On his Countdown show Wednesday night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann began his show by hyping an article by the New York Daily News claiming that President Bush "rebuked Karl Rove" two years ago for having a role in the leaking of Valerie Plame's name. The Countdown host also showcased the President's refusal to respond to a reporter's question on the article, and proposed that this revelation implies that the President had lied about his knowledge of Rove’s involvement. The opening teaser showed a picture of the article with the headline "Bush Whacked Rove on CIA Leak" next to a photograph of Bush and Rove while the words "What did the President Know?" appeared at the bottom of the screen.
Olbermann opened the show speculating about what the implications would be if such a story were true, which he referred to as a "bombshell," and listed out his proposed implications while showing them on-screen lined up next to a photograph of Rove: "Mr. Rove would be involved. Mr. Bush would have known Mr. Rove was involved. When Mr. Bush's spokesman said nobody at the White House was involved, somebody would have been lying. And when Mr. Bush talked about what would happen if somebody on his staff was involved, he would have damn well known somebody was and he wouldn't have said anything about it."
When discussing Scott McClellan's response to questions from reporters about the article's credibility, Olbermann took the chance to mock the White House spokesman by quoting irrelevant stammering in McClellan's answer: "I read the story, and I didn't view it as an, uh, an accurate story."
Olbermann then went on to interview Washington Post reporter Jim Vandehei, who was, compared to Olbermann, more reserved about pouncing on the New York Daily News claims, saying that "if that account's true, I haven't been able to find anyone else in Washington who's heard that." But the Countdown host still continued his fascination with the possibility that Bush lied by posing the question, "Does it, if correct, tip over, generally speaking, a house of cards here? I mean, could everybody from Mr. McClellan and Mr. Rove to the President be inescapably described as having lied in some way during this? Or, even with this story, even with that idea that it could be true, is it still all more nuanced than that?" In Vandehei's response, he continued to resist Olbermann's invitations to speculate on the negative implications for the Bush administration by noting that "there are a bunch of what-if's and but's in this case" and "it is a confusing enough case to not go down these roads that we don't even know are accurate."
A complete transcript of relevant portions from the Wednesday October 19 show follows:
Keith Olbermann started off the show's opening teaser: "Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 'I couldn't hear what you said. I'm old.' The President's response when asked if the news report is true that he rebuked Karl Rove for Rove's role in the CIA leak two years ago. That bombshell and its implications."
After previewing other stories in the opening teaser, Olbermann began the show:
"Good evening. The New York Daily News is politically quirky, although it serves an audience slightly more liberal than conservative, certainly not pro-George Bush. That the context for its source-based reporting today that a, quote, 'angry,' President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair. Our fifth story on the Countdown, the implications of that and of the quote from an unnamed source that Mr. Bush 'made his displeasure known to Karl, he made his life miserable about this.' The implications would be easy to comprehend. Mr. Rove would be involved. Mr. Bush would have known Mr. Rove was involved. When Mr. Bush's spokesman said nobody at the White House was involved, somebody would have been lying. And when Mr. Bush talked about what would happen if somebody on his staff was involved, he would have damn well known somebody was and he wouldn't have said anything about it. Neither the President nor spokesman Scott McClellan would comment on-camera about the Daily News report today, the President telling reporters during a photo-op, 'I didn't hear what you said. I'm getting old.' In the off-camera briefing, the so-called gaggle, Mr. McClellan said, quote, 'One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation, and, two, I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account.'"
Olbermann: "'Aha!' said the reporters. 'That was a comment. There, we run rings around you logically. What aspects of the story's accuracy are you challenging?' McClellan replied, quoting again, 'I read the story, and I didn't view it as an, uh, an accurate story.' The Daily News sources also said the President knows and appreciates that everything Rove did was for the President, but, quoting that source again, 'Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way,' while the New York Times had its own source story today about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Quoting government officials who say he has told associates he has no plans to issue a final report about his investigation, leading to the logical conclusion that he's not issuing a report because he instead expects that grand jury to issue indictments. Jim Vandehei, White House correspondent of the Washington Post, has been leading the advance of this story for weeks now, and he joins us. Good evening, Jim."
Jim Vandehei, Washington Post: "Good to be here."
Olbermann: "The Daily News report about Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush's supposed rebuke. It certainly is dramatic. It sounds a little convenient like finding the Holy Grail in your own basement. What's your assessment of the story?"
Vandehei: "If it's true, I certainly haven't been able to confirm it. All the accounts that I've heard from inside the White House and from folks involved in this investigation was that basically Bush and Scott McClellan were misled a bit by Karl Rove early on and was told that he didn't have any role at all in this investigation. In fact, that's what Karl Rove had said publicly in July. So if that account's true, I haven't been able to find anyone else in Washington who's heard that."
Olbermann: "Working backwards off Mr. McClellan's response at the gaggle today, even given his adamantine refusals to say anything about this story besides boilerplate, a subject I don't need to inform you on, did today's comments seem a little tepid? Did it seem like he might have gotten a little stronger in his repudiation of such a story?"
Vandehei: "Well, it was interesting because it's true, he has refused to comment at all, and on this story, he clearly did comment. And I think they don't want the perception out there that the President actually knew that this was going on and was angry with Karl Rove. I think it's in their interests, especially if it's true, to be saying that the President didn't have any idea about this and was misled by Karl Rove because you obviously want to have that distance between what's happening and the President. I mean, if that New York Daily News story is true, you know, that could be potentially troubling for the President because it suggests that he was more involved and more aware than the White House has let on. But, again, I haven't been able to find anyone who said that's true."
Olbermann: "And let me ask one more question that pertains to the implications of a report that we don't have verified outside of what we read in the papers today. Does it, if correct, tip over, generally speaking, a house of cards here? I mean, could everybody from Mr. McClellan and Mr. Rove to the President be inescapably described as having lied in some way during this? Or, even with this story, even with that idea that it could be true, is it still all more nuanced than that?"
Vandehei: "Right, you know, sort of the, to paraphrase President Bush, I don't really deal in hypotheticals like that. It's too tough to say. I mean, you either, there are a bunch of what-if's and but's in this case. I mean, we have to deal with the facts that we know in those fragmentary pieces of evidence that we've been able to verify and show that it proved, it is a confusing enough case to not go down these roads that we don't even know are accurate."
Olbermann: "All right, well, the New York news stands were full of reports today, what else they might have been full of is another question altogether, but the Times had Mr. Fitzgerald with no plans to issue a report with a general consensus that nobody really presumes that a special prosecutor is going to issue a report if there aren't indictments, but without a report, there is a not-very-great logical leap to the idea that that's because there would be indictments coming. Is that also too simplistic?"
Vandehei: "Boy, I don't want to sound like a media critic here today, but yeah, I mean, it's sort of the presumption of innocence that we wouldn't see a report from the special prosecutor. And this isn't the, an independent counsel like a lot of your viewers might be familiar with where do you anticipate that you're going to see some kind of public report. If anything, we've been working on the assumption that if he does file a report, it would go over to justice, it would remain secret and we would never see it. So I don't know that you can look at those facts and read one way or the other whether it means indictments are coming or not coming. I can say there's been a lot of activity in this case the last couple of days. It does suggest we're going to see something from Fitzgerald in the next week, and a lot of the lawyers involved in the case think that will involve at least one indictment, if not more."
Olbermann: "These days, Jim, we are all media critics. Jim Vandehei, the White House correspondent of the Washington Post, an even busier time than usual to have that job, so thanks for some of your time tonight, sir."