Friday, October 29, 2004

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 29

Guest: Raghida Dergham, Ben Wenzke, Howard Fineman, Wendy Murphy


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? A surprise, even for an October surprise, Osama bin Laden speaks but without the religious rhetoric. And with the claim, al Qaeda carried out 9/11 and the Madrid atrocities. And with this cryptic message to this country.


OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda, your security is in your hands.


OLBERMANN: More analysis of what seems less terror tape and more fireside chat.

Other shouts and murmurs: the campaign continues, as does the al Qa Qaa debate.

This does not continue, but how did Andrea Makris get as much as $10 million out of a harassment suit estimated to be worth barely $100,000.

And can't wait for the results until Tuesday? You don't have to. Meet the men who have correctly forecast the last 17 presidential elections. Hail to the Redskins. All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Friday, October 29, four days until the 2004 presidential election. The bad news is, there is tonight, a new Osama bin Laden videotape. The good news is, it seems less about murder and more about geopolitics. And in it, he does not apparently take sides in the presidential election, nor seem to threaten another unilateral attack.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, an October surprise indeed. Bin Laden, almost free of religious rhetoric, for the first time claiming responsibility for 9/11, rationalizing that and directly telling Americans, your security is not in the hand of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda, your security is in your own hands.

In a moment, we'll analyze the content with the journalist Raghida Dergham. The possible clues and cues with counterterrorism expert, Ben Wenzke. And the domestic political impact with Howard Fineman.

The mechanics and the politics: the on camera appearance of bin Laden are stories in and of themselves. But the headlines may, in fact, be that first direct confession that he and al Qaeda executed 9/11. And that in the tape he offered a kind of explanation of motive.


BIN LADEN (through translator): Also, we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11. Bush still practicing his ways of trying to prevent you from knowing the real reasons. The reasons are still there for repeating what had happened. I want to talk to you about the reasons behind these events and the attack.

I'll be honest with you, at the moment that we talked that decision, God only knows that we never thought about attacking the Towers. After we have had enough and we saw the American oppression and the coalition with the Israeli against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, this idea came to our minds.


OLBERMANN; Sometime this morning, President Bush was advised that a bin Laden tape was to be released to the al-Jazeera networks. Some of his remarks early in the campaign day included, quote, "as we fight the terrorists, they will try to frighten us."

Later, before boarding Air Force One in Toledo, Mr. Bush spoke directly about the tape.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this. I also want to say to the American people that we are at war with these terrorists. And I am confident that we will prevail.


OLBERMANN: Possibly the last moment of about bipartisanship you'll hear before the election. The Senator responded, by again, invoking what he called the outsourcing of the attempt to capture bin Laden in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan 2 years ago. He spoke to reporters upon his arrival in Florida.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden and the terrorists. They are barbarians.


OLBERMANN: More on the impact on domestic politics coming up. First, more of what bin Laden said in the attempt to figure out what he meant. I'm joined from New York by Raghida Dergham, the senior diplomatic correspondent for the newspaper "Al Hayat", and an MSNBC analyst. And good evening.

RAGHIDA DERGHAM, MSNBC ANALYST: And good evening to you.

OLBERMANN: Before going statement by statement, I was struck by the overall tone here. The fifth word in the English translation was speech. Was this really meant to be less the typical blood curdling threat tape and more of an explanation, or a rationalization, maybe?

DERGHAM: Certainly it was to rationalize what happened. But it also had a lot of threats in it. Because the whole issue is to say if you do not take care of your policy and correct it, we are going to go on responding with the methods that we know better. Which is, of course the methods that we're familiar with September 11 and the likes.

So, I think the explanation was to say, you have a way, you have a way

· to the American people, you have a way to stop the administration or any administration from going on with the same policies that led us, we, the al Qaeda, to do what we had to do.

And of course, he spoke personally that he was inspired, that he

should bring down the Towers in New York, when he watched what was the

Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, doing to the very infrastructure of

the country. So, he is claiming that he was inspired by that to bring back

· to sort of do to the U.S. what the United States has been doing to the Arab world through its alliance with Israel.

OLBERMANN: Let's look at a couple of the elements of the statement. First, that headline - or one of those direct addresses to the American People.


BIN LADEN (through translator): Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda, your security is in your hands. Do not play with our security, and spontaneously, you will secure yourselves.


OLBERMANN: To what degree do you suppose he would be aware, or would be aware of the mechanics and the details of the presidential campaign? Because clearly, it has been part of Mr. Bush's attempt at re-election to portray John Kerry as less effective against terrorism, against people like bin Laden. Would this statement saying it doesn't make any difference who gets elected president, to some degree neutralize the impact of terror on this campaign? Neutralize al Qaeda's impact on the campaign?

DERGHAM: I do not see this as a vote for John Kerry or a vote for George W. Bush. I've heard many analysts say - or fight his or her own point to say there would help either the president or Kerry. I just think the message is that this is about policy beyond who is going to be in the White House. And I think the message is leave us alone. Or if you don't do something, you, the American people, we're going to have to do something about it. That is the message and it's really about foreign policy.

Whether bin Laden is watching the details of the elections is not, of course, for me to say. I don't know where he is. But probably the surprise is that he is telling us that he exists. After all, if you remember, Keith, a lot of people had this theory that maybe bin Laden has been caught and he is going to be sort of produced in the last minute. Maybe this is the sort of October surprise against the rumors of the October surprise.

But I believe that the whole idea of the tape was to coincide with the fourth anniversary of September 11. I think it was meant to coincide the anniversary of September 11. I don't know why it's coming out now. I don't know if it took so long to get to al-Jazeera, or whether whether - timing is a bit little more ill - I hope that it's not anyway.

OLBERMANN: Whether he is sincere in this next clip that I want your reaction to, or not, certainly it will not be treated sincerely here. It would not lead to negotiations, as has been universally stated. But in the tape, he seems as if he is looking for some kind of middle ground. Let's listen to this.


BIN LADEN (through translator): I would like to say that security is a pillar of life. And free people do not cast away their security. And again the claims of Bush, who claims that we hate freedom.


OLBERMANN: And the rough translations of the remarks that he made just after that, was he, meaning Bush, should tell us why we didn't hit Sweden, for instance. We fought you, because we are free people. We don't sleep on our oppression. We want to regain the freedom of our Muslim nation. As you spill our security, we spill your security.

Is that, in fact, some sort of not very logical attempt, but some sort of an attempt at offering coexistence? Or is there a threat in there? Or is it simply a misdirection by a terrorist who is trying to pose as a geopolitician?

DERGHAM: He certainly believes he is a geopolitician for sure. And actually, he made himself one, though with methods that are despicable as the methods of al Qaeda. But certainly, we pay attention, the world pays attention when there is a tape from bin Laden, for example.

I don't think that the very concept, the very theology, or ideology of

al Qaeda and bin Laden call for coexistence. But on the other hand, it is

· the message is, leave us alone and you'll be fine. Get out of our affairs and we're not going to hurt you.

And do not be wrong. This is not about your freedom. Your call for freedom, nor is it about our fight of your kind of freedom. So, he is trying to explain it's about policy. However, I don't think this is a call for coexistence. I think it's, you know, leave us alone is more like it.

OLBERMANN: Raghida Dergham, MSNBC analyst, senior diplomatic correspondent at Al Hayat. Great thanks, as always.

DERGHAM: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's the content geopolitically speaking. What about the content terroristically speaking? For that I'm joined by Ben Venzke, CEO of Intel Center and Tempest Publishing. Ben, good evening to you.

BEN VENZKE, TERRORISM EXPERT: Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: What are the watermarks on this tape, if you will? What are the ballistics matches? What did you see more than hear?

VENZKE: In terms of actual visuals and you have something that is very consistent with bin Laden speeches before although we haven't seen this exact kind of set up and backdrop. But he is traditionally either sitting on the ground or he's standing at a podium. The tone of the voice and other things, is what we've come to expect when we see a bin Laden tape, although there are some that are a bit more vocal or a bit more ominous. This was more of a subtle ominous tone to it as opposed to some of the earlier ones.

OLBERMANN: I want to play another segment of this tape for your reaction. Bin Laden not only claimed responsibility formally for 9/11 for the first time, but he went into detail about the planning. He said that he and Muhammad Atta had agreed that the attacks needed to be carried out in a 20-minute window so the U.S. could not intervene in time or would get a late start in intervening but that the president's response staying in the schoolhouse in Florida had changed the time line. Here's that tape.


OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): It never occurred to us that the commander-in-chief of the country would leave 50,000 of his citizens in the two towers facing these horrors alone. Because he thought listening to a child discussing her goats was more important.


OLBERMANN: Ben, does that hold up in the slightest against the actual story of how 9/11 unfolded?

VENZKE: I think the important point here is, this is obviously what we're seeing is al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's media savvy. They've watched and paid attention to especially this, the controversy that came up from this after Michael Moore's film about the president continuing to sit there for a period of time. And clearly, they were able to see the reaction it got and how it sort of stuck and it had some legs to it. And what you're seeing is bin Laden, realizing what has worked with the American people and playing on that and taking it and incorporating in those messages on their own. I think it just shows they're really paying attention to what's going on in the political debate in the United States.

OLBERMANN: And raising the rhetorical question, did he see or did somebody tell about "Fahrenheit 9/11?" But maybe we can leave that for speculation. One last excerpt I want you to react to, an example of tone and terminology.


BIN LADEN: We want freedom for our nation also because you destabilize us, we will destabilize you, too.


OLBERMANN: Ben, there are no overt threats in the whole thing, there is no gun presence on him. The thing sounds utterly unlike the purported American al Qaeda video broadcast last night by ABC with blood running in the streets and such. From the beginning, we've worried about cues, hidden instructions to action in these tapes. Did you hear anything suspicious?

VENZKE: Well, there were threats there and the important thing to keep in mind is when al Qaeda makes these threats, not like the other video that we've heard about this week. But in bin Laden's and Zawahiri's, they really truly believe that they have a rational justification for their actions and that goes throughout their writings over the last 10 years. The other threat and it's consistent in terms of a cue to actually go forward for an attack, when we found patterns between the release of these tapes and actual attacks occurring, we are of the mind, that it is more likely to be part of their media strategy as opposed to some coded communication in the actual video because they have these things. They're able to communicate with each other. So this is a way to stay in the forefront of people's minds.

OLBERMANN: Ben Venzke with Intel Center, as always, thank you for your time tonight.

VENZKE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Bin Laden warns that neither Bush nor Kerry could keep America safe, and he charges the president with deceiving the American people. What effect could that message have on voters? What effect has it already had on the campaign? "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman join us next on Countdown. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It is perhaps a true measure of the signs of the political kaleidoscope through which we now view everything. That amid the claims of responsibility for 9/11 and the recitations of Middle East recent history, the most impactful statement here now may have been the one that began, your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush. Our number four story in the Countdown, bin Laden did not endorse presidential candidate. Like the "Los Angeles Times" or the "Wall Street Journal." This is all impacting the presidential campaign as we speak and to gauge the first Richter scale measurements, I'm joined by the chief political correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine and MSNBC New analyst Howard Fineman. Howard, good evening.


OLBERMANN: There's plenty insulting to the president in this tape. I was thinking as I heard that line, it's not in the hands of Kerry or Bush that to some degree that must have confounded both campaigns. Am I right?

FINEMAN: I think you're right. And I think Osama bin Laden in a way has been the centerpiece of this presidential campaign from the moment within a few days or so of 9/11 that intelligence analysts realized that he was behind it. He has been the symbol and the centerpiece of the campaign. And so what he says matters a great deal. There's a little bit for both sides in what he said and in his reappearance.

OLBERMANN: A little bit on both sides. Elucidate on that.

FINEMAN: On the Democrat side, on the Kerry side, Kerry's argument for months and months has been I would be a better, smarter commander-in-chief because I wouldn't have taken my eye off the ball. I would have surrounded Osama bin Laden and his fighters in Tora Bora and Afghanistan. I would have hunted them down the way I did in Vietnam when I was a Swift Boat commander myself. I wouldn't have gotten involved in the adventure in Iraq and I certainly wouldn't have done it the way George Bush did it.

So that's Kerry's argument and the fact that Osama bin Laden reappears a few days before the election apparently in good health, sort of sitting at a lectern like he is giving a political science lecture, has got to underscore Kerry's point.

On Bush's side, the president can argue the emotions of this. He can say as did he already today, we will not be intimidated by this barbarous enemy, that the American people will rally around the cause of fighting terrorism. That in fact, the reappearance of bin Laden shows the nature and the implacability of the enemy we're fighting, and only somebody willing to take the offensive, as I have, Bush will say, and is saying, only that kind of commander in chief can fight somebody like bin Laden.

And if you look at our poll and everybody's poll, on the question of who can better fight the war on terrorism, not Iraq, but the war on terrorism, Bush is ahead by 20 points. So anything that reminds people of the war on terrorism, and that's bin Laden, has to benefit the president.

OLBERMANN: Now, there was a moment as we showed earlier, of brief bipartisanship when Mr. Bush said "Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country. I'm sure Senator Kerry agrees with this." Then Mr. Kerry made the remarks about outsourcing that you refer to, about not getting Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora two years ago.

And then tonight already, we have seen this ping-pong game is now return service. Tonight in Columbus, Mr. Bush already had this response.


BUSH: It is the worst kind of Monday morning quarterbacking. It is especially shameful in the light of a new tape from America's enemy.


OLBERMANN: Every time you think the thing has gone as far as it possibly could in term of partisanship, there's a new high and low. Are we seeing it on both sides? Is this suddenly the reaction to the bin Laden tape will be the decisive issue in the last few days of the campaign?

FINEMAN: I think it is the decisive issue in the last few days. It has been to me for the whole campaign. That's what this has been about. That's also what John Kerry chose to make it about by challenging Bush directly in his role as commander in chief.

So that's what it has been about. There are very few undecided voters left, Keith. In looking at recent polls, the latest polls, you know, in past years, in past presidential elections, maybe one or two out of 10 people would be undecided still at this point. Those people don't exist this time around. But for those who are undecided, the emotions of the moment, which are heightened by the reappearance of bin Laden, it makes it a higher stakes game for both. It makes the rhetoric nastier, because this is a life and death matter, Keith. This is all about life and death and security. Nothing goes more to the heart of the American people than that.

OLBERMANN: "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman. It has been an extraordinary political day, and I guess we got another four of them to go.

FINEMAN: That's right.

OLBERMANN: Many thanks for your perspective, and we'll see you on probably on each of those four.


OLBERMANN: This all ends Tuesday. Unless it ends earlier? If history holds, we can project a winner late Sunday afternoon.

They will campaign Monday anyway and they will still be talking also about Iraq and Halliburton. Our coverage of T-4 days and counting continues. This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: More confusion tonight in the hunt for the weapons at al Qa Qaa. The Army says they destroyed tons of explosives at the site; they just don't know what was destroyed and what might still be missing.

Predicting the presidency. If history holds, forget Tuesday. We should know who will win it by late Sunday afternoon.

And time for the final falafel. O'Reilly reported to have paid millions from his own pockets to end the loofa lawsuit. All that ahead.

Now, no matter the circumstances, there's always time for Countdown's "Top 3 Newsmakers" of this day. There's a theme. See if you notice it.

No. 3, an unidentified car thief in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After getting trapped in the rental car lot from which he had stolen the vehicle, he thought he could get over an electrified fence faster if he was not wearing any clothes. Police said he told the guards he was employed there but could not explain why he was naked.

No. 2, Dawna Lee Ellis of Billings, Montana, arrested for riding the streets at lunch time on a horse capping malt liquor from a can and bare-backed. Bare-bottomed, too. Partially naked, they say.

And No. 1, the actor Matthew McConaghey. He says there's a ghost, a woman living in his new home in Hollywood. When he first discovered her, he chased her with a baseball bat, but now they're friends, possibly, he says, because while he was chasing her, he was naked. Quote: "Maybe me being nude all the time is why we get along." Just a final tribute to Bill O'Reilly.


OLBERMANN: Only in America could an Osama bin Laden tape, a literally loose cannon in the old comedy troop SCTV all make appearances at the start of the final weekend before a presidential election.

Our third story on the Countdown, the characters Billy Sol Hurok and Big Jim McBob used to wax poetic about how they blowed them up real good, real good. They could have been of use in Manchester today, where the president encouraged a confetti cannon operator with a bad sense of timing or at the Pentagon, where the administration tried to defuse the still running al Qa Qaa munitions story with an Army major who said his team removed and destroyed 250 tons of weapons from that ammo dump, but could not say whether or not they were part of the 380 tons of stuff missing from the place.

Major Austin Pearson, with the Pentagon press secretary at his side, said his unit pulled out and then blew up ammunition from al Qa Qaa on April 13 of last year, 10 days after U.S. forces first reached the massive depot, said to be about the size of Manhattan. But the explosives found by Major Pearson apparently weren't under international seal.


MAJOR AUSTIN PEARSON, U.S. ARMY: I did not see any IAEA seals at the locations that we went into. I was not looking for that. My mission specifically was to go in there and to prevent the exposure of U.S. forces and to minimize that by taking out what was easily accessible.


OLBERMANN: Those international seals look like this one, significant because they and they alone indicate that any materials were under surveillance by the U.N. nuclear agency, as the missing material indeed was.

This video was taken by a photographer from the ABC station in Minneapolis, KSTP, embedded with the 101st Airborne. Its soldiers opened bunkers at al Qa Qaa on April 18 of last year, three days after Major Pearson says he was last there. It is thus still unclear if any of the explosives destroyed by Major Pearson's unit represented even a portion of the material that is missing. The Pentagon said as much during the Pearson briefing.

But Vice President Dick Cheney appeared to need no further proof speaking in Michigan this afternoon.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Major Austin Pearson of the 24th Ordinance Company of the 24th Support Group reported at a news conference at the Pentagon that he was sent to the site with his crew on April 13, 2003. They seize and destroyed some 250 tons of ammunition, which included in that amount some significant portion of the explosives in question.


OLBERMANN: The Defense Intelligence Agency might disagree with the tone of the vice president's remarks. The magazine "U.S. News & World Report" says it has obtained secret DIA documents from a year ago which indicate just how widespread weapons looting all around Iraq was and where those weapons wound up.

The report dated November 9, 2003, says - quote - "The vast majority of the explosives and ordnance used in anti-coalition improvised devices, IEDs, have come from pilfered Iraqi ammunition stockpiles and prewar-established caches." The magazine notes the document does not specifically to items pilfered from al Qa Qaa.

And also still on the smorgasbord of Iraq-related controversies in the weekend before the election, not just how munitions disappeared, but how competitive bidding may have also disappeared to the vast financial benefit of the vice president's old company.

Our senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, now with the first and the exclusive interview with the Army whistle-blower, whose whistle seems to sound the word Halliburton.


LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the woman the FBI wants to question, Bunny Greenhouse, the top civilian procurement officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, charged with ensuring fair competition in Pentagon contracts.

In an exclusive interviews with NBC News, Greenhouse alleges that federal contracting officials repeatedly and improperly bent the rules to favor Halliburton.


It was the worst abuse of the procurement and contacting system that I have seen. It was misconduct. And part of that misconduct, I believe, was blatant.

MYERS: Example No. 1, Greenhouse says, the Pentagon's decision citing the emergency of the war to award Halliburton a no-bid contract to repair the Iraqi oil industry, not just for one year, but for five years. Contract cost? Up to $7 billion. Greenhouse wrote, the contract was too long.

GREENHOUSE: One year to me was reasonable.

MYERS (on camera): But not five years.

GREENHOUSE: But not five years.

MYERS (voice-over): She was overruled. But after controversy erupted, the Pentagon awarded part of the contract to another company.

Example No. 2, government auditors found Halliburton may have overcharged by $61 million for fuel. But waving government rules, the Pentagon did not force Halliburton to justify its prices. Greenhouse says she didn't learn the rules were being waived until later and would have objected. Some experts say all this appears legal, but highly unusual. The FBI is investigating the overcharging and now sees Greenhouse as a possible witness.

GREENHOUSE: It all favored Halliburton.

MYERS: Why the favoritism? Greenhouse claims co-workers told her it was for unspecified political reasons.

(on camera): Are you alleging any impropriety by President Bush or Vice President Cheney?

GREENHOUSE: None whatsoever.

MYERS (voice-over): After she raised her objections, Greenhouse says she was eventually cut out of key decisions. In July, in these documents, she objects to extending a Halliburton contract in the Balkans, writing:

"Incorrect. No. I cannot approve this." She refuses to sign.

Eventually, an assistant does.

(on camera): Retired military officials tell NBC News that it is unusual for a commander to repeatedly overrule the concerns of someone in Greenhouse's position. But they say there could be legitimate reasons.

(voice-over): The Pentagon won't comment on allegations of misconduct, citing ongoing investigations, but insists all Halliburton contracts were handled improperly.

A Halliburton spokesman says, "Old allegations have once again been recycled, this time, one week before the election."

_MYERS (on camera): Are you trying to influence this election? _


MYERS (voice-over): Greenhouse, a registered independent, insists the timing was triggered by this letter from the Pentagon this month demoting her. It says: "Your last two final performance ratings were less than fully successful."

So is Greenhouse just a poor performer trying to save her career? Some former co-workers say she has had problems on the job. But a former boss said Greenhouse has great integrity, but also had detractors because she was a stickler for the rules.

JOE BALLARD,U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: There were those that wanted to take shortcuts in the contracting process. She didn't allow shortcuts.

MYERS: Greenhouse says she tried to fix the problems internally and is speaking out publicly as a last resort.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: This is the last four days of the campaign, four days left, meaning only one thing is certain, only four days left of polls.

Tonight's menu, the president building his lead in "The Washington Post"/"Sunset Daily" tracking poll, yesterday up by one, today up by three. Not so, though, in the Zogby daily tracking poll from Reuters. Yesterday, it was Bush by two, 48-46. Today, the race is tied there, 47 all. A similar tightening in Zogby's tracking of the big three battleground states, Kerry pulling within one in Florida, Bush 48, Kerry 47, up by three in Ohio, Kerry 47, Bush 44. And they are tied in Pennsylvania, 47 all.

If you prefer omens to polls, what happened to President Bush in New Hampshire was the proverbial bad sign. The operator of the confetti cannon positioned to celebrate the end of the president's speech was supposed to let her rip on the cue "God bless America." He heard the first two words and experienced premature jocularity.





OLBERMANN: Campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel joked afterwards, "We're all really eager for the election to happen, including the confetti." It looked like the CNN Democratic convention coverage.

We were eager to finish our two-part series on the possible Cabinets for a Kerry administration or a second Bush one. But the press of breaking news has forced us to delay part two, the Kerry part, until our special Sunday edition of Countdown, 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern, 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Pacific, live from Democracy Plaza.

There is other news tonight, 16 days of headlines, nearly $200,000 in your pledges and untold publicity for falafel salesmen. The case may be settled, but the questions linger on.

The election's outcome, oddly enough, does not linger, not if you listen to astrologers or National Football League oddsmakers. They suggest it is already decided. In whose favor? Well, you will have to wait a moment for that.


OLBERMANN: Ahead, how much did Bill O'Reilly pay to make sure that we will never hear the falafel vs. loofah foul-up? And the final Electoral College count, who needs to wait for that? Countdown brings you the one set of prognosticators who have been proven right in every election since 1936.


OLBERMANN: You can never get all of the toothpaste back into the tube, nor can you ever get all of the soap off the loofah.

Our No. 2 story on the Countdown, the Bill O'Reilly case is closed. Settlement and silence prevail, although we still have the quotes from the now withdrawn Andrea Mackris sexual harassment lawsuit. They can't take that away from us. It's your entertainment dollars in action, day 17 of the O'Reilly investigations.

And speaking of dollars, "The New York Daily News" has managed to wheedle from sources at least a range of what O'Reilly wound up paying his former producer, between $2 million and $10 million. That's a lot of falafels. Ms. Mackris' only comment, also to that newspaper - quote -

"All I can say to you is that it is over and I'm happy that it is."

Well, perhaps we'll see dramatic readings of the quotations in the Mackris suit off-Broadway, Tim Robinson, Susan Sarandon, at lecterns maybe.

In the intervening silence, the questions about this case echo more loudly than ever.

Joining me to hash out a couple of them is Wendy Murphy, former prosecutor, now victims rights advocate and law college professor.

Wendy, good evening.


OLBERMANN: I guess the first question is that range of money. When you were last here, you estimated that, as a sexual harassment case, this one was worth maybe $100,000 in damages. How could she have gotten 20 to 100 times that?

MURPHY: Well, because the settlement amount has nothing to do with the value of the case. It has to do with extortion.

If you have something on somebody with a lot of money and a reason to clam you up, they'll pay for it. And it has nothing to do with justice. I think it is shameful, frankly. And I wish that the justice system actually had a better system for preventing this, some kind of meaningful sanction, for example. But, instead, it gets rewarded. She said she was happy, Keith. You read that as her statement. She's damn happy.

I have no doubt she got seven figures and maybe eight figures. That's just not right. And, you know, it makes the people who are harassment victims from poor defendants feel terrible.

OLBERMANN: What happens now if there is another claim against the same gentleman, Mr. O'Reilly? Did he just set a market price for himself?

MURPHY: Yes, I think it is a market price. But it's not really a market price for the case, per se. Keith, it is a market price for the tapes. And we don't know what is on them.

If there really were seven figures or eight figures in this settlement, I can tell you, the tapes were clear and they were very dirty, because that's a lot of zeros for a couple of tapes. And if it was Howard Stern on the tapes, they would be worth nothing. But it's Bill O'Reilly. And they're worth a ton because of extortion, not justice.

OLBERMANN: Howard Stern tapes like that, we call air checks.

Last question in about 30 seconds. What is the general impact of this case on the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace?

MURPHY: Well, you know, I think it is going to teach some women who are victims the lesson that you've got to find some corroboration, whether it's the blue dress or the tapes.

Women are going to be out there trying to find crystal-clear proof to support and corroborate their claim. For the guys who are doing this, the lesson is clear. Don't call people on the phone, because you're going to be recorded.

OLBERMANN: Wendy Murphy, professor at the New England School of Law, founder of the Victim Advocacy and Research Group, as always, thanks for your time, Wendy.

MURPHY: You bet.

OLBERMANN: and I guess we should just be grateful the word loofah didn't turn up in the bin Laden tape.

Making the segue from Bill O'Reilly to other ghouls and goblins, it is Halloween this weekend everywhere but Puyallup, Washington, where school district officials had canceled all Halloween festivities to avoid offending members of the Wiccan religion. Today, some students there protested, arriving at school dressed in costumes anyway, chanting, no candy, no peace. All right, I made the chant up.

But many of the students are now facing disciplinary action for that protest. No word as to how much witches were offended by this demonstration.

And four days before a presidential election, one of the great presidential impressionists has died. Vaughn Meader, whose extraordinary career impersonating President Kennedy necessarily ended when Meader was just 27 years old, is dead tonight of emphysema. It was as a piano player and singer in 1961 that Meader began to do an impression of JFK, a dead-on impression, latching on to pronunciations like vigor and presenting an appearance not unlike Kennedy's.

A year later, his record album, "The First Family," sold 7.5 million copies, the fastest selling L.P. to that time. Kennedy himself bought 100 copies to give out as Christmas gifts. And Vaughn Meader was an overnight sensation, the first broadly popular political impressionist. Meader often said part of him died the day Kennedy was assassinated. His career instantly over, he fell into a life of alcohol and drug abuse. He later cleaned up and went back to music, performing country in bars in Maine. Vaughn Meader was 68 years old.

You might think the election is going to turn on the economy, maybe on this bin Laden tape from today. No, sir. Next, the group that has correctly predicted the last 17 presidential elections and why they're going to wait to make their forecast until Sunday at about 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Obviously, MSNBC will have full coverage on election night. I'll join Chris Matthews, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Brian Williams and a cast of thousands beginning here Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

But if you can't wait that long or longer to find out who won, in our No. 1 story on the Countdown tonight, there are other ways of telling sooner. Two of India's leading astrologers say the polls are wrong. this is not going to be close - quote - "It is cosmic writ that George W. Bush cannot become president of the United States again." So says Lachhman Das Madan, the editor of an astrology magazine, the editor, no less.

See, Mr. Bush's Saturn been eclipsed by his sun, while Senator Kerry's planets are all ascendant. Gotcha.

Of course, you don't have to go to India for answers. It history holds here, we will know the outcome of the election about 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time Sunday. There is one key indicator that has successfully predicted the last 17 presidential elections.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): You might think it will be terror or the economy or whoever says the last dumb thing before the election.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not have an all-volunteer Army. And yet this week - we will have an all-volunteer Army.

OLBERMANN: You might think it's about the stock market, the price of gas, the incumbent's last rating in the Gallup poll, the turnout, how Ohio votes, or whether or not Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow last Groundhog's Day. Uh-uh. It's about the Washington Redskins.

The football team with the politically incorrect name has been anything but incorrect in predicting which party will win the White House. We go back to the days when the brand new Redskins franchise still played in Boston. On November 1, 1936, in their last home game before the presidential election, the Redskins beat the Chicago Cardinals 13-10. And on November 3, Franklin Roosevelt was reelected president.

Four years later, the team had moved to Washington. In its final home game before the election, the Skins beat Pittsburgh 37-10. Roosevelt is reelected again days later; 1944, November 5, last game before the election, Washington 14, Cleveland 10. Two days later, Roosevelt is re-re-reelected; 1948, Skins win the home game before the election. Harry Truman holds the White House for the Democrats in a upset. The Redskins are now 4-0 in their Election Day games, and so are the Democrats.

But on November 2, 1952, the Redskins in their last home game before the vote, lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-23. And the Democrats lose the presidency to the Republicans and Dwight Eisenhower; '56, the Skins win. So does Eisenhower; 1960, Cleveland beats Washington by 21 points, and nine days later, it's John F. Kennedy over Richard Nixon by about 21 votes.

And the pattern emerges. If the Redskins win their final home game before the presidential election, the incumbent party keeps the White House. If the Redskins lose that game, so does the party in power. And it holds up over the generations; '64, Skins 27, Chicago Bears 20. Lyndon Johnson retains the presidency; '68, Washington loses to the New York Giants. The Democrats lose to Richard Nixon.


OLBERMANN: Seventy-two, Skins win. Nixon wins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In you need a player, let me know.

OLBERMANN: Seventy-six, Skins lose. Gerald Ford loses; '80, Skins lose. Jimmy Carter loses; '84, Skins win, Reagan wins; '88, Skins win. George Bush wins; 1992, Washington loses to the Giants 24-7 and the incumbent party is bounced again. Bush is out. Clinton is in.


OLBERMANN: But Clinton's 1996 reelection is foretold when Washington beats Indianapolis days before that election.

Going into the Bush-Gore race of 2000, the outcome of Washington's final home game before the election has coincided perfectly for 16 consecutive games and 16 conservative elections, 10 Redskins, each of which is followed by the incumbent president and/or incumbent party retaining the office, six Redskins losses, each of which is followed by the incumbent president or the incumbent party losing the office.

On October 30, 2000, the Washington Redskins, with six victories and two losses thus far in that season, host the Tennessee Titans, who had six victories and one loss. The Redskins score first and lead 7-0, suggesting the Democrats will retain the White House. But Tennessee rallies to go in for a 20-7 and hold on for a 27-21 win, six-point victory and six weeks later, a five electoral vote victory for George W. Bush of the party that had been out of office, the Republicans - 17 elections up, 17 elections down.

Hail to the Redskins, indeed. It is an ironclad sports tradition. Skins win, incumbent stays in. Skins lose, incumbents are old news, an ironclad sports tradition, like the fact that no baseball team has ever come back from 3-0 to win a playoff series - oh, yes.


OLBERMANN: Now, it would be really spooky if those 17 games were all surprises, upsets, as they call them. In fact, all but three times, the Redskins were favored to win and did or they were expected to lose and did.

Still, it is some streak. And now for the $64 billion question. When is the Redskins' last game before this election, the one in which the prophecy says, if they win, George Bush is reelected, but if they lose, John Kerry takes office? It's Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, who have won two in a row and are favored by anywhere from two to 2.5 points, which, as any politician or football gambler can tell you, is well inside the margin of error.

That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it.

Join us again for a special pre-election hour of Countdown this Sunday at the usual hours.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.