Wednesday, April 20, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 19

Guest: Craig Crawford, Wayne Smith

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Tom DeLay to be investigated, with the approval of the Republicans on the House Ethics Committee.

And the Bolton nomination. The White House stands behind the U.N. ambassador-designate. The Foreign Relations Committee, not so much.

The full first day for the first new pope since 1978, Benedict XVI endorsing Vatican II, promising dialogue with other religions.

Another 911 operator disaster. A woman calls in fear for her life, asks for police to protect her against a violent ex-boyfriend. One of the dispatchers tells her, No, we have other jobs. The city's mayor joins us tonight.

And this is why you never take an elephant out for lunch. Six pachyderms in South Korea bust out of a parade, bust up a diner. And by the way, they left a lousy tip.

All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening.

There is breaking Bill O'Reilly-Andrea Mackris news, which we will get to when the Countdown clock tells us we can.

First, John Bolton gets delayed, and Tom DeLay might wind up boltin'.

It's not supposed to be fireworks season yet in the capital, but the bottle rockets and M-80s are going off in two directions at least tonight, the more surprising of which, four of the five Republicans on the House Ethics Committee announced this afternoon that they were ready to investigate their own majority leader on allegations of wrongdoing, but only on a big price from the Democrats.

Committee chair Doc Hastings said he and his fellow GOP members were quote, "prepared to vote at the earliest opportunity to empanel an investigations subcommittee to review various allegations concerning travel and other allegations concerning Tom DeLay," this after months in which the committee had been paralyzed by Democrats protesting committee rules changes they claimed the Republicans had rammed through specifically to protect DeLay.

The investigation is not a certainty, despite as has been reported elsewhere. The price the Republicans want on that committee is Democratic support for those very rules changes. The ranking minority member of the committee, Alan Mollohan, is rejecting the deal.

DeLay is now engaged in controversies on at least three fronts, the version attributed to the poet Longfellow of the ancient quote reads, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Tom DeLay continued ripping another judge, this time a Supreme Court justice, and for the second consecutive day. It's Justice Anthony Kennedy, appointed by President Reagan. DeLay today followed up on a radio interview in which he had said it was, quote, "incredibly outrageous" that Justice Kennedy was "writing decisions based upon international law, not the Constitution of the United States."

DeLay also complained that Kennedy said he does his own research on the Internet.

Today, the House majority leader explained these are not separate complaints about Justice Kennedy, telling reporters, while no cameras were present, quote, "I was told by a member that was sitting in the room in the session over in the Supreme Court that Justice Kennedy made references to, referring to foreign law on his Internet. DeLay explaining he was not complaining about the Internet. The Democrats had jumped all over him for that this morning. He's just complaining about the foreign laws.

A spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said Justice Kennedy would not comment.

And there is still another DeLay issue, fierce words from his one-time closest ally, lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Those controversial overseas trips DeLay took, it was Abramoff's clients who allegedly paid for them, and the money may have come from ripoffs of Native American tribes. And Abramoff now reportedly says DeLay knew everything.

Sometime last month, liberal cartoonist Gary Trudeau prepared his editions of this week's "Doonsbury" comic strip with remarkable prescience. He called this current plot line the "Tom DeLay Political Death Watch." Today's strip has an unidentified TV newscaster saying, "Day three of the Tom DeLay political death watch. Lisa Myers has more."

Don't know about the first part, but sure enough, on the DeLay and Abramoff story, Lisa Myers does have more.


LISA MYERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For a decade, Jack Abramoff was one of Washington's superlobbyists, with powerful friends like Tom DeLay.

Today, Abramoff is under congressional and criminal investigations.

JACK ABRAMOFF, LOBBYIST: I have no choice but to assert my various constitutional privileges against having to testify.

MYERS: Arising from $82 million in lobbying and public relations fees paid to Abramoff and an associate by Indian tribes involved with casino gambling.

CARLOS HISA, TYGUA INDIAN TRIBE: This man came and promised the world to us. And it was just a big lie.

MYERS: Leaders of the Tygua tribe in Texas say they paid $4.2 million after Abramoff promised to help reopen this casino. They say they later were shocked to learn that Abramoff had been working with another tribe to shut down the Tygua casino.

HISA: We got conned. He was that con.

MYERS: In an exclusive interview, Abramoff insists that all the tribes were represented fairly and got their money's worth.

ABRAMOFF: The benefit we brought to these tribes was far in excess, by multiples of tens and hundreds, of the charges of the cost of these efforts.

MYERS (on camera): Abramoff used money from Indian tribes and other clients to entertain and influence members of Congress. And government sources say he kept meticulous notes, now in the hands of the FBI, of tickets and golf trips paid for and favors sought.

(voice-over): Already in hot water, DeLay, who traveled with Abramoff to Russia in 1997 and Britain in 2000, playing golf at Scotland's legendary St. Andrews. Total cost, $127,000.

Though DeLay reported that the National Center for Public Policy Research footed the bills, the conservative group says it paid for the trip but got some contributions from Abramoff's clients. That matters, because ethics rules allow groups like the Center to pay for congressional travel, but not lobbyists.

Still, DeLay insists the trips were proper, and says he didn't know and can't be responsible for knowing how a sponsor ultimately obtains funding.

These other two congressmen claim they were misled about who paid for their golf trips. All this makes many lobbyists and politicians uncomfortable.

CHARLIE COOK, POLITICAL ANALYST: They look at what Abramoff did as routine behavior taken to excessive levels.

ABRAMOFF: It's terribly hurtful to me.

MYERS: Abramoff says he's being singled out for actions that are commonplace.

ABRAMOFF: It's been devastating on every level for me, on a financial level, on a social level, on a personal level, on a political level.

MYERS: Now, a popular Washington parlor game, guessing whether Abramoff will try to save himself by fingering his friends.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, the Capitol.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now assess the DeLay story, the other DeLay story, and the third DeLay story is Craig Crawford, the senior columnist of "Congressional Quarterly" and, of course, an MSNBC analyst.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, SENIOR COLUMNIST, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": That was a good one, Bolton delayed and DeLay boltin'.

OLBERMANN: We will see.

CRAWFORD: That's great.

OLBERMANN: Well, let's start with this House Ethics Committee, curious story this afternoon. Will they wind up, in fact, investigating DeLay, or is this Republican offer some sort of grandstand thing?

CRAWFORD: You did sense some steam coming out of pressure that was building up here, and a little bit of give on the Republican side if they do go forward with a subcommittee, it would be, to actually investigate DeLay.

That would give the story legs. That would give it a hang for the news media to stick with it, which the news media seems inclined to do.

OLBERMANN: But the Democrats are saying in response on the Ethics Committee, that to do this, they have to give on all the changes in the committee rules, which would make it impossible to investigate anybody else ever for ethics violations.

CRAWFORD: True, right now, anybody who wants to commit an ethical violation in Congress is in great shape, because the Ethics Committee can't even meet. They can't even, you know, conduct routine business.

And that's where it is, where it stands, largely because the Democrats have sort of stuck in here in opposition to some of the changes the Republicans have made.

But I have a feeling that the Democrats will want that investigation of DeLay bad enough, they may give them some of those other things.

OLBERMANN: As to giving them any ideas about ethics in violations in Congress, shhh.


OLBERMANN: The situation with this man Jack Abramoff, the danger to DeLay, as described by Lisa Myers in that report, was that they might flip Abramoff, and he has these records, supposedly. And they pertain to DeLay. What do you know about that?

CRAWFORD: That's the whole key. Does he have anything to back it up? It's not uncommon for people caught, you know, in the machinery of these big lobbying schemes to finger somebody very high profile, very powerful. The question is, can he back it up with actual records? And that's some of the word we're hearing, that there's something, anyway, in writing. If it's just by him, his own notes, that may not be enough.

But it does have the taint of a money-laundering deal, funneling that money through the nonprofit, which paid for DeLay's trips. And a lot of these non-profits seem to be starting to get used in that way.

OLBERMANN: Day two of Justice Kennedy. Did Mr. DeLay step in a gopher hole of inconsistency here? I mean, he said, "It's incredibly outrageous" that Kennedy supposedly consulted international law, anything but the Constitution. But in the Schiavo case, wasn't one of the main points that Mr. DeLay was making was asking judges to consult a source outside the Constitution, namely the Bible?

CRAWFORD: And also wanting to stake that - the way he wanted the Schiavo decision to go - on parental rights trumping spousal rights, which would be new law. So in that case, he was asking judges to be quite activist.

Of course, I think that's a relative term, you know, for a lot of people. But I do think that Tom DeLay may need some emergency law training, because I - some of the things that he's saying about, you know, basing international law cases on international law, not being good and getting on the Internet, I, he's create - Justice Kennedy is not exactly a, you know, a bandanna-wearing hippie surfing the porn sites. I mean, this is a very conservative man. It just was a very odd charge to make.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, big pictures, the storm of controversy in which he adds to it by picking fights with judges, he uses language that could be interpreted as violence, he uses language in his speech to the NRA that could not be interpreted as violent.

Now, he's taking on a Supreme Court justice. Howard Fineman said here the other night, this is simply the way DeLay is. So let me phrase this question another way. Is he just nuts?

CRAWFORD: He's like a lot of these members of Congress, Keith, who have been here a long time. If you go back to the Trent Lott episode, when he was Senate majority leader, we saw the same pattern. You know, they live in a - in their own separate universe, surrounded by yes-people. They don't interact with the culture very much. They don't even watch, you know, prime-time television very much.

And so they're just out of sync with the rest of the world. And when spotlight gets on them, some of these old guys have been around. They just sound like, you know, some sort of time machine, you know, like a time capsule.

OLBERMANN: They may not be missing anything with prime-time TV, but that's a subject for another time.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly," as always, Craig, great thanks.

CRAWFORD: You bet.

OLBERMANN: The political pendulum, meanwhile, swinging back slightly the other way today on Washington's other big controversy, the White House standing behind its nominee for U.N. ambassador. Yesterday, in a shocker, it was almost buried under the massive weight of the coverage of the new pope. Two Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee decided that the Democrats might be right that the vote on John Bolton should be held off until next month - until a further investigation next week, rather, investigation of his conduct could be completed.

The White House fighting back today, defending Mr. Bolton against new allegations he was abusive to subordinates, genuinely behaving like a madman, according to a former U.S. aid worker, both in and out of the office.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think what you're seeing is some Democrats on the committee trumping up allegations and making unsubstantiated accusations against someone the president believes will do an outstanding job at the United Nations. He is someone who has been an effective manager, a strong diplomat who has gotten things done.


OLBERMANN: And in a shout-out from afar, Secretary of State Rice voicing her support during a trip to Moscow. "The president deserves to have the person at the U.N. that he thinks best to carry out this job. I think we make a mistake when suddenly comments about management style become part of the confirmation process."

The full-court press by the administration, an apparent scramble to get the Bolton nomination back on track, because of a spoiler they may not have been anticipating. Senator George Voinovich, absent from last week's testimony. What the Ohio Republican did hear when he did show up yesterday giving him pause.

The mild-mannered chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, thus meeting with bipartisan resistance when he tried to cut short the debate on the allegations surrounding Bolton, an apparent attempt to rush the vote on whether to send the nomination to the full Senate.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Would you hire a staff member who did that? Would you even hire a staff member who did that? That in representing a client, went out and maliciously lied? Pick up the phone anyway, and call his old law firm and ask why they didn't bring him back.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), CHAIR, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: But this president has made this nomination, and this secretary of state has felt strongly about the nominee.

SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R-OH), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I've heard enough today that I don't feel comfortable about voting for Mr. Bolton.


OLBERMANN: From potential promotions of the diplomatic variety to the ones of the much holier kind, Pope Benedict XVI, his first full day on the job, the Vicar of Christ. And a new poll on just how much weight he might carry with American Catholics, or how much might not.

News on the Andrea Mackris-Bill O'Reilly front, heralding with it the triumphant return of the clock.

The story ahead. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.



CARDINAL THEODORE MCCARRICK, ARCHBISHOP OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: I see him as the faithful man. the man who's faithful to the church, faithful to the doctrine, that we have to be careful that all of us in America who follow the evolution which is faithful, an evolution of being able to express things, but not to change things.


OLBERMANN: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., perhaps hitting the ecclesiastical nail on the head when it comes to the reception of the new pope in this country, and in Europe. Is the church there to give people only what they need, or is it also supposed to give them some of what they want?

Polling already on the new pope, Benedict XVI. Sixty-one percent of American Catholics telling Gallup that they think he will do more to unite the church than to divide it. But the disconnect, asked if, on difficult moral questions, Are you more likely to follow the teachings of Pope Benedict, or your own conscience? three-quarters of the flock answering they will follow their own conscience, thank you. One-fifth said it would follow the new pope's teachings.

As for Benedict himself, the criticisms upon his election were that he had contributed to divisions between Catholics and other Christian faiths, that he might repudiate some of the findings of the Second Vatican Council, and that he might choose doctrine over practicality every time.

By a quirk of scheduling, the former cardinal Ratzinger had already been scheduled to deliver a mass this morning at the Sistine Chapel.

As our correspondent Keith Miller reports, in it, the new pope managed to address all of those complaints.


KEITH MILLER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first day on the job can make cardinals and even a pope nervous.

Introducing Benedict XVI, the cardinal from Colombia got it wrong. At a mass of thanksgiving, the new pope was humble, saying when elected, he felt a sense of inadequacy, but recalled feeling Pope John Paul II's presence, holding his hand, and hearing the words "Be not afraid."

As he was not afraid to get down to business. Speaking directly to the cardinals who elected him pope, he issued a mission statement. The priority, to unify all Christians, and reach out to other religions.

(on camera): The word spreading through the Vatican tonight is that Joseph Ratzinger as Benedict XVI is not the same man who earned enemies defending the orthodox Catholic faith as a cardinal.

(voice-over): Excited tourists were buying postcards of the new pope as he was getting a first look at his new home, the papal apartments.

And bishops and cardinals spent the day trying to reverse his reputation as remote.

To spread the word, American cardinals held a news conference.

CARDINAL ADAM JOSEPH MAIDA, ARCHBISHOP OF DETROIT: Cardinal Ratzinger, who, with all his gifts and talents and even with some of his shortcomings, will somehow be able to reach others.

MYERS: Cardinal Justin Regali of Philadelphia cautions against a rush to judgment.

CARDINAL JUSTIN REGALI, PHILADELPHIA: In some quarters, there's a very superficial evaluation of the man.

MYERS: The one person who knows Benedict the best is not happy he took the job. Benedict's 81-year-old brother, George, a priest, says being pope is difficult, that the public doesn't always see the other side.

One full day as pope, and Benedict XVI is already trying to put his imprint on the papacy.

Keith Miller, NBC News, the Vatican.


OLBERMANN: The blessings contained in the very name "Benedict" not yet granted to Iraq, specifically the blessings of peace. Today, four more car bombings, plus a roadside explosion in Baghdad, which sent smoke rising over the fortified Green Zone, in which the Iraqi government, U.S. soldiers, and foreign embassies are supposedly protected. No word of injuries, nor even of origins, in that explosion.

But at least nine other Iraqis were killed, 21 more wounded, in the other attacks around the country. Nineteen soldier hostages reportedly murdered at a soccer stadium. And Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, who is to preside over the announcement of a full interim government tomorrow, said more than 50 bodies had been pulled from the Tigris River, murdered hostages, he says. U.S. military sources tell NBC News the number was actually 20. And nobody knows when they were recovered.

Turmoil in the Middle East? Sure couldn't help alleviate the high gas price. But could your nearest greasy-spoon kitchen? A story you do not want to miss, especially if that cost of gasoline keeps increasing, or ingreasing.

And so two elephants go to a Korean restaurant. No joke. Lunch break from the amusement park, evidently. More of this wonderful videotape. Flee! There are elephants!



OLBERMANN: We're back. And we pause our Countdown now to bring you the stories those other newscasts are afraid to cover, namely, funny animal video.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin at the restaurant in Seoul, South Korea. On the menu, elephants. Elephants, six of them, escaped from a nearby amusement park. Two, who obviously heard about the kim chee they serve at this joint, because they have smashed through a big plate-glass window out front and come in for lunch.

No, they didn't have a reservation. Table in the back, please. Of course, the staff was not expecting this party of two, so it fled the restaurant like - well, like the place had elephants the way other places have mice.

The pillaging pachyderms were soon brought under control by those guys in the funny little hats, the mahouts. And the elephants must have great interspecies respect for the mahouts if they pay attention to them despite the fact that they're wearing those hats.

Nobody was injured. In an irony of timing, tomorrow's special, peanut butter and jelly.

Slightly south and west to Shanghai in China for the very first swine Olympiad. Dozens of parents and children on hand for the games, which featured pigs in an obstacle course, competing in various heats of sprinting, hurdles, and swimming events. I said, swimming events. Come on, get in there. These kids didn't pay to see you gradually turning into bacon, you know. Come on!

The facility here was formerly used for a dolphin show, but finances were tight, so they got the next-best thing, pigs. Each little piggy tried his hardest. But at the end of the day, only one could call himself a gold medal ham.

Good swimmers.

Also tonight, the hostage drama ended peacefully, the story leading up to it did not. Can you imagine this? A violent ex is pounding at your door. You call 911. And you are told, sorry, we can't help.

And the old-fashioned big drug bust in the all-new setting, 6 million prescription pills seized that were to be sold on the Internet.

These stories ahead.

Now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Lindsay Deutsch of West Hills, California, near Los Angeles. She is the latest concert violinist to lose a 300-year-old violin. This happens about every three months. This one she left in her car in supermarket parking lot. It's worth $800 grand. Next time, pin it to your coat like mittens.

Number two, George Hoddoroaba of Romania, boy, did he have a scam going. Police say he asked out dozens of women in his home town of Suciaba (ph). He wined them, he dined them, he told them to order anything they wanted. And then each time, he'd say, I have to step outside to make a call on my cell phone. The women would be left with only the food, the bill, and the memories.

And number one, Ben Affleck, after calling off the wedding to Jennifer Lopez, he is now reportedly engaged to the "Alias" star Jennifer Garner. That's right, it is Bennifer II.


OLBERMANN: The dark comedy sketches about calling 911 and getting voice-mail, or being left waiting so long that the only advantage is that you die of old age instead of in a crime of violence, are looking less and less funny tonight. Once again, somebody in imminent trouble calling the police emergency number and is literally told, Sorry, nobody can help you. Fortunately, she is alive today and suing.

This was end of the story last Monday in Lopatcong, New Jersey. That's about 20 miles east of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Police surrounding the car, which contained Erica Turner, her baby daughter and her ex-boyfriend, Almutah Saunders. He had allegedly showed up at her family home in Irvington, New Jersey, and kidnapped her and the child at gunpoint, shot her father in the leg, then led police in a chase across New Jersey. Four hours of negotiations followed before Saunders let his hostages go unharmed. Another three-and-a-half hours later, Saunders himself finally gave up.

But the victim, Ms. Turner, had called police about threats from Saunders 11 times a week earlier. That was when Saunders had first shown up at her house and began pounding on her door. When at one point, she asked if an officer was on the way, a 911 operator told her, No, we have other jobs. After the 11th call, a policeman was dispatched, by which time Mr. Saunders was long gone.


CALLER: Is somebody coming here?

911 OPERATOR: Yes, they're coming.


911 OPERATOR: No. We have other jobs to do.

CALLER: You have other jobs?


CALLER: Oh, OK. So I'm going to just die. Thank you.

911 OPERATOR: 911. What is your emergency?

CALLER: Can you please send somebody to 49 Maple Avenue? He is on my door now. Please, I have a restraining order. Please! He's going to kick my door in. Please, I'm fearful for my life. Can you please send somebody here now?

_911 OPERATOR: OK._911 OPERATOR: 911. What is your emergency?

CALLER: Yes. Can you please send a car to 49 Maple Avenue? I have a restraining order. The guy's at my door. He's knocking on my door, threatening to kill me. Can you please? I think he's got a gun. Can you please hurry up and send somebody? We called here five times already. He's in the my hallway, knocking on my door. I'm afraid he's going to kick my door in. Please!

911 OPERATOR: All right, I'll send a cop car to you.

911 OPERATOR: Irvington.

CALLER: Hello? Hello?

911 OPERATOR: Uh-huh.

CALLER: We need a police car here. It's an emergency. This guy - my daughter has a restraining order. He's at the front door...

911 OPERATOR: I understand that, ma'am (INAUDIBLE) I understand that, but right now, we really, really do not have nobody. And I've been trying my best to get a cop car to you, and we really do not have nobody.

CALLER: How do you not have police officers?

911 OPERATOR: You'll have to take that up with the mayor. We really do not have nobody. And I am not lying to you. Nobody.


OLBERMANN: In a moment, we will take that up with the mayor of Irvington, New Jersey. There is already an investigation under way, and the two 911 operators have been reassigned and they are facing disciplinary action. The Turner family says it is planning to sue that city for damages of $6,300,000.


ERICA TURNER, FORMER HOSTAGE: Somebody wasn't doing their job in between - it's funny how I could see officers writing tickets or going to visit their mothers that live on my block, but all of a sudden, there's no one to respond, when you have state police helping you also. I find that hard to believe. If they would have responded in the time length that he was at my house, for about 35 minutes, they could have arrested him. Somebody could really be in trouble, and for you not to take their calls seriously and not want to respond - that's why you're calling 911. If it was just something simple, you would call the main number.


OLBERMANN: As promised, joining us now, the mayor of Irvington, New Jersey, Wayne Smith. Mayor Smith, thanks for your time tonight.

MAYOR WAYNE SMITH, IRVINGTON, NJ: Yes, I'm certainly ready to address the issues that we're going to discuss this evening.

OLBERMANN: Please. This is any woman's nightmare scenario. She has a threatening ex-boyfriend. She manages to get a restraining order. She comes - or the guy comes to the house and starts trying to break in, so she calls 911 and she's literally told, We really do not have nobody to help you. How - from what you've been able to find out, how could this have happened?

SMITH: Well, first of all, the employees who responded to the call

were - did not handle the call right. We have a priority calling system,

where the more dangerous situation gets higher priority than a less

dangerous situation. So first of all, based on our initial review, my take

· and bear in mind, Keith, that the employees also have legal rights and they're entitled to a hearing. But we call for aggressive disciplinary action because the way the call was handled was inappropriate. They triaged a call on their computer system, not giving it the appropriate urgency as needed.

I'm concerned (INAUDIBLE) when I actually found out about this, when I met Ms. Conway, who I believe is Ms. Turner's mother, I immediately called for an investigation. You know, my mother, my sister live in the same community as I do, and so I'm deeply concerned about that. And I want our community to know that we're going do everything that we can not to let this - they were reassigned immediately, and disciplinary measures will be instituted. And they will be having a hearing in the very near future.

OLBERMANN: Mayor Smith, is it true that one of the problems here was that that restraining order that she had against this man did not appear on the computers when the dispatchers tried to find out the whole history of the case?

SMITH: That's part of it. But let me just say this. In my view, the call was not handled correctly. The decision making - and after several repeated calls of saying this was a priority call, in my mind, it should have been handled differently. So those - the two dispatchers who were on that particular line just did not handle the call appropriately.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, Ms. Turner believes that if there had been somebody to come out and arrest this man on the day of all those calls, April 4, that she and her daughter would not have become hostages on April 11. Do you dispute that theory?

SMITH: Well, Keith, we none of us knows what could have happened. We all have scenarios. I want the Turner family to know I was deeply concerned when I found out about it. And certainly, any measures that make a community safer are the kinds of things we want to institute in the township of Irvington. So you know, I don't know. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure that this does not happen again, that we institute the kinds of policies, oversight and supervision so that our residents are, in fact, safe.

OLBERMANN: Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington, New Jersey, thanks for coming in and joining us tonight, sir.

SMITH: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN: It is a chilling thing to consider, that it's just how you say the numbers that separates 911 from 9/11. And tonight, the only man charged by this country's government with complicity in the terror attacks is planning to plead guilty to charges, even though that plea could get him the death penalty. Two unnamed government officials telling the Associated Press of the apparent plea-bargain arrangement that would cover all six counts against Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker.

Judge Leonie Brinkema met Moussaoui this morning. It is official now. She has ruled he is legally competent to make such a guilty plea, a change in plea. And she has scheduled a hearing on Friday. The government believes Judge Brinkema will accept the pleading, if, in fact, Moussaoui makes it. He has offered to plead guilty before and then changed his mind. If it happens, a separate trial would then determine sentence, with federal prosecutors saying they would still pursue the death penalty.

That will not be the case when the attorney general's office goes after suspects who were arrested today around the country, but do not tell survivors of their worst victims that the death penalty would be excessive here. Our correspondent, Pete Williams, today on a nationwide crackdown on Internet drug dealers.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even though Linda Serks (ph) counseled young people in New Jersey on the dangers of drug abuse and often bounced ideas off her own son, Jason, she was stunned to discover that while he was a student at Rutgers University, he died from an overdose of two prescription drugs, Xanax and Oxycontin, bought illegally online.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He ordered them from on a Mexican Web site, a pharmacy Web site, that actually set up a renewal account for him.

WILLIAMS: Today, federal agents shut down dozens of similar Web sites and arrested their operators for selling millions of dollars worth of drugs without prescriptions. Undercover surveillance video shows some of those drugs packaged for sale after they were sent in staggering amounts to a middleman, a medical student at Temple University in Philadelphia, from his father, a doctor in India. Federal raids turned up nearly six million pills ready for shipment. Instead of requiring a prescription, the Web sites asked customers to simply answer a few questions and give a credit card number.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says illegal Web sites bring the corner drug dealer into American homes.

KAREN TANDY, DEA ADMINISTRATOR: Drug dealers who used to operate in the back alleys now appear in your children's bedroom through the Internet.

WILLIAMS: Partly because of those sales, the DEA says, abuse of the prescription painkillers Vicodin and Oxycontin is now as common as abuse of heroin and cocaine. And Vicodin itself, drug agents say, is now used by so many 12th graders in high school that its abuse is second only to marijuana.

(on camera): Now federal drug agents say they'd like to see Congress strengthen the laws against selling drugs on the Internet without a prescription.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Irony of ironies. If any of those drugs were weight-loss pills, they were not only dangerous but maybe unnecessary. Another revised set of obesity guidelines from the government today, so you can have a couple of potato chips between now and the top of the hour, when they change them again.

And the clock keeps ticking. Bill O'Reilly accuser Andrea Mackris making headlines in New York City. We will tell you what they are.

But right now, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of the day.


JACK "SPEEDO" HORTON, 75 YEARS YOUNG: It's amazing. You get into a zone, and it's like a basketball player. The hoop gets bigger. All of a sudden, you're out there doing your thing.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Ratzinger, now known as Benedict XVI, addressed the crowd.

"POPE BENEDICT XVI" (through translator): Let me hear you say, yes.

Now just - now - just the ladies.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I sat down at the table with a bunch of the enlisted personnel. The guy says, Why don't you lower gasoline prices, Mr. President. I said, I wish I could. I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow. I'd do that.



OLBERMANN: Whatever happened to the yellow, orange, red terror threat system? Evidently, it has been reborn as the new color-coated food pyramid. That is the bad news. The good news is, apparently, you can eat slightly more than the government said you should as of, say, this time yesterday. Yellow moons and orange stars in a moment.

First, the Centers for Disease Control reporting that among the nation's leading causes of preventable death, being overweight is no longer going to be listed as second. It's further down on the list now. The estimate has dropped from 400,000 obesity deaths per year to about 112,000. How could they have gotten it that wrong? Improvements in treating heart disease, they say, and increased exercise. Also a clerical error. The CDC also saying that while obesity is still lethal, people who are modestly overweight have a lower risk of death than those of what is considered normal weight. One analyst suggests even overweight Americans are now more likely to eat better, exercise more and manage their blood pressure.

The caveat here: If your family has a history of heart disease or diabetes, you probably need to be more concerned with losing weight than if everybody was long-lived and healthy. Which brings us to this new food pyramid and our color-code obsession. It comes complete with an animated explanation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To do this, we tip the pyramid on its side. Now all the food group bands run from the top of the pyramid to the base. The bands are much wider at the base to remind us to eat mostly foods without solid fats and added sugar. Orange is for grains. Remember to make half of them whole grains. Green is for vegetables. Don't forget to eat dark green and orange ones. Red is for fruits, fresh, canned frozen or dried. Blue is for milk products. Go for low-fat or fat-free. Purple is for meat and beans. Yellow is for oils. In addition to the five food groups, choose your oils carefully. The steps remind us to be active every day.

One pyramid does not fit all of us, so we created 12 different ones, depending on how many calories you need and how active you are.


OLBERMANN: Overproduced? Remember, purple is for meat. All that and more is available at And if the 12 different options promised at the end of that sound confusing, just remember the Agriculture Department has 23 recommendations in all.

But critics are suggesting that unlike the old pyramid, the illustration for the new one doesn't actually display the recommended foods. That's out of fear of offending the manufacturers and handlers of a particular food group not on there. Notable, too, the firm that helped create mypyramid, Porter Novelli, has as other clients food companies, though both the company and the Ag Department said there was no conflict of interest there. Now, what do you think this is, the Department of Education?

And now tonight's edition of our roundup of celebrity and gossip news, "Keeping Tabs," bringing back fond memories. Two of our favorites headline it tonight. Andrea Mackris, who bought the $800,000 New York City condo, and Bill O'Reilly, who presumably paid for it.

The newspaper "The New York Observer" reporting that three weeks after settling her sexual harassment suit against Mr. O'Reilly last year, Ms. Mackris purchased an upper west side condo - that'd be a tonier part of Manhattan in New York City - for $809,000. She had been O'Reilly's associate producer and purported recipient of his unwanted hot and heavy phone calls. "The New York Daily News" reported O'Reilly settled with Mackris for as much as $10 million. The down payment on this place, reportedly in the same building in which "Saturday Night Live's" mock newscaster Tina Fay also lives, would have been about twice her former salary of $93,000 a year at Fox.

For her 800 grand, Ms. Mackris reportedly got exactly 750 square feet, one bedroom, one bath, one loofah and six falafels.

And sorry, Bill, the phone number is unlisted.

Another oldie but goody. It's been 33 years, and in her book, "My Life So Far," Jane Fonda apologizes for it, but some Vietnam vets will ever forget nor forgive the meeting that she had with North Vietnamese troops and officials in 1972. Tuesday night at a book signing in Kansas City, a man who would later identify himself as one of those veterans waited patiently in line for 90 minutes to reach Fonda. He then spit a mouthful of chewing tobacco in her face and then bravely turned and ran away before being tackled by off-duty police providing security for the event. Michael A. Smith arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, but Fonda has declined to prosecute.

And gas prices taking the big bite out of your budget? Well, forget regular, unleaded and diesel. How does this sound? Fill 'er up. Give me your premium grease. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Hard to say exactly how old the phrase "as fast as greased lightning" actually is. We do know that there is a news story in "The Boston Herald" of January 15, 1833, which includes this sentence. "He spoke as quick as greased lightning," so it's at least 172 years old. But not until now could it be meant almost literally. Forget that gas/electric hybrid car. Don't try to buy one of Jay Leno's Stanley Steamers. Oh, no. Countdown's Monica Novotny is here with the latest and greatest of the alternative fuel cars, the greasemobile. Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, Countdown: Keith, good evening. High gas prices are pushing drivers to get creative, so instead of draining your wallet at the gas station or running on empty, there is now another option. With a diesel engine and a quick conversion, you can just head over to the greasy spoon down the street, fill yourself up and then do the same for your car.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are usually laughing. And they'll pull up next to me and ask me if I'm frying French fries inside the engine.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Deep fried fuel for a car that's strictly vegetarian. When Mike Paulson (ph) heads to his neighborhood Chinese restaurant to fill up, he skips the kitchen and heads straight to the back alley, where the grease from last night's dinner will power his car for the next few days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll use this.

NOVOTNY: Not here. Paulson is one of more than an estimated 500,000 American drivers going from gas to grease, converting diesel engines to run on free vegetable oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This end here has a little basket filter on it.

NOVOTNY (on camera): OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that just keeps big chunks of French fries or whatever...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... from getting in there.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Most restaurant owners are happy to give away their used oil. Otherwise, they must pay to have it removed, which can cost...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: More than I pay for the vegetable oil.

NOVOTNY: The converted say their oil engines run like butter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I haven't had anything to do with the system go wrong at all. I get 40 in town, 45 on the highway.

NOVOTNY: Here's how it works. The diesel engine starts the car, heating the vegetable oil to thin it. Hit the red button, and you're cooking without gas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we're running on vegetable oil.

NOVOTNY: Critics say cars may be damaged by the oil in the long run, and drivers run the risk of voiding a manufacturer's warranty. But at Greasecar, the 4-year-old Massachusetts company that converted Paulson's car, they're not worried, saying their customers' trouble-free record speak for itself.

JUSTIN CARVEN, GREASECAR FOUNDER: There's no change in fuel economy or power from any of the tests that we've done. You know, the only difference is that the emissions are generally cleaner, and the odor of the exhaust, of course, changes.

NOVOTNY (on camera): So it smells like the kitchen it came from.


NOVOTNY (voice-over): Conversions range from $800 to $1,200.

CARVEN: When you're looking at over $2.50 a gallon, it just makes all the sense in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wanted something to save me money. And I was going through about $240 a month in gas.

NOVOTNY (on camera): It's not a new idea. Rudolph Diesel first invented his diesel engine back in the 1890s, and when he premiered it at the 1900 World's Fair in Paris, it ran on peanut oil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's basically taking an old concept that had been around for awhile and really putting it together into an accessible, marketable package.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Paulson is saving so much money at home, now he's converting his company's delivery truck. And while gas prices grow...


This year, the guys at Greasecar expect to do at least $1 million in sales. And if you're wondering just how many people even drive diesels these days, it may be a little more than you think. According to the Diesel Technology Forum, from 200 to 2004, annual registrations of new diesel passenger vehicles in the U.S. grew 56 percent, with 470,000 diesels registered here last year.

OLBERMANN: So the lesson would be?

NOVOTNY: Fryer beware.

OLBERMANN: Excellent!

NOVOTNY: Ba-da-bump!

OLBERMANN: Now we know what the elephants were doing at the Korean restaurant. They were collecting some - collecting grease.

NOVOTNY: They just wanted to get home.

OLBERMANN: Right. Countdown's Monica Novotny on or the oil-for-fuel program. Many thanks.

And that's Countdown. Thank you for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.