becoming cumulative now where they're able to do this with less success."

Olbermann: "If an opposing party, one in particular were in control of Congress as it was during Watergate, would we be looking at hearings or more for President Bush, or is the idea of impeachment now the surest way for a troubled president to rally sympathy and give his poll numbers a boost?"

Dean: "From the Watergate era, we know that Congress, regardless of how they might feel about the President, is very reluctant, even when he is of the opposite party, to nullify an election, if you will, and go to an impeachment proceeding. They're very slow to do that. It took a long time until Nixon really broke the camel's back by firing the special prosecutor. And then people became frightened at what he might do next. So I don't think we're there yet, and if there were an opposition Congress at this point, I doubt we would be there yet. But I must say, Keith, if the Republicans lose control of the Congress, either body, either the House or the Senate, in '06, it's going to be a very difficult time for the last two years of this president, and I think this is probably going to be an issue in the campaign. Not an impeachment issue, but rather it's time to get some responsibility on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the President really is not just having an extension on Capitol Hill, but somebody who's asking the tough questions."

Olbermann: "That list of the last couple of weeks' harvest of scandals that I just read, are we missing the forest because of all the trees? And there are a lot of them. That ignoring the policy or action or even the political affiliation of this presidency and this administration. Just looking at the framework of operations, the mechanics, the flow charts, has this administration basically cut the necessity for any truth out of the equation of government?"

Dean: "Well, a pattern has certainly emerged. When you take the first story you started with on Joby's report, the fact that this maybe didn't get to the White House is almost more troubling than the fact if it did they ignored it and went on ahead without it. It would show a level of incompetence if the White House wasn't aware of this that is truly frightening, Keith, that they would go out and make deliberate mis-statements because they didn't know it. If they intentionally did it, obviously then they're trying to sway people into war that the nation might not have otherwise taken had they saw the facts differently. So there is a pattern that's emerging, and I think we're going to see more of it, unfortunately."

Olbermann: "Are we seeing, I mean this reaction to the field report about those trailers full of sand, which is what they were, used in the production of weather balloons, we see this as being guarded or as being reacted to as if some great state secret had been violated by its release or its access that was granted to the Washington Post. On the other hand, we're getting seriously secretive material being declassified at whim. It's kind of like turning the gravity on and off in the universe. It's an amazing skill to have, but is it being used skillfully, even in self-defense? In other words, are they getting away with it?"

Dean: "Keith, the short answer is really transparency is always the safest policy for a president unless it is such a sensitive national security matter you dare not risk put it out. And they're ignoring that very basic rule."

Olbermann: "John Dean, White House counsel from 1970 to 1973, author of Worse Than Watergate, finelaw.com commentator and writer, as always, John, thanks for your time."