Wednesday, April 27, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for April 27

Guests: Christopher Shays, Mark Borchardt, Savannah Guthrie

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

I'm willing to step back - the speaker of the House to fellow Republicans. The plan to end the ethics stalemate by ending some of the new ethics rules. Congressman Christopher Shays join us.

More oil refineries, more energy-efficient automobiles, and start building nukes again. The president outlines his new energy policy.

What do you know? It does fly. After $13 billion, it passed its first test. The biggest plane, the Airbus, and the pilot's imagery is...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a nutshell, you can say that you handle this aircraft as you handle a bicycle.


OLBERMANN: A bicycle with 555 passengers sitting on your shoulders.

And jail, or no football. A Wisconsin judge's choice to a convicted woman, donate your 12 Green Bay Packers tickets, or donate 90 days of your behind in Winnebago County Jail.

All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Though clearly not intended as such, today's decision by the speaker of the House to roll back the recent and, some say, partisan Ethics Committee changes, amounted to a virtual nonpartisan gesture. And the limited goodwill apparently will barely stay alive for the next 24 hours, the White House announcing at about 7:30 Eastern time tonight that the president will hold his first general prime-time news conference in about a year tomorrow night. And it apparently will not be a multiparty clambake.

Our White House correspondent David Gregory reporting that his sources indicate that the president will begin to turn up the pressure on Democrats, that he will accuse them of obstructionism, that he will paint the Social Security reform debate in those terms and the judicial nominees' controversy, and the nomination of U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton, that he will make an opening statement of between 10 to 12 minutes, mostly about Social Security.

The president's suddenly convened, certainly unexpected news conference, scheduled for tomorrow night at 8:30 Eastern, 5:30 Pacific. Full live coverage, of course, here on MSNBC.

Mr. Bush thus stealing the thunder from the unintentional peacemakers within his own party. Earlier today, the message from the speaker about the Tom DeLay ethics quagmire was, full steam reverse. What it did for or to the majority leader is yet to be guessed at, but this afternoon, as he was trying to elude a cluster of reporters, there seemed no softening. He told them tersely, "You guys better get out of my way. Where's our security?"

It's the Democrats on the Hill, of course, who charge that the new rules were intended in the first place to shield Tom DeLay from a full ethics investigation. But it was the top Republican, House speaker Dennis Hastert, telling his fellow partisans behind closed doors this morning, that the only way to avoid an indefinite shutdown of the committee's activity was to give.

The ethics deadlock, he reportedly said, becoming a distraction for his own party, perhaps enough of a distraction that the speaker could momentarily forget Tom DeLay's name.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Well, I'm willing to step back. We had a long discussion about that. I think we need to move forward in the ethics process. I think that there are issues out there that need to be discussed. I think that there's a member, especially on our side, that needs to have the process moved forward so he can clear his name.


OLBERMANN: That's Mr. Member to you.

Speaker Hastert asking for a reversal on the rules change, the Ethics Committee expected to grant his wish, Democrats saying this is step one to breaking a logjam. They need a part two as well, nonpartisan staff positions that became Republican staff positions need to become nonpartisan again.

Now they are wrapping up debate on the rules change. The vote was scheduled for just about 8:00 p.m. Eastern, running a little late, and expected to be overwhelmingly in favor.

Much more on the ethos of ethics inquiries in a moment with Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut. His day focused on the House Government Reform Committee, of which he is vice chair, and its hearings on another topic in which ethics plays a huge part, steroids in sports, particularly pro football.

A totally different kettle of fish from the last congressional steroid hearings, when baseball's bosses and superstars had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the witness table. And when they got there, some of them seemed to be pretending they were from other planets.

Football's hierarchy instead, players and owners working together, chose today to announce a strengthening of their already stiff anti-steroid program, tripling off-season tests, adding new drugs to the list of banned substances in the league, but warning, via a written statement from NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, that new drugs and the imminence of genetic alterations means that, quote, "the $6 million man will no longer be a television fantasy but will instead become a near-term reality."

The commissioner has not watched prime time TV lately. "The Six Million Dollar Man," starring Lee Majors, went off the air in 1978.

But his point is taken.

As promised, I'm joined now by Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut and the Government Reform Committee.

Congressman, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: First, the steroids, and then the majority leader.

SHAYS: Sure.

OLBERMANN: Was my assessment correct that football and baseball made entirely different impressions on Congress on this topic?

SHAYS: Oh, it was night and today. Baseball refused to cooperate from day one. We had to subpoena them. They gave us a document that conflicted with what they told us. Baseball, major league baseball, said, you know, they would - five strikes and you're out. They didn't tell us that you could have fines instead of suspensions.

Then they said, well that was a mistake, and it was a drafting error, and it wasn't really there. And then they tell us the week after the hearing that they voted to take it out.

I mean, they were close to being as - they were as uncooperative as you can imagine.

Now, contrast that with the NFL. They cooperated from day one. They've been - had a steroid policy for over 15 years. It's a strong policy. They testified under oath that people haven't had a second bite of the apple, because in only two instances did they have a repeat, and both of those individuals retired. So effectively, they were out.

OLBERMANN: What the commissioner, Mr. Tagliabue, said, though, about genetic alterations to athletes' bodies, can Congress get ahead of that somehow?

SHAYS: Well, I don't think we can get ahead of it, but at least we

won't get too far behind. I mean, it's going to be a tough issue. But we

· but it wasn't just the NFL that was so terrific. It was having two high school football coaches. One high school football coach suspended 10 of his players, taking such a, I think, a very clear and important stand.

So they're letting us know, though, that major league - that National Football League is telling us that, you know, they're getting - the people they're getting have already been doing this stuff, and now they're trying to get them to stop.

OLBERMANN: Goodness.

Well, turning to Mr. DeLay and the Ethics Committee, the speaker's comments today, the prospect of rolling back some of these rules changes, the vote tonight, I'd like your overall view on these things.

SHAYS: Well, it was a huge mistake to have amended the rules in January. And it's - we're doing the proper thing right now to restore them to the way they were. In other words, we were basically saying you couldn't investigate a Republican unless the Republican agreed. And you couldn't investigate a Democrat unless the Democrat agreed.

And then your - the change had basically said, and if you did not have it, an investigation within 45 days, it disappeared. Well, that was just, I think, a big mistake. And what made it even worse was it - even no matter how well intended some may have thought it was, it was done in a partisan way. The minority of the Democrats weren't consulted. And they didn't participate, even though the committee is 50-50 Republican-Democrat.

So we are restoring it to the way it is, allowing the chairman and the ranking member, the Republican and Democrat, to work out whatever their - whatever remaining differences that exist.

OLBERMANN: I would guess that nobody has interviewed you this month without quoting your words about Mr. DeLay back to you. But with my apologies, for the sake of the viewers' attention span, you told the Associated Press - and let me read the quote - "Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority, and is hurting any Republican who's up for reelection."

And you also told some of your constituents in Connecticut, quoting again, "He is an absolute embarrassment to me and to the Republican Party."

Has your view changed at all since those statements? And if not, what is it about his behavior that would embarrass you and would be hurting the Republican Party?

SHAYS: Well, I think that it was embarrassing that we changed our rules in November, our House Republican rules, to say that if you were indicted, you didn't need to step down. And that was done solely to accommodate the majority leader. That was a huge mistake, and that was very embarrassing, and one that we then undid in January.

To be admonished three times in one year, to have been admonished before, he - Tom is, is frankly, a very engaging person, and I think he is basically a very good man. But he pushes ethics to the limit. And sometimes he goes over the edge. And when he does that, he embarrasses himself, and he obviously embarrasses us, given that he is our majority leader.

OLBERMANN: There have been times in the last few months with Mr. DeLay's pursuit of the Terri Schiavo legislation, and just Sunday, with Senator Frist's involvement with the religious broadcast, where it seems as if Republican leadership is not just shifting to the far right, but leaping there. Is that your sense? Are you worried about the future of moderation in your own party?

SHAYS: Well, I'm clearly worried about the future of moderation. I think that our founding fathers believed we should govern from the center. The bell curve moves to the left or the right, and it moves more to the right, and I think that's good. I'm comfortable with a center-right focus.

But Barry Goldwater, quite a conservative, warned us that when you play to religious groups that you invite extraordinary intolerance, because people who have strong religious views believe that God has told them that's what is the truth, and anyone who doesn't believe in that, doesn't believe in the truth, and doesn't believe in God.

That's what you unleash when you appeal, or attempt to appeal, to the

· to such a religious base.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, I must ask you about the breaking news from the White House that there will be a prime time press conference tomorrow. And again, it's David Gregory's report, and I wouldn't doubt it. But it's not official yet. But obviously he is saying that the president will be accusing Democrats of obstructionism. Is this a, in your mind, an appropriate place to take political discourse at this moment?

SHAYS: Well, I hope he does more than that. I hope he explains what he believes in and why he thinks that important things aren't moving forward.

But, I mean, there are many of us who believe that the president is right to focus on Social Security. But we believe that Medicare is a crisis, and Social Security will be a crisis if we don't deal with it. And that's, I think, not an insignificant difference.

OLBERMANN: Congressman Chris Shays, vice chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, in the wake of the steroids hearings today, in anticipation of the ethics rules vote tonight and the news conference tomorrow.

Our great thanks, sir.

SHAYS: You too.

OLBERMANN: From congressional football hearings to a continuing congressional football, to congressional hearings that are becoming a congressional football.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee may interview as many as 19 new witnesses about the U.N. ambassador-designate John Bolton. With several Republicans having forced his confirmation vote back to May 12, the Associated Press, quoting an unnamed committee aide, who says the 19 are former intelligence officers and subordinates of Bolton, all of whom reported to the committee their own past problems working with him.

The White House is also upping the ante, to say nothing of tomorrow's remarks, fearing a Bolton rejection could reflect on the president, especially it would be the former secretary of state, Mr. Powell, who would have contributed to that political defeat.

"The New York Times" reporting that political adviser Karl Rove personally lobbied Senators McConnell, Kyl, and Specter on Bolton's behalf, that Vice President Cheney, meanwhile, met with other senators and phoned still more of them yesterday to try to close the gap in the Republican wall of party loyalty.

That question I asked Congressman Shays a little while ago was not something clever or new, the one about moderation in the Republican Party. It was the man he invoked, Barry Goldwater, who famously said that "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice," and a moment later added, "Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Colorful and enduring words. Not as frequently remembered that three-and-a-half months after he made those remarks, Mr. Goldwater lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson by 23 percent of the popular vote, by 38 states, and by a margin of 431 electoral votes. He was George McGovern before George McGovern was George McGovern.

It seems as if every generation, one or both parties learns that while extremism in the defense of liberty may not be a vice, it also isn't as much of a crowd-pleaser as it inevitably first seems.

As our White House correspondent David Gregory reports now, that lesson may have just begun with the current occupants there.


DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the president is learning, the hard part about second-term politics is not your enemies, but your friends. And lately, it's moderate Republicans giving the president the hardest time.

New Hampshire Republican Charlie Bans (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Republicans are more polarized than they ever have been.

GREGORY: From the fight over Social Security, to the battle over John Bolton's nomination to the U.N., to the prospect of ending filibusters for judicial nominees, and the GOP-led drive to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case, the White House appears out of step with Republican moderates.

Marshall Whitman (ph) once worked for Republican Senator John McCain and is now a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of the moderates feel that the party has moved too far to the right and that the conservatives have too much influence within the high councils of the party.

GREGORY: Mr. Bush's first term was marked by unprecedented party unity, because of 9/11 and the party's determination to retain the White House. Now, some liberal analysts argue, moderates facing their own reelection are hearing concerns from their constituents.

E.J. DIONNE: They see these arguments about what they see as kind of-

· as weirdly ideological issues, and they ask, Why is Washington obsessed with these things, and not the things that I care about?

GREGORY: For the president, the consequences of these Republican defections are serious. On issues like Social Security, where there is unanimous Democratic opposition, Republican moderates hold the balance of power.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The Republican in Congress want to assist the president. We might not agree with him on every issue. But by forging compromises, we can help him advance his agenda.

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: If the rhetoric were a little bit less heated, if there were a little bit less anger articulated in some ways by the Republican leadership...

GREGORY (on camera): Such friction is nothing new in a second term. Indeed, President Clinton went through the same thing. Still, if it keeps going on this way, all the political capital Mr. Bush talked about after his reelection may have to give way to compromise.

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, will high gas prices bring more gas refineries? How about more nuclear plants? So plans the president.

And the long-ago plans of Michael Jackson. The idea was, she'd bear him some kids. Today, though, she may have bared his soul on the witness stand.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: There has been only one new nuclear energy plant opened in this country since they cut the ribbon in 1987 at Clinton Power Station in Illinois, a scant 60 miles from the state capital, Springfield.

At the other Springfield, Mr. Burns may have reassured all that "A lifetime of working with nuclear power has left me with a healthy green glow."

But that is not part of President Bush's push, as today he brought constructing nukes in this country back to the table.

Part, as our correspondent Tom Costello reports, of his second speech about energy in as many weeks.


TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With Americans paying 23 percent more at the pump than just a year ago, and world oil demand outstripping production, the president today called on Congress to give him an energy bill by this summer to begin weaning the country off foreign oil.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people. It's a tax on jobs, and it's a tax that is increasing every year.

COSTELLO: With U.S. oil refineries already working at capacity, the president today suggested using closed military bases to build new refineries, something experts say the U.S. badly needs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we could increase the capacity here, we would have less reliance on these imports. And that would give us more flexibility, and I think end up serving the consumer well.

COSTELLO: The president also wants new nuclear power plants. Today, just 20 percent of U.S. power comes from nuclear plants, compared to 78 percent in France.

BUSH: Nuclear power is one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, and we need more of it in America.

COSTELLO: But the last time the U.S. built a nuclear plant, or an oil refinery, was in the 1970s. Why?

ED SILLIERE, ENERGY MERCHANT CORPORATION: The price of oil has not, until recently, it has not been high enough to encourage those alternate energy investments.

COSTELLO: And many Americans still fear nuclear power. But with oil now at $51 a barrel, the president thinks it's time to reevaluate. He's also calling for other alternatives, including new natural gas terminals, clean coal technologies, cleaner fuels like ethanol, and tax credits for fuel-efficient cars.

Critics say the proposed incentives don't go far enough.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Only when the president says that he is going to dramatically increase fuel economy standards will OPEC begin to understand that we mean business.

KEN COOKE, PRESIDENT, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: And building more refineries that cause more pollution and probably more accidental deaths is not the way out of the problem.

COSTELLO (on camera): The president's proposals offer long-term solutions. In the short term, it's likely to be a long, expensive summer for drivers.

Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: So now that you can't afford to drive, maybe it would be cheaper to take the newest, just-tested Airbus, as the comedian said, combining the benefits of the two worst forms of transportation, airliners and buses.

And yesterday, the buffalo were at the tennis courts. Next, they'll be enjoying a nice barbecue.

Well, enjoying might not be the right word for it.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: Once again, we're back with our special segment devoted to weird news from the animal kingdom, weird news from the United Kingdom, and miscellaneous.

Let's play Oddball.

We start where we started last night. Pikesville, Maryland, hello.

That escaped herd of nine bisons roaming through the tennis courts of the upscale gated community - Buffy, I don't understand this. We moved here to get away from buffalo of that kind.

All the animals were eventually contained, and today the Baltimore County Police officers - Baltimore County? - who corralled the herd were rewarded for their bravery with a handsome plaque recognizing them as the Buffalo Brigade.

So this story would seem to be a happy ending for all involved, unless you count the buffalo. Farmer Buzz Berg (ph), who raised those nine plucky escapist buffalo, which fascinated a nation with their one-day field trip to play tennis in the suburbs, Buzz Berg says, quote, "They're going to the slaughterhouse."

And now we know where he got that name, Buzz.

To Somerset, England, where quick thinking may have saved the life of Matthew Stevens (ph) after he was bitten by a Brazilian wandering spider, one of the deadliest arachnids in the world. Right after he was attacked, Stevens took a picture of the spider with his cell phone camera. That enabled experts at the hospital to determine that he needed an antidote, and fast.

It was a very smart thing that he did, taking the picture, that is. How Mr. Stevens got bitten by the world's most dangerous spider has got to be one of the dumbest things we've ever heard.


MATTHEW STEVENS, BITTEN BY SPIDER: I was cleaning out the Cornetta machine. And squeezed the cloth, and I thought there was a (INAUDIBLE) got in my hand, because I leapt and shook the cloth, and it was a spider. Went to pick it up, it bit me, and then I let it go. And I went to pick it up again, and it bit me on the other hand.


OLBERMANN: Don't touch the Cornetta soft ice cream machine. Do touch them poisonous spiders twice, if you can. Pure genius.

Back home here in the States, today's the holiday that used to be called Secretaries' Day but now has a new name that's too long to fit on a balloon, "Happy Administrative Professionals Appreciation Day." Obviously, that was dreamt up by a temp. Office workers in Mobile, Alabama, celebrating by letting off some steam at the First Annual Typewriter Toss. And if you still had to use a typewriter, you'd want to toss it too.

For some reason, the machines were all protected by bubble wrap, possibly because the cost of replacing them in the museum now came out of the salaries of the administrative professionals themselves.

Now, if Michael Jackson had a typewriter, would he have thrown it at the mother of two of his children today? She testified about his parenting skills and how she had previously lied about them.

And the sentencing dilemma that has put Green Bay, Wisconsin, at the center of not just the football world, but also the judicial world. Go to games, and you go to jail.

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the late Bredo Morstoel. Years ago, he was cryogenically frozen in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado. Gradually, a cult has built up around him, leading to an annual festival.

Frozen dead guy days.

Now, his grandson says the family no longer supports the event, wants it canceled. Says one member of the Nederland Chamber of Commerce, quote, "He'll stop the festival over my frozen dead body." (INAUDIBLE) replacement, sir.

Number two, Greg Brenneman, CEO of Burger King, noting his is the only fast-food restaurant with a veggieburger on the menu, and that it sells an average of three of them, three per day, per restaurant. Maybe if you put some bacon on it.

Number one, 20th Century-Fox. The studio remaking the classic 1943 film "My Friend Flicka," the heartwarming story of a young boy and his horse. The horse was Flicka.

Monday, on the set of the new "My Friend Flicka," they killed Flicka. It was an accident. A stunt went wrong. The animal services monitors on the set exonerated the producers. Yes, that's what they told us employees when they killed off Fox Sports Net too.


OLBERMANN: Monday on the set of the new "My Friend Flicka," they killed Flicka. It was an accident. A stunt went wrong. The animal services monitors on the set exonerated the producers. Yes, that's what they told us employees when they killed off Fox Sports net, too!


OLBERMANN: They anticipated her performance the same way Michael Jackson's fans anticipated his 13-minute-long video for "Thriller" back in 1983. A famous director, John Landis, a famous voice of horror, Vincent Price, Michael Jackson himself, and best of all, Michael Jackson's woman. Your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 527 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And today, just as in the video, she showed up - on the witness stand. Karen Brown is our reporter in Santa Maria.


KAREN BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She is Michael Jackson's ex-wife, mother of his two eldest children, and now Debbie Rowe has taken the stand as a key witness in the case against him. Rowe is expected to testify that she, like the accuser's mother, was coerced into saying nice things about Michael Jackson on videotape and that Jackson himself asked her to do the interview.

LAURIE LEVENSON, LOYOLA LAW SCHOOL: I think the prosecutor's case will be stronger if they can show that Michael Jackson really ran the tight ship. And that's one thing that Debbie Rowe might be able to offer.

BROWN: Legal expert also believe that the prosecution will try to ask Rowe about the details of her marriage to Jackson.

LEVENSON: The prosecution will try desperately hard to get into the intimate nature of the relationship between Debbie Rowe and Michael Jackson, but this judge doesn't want to allow it.

BROWN: Meanwhile, returning to the stand was Jackson's former personal videographer, who shot the accuser and his family in a rebuttal video praising the singer. Hamid Muslehi testified that he never saw the family being coached or memorizing lines from a script.

MICHAEL CARDOZA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That flies in the face of what the mother of the accuser said.

BROWN: After nearly nine weeks of testimony, the prosecution is expected to rest sometime in the next week.

(on camera): Legal experts say the one thing that may make Debbie Rowe a problematic witness is that the jurors may not like the fact that at one time, she gave up her parental rights to her children. In Santa Maria, Karen Brown, NBC News.


OLBERMANN: To get inside the trial, we turn again to attorney and Court TV correspondent Savannah Guthrie. Savannah, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Give us the overall impact of Debbie Rowe's first day on the stand.

GUTHRIE: Well, there was a lot of energy when she walked into that courtroom, and not just because we had had all this boring phone record testimony right before her. She was really emotional on the stand, breaking down a few times as she talked about her children and wanting to be reacquainted with Michael Jackson.

And as she finished her testimony today, this afternoon, it was kind of a cliffhanger because she was asked about the interview she did for that rebuttal video for Michael Jackson. And she was asked if she was truthful in her answers, and she said she wasn't truthful when asked about his parenting skills. But she didn't go any further about what she said that was not truthful, so I suspect we're going to hear a little more about that.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, that would be the start of testimony tomorrow, if she comes back, or when she come back a second day. Is there something else? I mean, is there something else they're building up to that has a similar kind of emotional punch?

GUTHRIE: I think there is. You know, she's testified so far that she didn't see the questions in advance and that she wasn't scripted. But I think we're going to hear from Debbie Rowe that as she got there and did this interview, she was told again and again what to say, that she was rehearsed before they even sat down and shot the interview, and that if she didn't give a sufficiently enthusiastic response, that the Jackson people wanted her to do it again.

It's particularly telling that the raw footage of this interview was three hours, but she says the interview actually went nine hours. That would seem to buttress that claim. I'm getting all of this from Tom Sneddon's opening statement, so Debbie Rowe better make good on his promises.

OLBERMANN: Did Jackson have any particular reaction to seeing her in there? Was the possibility of interaction seen between them?

GUTHRIE: Well, I really had my eyes fixed on him because I wanted to see if they exchanged a look. I thought she looked over at him a few times, in particular, when she said, He's my friend, and I wanted to be reacquainted with him. He was looking in that general direction, but with that long black hair, it's really hard to see what he's looking at, whether he's looking at the witness or sort of fixing his eyes on a point in the wall and thinking about who knows what. He didn't seem to make direct eye contact with her, and he didn't follow her in or out of the courtroom.

OLBERMANN: It wasn't just her today. The earlier testimony for the prosecution was this fellow who shot that rebuttal video, Mr. Muslehi, who said he never saw the accuser or his family rehearse. He never saw scripts. Which would seem to counter what the prosecution had hoped he might say. Has there yet been a prosecution witness whom any member of the jury might look at and be willing to loan $5 to with any reasonable expectation of getting the $5 back?


GUTHRIE: Well, that's one way to put it. You know, there's no question that a lot of the prosecution witnesses have baggage. I mean, we had this witness earlier in the week who was testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution. Other witnesses have come in and tried to assert their 5th Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. On the other hand, this is not the prosecutor's fault. These are the people who were associated with Michael Jackson, and the prosecutors have no choice but to put these people on. They got to dance with the ones that brung them, so to speak.

OLBERMANN: Yes. Savannah Guthrie of Court TV. Debbie Rowe day 2 tomorrow. Be there. Aloha. Great. Thanks, Savannah.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, aviation history or just aviation hype? Biggest plane ever flies. Well, of course it flies. They didn't build it as a paperweight. Another story the producers are making me cover. But shock in Poland. News that the old communist regime there had a man at the Vatican spying on Pope John Paul II, and he was a Polish priest. These stories ahead.

Now, though, here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Over the weekend in Indianapolis, more than 30,000 fans attended a "Star Wars" convention - 30,000 fans. Yes. Experts say it was the highest concentration of celibate men since they elected the new pope.

UNIDENTIFIED JACKSON FAN: Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!

UNIDENTIFIED JACKSON FAN: Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!

UNIDENTIFIED JACKSON FAN: Innocent! Innocent! Innocent!


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I went to Fort Hood the other day and sat down with some of our troops. And we had dinner. Lunch. In Texas, they call it dinner, the noon meal, and supper, the evening meal. I'm trying to standardize the language. We sat down for lunch.



OLBERMANN: For a record-breaking second day in a row, it's another edition of stories my producers made me cover. The Airbus A-380 completes its first test flight. Look, seems to me, if they spent $13 billion developing what appears to be a zeppelin with jet engines taped to it, the damn thing better fly. Moreover, when they unveiled it, we covered it. When they drove it down the tarmac to make sure the wheels didn't fall off, we covered it.

Now the wire service reporters at Blagnac in France for this four-hour "Let's see if she doesn't crash, brother" test today, they're comparing this to the milestones of aviation history - the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk 101 years ago this December. That's comparable. First ever flight in human history, and the latest Airbus test flight. How about the first commercially successful transatlantic passenger plane? Compare it to the birth of the 707? I don't think so. No 707, and we're all still swimming to the Irish coast.

Or a comparison to the 747, which until today was the largest plane ever in the sky. Its maiden voyage, February 1969. Maybe this is in the ballpark. But the 747 and the Concorde, they only went into the skies 19 years after that first transatlantic plane. This thing today, this is just a ferry with wings. And they've even compared it to this - a year ago, the first privately manned spaceship which pierced the atmosphere. That one went into outer space. This one is going to go to Singapore!

And for all the money and the 35 years of experience with jumbo jets, it only goes 5 percent farther than the 747 did. Still, ever since the Hindenburg, there's been that same guilty thrill coursing through our collective veins, the ones that the fans get at the auto races. What if it goes blooey?

Our correspondent at Lakehurst, New Jersey, was Herb Morrison. Our correspondent in France is Rehema Ellis.


REHEMA ELLIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It soared into the air, making aviation history, the Airbus A-380, the size of a football field and the latest weapon in the business battle to control the skies, the milestone flight just a four-hour run over France's Pyrenees mountains. But the crew of six took no chances and wore parachutes. The test pilot said the plane handled beautifully.

UNIDENTIFIED PILOT: In a nutshell, you can say that you handle this aircraft, this large aircraft, as you handle a bicycle.

ELLIS: Today's test flight isn't the only gamble by Airbus. The European consortium behind the super-jumbo is betting bigger is better and that the A-380, designed for long-haul travel, will change the way the world flies.

(on camera): It's designed to carry 555 passengers in three cabins but can be configured to fly more than 800.


(INAUDIBLE) opportunity to surprise the passenger. We haven't had that since - since - since Concorde and the 747.

ELLIS (voice-over): And on board, other surprises, too. The Airbus can be fitted with a flying playground, a casino, gym, even a jacuzzi. But safety is still paramount. FAA rules require are all passengers must be evacuated in 90 seconds in the event of an emergency. Now at Goodrich in Phoenix, tests for the Airbus's evacuation slide are underway.

You can park 70 cars on the Airbus's 262-foot wing span, but it's too big to park at the gates. Airports like New York's JFK are making changes. Already, 154 planes have been ordered, a direct challenge to Boeing. Boeing has countered with its new 787 Dreamliner, betting a smaller jet which can fly into more airports is what passengers and airlines will want, rather than the super-jumbo.

RON NEIDL, CALYON SECURITIES AVIATION/AEROSPACE ANALYST: It's going to take longer to get on board. It's going to take longer to get off board. It's probably going to take longer for you to retrieve your luggage.

ELLIS: So far, no U.S. airlines have ordered the giant Airbus. But the first scheduled passenger flight is due to take off next year from Singapore. NBC News, Toulouse, France.


OLBERMANN: So from the topic of giant over publicized entities that cost billions to the topic of giant over publicized entities that cost billions. Our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs."

And Pat O'Brien of television's "The Insider" is out of rehab, having checked himself in late last month saying he had an alcohol problem. He will rejoin his show a week from Friday. I tried to reach my old colleague from CBS and NBC, and he said something about leaving me a voice-mail message, and I said - no!

The oddest of possible sequels, from Pat O'Brien to a papal spy. The state agency in Poland that is still sorting through the endless documents of that country's communist era today accused a Polish priest of having spied on the late Pope John Paul II while they were both at the Vatican. The Institute of National Remembrance says Father Konrad Hejmo informed on Karol Wojtyla while he was pope and while he was supporting Poland's Solidarity movement in the early 1980s. Hejmo, who was on TV in Poland for much of the month of March with insider reports on the pope's failing health, says the allegations are absurd. But now that he thinks of it, maybe the man he met and gave documents to in the '80, who he only knew as M - maybe he could have been, quote, "on the other side, working for the East Germans."

And from documents suggesting a papal spy to a diary detailing an entire presidency. Harper-Collins publishing brought the global rights to produce President Reagan's diaries in book form. He made entries daily and was quite candid in his assessment of events and world leaders. That according to the chairman of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation, Frederick Ryan (ph). Reagan did not know he was writing for public consumption. The foundation decided that, it says, after a lot of deliberation, Mr. Ryan, calling his insights very historic and unique. No comment from Mrs. Reagan.

Also tonight, creative sentencing in Wisconsin: go to jail for 90 days or give up your tickets to Green Bay Packer football games. Apparently, this is not the no-brainer it would appear to be for most of us. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It's nearly 12 years now since I did the calculations, so I could not possibly recreate them - show my work, as the teachers used to say. But the conclusion was if you signed up for the waiting list for season tickets for the Green Bay Packers football team, at the then current rate that people were giving up their tickets, you would only have to wait for about 500 years.

Four of the tickets, though, might become available, at least for part of next season. So says a Wisconsin judge. Last night in "Newsmakers," we mentioned this little story, and today America went berserk. The background now from our correspondent Kevin Tibbles.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Green Bay Packers fans, football is religious, and filling the seats at Lambeau Field is something not to be missed. So when you're convicted of a crime and the judge gives you the option of going to jail or giving up your Packers tickets, what do you do? That's the dilemma now facing 59-year-old Sharon Rosenthal (ph) of Appleton, Wisconsin, convicted of pilfering $3,000 from a labor union. The judge got creative at sentencing: 90 days in jail or donate her family's four seats, these four seats, to three home games to the Make a Wish Foundation. Ohio judge Michael Chickennetti (ph), who also uses creative sentencing, says it works.

MICHAEL CHICKENNETTI, OHIO JUDGE: You teach them. You make them learn from their mistakes. You make them suffer some humiliation, a little bit of embarrassment. But the point gets across.

TIBBLES: And for many Packers fans, it's a no-brainer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's pretty hard to give up Packer tickets, and so, yes, I would probably do the 90 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd go to jail. No choice.

TIBBLES: In Wisconsin, Packers seats are gold, sold out since the 1960s, a 30-year waiting list for season tickets. Even president Bob Harlan, who's heard it all, says this is new.

BOB HARLAN, GREEN BAY PACKERS PRESIDENT: First time I've heard this. I know they've been involved in divorce cases, but this is the first time I've heard of a possible prison sentence.

TIBBLES: As for Sharon Rosenthal, she's still deciding: three months in the slammer...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That defendant now is probably the most infamous cheesehead in the state of Wisconsin.

TIBBLES:... or forgoing her chance to see the Pack. Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: So the choice was, you can not go Packers games and then you do not have to go to jail, or you can go to both. Mrs. Rosenthal evidently has just made up her mind. Breaking news, according to a local newscast in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who are indeed quoting her attorney as saying she's going to give the tickets to the Make a Wish Foundation instead of keeping them and going to jail.

I'm joined now by Mark Borchardt, motion picture director and writer and director, I should say, lifelong Green Bay Packers fan. Mr. Borchardt, good evening.

MARK BORCHARDT, WRITER/DIRECTOR: Hey, Keith. How're you doing?

OLBERMANN: Well, I'm OK. This news about her making up this mind - her mind on how the tickets were going to go. Does it surprise you that a Packer fan would give up their tickets for anything?

BORCHARDT: Well, you know, she can rest easy now because she's not going to be in jail and she can be in her living room. How about that?

OLBERMANN: I would guess everybody, in one way or the other, would have seen this as a no-brainer. I mean, if you're not a Packer fan, of course, you give the tickets up. And if you are a Packer fan, of course, you would never give them up, right?

BORCHARDT: Yes, it's a - I'm sure it was a tough decision for her, but you know, now, like I said, you know, she's - the tickets will be enjoyed by others. I'm sure she's enjoyed many, many games, you know, and so she's spreading the wealth, so to speak, and justice is served.

OLBERMANN: Is the lack of understanding of this, of what it means to be a Packer fan nationally, does that come from the fact that unless you are from Wisconsin, you could have no idea what kind of an anachronism the Packers really are? I mean, Green Bay has about 100,00 residents. This is like having one of the top teams in baseball operating out of Muncie, Indiana. Green Bay's the last small city team in America with a big league sports franchise. Is that the heart of the affection for the team?

BORCHARDT: Yes, I think so. I mean, it's one of those cases where you just got to be there. I mean, I was up there, I think, last season. It's just fantastic, the energy and the enthusiasm. And you know, it's just legendary all around, so you got this whole dynamic going. And it's just great, man, to have the Packers in your state.

OLBERMANN: Could you imagine a reverse of this situation that this woman just decided upon, that there might be fans who are on that waiting list who'd love to go see a game who would perhaps commit a crime or lie to Make a Wish to get those tickets?

BORCHARDT: No, no, no. You don't have to do that. I mean, life has a plan. It's all worked out very beautifully, so you'll never have to dip into that negative realm. If you need those Packer tickets, if you really need them, you'll have them, man, without scarring any moral tissue whatsoever. You'll do good.

OLBERMANN: The idea of the cheesehead hats - I mean, I was a sportscaster for about 25 years, and I never really understood them. They seem neither practical nor complimentary. Why wear a big piece of foam rubber shaped as a piece of Swiss cheese?

BORCHARDT: Keith, Keith, they are practical. I mean, if you're playing, you know, in the late summer, it's great, man. Your head don't get burned. I've got one in my office, man, where you can drink bear out of it. You know, you just hold it in your hand like that, so put your beer right in there. So there's practicality to that, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Would the worst thing that could happen - as we watch pictures of President Bush visiting the Packer camp last year - would the worst thing be for somebody in this situation to be not - to be actually offered the choice of giving up the tickets or going to jail, but both of them occurring during the season? In other words, not only would you be in jail, but you wouldn't even be able to watch the games perhaps on TV?

BORCHARDT: Yes, that'd be a double negative. That wouldn't be good.

OLBERMANN: Well, we appreciate your time, Mark Borchardt, the writer/director, at work on his next film, "Scare Me," and also at work on his next season, his 28th - that'll be 28 years as a Green Bay Packers fan. Great. Thanks for your time.

BORCHARDT: Yes. Absolutely. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: You take care.

That's Countdown. Thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann. The woman has made up her mind. She's giving the tickets to Make a Wish, rather than going to jail for 90 days. Packers have a bad season, 90 days in jail is like a bad - OK, never mind. Good night, and good luck.