Friday, July 29, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 29

Guest: Derrick Pitts

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:... rate suicide bombers were these guys? First Ibrahim Muktir Said (ph) and Ramzi Mohammed (ph) couldn't light their deadly candles. Now, today, they not only surrendered, they surrendered on a balcony in full view of the neighbors, having first surrendered, at the insistence of the police, their shirts and pants.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

All four would-be London bombers alive and in custody, two found in North Kensington and on home video, a third at his brother's house near Rome.

Big switch on stem cells. Senate majority leader Frist breaks with the president, calls for increased federal funding of stem-cell research.

And who you calling an Oompa-Loompa? That's Dr. Oompa-Loompa to you.

A chocolate factory is developing cocoa-based prescription drugs.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

If they had not been would-be mass murderers, you would almost feel embarrassed for them.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, in a day of sweeping developments in the London manhunts, the three known remaining would-be bombers arrested. Exclusive information tonight about a fifth bomber. That's ahead from Lisa Myers.

One in circumstances belying their supposed sophistication was arrested at his own brother's home, the other two in a west London neighborhood, their ignominious surrender captured in exclusive videotape from our affiliated British network ITV.

The man on the left, Ibrahim Muktir Said. He is the one who allegedly tried to blow himself up on a double-decker bus in Achne (ph), east London. The suspect on the right, Ramzi Mohammed, thought to be responsible for the failed bombing at the Oval Tube station, police ordering both men to strip down to their underwear, then accepting their surrender, then taking them away for questioning. The bellowed warning, Take your clothes off, come out with your hands on your head, and you'll be all right.

In a moment, we'll go live to London for an update at this hour.

But first, ITV correspondent James Mates (ph) walks us through rest of the dramatic raid step by step.


JAMES MATES, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The moment the police close in on the suspected Hackney bus bomber. The sounds of shots is almost certainly tear gas rounds being fired into the flat from the top-floor balcony.

Shortly, you'll see wafts of gas blowing back out of the now-open door.

Eyewitnesses spoke of hearing voices at this time inside the flat, shouting at men to take their clothes off and come outside. On a balcony two floors below, police wearing gas masks are trying to get into another flat. It appears to be empty. But right in the middle of an operation, to capture men who've already tried to blow themselves up, a child appears. Apparently attracted by the police dog, he wants to talk to the officer.

But it gets worse. Another child comes out on the balcony. It's a policing nightmare, the very real possibility of an explosion of any kind and children around. Eventually, an adult appears, but still followed by the children, the officer is forced to give up his attempted entry.

Two floors above, two men, naked, at least from the waist up, have been ordered at gunpoint out onto the balcony there at the top of the screen. The man on the left appears to be following orders to lower his trousers. Both men seem to be suffering from the effects of gas.

The sound of shouted orders from the police can be heard, though the words are hard to make out. The identity of the man on the right, the first to be turned around and taken away, is unknown. But police sources have told ITV News they believe him to be the man who tried to explode a device on a train near Oval Tube station in south London.

The man on the left is believed to be, and bears a striking resemblance to the photographs of Muktir Said Ibrahim. He's alleged to have attempted to blow up himself and the number 26 bus in Hackney on July the 21st.

An armed policeman covering every move, he is then ordered to approach and turn around. Ibrahim was born in East Africa, coming from Eritrea to this country as a child. Despite having served more than two years in jail as a violent criminal, he was given British citizenship less than a year ago.

As Ibrahim was led away, police are confident that eight days after these men tried but failed to bring brutal carnage to London's transport system, they and their accomplices are now safely in custody.

James Mate, ITV News.


OLBERMANN: Only hours later, the investigation spread across the Continent, police tracking down the fourth suspected bomber in Rome. He is Azman Hussein (ph), alternately known as Hussein Azman, a naturalized British citizen from Somalia, suspected of having targeted the subway train near the Shepherd's Bush station.

He kept using his cell phone as he fled England. They traced him to the homes of his brother-in-law and then his own brother, that final arrest putting four alleged bombers in custody tonight. In fact, there is a fifth. Exclusive details on that in a moment.

The first of the suspects, Yasin Hassan Omar, arrested Wednesday in Birmingham in central England. Compared to his alleged co-conspirators, he had put up something of a struggle. Police had to TASER him.

For the latest on the dramatic developments of this day, we go now to the scene of the arrests at the Delgarno (ph) Gardens Apartments, and our correspondent James Hattori. Good morning, James. Is the relief there palpable? Is London perceptibly different at this late hour?

JAMES HATTORI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, you know, it'd be an overstatement and probably not to mention trite to say that everyone here is breathing a sigh of relief in the wake of the arrests. But I think it would be fair to say that a lot of people, when they wake up tomorrow, will be very happy at what has transpired here, and as they make their trips into the city on public transport, as they must do, they can probably take some comfort.

But at the same time, Scotland Yard today issued a fresh warning that people should remain vigilant, because the danger still exists.

I mean, there are a lot of questions here. Who organized these

people? What about the first series of bombings on July 7? Clearly, these

· they were not operating on their own. So there's a lot of investigating to do, a lot of ties - a lot of loose ends to tie up still.

OLBERMANN: More practically speaking, has there been any indication yet from Scotland Yard or from any of the counterterrorist organizations that security measures are going to remain at their previous levels in London, even though four, possibly five, bombers from the 21st of July have been arrested?

HATTORI: I don't think there's been any official word. But the presumption is that, no, the level will not be decreased, because they believe that there are still a lot of people out there. By one account, of by some experts, there may be 20 or 30 people involved in these two plots in one way or another, not only in England, but perhaps, as we've seen, in Italy. Some of these suspects, the deceased bombers from the first attack, are from Pakistan, or had ties to Pakistan, there are questions for Pakistan. There's a man in Zambia who's been arrested, who British authorities want to question.

So until this is all wrapped up, they're not going to probably be able to lower the threat level. And if ever, for that matter, because this is a long-term issue that they're facing here, and they recognize that they've got to make more of an outreach to the community and get at the root causes, if they can, to try and deal with this.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, James, that scene at the place where you are now, Delgarno Gardens, early today, with these two men stripped to their shorts, the shout was directed at Mohammed. Are we getting the feeling that the police knew that this man Ramzi Mohammed was there, but that the presence of the second man, Muktir Said Ibrahim, was a surprise, a bonus? Do we have any indication on that yet?

HATTORI: Not clear, you know, although one expert I did talk to, a former Metropolitan Police investigator, said that he believed it might have been - very well might have been a twofer. They were lucky, it was a coincidence. On the other hand, he said they had a lot of information, and it very well could have been the result of surveillance.

And one other thing I'll mention is that one witness told us that he saw a man leading the police to that flat, giving the impression that perhaps that's how they ended up there.

OLBERMANN: First rule of failed crime is supposed to be, split up. Correspondent James Hattori in London. Our great thanks for staying up late on our behalf, sir.

Today's arrests, the result of what Scotland Yard and the London Metropolitan Police called the biggest manhunt in British history. But it may be bigger than we even know, officially, anyway. We know there was a fifth backpack bomb found unexploded, and now, as chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reports exclusively, it turns out there was a fifth would-be bomber to go with it.



Sources close to the investigation tell NBC News that the unnamed man arrested today is 22-year-old Wahbi Mohammed (ph). And police suspect he is the fifth bomber, who abandoned his backpack full of explosives in this park.

Mohammed is the brother of this suspected bomber, who was arrested today in a roundup which sources say was the result of strong police work and mistakes by the bombers, who clearly had no backup plan when their bombs failed to explode.

RICHARD HAHN, FORMER FBI AGENT: They went back to their own residences. They used their own phones, their own cell phones, all of which allowed the police to not only identify them but to track them as they tried to flee.

MYERS: How did police find the bombers? Police sources say they received a tip this morning from someone who'd spotted these two suspects staying together. And U.S. and Italian sources say the arrest in Italy occurred because this bomber used his cell phone to call a relative as he moved across Europe, and authorities monitored the calls. Still, today, British authorities warned that a very real threat remains.

CHARLES SHOEBRIDGE, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Those who organized, planned, and provided these two cells with explosives and bombs are still at large.

MYERS: So far, there is no evidence the two cells knew of each other. They were from different areas, of different ethnic backgrounds which experts say suggests a larger professional operation.


There are probably more cells out there, and they're probably some very professional controllers who are running this thing, perhaps not even in the United Kingdom.

MYERS (on camera): Western intelligence officials tell NBC News there is reason to believe that both cells got guidance from someone in Pakistan. But so far, the trail does not lead all the way to Osama bin Laden.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: As Lisa just suggested, think of terrorism, and sooner or later you will think of bin Laden. But did he order the recent terror attacks in Egypt, Iraq, and London? Did he just inspire them? Does it matter which?

And with friends like these, who needs Democrats? The Senate majority leader breaking ranks with the president and announcing his support for stem-cell research. He's already been called by one of his previous supporters a sell-out.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Ask U.S. officials, and they'll claim it does not even matter that Osama bin Laden is still at large. His ability to communicate, they say, has been severely compromised by life on the run.

But as our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, discovers in our fourth story, with recent attacks in London and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, the 9/11 mastermind may no longer need to call the shots.


ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): American forces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, hunting for bin Laden last May. U.S. officials say they've rounded up hundreds of al Qaeda operatives over the years, pinning bin Laden down, making it difficult for him to communicate with his troops or order attacks.

CIA director Porter Goss recently with Tom Brokaw.

PORTER GOSS, CIA DIRECTOR: I think we've certainly chased Osama bin Laden off the playing field, in the sense that he can be out front doing what he wants to do. I would suggest he's definitely on defense as opposed to offense.

MITCHELL: But bin Laden's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was able to deliver yet another threatening video only last month. And other intelligence officials say bin Laden can still communicate through a network of couriers. More important, to continue his reign of terror, he doesn't have to order attacks like those in London or Sharm el-Sheikh.

In the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia, a spreading network of homegrown terror cells may take direction from bin Laden, or just be inspired by him.

DAN BEN JAMIN, TERRORISM EXPERT: Bin Laden has done his primary work. He's spread the ideology that he developed. And that's been vitally important for the movement. But that doesn't mean that bin Laden's influence is over. He may not be pulling the strings on particular operations, but his influence has been enormous. And we have a large jihadist movement to contend with.

MITCHELL: Especially in Iraq, where insurgents have aligned themselves with bin Laden as they murder Iraqis and Americans.

(on camera): The bottom line, in some ways it no longer matters whether bin Laden was behind a particular attack. He has spawned so many imitators around the world that the U.S. and its allies are still going to be targeted by terrorists, an enduring problem whether bin Laden is captured or not.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, Congress heads on vacation, and they still know what President Bush may do this summer, make John Bolton a recess appointment.

And I thought June was the critical time to buy bridal gowns. The stampede of rushing, blushing brides sacrificing dignity for a deal in Filene's Basement.


OLBERMANN: Back now, and as usual we pause the Countdown to explore the stories you would find below the fold and next to the Jumble puzzle. It's brides in midstride, bad karaoke, and the life aquatic with yours truly.

Let's play Oddball.

To a basement in downtown Chicago, Filene's Basement, most specifically. It's the annual running of the brides. And there they go, hunting out superlative bargains like a lion on the Serengeti stalks a wounded wildebeest. These brides (INAUDIBLE) would not be denied. With more nonsensical screaming and hooting than an Oprah audience, it takes the ladies about 60 seconds to tear 1,300 dresses off the racks, pile them up, and start trying on the ones they like.

The dresses are both domestic and imported. The savings can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollarines. They get brand names at discount prices, and all it cost the blushing brides are a couple of bruises and a large chunk of their dignity.

Then they all run next door to try to find husbands.

Now to Laos, the scene of the ASEAN gala dinner, the always highly anticipated finale to that global diplomatic conference. Secretaries of state, foreign ministers from all over the world loosen up and shake their groove things as a sign of solidarity and lack of talent. You may remember Colin Powell's attempt to wow the ASEAN conference last year.


COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE (rapping): You can go to Beijing, they're all waiting for you. Don't hold your breath for the E.U.


OLBERMANN: The Village People then broke up in protest.

This year, Condi Rice was previously engaged. Give her a lot of credit for seeing that one coming down Broadway with its doors open. Anyway, she sent the deputy secretary of state, Robert Zolick (ph), to manage this, or mangle this Western classic.

ROBERT ZOLICK, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE (singing):... daughter, Clementine. Oh, my darling, oh, my darling, oh, my darling Clementine, thou art lost and gone forever...


OLBERMANN: The Rex Harrison school of singing.

But this year's breakout star was Russia's foreign minister. He decided that addressing the crowd in a knockoff of the Darth Vader costume wagging a plastic sword would help the former Soviet state buck its dictatorial image.

You don't know the power of the Dark Side.

Finally, to the Audubon Society in Bristol, Rhode Island. This lobster is sad, so sad. This here is what you call a blue lobster. It's a genetic freak. We don't know much about this thing, other than it's a girl, and both its parents had some kind of gene that made it look like a blue Sharpie had leaked all over it. We also know she has the tank all to herself, because, well, because she's being shellfish.

There's also not much literature about blue lobsters, so I asked the Countdown staff what they knew. They said most lobsters are kind of brown when you catch them and red when you eat them. They said blue lobsters show up once in a blue moon. And they said this guy, or this gal, is probably related to Papa Smurf somehow.

So you guessed right. Half the staff is on vacation or out sick today.

The president might be a little sick tonight after what Bill Frist had to say about stem cell research.

A surprise sound from the solar system, An eerie sound track currently emanating from Saturn.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, the state of New Mexico, a ruling by its court of appeals, has, for reasons it would take 44 minutes to explain, given every resident the right to put slot machines in his own house.

Number two, Chinese scientists, always pushing the envelope. They're sending a team to Lake Kanasai (ph) in Shinshang (ph) near the Russian border. The researchers are hoping to pin down what's been eating horses and cattle along the lakefront. Why, lake monsters, of course, big red fish, supposedly up to 50 feet long, they say.

And number one, the Artemis Group of Berlin in Germany. The soccer's World Cup coming to the Olympic stadium there next year. The investment company says it will open just blocks away a giant 60-room legal brothel, complete with a staff of 100, a movie theater, a sauna, a restaurant, a buffet restaurant.

Hey, buddy, don't drag that across the cold cuts.


OLBERMANN: It has staggered his supporters and his critics alike. His opposite number in the opposing party has already expressed his admiration. It has astounded, even angered, those who saw him participate in the filibuster against people of faith evangelical presentation during the spring.

It will redefine the political landscape on the issue, and it has pitted the Republican president on one side versus the Republican Senate majority leader and the widow of the conservative hero of heroes on the other.

Our third story on the Countdown, Senator Bill Frist has today come out in favor of increasing federal financing for embryonic stem cell research.

Craig Crawford joins me in a moment.

First, here is our Capitol Hill correspondent, Chip Reid.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We were all once embryos.

CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican leader Bill Frist says he does believe a human embryo is a human life.

FRIST: But to me, it isn't just a matter of faith, it's a matter of science.

REID: Today, in a sharp break with President Bush, Frist declared his support for expanded federal funding of stem cell research using human embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics.

FIRST:... or your dad has Parkinson's. If your sister has a spinal cord injury, your views will be swayed more powerfully than you can imagine by the hope that cure will be found in these magnificent cells.

REID: He new stance is a victory for research advocates like Nancy Reagan, who today thanked Senator Frist in a statement and said, "Every day that goes by without cures is another day that families watch their loved ones suffer."

Frist, a heart transplant surgeon before going into politics, is widely respected on medical issues. Senator Arlen Specter, who recently underwent treatment for lymphoma cancer and carries an hourglass to symbolize that time slipping away, praised Frist's speech and said it could make an enormous difference in the Senate.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What Senator Frist has had to say is weighty and I think may bring us all together on this issue, so...

REID: Fifty percent of Americans support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, according to a recent MSNBC poll. Thirty-six percent are opposed, but many of those are vehemently opposed. Today, anti-abortion activists, who say destroying a human embryo is the taking of a human life, accused Senator Frist of betrayal and said they will refuse to work for him if he runs for president in 2008.

PATRICK MAHONEY, CHRISTIAN DEFENSE COALITION: We are not going to go out and put up signs, make phone calls, walk districts, canvas, hand out literature for a candidate who will abandon us!

REID: And conservative members of Congress denounced Frist's position in press conferences and on the Senate floor.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: There's a very basic principle that's involved here, though, and that's whether or not the young human embryo is a life or a piece of property.

REID (on camera): The House already passed a bill expanding embryonic stem cell research. Now it looks likely the Senate will do the same, putting the Senate and Senator Frist on a collision course with President Bush.

Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol.


OLBERMANN: We'll explore the implications of all that with Craig Crawford in a moment, added (ph) this, as rumors swirled of a recess appointment for John Bolton at the U.N. Bolton admitted another "oopsie" that will give Democrats something else to hit him over the head with. As first reported by David Shuster of MSNBC's "Hardball" last Thursday, Bolton, like all such nominees, was given a form full of boilerplate questions to answer, including one that asked if he had been interviewed or asked to supply any information in connection with any administrative, including an inspector general, congressional or grand jury investigation within the past five years, except routine congressional testimony. Check the yes box or the no box.

As Shuster reported, Bolton checked no, but the correct answer was yes. He had, as Shuster also reported, been interviewed by the State Department's inspector general in 2003, as that officer tried to figure out how this country had erroneously concluded that had Iraq had tried to buy nuclear material from Niger. While Democrats renewed their call for President Bush to withdraw Bolton's controversial nomination, more hints that the president is leaning towards the recess appointment option. Once Congress adjourned for the summer, he could appoint Bolton, who could then not be removed until after the swearing-in of the next Congress in January, 2007.

Compared to the Bolton process, the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee of John Roberts were supposed to resemble a quick dance in the spring rain. But something came acropper this afternoon. Republican leadership leaked word that it was so confident that it could get Roberts confirmed before the first Monday in October that the hearings would not have to start earlier than the first Tuesday in September. That changed, and suddenly.

Senate judiciary chairman Arlen Specter walked out of a leadership meeting just before 4:00 PM Eastern time today and said, We thought we had an arrangement, and it fell through. The arrangement, anticipating minimal friction from the Democrats, would have obviated the need for Republicans to threaten to start the hearings as early as August 29, cutting the Senate's vacation. Now that could still happen. Nobody is saying what.

The president's win today before getting out of town for August. The House got a roll of stamps and mailed him his energy bill, 275 votes to 156.

I'd like to call in Craig Crawford now, senior columnist of "Congressional Quarterly," MSNBC analyst and author of "Attack the Messenger," coming soon to a book store near you. Good evening, Craig.


OLBERMANN: Well, let's go back to this headline. Is there any measure you can supply of just how much of an impact Bill Frist's statement on stem cell research is going to have on that debate?

CRAWFORD: On the debate on stem cell research, I think it'll probably put the brakes on the president's initiative in this area. But even beyond that, I would say it's almost the first sound of the old "Quack, quack," Keith. I think this is a real sign the president's becoming a lame duck, when the leader of the Senate in his own party breaks ranks on such a major issue with the White House.

OLBERMANN: What happens, though? Can you have a leader - the majority leader of the Senate and the majority leader of the House going against each other on such a - if not vital issue, then such a high-profile issue? Can you have that, either?

CRAWFORD: Well, it's hard to imagine that and anything getting done. At least, not what the president wants in this arena. I do think the consensus on Capitol Hill is moving toward the science on this and not the political argument that the pro-life movement has been pushing. I think also, Senator Frist is moving to try and broaden the reach of the Republican Party beyond its dependence on pro-life conservatives, which is a dangerous move because President Bush's dependence on that vote is what got him in the White House twice.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the National Pro-Life Action Center already issued a statement tonight, calling him - Frist, that is - a sell-out. Craig, there is going to be necessarily a Frist-Bush fight on this, to some degree, isn't there? I mean, if Bush had been willing to compromise on this - obviously, Frist went to him first and said, Look, I'm going to say this. And then he said, You have to vote your conscience. If he were going to compromise, there would have been a joint statement, wouldn't there?

CRAWFORD: You'd think. Also, if the White House just backs out of this debate altogether and doesn't push it any further, that could be one avenue for them. The trouble with that is, and I think we've seen a lot of tests of the president in this area, is, Was he serious in his campaigns in the promises that he made to conservative voters on gay rights, banning gay marriage, and in this debate, as well? Or was it just for votes, or does he really mean it? And so now that he doesn't have to take these stands for votes and winning elections, it'll be interesting to see if he really pushes some of these issues.

OLBERMANN: How much do we think Arlen Specter had to do with this, I mean, coming out and saying, If we'd had stem cell research in this country, maybe I wouldn't have gotten cancer? Do you think, practically speaking, that may have influenced Frist?

CRAWFORD: It could have. Senators are very loyal to each other, and you know, they're much closer than they are in the House. There are so many of them in the House. And I think Senator Specter's condition certainly had a great impact on a lot of other senators. But also, I think Senator Frist's medical background in this - in science probably informs him in this decision, as much as anything else.

OLBERMANN: Apparently, he just got the degree today.


OLBERMANN: Speaking of Specter, changing topics, what happened with Roberts?

CRAWFORD: Roberts could actually face a little more trouble, not that it wouldn't be voted to confirm him, but they could get a little more friction, even out of some Republicans, connecting it to this Bolton story, if the White House did - the president did go for a recess appointment of Bolton. That would aggravate a lot of senators, even Republicans, the challenge to senatorial authority there, and that could actually make some trouble for the Roberts hearings.

OLBERMANN: So when they say there are risks involved in making a recess appointment, it's risk of revenge.


OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and "Congressional Quarterly."

How many days until the book?

CRAWFORD: Oh, it's coming in October, but available now on Amazon.

OLBERMANN: Great. Thanks, as always.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And one more political story, emphasis on the word "one." We'll let my friend Jay Leno explain it just as he did on Wednesday night's edition of the "Tonight" show.


JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT" SHOW: Did you see what did he today when he walked by a group of reporters? I have not doctored this. This is the actual footage. This is the raw feed. We have not changed this in any way. Watch the president here as he goes by the press.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... at 1:00 in the morning tomorrow morning, on CAFTA, Republicans sitting on the fence, the Republicans...


LENO: What was that all about? What was that all about?


OLBERMANN: White House spokesman Scott McLellan said he would not dignify questions about the president's gesture with comment. He didn't make a gesture, for that matter. But the reporters who witnessed that gesture on Capitol Hill said unanimously that it appeared that was the president's thumb, not any one of his fingers, which he raised, and it was as a question was asked him about the Central American trade pact CAFTA. Of course, the finger theory would be funnier - not true, just funnier.

Speaking of funnier, chocolate-flavored drugs sounds positively hysterical until you realize that the Mars company is serious about them. And speaking of things too sweet - oh, Paula, Paula, Paula. It's not enough she can't sing, now Fox has hired a special investigator to investigate her special. Ideal hands - or "Idol" hands, and ideal hands, are the devil's tools.


OLBERMANN: You've heard people say, you may have said it yourself, I'm addicted to chocolate. Yes, well, wait until the Mars bars people and some pharmaceutical companies develop cocoa-based prescription drugs. Our number two story on the Countdown: Potentially, we're on the verge of the entirely new meaning to that colloquialism "chocoholic." Our correspondent in Willy Wonka's chocolate and blood-thinners factory is Kevin Tibbles.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In search of a little comfort, generations have reached for chocolate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chocolate makes my day.

TIBBLES: Now Mars, the maker of everything from M&Ms to Snickers, says beyond comfort, certain cocoas found in chocolate could actually be good for you.

DR. HAROLD SCHMITZ, MARS, INC.: What really is exciting, we feel, is that we can leverage this discovery about cocoa and the cocoa flavanols into entirely new food products that are purpose-designed to deliver health benefits.

TIBBLES: Mars says its 15 years of research shows some cocoa molecules encourage blood flow and could in the future treat diabetes and stroke, even protect against cancer. The company says it's now talking to pharmaceutical firms about developing new cocoa-based medicines.

(on camera): But there's a lot more involved here than simply peeling back the paper and taking a bite. Many researchers say they're still waiting to see the proof of cocoa's benefits.

DR. JEANETTE NEWTON KEITH, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: We need to see the science that supports the beneficial effect of this chocolate-based drug before we can strongly recommend it to all of our patients.

TIBBLES (voice-over): Americans spend more money on chocolate than any other snack.



JOHNNY DEPP: I can see that.


TIBBLES: And hit films like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" celebrate just how big a role the candy plays in our lives. Some day, a derivative of that candy may actually assist in improving our health.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: If chocolate might soon be available only with a prescription, then a television network can go and hire an independent counsel. We segue now into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." Fox taking the Ken Starr/Archibald Cox approach to investigate claims of misconduct on its own hit show, "American Idol," specifically, claims made by former contestant Corey Clark that he and "Idol" judge Paula Abdul had had a sexual relationship, Fox Entertainment president Peter Liguori - hi, Peter - saying that Abdul and Clark have both been questioned in the investigation, Abdul denying, quote, "some allegations," Liguori going on to say Abdul will return to the series for its fourth season, her future beyond that hinging not on whether or not she had a relationship with Clark but on whether or not that relationship affected the show's outcome. "The sanctity of the competition is first and foremost," he said.

Maybe all this explains why Rupert Murdoch's son, Lachlan, abruptly resigned today as his father's chief deputy at Fox and News Corp. and headed home for Australia. Or his conscience might suddenly have arrived in the mail.

Speaking of overdue consciences, there's Michael Jackson news. His new album, not doing well. What new album, you ask? "The Essential Michael Jackson Collection," two disks, 38 tracks, including such hits as "In the Closet" and "Who Is It?" It debuted last week. In this country, it sold 8,000 copies - 8,000. That's one sixth the sales of the soundtracks to the movie, "The Dukes of Hazard." What we have to do is get the puppets from puppet theater to cut a CD, just to see if we can sell 8,001 copies.

How about a CD featuring strange noises coming from Saturn? We're receiving them. Plus, what are you doing in the year 2036? Your answer might have to be, I'm planning on dodging asteroids.

That's ahead, but first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of "Worst Person in the World." The bronze winner, the umpire in the Massachusetts state Little League tournament game. When a coach from the Methuen team shouted instructions in Spanish, the umpire stopped the game and ordered all players to speak English only. Supervisors have apologized.

Note, please, the umpire is unnamed. It's a bad sign when the name of the umpire in a ballgame is a secret.

Also nominated, the folks on the Web site Betonsports. Today they made it possible for to you bet on whether or not the appointment of John Roberts in the Supreme Court will mean Roe v Wade will be overturned.

But the winner? Trevon (ph) Smith of Fontana, California. Somebody stole his car. He wanted it back. He didn't have to wait, so he told police that his 4-year-old niece was in the car. She wasn't. He's been arrested, and he's become today's "Worst Person in the World"!


OLBERMANN: We're getting radio emissions from the planet Saturn. We're getting bad news about any outdoor plans you may be making for a weekend in the year 2036. And we're getting good news about the shuttle Discovery. We think it's good news. Our number one story on the Countdown: Space sounds, space threats, space explorers, starting with the latter and our correspondent Tom Costello at the Johnson Space Center in Houston - Tom.

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening. Today, NASA assigns what they're calling a "tiger team" to get to the bottom of this falling debris problem, essentially, a lot of people working very hard to solve this problem and get the next shuttle flying as quickly as possible. But with that timeline in question, today the space station mission managers formally requested that Discovery stay docked for an extra day to ensure that the station crew members have everything they need until the next shuttle visit.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you repeat that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Looks like we've found the area near the (INAUDIBLE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Yet again today, the crew of Discovery was using remote cameras and lasers to scan the shuttle's protective tiles for signs of damage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're looking for a little chip right in the middle of the tile.

COSTELLO: That chip and two small pieces of protruding tile filler were the focus of attention today. And while engineers will finish redoing all the imagery this weekend, NASA says, so far, they've seen nothing that could endanger the crew on re-entry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We certainly think we'll come back in on late Saturday or Sunday with a clean bill of health for Discovery.

COSTELLO: Also today, commander Eileen Collins reacted to news that falling debris on lift-off had put future shuttle flights on hold.

EILEEN COLLINS, SHUTTLE COMMANDER: I did not expect any large pieces of foam to fall off the external tank. We thought we had that problem licked.

COSTELLO: But with the next visit to the space station possibly delayed, NASA today said it may extend Discovery's visit by one day to strip the shuttle of anything that might help the space station crew, from lightbulbs to water to duct tape.

WAYNE HALE, SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM: The International Space Station formally requested that we spend an extra dock day with them to do some additional work, some transfers and so forth.

COSTELLO: Tomorrow, the first of three space walks to test tile repair techniques for future shuttle missions.

COLLINS: Good night from Discovery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good night, Eileen.


COSTELLO: NASA thinks that Discovery suffered about 25 dings on takeoff, on liftoff. They say that that is far fewer than the normal 150 dings that a shuttle comes back with. So they're feeling good about that. In addition today, NASA administrator Michael Griffin says he is not ruling out the possibility that the next shuttle may fly this year - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Tom Costello, ding counting at Johnson Space Center this evening. Many thanks.

Quick, fellow galaxy hitchhikers, how many planets are there in our solar system? Yesterday, the answer would have been 9. Tonight, it might be 10. Look, it's 2003-EL-61, the designation now given by the Minor Planet Center at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. It was independently discovered by two separate teams of astronomers, one in Spain, one at Cal Tech, and it has its own moon. It's out there beyond Neptune somewhere. All right, you go past Jupiter, you make a left at Uranus. It's very, very big.

It's very, very far away, unlike, say, the asteroid that is hurtling towards Earth and may hit us in about 30 years. Mark your calenders, April 13, 2029. That's when the asteroid known 99942-Apophis will be about 22,000 miles away. That's closer than the satellites that make your cell phone work. The concern for scientists, and really for everybody, is that there are three so-called gravitational keyholes that this asteroid must pass on its way, which could deviate its orbit enough that it would then come back seven years later and actually hit the earth, not just miss it, and that would look something like this.

Tea Leoni will cover it for MSNBC.

So what could possibly make the news from space any weirder? Talking planets, you say? Yes, we got that. The Cassini spacecraft, launched eight years ago to analyze Saturn, began detecting strange sound emissions as early as three years ago, radio waves similar to those produced by the aurora borealis and the aurora australis on this planet. Those you may have seen. These you can hear.

I recognize that sound. That sound is Brent Bozell.

So other than the part about the asteroid hitting the earth, why does any of this matter? Here to race through the category of space potpourri, Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia. Thanks again for joining us, sir.


OLBERMANN: So to start with, I can clear my calender of everything after the year 2036?

PITTS: Can I sell you some insurance for that day? I've got - you know, I got a great package for you. Yes, that's going to be quite a day, if it actually ever happens. You know, the possibility is kind of on the slim side to begin with, even though they say it's 1 in 15,000. But it has to hit those gravitational keyholes, so that's really spreading it out even bigger.

OLBERMANN: They are putting it this way, though, statistically. It has a greater chance of hitting the earth and getting through those keyholes than I do of getting hit by a bus? Is NASA, say, preparing to do anything about this in the next 30 years?

PITTS: Well, the real thing that has to happen here, Keith, is we have to look at the orbit very carefully and determine if those numbers that we have so far actually are correct because what could happen is, with further examination of the orbital path, we could find out that it's not going to come close to Earth at all. And that won't be the first time that's happened. It's happened probably three times in recent history. So we still need to do a little bit more research work with it.

OLBERMANN: Yes, and there's always a story like this either that we talked about three months ago or that we're going to talk about three months from now. But ultimately, is it - like they say in California, is it just a matter of time until the big one?

PITTS: Keith, it's just a matter of time. We are going to get hit at some time. The question is, Is it going to be in 2036 or is it going to be in 2236? So we're still looking for other objects like this that could do some damage to us.

OLBERMANN: All right, let's - while we have the time, let's move on to Saturn. Why is it making noise, and who is it talking to?

PITTS: I thought that was the soundtrack from a fright party I had last month, actually. The reason why it's making noise is because electromagnetic particles from the sun interact with Saturn's atmosphere and the magnetosphere particularly. And what has happened is that these scientists have taken their graphic description of this, their analysis of this, and just changed the frequency so that they can turn it into an audio file and hear what it sounds like, rather than just looking at the curve on a sheet of paper. So in a way, you can say Saturn is singing, but if you were to actually put your ear right there, that's not what you'd hear.

OLBERMANN: The other big news, 2003-EL-61, the big thing beyond Neptune - is it a planet? And if it is a planet, can it apply somewhere to get a better name than that?


PITTS: I hope that the International Astronomical Union will come up with a better name for it. But let's do the quick update. There's another one that goes along with this. I think it's UB-313 that's bigger than Pluto is, along with this one. So not only do we have a 10th planet, but there's also an 11th planet. Now, the planet issue, if we were doing this discovery 150 years ago, we would have considered these planets and we'd have 11 planets in our solar system.

OLBERMANN: But we don't now. Why not?

PITTS: We don't now because we've decided that the classic definition for our solar system includes just nine planets. But I'm thinking that, maybe, Keith, this will spur the International Astronomical Union to reconsider our definition of planet and maybe include these two and possibly the one that was discovered last year or two years ago, along with our other planets.

OLBERMANN: Yes, somebody - somebody in astronomy just has a whole set of - a whole slew of those solar models with the nine planets. They don't want to have to see them go out of date.

PITTS: They want to - they want to sell those.

OLBERMANN: Give me 30 seconds on the shuttle. Is everything all right? Is it going to make it back safely, as near as you can tell?

PITTS: Yes, it is going to make it back safely because they've done a very, very careful examination of the orbiter to make sure the tiles are all OK. The issue is with the external tank. They need to get that together. But most importantly, we should just treat this as if it's a test flight. We shouldn't fly again until we can get that straightened out. Then we can all be on board with that, and it'll make everything safe for the next trip.

OLBERMANN: Yes. I think the idea that stuff keeps falling off is a definite indicator they should just pause and take stock.

PITTS: Yes, not a good one. They should do that.

OLBERMANN: Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia, as always, sir, great. Thanks for joining us tonight.

PITTS: My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose, no matter where you are in the solar system. Good night, and good luck.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 28th

Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, David Coltman

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Chris, Maximilian Robespierre did not invent terror, but he was the man who brought it into the mainstream during the French Revolution.

Ironically, today the British have arrested nine more people in connection with the failed terror attacks of a week ago. Ironically, today the Irish Republican Army says it's getting out of the business of terror and violence.

Why is any of this ironic? Because today is the 211th anniversary of the day that the Terror of the French Revolution sent Maximilian Robespierre to his death on the guillotine.

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Twenty now in custody in England for the 7/21 attacks. But were the 7/7 attacks really the work of suicide bombers?

"Discovery" gets its 790,000-mile checkup, scoured for damage as it docks at the space station.

The outing of Valerie Plame. There was a third man? One who volunteered her identity to a reporter?

And does the DNA identify Bigfoot? Was it his hair found in the Yukon? And if so, is he suffering from Bigfoot-pattern baldness?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

There are nine more people in custody in England tonight, 20 all told, all connected to the failed subway and bus bombings of a week ago today. But still, only one actually suspected of being one of the bombers.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, unquestioned progress in the investigation, yet continuing fear of another attack. And a continuing series of questions about the attacks of July 7, and whether or not the presumed suicide bombers really intended to be suicide bombers.

First, the investigation into last Thursday's failed attacks. Police seized nine men in a series of early-morning raids in south London. Unclear exactly what connection the suspects are said to have to the terror attacks.

As to the only suspected bomber in custody thus far, Yassin Hassan Omar, NBC News has obtained this exclusive video of him a few years ago, complaining about a water leak in his government-subsidized apartment. This is security video from the same building in which police reportedly found explosive residue, in Omar's home, and bomb-making materials in his basement.

"The Times" of London reporting that police interrogation of Omar has been slow, that he's claiming headaches and nausea after being TASERed by police during his arrest. He also says they hit him in the head, and he want a translator, even though he has lived in England since he was 11 years old.

Thousands of miles away in Zambia, another arrest in connection with the attacks, police detaining Haroon Rashid Aswat, who was already accused of trying to set up terror camps in Oregon. While at one point, he was considered the possible mastermind of the attack, Western intelligence officials now telling NBC News that he appears to have been in Africa directly before and after the 7/7 bombings. But his cell phone was used in that time in Britain to contact the bombers.

Let's call in Charles Shoebridge, MSNBC counterterrorism expert and a veteran of 12 years with London's Metropolitan Police.

Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: The latest round of arrests, do we have any idea who these people were, if they fall into a category of planners or operational people, or were they most likely just like these three women who were arrested yesterday, accused of harboring the suspects?

SHOEBRIDGE: It would be great if they were in the first category, but I suspect very strongly they're not, the nature of most of the arrests that follows on from the arrest of the main suspect, one of the suspects for the actual failed bombings of July the 21st. We've got people on the periphery of these investigations. What happens is, of course, that as soon as you get a lead, you go to that address. Perhaps after a period of surveillance, you will make arrests, house searches, and so on.

That in turn will produce further leads, which means that you get this expanding circle of arrests and search operations. But almost invariably, the people concerned, in the absence of hard intelligence, will be those who have helped, those who've supported in some way.

But again, those people, after all, they are still facing long jail sentences, and not being dedicated terrorists themselves, it would seem, perhaps will give police information they need.

OLBERMANN: And the police again today described this as a race against time. Three of the four bombing suspects are still loose. Only one of those three has even been identified publicly by name. Is it right now a race the authorities are winning or losing?

SHOEBRIDGE: They've made very quick progress, there's no doubt about that. But clearly, the bombers had not expected to survive, at least in two of the cases. We're talking about the 21st of July attempts now.

Documentation was left behind, which, of course, set police on the trail of excuse me - going to various addresses and so on. And again, that documentation being left suggests perhaps it was an attempt at a suicide bombing.

We know from witnesses in this case that at least two of these bombers did indeed attempt to commit suicide. But certainly now, it's more than a week since that failed attempt. We only have one in custody. Indeed, there may be four other bombers on the loose, bearing in mind that another bomb was discovered abandoned very close to where one of the bombs actually was attempted to be let off.

So we've got this situation where I think there will be some disappointment amongst police at the extent to which, if these people are indeed still alive, which I suspect they are, that they're being harbored by certain members of their communities.

OLBERMANN: Regarding the 7/7 bombers, there has been a spate of articles here about those men. and the inconsistencies between their behavior and that of suicide bombers, as we traditionally understand them. They had round-trip train tickets from Luton to London. They had paid for seven days of parking for their rental car. They did not make the typical martyrs' tapes.

Is there reason to suppose that there's even a chance they may not have known they were to be suicide bombers? Or maybe that they didn't even know they were carrying bombs?

SHOEBRIDGE: I think that's extremely unlikely on both counts. Having said that, we'd be foolish at this stage to rule that possibility out, particularly given the circumstantial evidence you've mentioned.

Really, it's only going to be upon detailed forensic analysis, which, of course, is ongoing on a 24-hour basis on those crime scenes. Remember, those are scenes of complete devastation. Those bombs - all four bombs did explode, causing not just devastation around them and to the people and to the carriages and the bus, but also, of course, to the bomb itself.

Until we know whether indeed - well, what the trigger mechanism was, whether it was self-detonated, as I suspect they were, or whether some timers were involved, we can't know. But as soon as we know whether a timer was there, or whether a self-triggering mechanism was present, we will know for certain one way or another.

It is - there are explanations for why there were return tickets, for example, but, again, it may not be the right explanation. A return ticket in the U.K. is either the same price, or it can be even cheaper than a single ticket, paradoxically.

Also, remember, a bomb and several other parts or components of bombs were left in this vehicle. So it might be that the vehicle was intended to be returned to by other people, perhaps to collect that explosive. So again, that would explain why it was hired for seven days, why the car-park ticket was paid for quite a long way in the future.

OLBERMANN: All plausible explanations. But as you say, we will have to wait for the full forensics to understand which of them is the correct one.

The MSNBC analyst and counterterrorism expert Charles Shoebridge, great thanks for staying up late with us tonight, sir.

SHOEBRIDGE: You're very welcome.

OLBERMANN: And as Britain deals with this new terrorist threat, what was the lead story in the U.K. tonight, there is hope that the country can finally lay an old terrorist threat to rest.

The Irish Republican Army, responsible for 36 years of terror, has officially ended its campaign of violence in what British Prime Minister Tony Blair called a step of unparalleled magnitude. The IRA ordered all of its soldiers to disarm and pledged to pursue only peaceful means of achieving its objective of a united Ireland hence forth.

The governments of Ireland, Britain, and the U.S. all welcomed the news but warned that the words must be followed up with action, something that has not proved uniformly true in the wake of the cease-fires, retrenchments, and peace accords previously announced or signed by the IRA.

Closer to home, the second major sentencing of a convicted terrorist in this country. A day after the Millennium Bomber got 22 years, and the judge said the courts were the way to handle terrorism, not war, the self-proclaimed former spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden got the maximum sentence of 75 years from a judge in New York.

The Yemeni-born Sheikh Mohammad Ali Hassan al-Moayad had been convicted of conspiring to support and supporting Hamas and attempting to support al Qaeda. Al-Moayad was secretly recorded in a German hotel room during a meeting with two FBI informants as he promised to send more than $2 million to Hamas. Witnesses also testified he had boasted of funding bin Laden to the tune of $20 million.

As he was led away, Sheik Ali Mohammad said to the judge, Your honor, what have I done?

Seemingly another judicial success in the war on terror - oh, strike that. That should have read, seemingly another judicial success in the global struggle against violent extremism. More on the newspeak in a moment.

First, the latest plans to pull out of what President Bush called exactly a month ago today during his prime time address from Fort Bragg, the, quote, "central front in the war on terror," the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General George W. Casey, reasserting his belief that some U.S. troops can start leaving Iraq as early as next spring, if the political process stays on track, his boss deciding to make sure that that - or at least to try to make that that happens personally, the secretary of defense paying a surprise visit to Iraq to warn government leaders face to face that they'd better start agreeing on a constitution, saying that until that happens, the country will not stabilize, and American soldiers can't start leaving.

And while Mr. Rumsfeld took the argument to Iraq, Republican congressmen took it to the Hill, Congressman Wayne Gilchrist of Maryland joining Walter Jones of North Carolina and several Democrats in announcing a new resolution calling on the president to set a timetable to bring U.S. troops out of Iraq. Other supporters from Mr. Bush's own party, besides those-mentioned gentlemen, James Leach of Iowa and Ron Paul of Texas, Texas from Galveston to Victoria, where they are practicing no longer calling the war on terror.

What may have slipped out late in the campaign last year, when the president bluntly stated to Matt Lauer that he didn't think you could actually win a war on terror, has now become a full-fledged reversal of terminology. No war, no victory, no parades, but still a battle.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've, I think I've objected to the use of the term war on terrorism before, because, one, if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution. And it's more than terrorism. I think it's violent extremists is the real enemy here, and terror is the method they use.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The American people have greatly appreciated Poland's support in the global struggle against extremists.


OLBERMANN: Still, as anybody whose favorite sports team has moved from one city to another knows, you still slip from time to time and say Los Angeles Rams every once in a while. Mr. Rumsfeld on Monday of this week.


RUMSFELD: They've been a great help to Afghanistan, they've been a great help with respect to the global war on terror.


OLBERMANN: So if we're going to suffer periodic anachronistic W.O.T. references throughout the time of the GSAVE, there had better be some reasons beyond the change beyond just the introduction of a new catchphrase.

Let's talk about that with Richard Wolffe, "Newsweek"'s senior White House correspondent.

Good evening, Richard.


OLBERMANN: Well, this renaming stuff. Why?

WOLFFE: Well, that's a very good question. We have traveled a long way since the president talked about a crusade against evildoers. What really - it outlived its usefulness as a phrase. I mean, it was being strained to its limits with Iraq, which was really a war against a dictator, supposedly with weapons of mass destruction. And then it's moved again, because the president has expanded his vision to the stuff of legacies, about spreading democracy through the Middle East.

And, you know, war on terror doesn't really match any of those things. It - you know, the administration, the president have evolved, have been chastened by Iraq, and they're changing their language to reflect that.

OLBERMANN: Does it also suggest that they have been chastened by those who criticized the administration's strategy from 9/11 onwards, that to look at this as a war has impeded the necessary outside-the-box thinking, that it's gotten us into a ground war in Iraq instead of into infiltrating terrorist cells in London?

WOLFFE: Right. Well, to some extent, it was a gross oversimplification to begin with. I mean, there was always a lot of background activity which was counterterrorism with intelligence at departments across the world, law enforcement people across the world. That kind of stuff was obliterated by the language of the war on terror, and it still went on anyway.

The problem was, of course, that if you'd raised this kind of language last year, you'd have been shot to pieces. And actually, John Kerry was. If - can you imagine if he'd tried introducing this kind of language?

So, yes, it doesn't capture what has been going on. And it's something that, frankly, not just General Myers, but the allies have been saying, the people who are taking part in this antiterrorist activity, they've been saying for years. They say it alienates the people in those countries, and it alienates people in the community that they're trying to recruit.

OLBERMANN: Richard, I can't imagine that the timing of this is utterly coincidental with the timing of the talk about pulling troops out of Iraq, meaning, if you stop calling anything a war on terror, then you can now disengage, even if you have not won yet, even if that winning is - has not been done in Iraq. Correct?

WOLFFE: Yes, absolutely. There's not going to be a victory parade in Iraq. It's going to be a messy situation. (INAUDIBLE) when the American troops leave, hopefully it will be next year. But there's not going to be a clean situation on the ground, even if the troops can come home at that period.

So, yes, it's a reflection of that. And conservatives, frankly, you're hearing them say that it's time to recognize that this is going to be, to some extent, as the president revealed last year, a kind of ongoing struggle that won't have a definite period of victory.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, the idea of bringing troop levels down next year, totally coincidental with the poll numbers? The Republicans co-sponsoring this news piece of legislation and the midterm elections that are now 15 months away?

WOLFFE: It must be a coincidence, just as the whole rollout of the war came just before another midterm election. I'll look, the polls suggested that the American people had no appetite for deployments beyond two years. We've reached the two-year period. Republican are on the Hill are saying, Enough is enough. That pressure is building, and the polls are something they read, in spite of what the administration says.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent of "Newsweek" magazine, as ever, sir, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Any time.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, late word from NASA that falling debris did in fact hit the orbiter's wing. But has the shuttle escaped damage?

And the plot thickens also in the outing of the CIA officer Valerie Plame. Questions a third administration official who may have leaked the classified information, without a reporter even asking about it.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Any traveler in any vehicle will tell you that stuff falling off at the start of the trip is never good news, and that sometimes you'll have to check in at the local filling station to have somebody look your machine over to see if she can still run.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, that's basically what "Discovery" did today with the International Space Station, substituting for the proverbial filling station. And so early this evening, flight operations had to amend what it had said yesterday about the shuttle not getting hit by anything that fell off at lunch.

But the big question to our correspondent Tom Costello, live at Cape Canaveral, did NASA also have to amend what it said about "Discovery" not being damaged?

Good evening, Tom.


And the short answer is, they don't really know yet. They don't know for sure that the space shuttle has suffered any significant damage. They don't think so.

Here's what happened. Late this afternoon, early evening, NASA managers announced that, in fact, at a very high altitude, 200,000 feet, they saw two small pieces of foam fall off and hit the orbiter, hit the right wing, in fact, of the orbiter.

Now, the problem with that is that it was traveling at such a high altitude, and the velocity was such, and the speed was such - Those are the images. They're awfully hard to discern, but NASA knows what they mean. It was traveling at such a velocity, they don't think it damaged the right wing. The sensors on the right wing, in fact, didn't pick up anything at all.

Back out here at the cape, behind me, the vehicle assembly building, and in that building right back there sits the space shuttle "Atlantis." It has already made it up attached to its external fuel tank for a September launch. That launch obviously right now is on hold until they get to the bottom of this falling-debris problem.

In space today, the crew of "Discovery" performed really a magnificent space pirouette.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Mission Control Houston with the rendezvous and approach for docking continuing...

COSTELLO: No shuttle had ever done it before, an orbital pitch back flip just 600 feet below the space station, giving the station's crew 93 seconds to photograph "Discovery"'s tiles and panels for any signs of damage. And this stunning image of "Discovery" nose first.

The initial assessment...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're downloading both cards right now. I thought the process went real fine. Neither of us saw anything alarming.








COSTELLO: Then, at 7:19 Eastern time...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you are go for docking.

COSTELLO: The first shuttle visit in two and a half years to the space station, badly in need of resupply. But while today's mission appeared to be flawless, NASA remains very concerned about the one- to two- foot piece of foam that fell off the external fuel tank on launch, grounding future shuttle missions.

It came from an area NASA had looked at but not redesigned after the "Columbia" disaster.

JOHN SHANNON, FLIGHT OPERATIONS MANAGER: We were wrong, and we missed something, and we have to go figure out what it was, and go fix it.

COSTELLO: Also today, this new video, taken from "Discovery" as the external fuel tank fell back to earth, showing something that may have fallen off "Discovery," perhaps a large piece of ice.

All of the falling debris, a concern. Crew member Steven Robinson told us in April, debris the size of a marshmallow could be fatal.

STEVEN ROBINSON, SHUTTLE CREW MEMBER: Yes, it's amazing that something so small, that when you speed it up, if it goes fast enough, it has enough momentum to damage what are actually fairly fragile parts of the shuttle.

COSTELLO: But flight managers insist the debris question is not distracting them from the mission at hand.

PAUL HILL, FLIGHT DIRECTOR: It's all about manned space flight. It's all about taking care of Eileen Collins and her crew.


COSTELLO: Let's emphasize once again that that small piece of debris that apparently hit the leading wing edge today, or they noticed it today, is not in any way posing a danger to the crew. That's the initial assessment.

Interesting, though, today Russia announced that they were ready to rescue the crew of "Discovery" with three Soyuz spacecraft, should the crew need to be rescued. Again, they don't. It was both a sincere and gentle offer from Russia, but also a bit of prodding, and a reminder that Russia has been flying in space for the last two and a half years, while the space shuttle fleet has been grounded, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Tom Costello at Cape Canaveral. Let's hope they don't discover anything more tomorrow. Great thanks, Tom.

One other bit of news from outer space, a preview of sorts, a long-range preview. It is July 28, 2005. If you'll just wait a few more July 28ths, you'll be able to see Haley's comet, 56 years from today, July 28, 2061. Be there. Aloha.

Also tonight, the big bad bucket of Lawrence, Kansas. The neighbors didn't like it, the police came and took it so no one else could see what was in it. Ah, but we have found out.

And speaking of surprises, is this hair from Bigfoot? The DNA cannot lie. The answer, with a real scientist, revealed tonight, here on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Back now. And we pause the COUNTDOWN to stroll down the gratuitous and ridiculous video aisle. A word of warning here. If you're the squeamish type, or if you're eating dinner, this first story might gross you out, so look away. On the other hand, if you have a foot fetish, you're probably in the right place.

Let's play Oddball.

In Lawrence, Kansas, and that over there is Ezekiel Rubottom. He and his friends are having a hoedown. Why are they having a hoedown? Because Ezekiel just got his foot back from the police.

Yes, Ezekiel had his foot amputated a few weeks ago because of a deep bone infection. Ezekiel liked his foot. He asked the doctors if he could keep it. They said, Sure. So Ezekiel kept the foot on his porch in a bucket of formaldehyde, along with a beer can, a steak knife, and a leek.

His neighbors caught wind of this, called the cops. The cops took his foot to the police station. Mr. Rubottom called the police station and made his case to get his foot back.


EZEKIEL RUBOTTOM, REQUESTED FOOT BACK FROM POLICE: It's a part of me. It's been with me for 21 years. I still wanted it. So I called up the cops and I said, You have my foot. I want it back.


OLBERMANN: And how many policemen have heard that familiar statement?

Ezekiel then showed the cops where the foot used to be, and they gave it back. That's when the hoedown - that's hoedown and not toedown - started, and that's the story of how Ezekiel got his foot back.

To Tuscon, Arizona, where we meet one of COUNTDOWN's Real Men of Genius. Today we salute you, Mr. Flip-the-Bud-Lite-truck-on-the-highway. Sure, you could have safely delivered those tasty Bud Lites to the thirsty patrons of the Grand Canyon State, but that would have been too easy.

No, you decided to take a little nap and let the beer do the driving.

Only you forgot one thing. Beer can't drive.

Maybe and you the passenger in your cab walked away unharmed, but you caused a ton of traffic, and the 30,000 innocent brewskis paid the ultimate price.

But we know like the phoenix, you'll rise from the suds to drive another truck filled with more Bud Lite, because, after all, you're one of COUNTDOWN's Real Men of Genius.

We can flip the truck over on its side.

From Real Men of Genius to men under real suspicion. Never mind Karl Rove, is a third White House staffer believed to have talked to a reporter about Valerie Plame.

And another manhunt in the Philadelphia area, this time for a missing pregnant woman. The manhunt began 10 days after she was seen last. Why?

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, Ayattu Nure of Iwa Abassa (ph) in Nigeria. He has 11 wives, 77 children, 40 of them attend the same school. Yet he wants to tell you today, quote, "polygamy is no fun."

Number two, Curtis Holmes, attorney in Pocatello, Idaho. Well, he was an attorney when he started his opening statement to the jury. Then judge had to declare a mistrial because he learned Holmes had had his license suspended for offering to handle a woman client's divorce if she'd pose nude in photographs for him.

Number one, Dan McKay of North Dakota, winner of the 24th annual Bulwer-Lytton Award for terrible writing. Edward Bulwer-Lytton was the guy whose 1830 novel began, "It was a dark and stormy night." What won McKay the world's worst honors this year? His entry compared fondling a woman's breasts to repairing carburetors.


OLBERMANN: A third administration figure has now been injected into the CIA leak/Karl Rove investigation. A reporter's source who was neither Rove nor Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby, and a reporter's source whose reporter makes it clear in no uncertain terms the source volunteered the information that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA analyzing weapons of mass destruction.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, to borrow the title of the old Carol Reed/Joseph Cotton/Orson Welles masterpiece, "The Third Man." The source remains unidentified, but the reporter is this man, Walter Pincus, who covers the intelligence beat for "The Washington Post." Pincus has written a piece on the use of anonymous sources for a scholarly publication, "Nieman Reports" of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard.

In it, he recalls that two days before the column by Robert Novak outing Valerie Plame, quote, "On July 12, 2003, an administration official who was talking to me confidentially about a matter involving alleged Iraqi nuclear activities veered off the precise matter we were discussing and told me that the White House had not paid attention to former ambassador Joseph Wilson's CIA-sponsored February, 2002, trip to Niger because it was set up as a boondoggle by his wife, an analyst with the agency working on weapons of mass destruction."

Pincus also wrote that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wanted him to name the source. Pincus refused. And then Pincus discovered that his source had named himself. Pincus says Fitzgerald finally put him on oath last September, never asked him to identify his source, only about the nature of their conversation.

So where do we get idea that Pincus's source was neither Rove nor Libby? "The New York Times." Its story today reads, "A review of Mr. Pincus's own accounts and those of other people with detailed knowledge of the case strongly suggests that his source was neither Rove nor Libby and was, in fact, a third administration official whose identity has not yet been publicly disclosed."

The Walter Pincus story is just the latest tentacle springing out from what may - some have already called the neverending story. Paying close attention to that story, both for a series of columns on the Findlaw Web site and because, perhaps, of his own sense of deja vu, is John Dean, the White House counsel to Richard Nixon and author of the book "Worse Than Watergate."

Good evening, John.


OLBERMANN: What's the significance of the third man here? Is it his or her identity? Is it the willingness to volunteer information to Pincus? Or is it something else?

DEAN: Well, it's hard to really know for certain, since we're not privy to the investigation. What I found interesting is that, apparently, Fitzpatrick is not - Fitzgerald is not interested in the information of exactly the identity of the person, which suggests this person isn't a target, isn't a corroborating witness. So the exact role of this person is not clear.

We do know from "The Washington Post" many, many, many months ago, that they said some six people had been involved on behalf of the administration in trying to spread this story, so I assume this is one of the six. But this is story, Keith, is one that we just learn a little more about, about one sixteenth of an inch at a time and long between those movements.

OLBERMANN: Does the solidity of the fact that there's a third source if "The Post" is right and there's six, that's still somewhat nebulous. But here we have two named ones and potentially a third one. Would that explain why Judith Miller of "The New York Times" is in jail, or is the speculation Arianna Huffington posted today correct, and, in fact, Judith Miller was the original source about Plame to the administration figures?

DEAN: Yes, that story about Judith Miller's role has been buzzing around for quite a while, and this could have some influence on that. I'm not inclined to speculate excessively on these things. We do know that a lot of people think that it may be Miller herself who tipped off people, and it may be that Fitzgerald is trying to press her to find out where she got the information from, and there could be a tie-in there. So again, we're pretty much in the area of speculation. But what is the - to me, the interesting point is how little we do know, how close this prosecutor is holding his information.

OLBERMANN: But you were one of the first people to posit, as a lot have since, that this prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald's, case in the investigation would probably not turn out to be about this very fine point of law, the deliberate outing of an undercover agent, that the threshold for that is extraordinarily high, and that if there are indictments, they will probably wind up being for perjury, for withholding information. Are you any clearer in your own mind on where you think he is going?

DEAN: Well, our principal source for information on this story has been not the witnesses themselves who've been appearing before the grand jury, who are free to talk, but their attorneys. And it's not unusual for attorneys in situations like this to share information amongst themselves so they can better protect and defend their clients. And there is a little buzz going on amongst these attorneys, and this is what is trickling out into the press and how we know the progress we do know.

One of the indications that has developed of late is, indeed, that there is more of an indication that the witnesses are being asked about questions that would suggest a perjury investigation or an obstruction of justice investigation. So that is a turn in the case.

OLBERMANN: I referenced your Findlaw columns at the beginning of the introduction here. You've actually found and put in one of them a fairly recent legal precedent that might also give us something of a roadmap as to where the Rove case could go?

DEAN: Well, this is the Randel case that came out of Atlanta, where a young Ph.D. analyst had the book thrown at him. He's a classic whistleblower. And they threatened him with 500 years in jail if he didn't plead. He pled and did time, for not classified information, for just sensitive information. And when you throw the book at a very small fish, I'm not quite sure how you can let a big fish off the hook.

And I think that's the most troubling aspect of the precedent. It may or may not affect the actual law that was involved, but it's the attitude towards prosecution that the Justice Department has shown with others who have leaked improperly information. And they're going to have to explain that away or pursue a similar course of prosecution.

OLBERMANN: There may still be a few books to throw in this one. And one other thing about one of your columns. This is from June of 2004. And you mention the arrival on the stage of a player who, even to this date, is probably unknown to a lot of people in this case. People may not have heard this name, James E. Sharp. Who is he, and why do we care?

DEAN: Well, Jim Sharp - it's very interesting. He's been around Washington a long time. When I first hear the name, he was a young former assistant U.S. attorney whose most notable prosecution had been to successfully prosecute Maryland Senator Brewster for bribery. But where I also ran into him is he defended Jeb Magruder in the Watergate affair. So as I say, he's been around a long time, has a very good reputation.

And the significance of it, however, is the fact he is now - one of his clients is no less than the president of the United States, George Bush. And so why did Bush hire an outside attorney? Well, it's quite obvious to me that he's got information he dare not tell a government attorney because there's no attorney-client privilege. And it suggests that he knows more than we are being told publicly he knows, otherwise, he wouldn't have needed to bring in an outside attorney.

OLBERMANN: What percentage of presidents wind up hiring their own criminal defense attorneys? Do you have any idea?

DEAN: I think it will become the norm in the future, after what Mr. Starr did to the attorney-client privilege. If a lawyer - excuse me - if a president feels he has any problem, he's going to go to an outside attorney, rather than work with an in-house attorney, because that person could theoretically, as Hillary Clinton learned, have to reveal any notes, conversations, and what have you. So no longer is a government attorney available.

So we have one precedent right now, which is George Bush, followed by Dick Cheney, who also hired his own private attorney. And that is the new standing precedent, if you will.

OLBERMANN: Lots of deja vu to go around. John Dean, the White House counsel to Richard Nixon, columnist on, author of "Worse Than Watergate," as always, John, my great thanks.

DEAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, a pregnant woman in Philadelphia vanishes without a trace more than a week ago. Now a reward and fund have been started and police are pulling out the stops to try to solve the mystery. Now. And how could Paris Hilton be a mystery to anyone? Well, it seem her future mother-in-law had no clue about Paris's home video. Her message to her son? Lose her! That's next. This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN: Police spent the day canvassing a neighborhood and park in the western part of their city, bringing in about 100 cadets from the local police academy, searching for a woman who disappeared. Natalee Holloway? No.

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN: This woman is named LaToyia Figueroa, and she is not blond and the scene of her disappearance is not the exotic world of Aruba but rather the blue-collar streets of Philadelphia. Which may explain why the manhunt and the media coverage has only just begun, even though 24-year-old Ms. Figueroa disappeared 10 days ago. Our correspondent, Michelle Franzen, is in Philadelphia tonight. Michelle, good evening.

MICHELLE FRANZEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening to you, Keith. That is right. LaToyia Figueroa has been missing since July 18 from this West Philadelphia neighborhood. All day today, police officers have been scouring this 230-acre park, Cobbs Creek Park. This is a park near by the neighborhood where LaToyia Figueroa was last seen.

Police have very little to go on even 10 days into this investigation. They say that they had conducted a few searches early on, but this is their most extensive search to date.

What we do know about LaToyia Figueroa is that she is 24 years old. She is five months pregnant. And police say she was last seen on July 18, and that was walking from her boyfriend's house nearby shortly before she disappeared or was told that she - or was recorded that she had disappeared. Now, police also say that there has been no cell phone activity and no bank transactions since she has disappeared. However, they do not have any suspects at this point, and they do not have any leads to why she may have disappeared.

Family members, though, have been pushing police to step up their search. They have also been handing out flyers and asking the community for help. Ms. Figueroa disappeared, again, July 18. Now, the search here in the park has been going on all day. One hundred cadets from the police academy helped out dozens of other officers. So far, though, they have not found any more clues to lead them to any reason why LaToyia Figueroa may have disappeared - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Michelle, are officials saying anything about this public criticism that this is too little, too late? Any explanation as to why they waited a week or more before starting this kind of search?

FRANZEN: Police had said that they had done initial searches in the neighborhood where she had disappeared. They had interviewed her boyfriend. However, they had no reason to believe that she had even gone in the park. But since it was near by the neighborhood, police said it was time to search this park as full as they could.

OLBERMANN: Michelle Franzen in West Philadelphia. Great. Thanks.

From the tragically disappeared to people many of us would like to see at least symbolically disappear, the sharp turn into our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs."

Could there actually be somebody on earth who had not heard about Paris Hilton's sex tape? Yes. Unfortunately for her, it appears it's her future mother-in-law, "Star" magazine claiming that the mother of her fiance, Paris Latsis, told her boy, Get rid of her now, after learning from a Greek magazine with the suspicious title "Very Sorry" about the X-rated romp with her ex, the one you can literally buy at a corner newsstand in Marrakesh these days.

If "The Star's" source is correct, this widow at least (ph) saw Paris Hilton's other problem, that her engagement ring is too heavy. An upcoming issue of "Us Weekly" says that Hilton has been complaining her finger hurts from the weight of her 24-carat ring-o-la. But Latsis, heir to a Greek shipping fortune, was nice enough to buy her another diamond-less Cartier wedding band for everyday wear. Hopefully, considering what Mom said, he kept the receipts.

Meanwhile, the celebrity story that will not go away, the death of Princess Diana of England, another new story about the car in which she died. It has been shipped from Paris to London for forensic examination. Experts say they will use computer technology to reenact the crash. Britain's official inquest into the accident was adjourned to allow the police investigation, which is now under way. Evidently, they are looking for a final verdict on how and why she died that they can release just around the time Haley's comet comes back 56 years from today.

Another great mystery of this world: Bigfoot, myth, reality, guy in a suit, balding reality? Science steps in to try to answer the question for once and for all. The answer ahead. Well, maybe.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for the coveted title of "Worst Person in the World," the bronze going to the people at Massport, the highway authority in Massachusetts. They had replaced six suicide prevention hotline signs that had been mysteriously moved earlier this month from a Boston bridge. One problem: The new signs for the suicide hotline have the wrong phone number.

Also nominated, the Reverend Jim Grove of York, Pennsylvania. Everybody is entitled to an opinion about abortion, but Reverend Grove's opinion may lead to the cancellation of York's traditional Halloween parade. The city says it cannot run the legal risk of authorizing Grove's anti-abortion Halloween float. The title should be enough to explain why. It is called Dr. Butcher's Chop Shop of Choice Cuts.

But the winner? That would be Channoah Green. Police say she got mad at her 4-year-old son because he would not sit down in the car, so she pulled over and made him get out - on the side of the highway near Falls Church, Virginia, at 10:00 o'clock at night. When he tried to get back into the car, she drove off, hitting him with the car and driving 90 miles away. The boy is OK, just scrapes. A neighbor says of the, quote, unquote, "mother," "That's out of character. She's really crazy about the boy."

Well, neighbor, sounds like you're half right. Channoah Green, today's "Worst Person in the World"!


OLBERMANN: There is an old and deep saying from the Himalayas, translated roughly from the Sherpa - and of course, I'm speaking in the vernacular Sherpa here - as, There is Yeti in the back of everyone's mind, only the blessed are not haunted by it.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN; Yeti, Sasquatch, Bigfoot, guy in a bad gorilla suit, call him what you will, he haunts us. Annually, it seems. We have had another "maybe it's Bigfoot" day, a tantalizing hair sample recovered from the Yukon from a bush that witnesses swear they saw Bigfoot brush against. The DNA tests on the hair are in. The scientist who performed them will join us in a moment to tell us whether or not Bigfoot is going bald.

But first, a reminder about the neverending hunt for Bigfoot, or Notorious F.O.O.T. as he's known to his friends. That film you saw just there? It's only 16 months since that film was debunked once and for all when a retired Pepsi bottler joined us on COUNTDOWN and admitted he posed as Bigfoot for a filmmaker named Roger Patterson in 1967.


OLBERMANN: Mr. Heironimus, let me begin with you here. Why, after almost 40 years of keeping this a secret, have you decided to come clean now about you portraying Bigfoot in this thing?

BOB HEIRONIMUS, PRETENDED TO BE BIGFOOT FOR VIDEO: Well, after 35 years of watching this on television numerous, numerous, numerous times, I think it's time that people knew the truth. I was the man in the Bigfoot suit.


OLBERMANN: Bob Heironimus, not Bigfoot. So what about this newest Bigfoot sighting and reputed evidence left in the Yukon? Well, the hair doesn't mean much to and you me, but experts like David Coltman, wildlife geneticist from the biology department at the University of Alberta in Canada, this and a little science could tell the whole story. Dr. Coltman joins us now from Edmonton.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: We don't have a drum roll, so just tell us. Is Bigfoot wandering around the Yukon, and is he shedding?

COLTMAN: Well, we don't know if Bigfoot is wandering around the Yukon, but we do know that this hair sample genetically resembles a bison with 100 percent certainty.

OLBERMANN: So it's not a Bigfoot, it's a buffalo, basically.

COLTMAN: The hair sample comes from a bison, does not come from a Bigfoot.

OLBERMANN: All right. So do witnesses who said that, earlier this month, they saw a large human-like furry creature breaking off tree branches, leaving footprints, leaving the hair on a bush - could a bison have done all that and left the hair?

COLTMAN: Well, we don't believe so. This hair sample that we analyzed had very little amplifiable DNA in it. In other words, we think it has been around for a long time, or maybe it's come from a hide or a trophy mount or something else.

OLBERMANN: Oh, boy. Now, you're a scientist, and not to prejudge you, but it does imply that you have to be at least serious a lot of the time. Were you nonetheless disappointed that this did not turn out to be Bigfoot's hair?

COLTMAN: I think everybody was a little bit disappointed. There was collective a sigh when we announced the results. But you know, we took this - we took this seriously, and we did this objectively and professionally.

OLBERMANN: There's a great theory about these apparitions - Bigfoot and the other giant monsters - that these are not guys in suits, they're not creatures, they're not frauds, they're some sort of collective memories of the kinds of beasts who used to chase our ancestors around the caves, that somehow, we are remembering, as a species, the fear of being chased by a mastodon. Do you buy that? Is that plausible?

COLTMAN: I'm not - I don't know if it works for me. But certainly, the myths of the man in the woods or the green man, these kind of mythologies, go back a long, long way in human history.

OLBERMANN: You've chimed in on Bigfoot. You've taken it, as you said, seriously. Is there something next for you? Do you work on Dracula or the Invisible Man or werewolves or something?


COLTMAN: I don't think so. I did have somebody contact me with a piece of fur that they believe came from a wolf-like an animal that walks on hind legs, maybe a werewolf. I think I'll let that one go, though.

OLBERMANN: No doubt it was a werewolf who was chasing Bigfoot through the caves, being followed by mastodons. From Edmonton, Dr. David Coltman from the University of Alberta biological sciences department. The tuft of hair from Teslin in the Yukon is not Bigfoot, and neither is he. Dr. Coltman, thank you kindly for your time tonight.

COLTMAN: You're welcome.

OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN. I'm Keith Olbermann. As Bigfoot would say, keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 27

Guest: Steve Emerson, Rick Hauck, Jim Vandehei, Mo Rocca

ALISON STEWART, HOST: NASA's return to flight suffers a critical setback, while it's .believed the seven astronauts orbiting right now are not in any danger, they will wake up to the news that the rest of the shuttle fleet has been grounded. The problem that brought down "Columbia" has not been fixed. And the best minds in NASA have to go back to the drawing board before another orbiter blasts off again.

Which of the stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Serious news tonight for NASA. Foam insulation once again shed from the external fuel tank during liftoff. If the shuttle made it into orbit unscathed, was it just blind luck? And what will it mean for the future of the shuttle program?

One down, three to go. A suspected London bomber is in captivity, and officials hope will he crack under interrogation and lead police to the accomplices.

The CIA leak. Robert Novak was told not once, but twice before he outed agency officer Valerie Plame that her name was off limits. So how will that affect the investigation?

And in a time when image is everything in politics, we'll tell you who's hot and who's not on Capitol Hill. The Hill's 50 most beautiful people. Wait a minute, they actually came up with 50 smoking people in D.C.?

All that and more, now on Countdown.

And good evening. I'm Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

Quote, "We decided it was safe to fly as is. Obviously, we were wrong," end quote. That is the word from NASA tonight after finding the same foam debris that doomed the space shuttle "Columbia" flew off the "Discovery" during liftoff yesterday, although at this point, it does not appear to have damaged the craft.

Our top story on the Countdown, with the safety of the "Discovery" and the future of the space program on the line, NASA has grounded all future shuttle missions as of tonight.

The triumphant moment of a seemingly pristine launch yesterday morning gave way to concerns about falling debris by afternoon. And tonight, while the astronauts aboard "Discovery" sleep, NASA struggles to explain the large chunks of foam that unexpectedly shed from their ship's fuel tank.

Our correspondent Tom Costello is at the Kennedy Space Center. Tom?


In fact, yes, we have the shuttle fleet, or what's left of it on the ground in the United States right now, grounded because of falling debris, the same problem that brought down "Columbia" two and a half years ago. They thought they had this problem under control. But you saw the video of that piece falling off the external fuel tank. And a short time ago, we had NASA managers saying that had that hit "Discovery," it would have been very bad news indeed.

And so tonight, the entire shuttle fleet, with the exception of "Discovery," already in space, is grounded.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It is this video image that NASA engineers have been reviewing closely, a piece of debris falling off the external fuel tank after the solid-rocket boosters separate. Today, NASA released still photographs taken from "Discovery" after it jettisoned the external fuel tank. Those pictures show a piece of missing foam below the liquid oxygen feed line.

BILL PARSONS, NASA SHUTTLE PROGRAM MANAGER: If we had understood it before we flew, then we would have made modifications to it. But apparently there's still more understanding that has to occur. And we will go do that, and do it diligently. Until we're ready, we won't go fly again.

COSTELLO: Troubling, since NASA had redesigned the foam to keep it from falling off and striking the shuttle.

If insulation is still breaking loose, future shuttle flights could still be in danger. NASA says it's not overly concerned about a piece of tile that appeared to break away from the landing gear door during liftoff.

"Discovery"'s crew spent the day operating a robotic arm equipped with cameras and lasers to inspect the shuttle for signs of damage, tediously scanning tile after tile, from the crew quarters to the nose and the reinforced carbon carbon on both wings. So far, no signs of serious damage.

(on camera): To emphasize, "Discovery"'s crew already in space is not in any danger. They have yet to find any significant damage on "Discovery." But it does mean that the "Atlantis" space shuttle slated for launch in September is at this point grounded, Alison.


STEWART: Tom Costello at Cape Canaveral for us tonight. Thanks to you.

For more on the implications of this latest development, we are joined now from the Johnson Space Center in Houston by James Oberg, a former space shuttle Mission Control engineer who spent more than two decades at NASA.

Mr. Oberg, it's great to have you back on the Countdown, although it's too bad that we need to be talking about this.

I want you to be very clear with me. The "Discovery" crew, if it's already in orbit, are they in any kind of danger because of this foam insulation problem?

JAMES OBERG, MSNBC SPACE ANALYST: Does not appear so, Alison. And when I say appear, we really can mean it, because they are looking at the underside of the shuttle, the front edge, checking instruments, looking at more pictures. And so far, everything they've seen indicates that the heat shield is intact and will function properly on landing.

If they had a problem, though, of any kind, and were stuck on the space station and required what they call the safe haven mode, and a pickup by the next shuttle, that would be a different question. We pressed twice at the press conference tonight whether or not the grounding of the fleet, which is not officially announced, but in practice appears to be, whether they still would have launched a rescue ship, "Atlantis," knowing that the insulation on the tanks, the tank that flew yesterday and the tank that would fly on "Atlantis," is no longer trustworthy.

It's not as much as they wanted. And they would not answer. They said they knew it was a tough decision to make for a rescue flight. They would still face that decision. They haven't given up if they need it. But still, there's no indication that they will need it. And we should be thankful for that.

STEWART: All right, let's all keep our fingers crossed collectively for that.

Is it a matter of sheer luck that this foam insulation didn't cause a major problem for "Discovery"?

OBERG: When that was brought up, we had a very - some very intriguing words. And Wayne Hale (ph), who I've known for 25 years, flown missions with him at Mission Control, I trust his intelligence, his integrity, and his skill as an engineer, and he said, yes, if this thing had come off earlier, if this big piece had come off earlier, it could have been really bad.

Now, as far as hitting the front edge of the wing, making a "Columbia"- like hole, a lethal wound, that's still a question of odds, because it might have hit somewhere else.

This piece is not like the chip that we saw last night. In the video you just saw, it's coming off not from the far end of the tank, where it would have been big and far away, it's (INAUDIBLE) from near the top. And to give an impression of the size of this piece, we have another model here for you. Again, sparing no expense I prepared a scale model of the insulation fragment. I was going to take a nap on it. But it's about pillow sized and probably pillow weight, flying off, missing the shuttle.

But it might have gone differently if the winds were different, if they time and the ascent were different. And if it hit the shuttle, the chances are it would have scoured some tiles, scraped some tiles. Again, probably not a lethal wound, but it's not the sort of thing you want to face, because a piece came off an area of the tank that had been sprayed on years ago, and the NASA engineers decided it was safe. They were wrong, they said they were wrong. Another piece came off near the bipod ramp, which is where the piece came off that killed "Columbia" and its crew. Another piece came off there in a newly redesigned and reconstructed area.

So both the old stuff they thought was OK and the new stuff they'd worked very hard to make OK, both failed, and in a spectacular way. And the mood here has totally swung in the past couple hours, although the...

STEWART: I can imagine.

OBERG:... everyone's happy with the mission, but the mission is going fine, and it's going to work fine, with a link-up with tomorrow. The crew will be home safe in about 10 more days, we can bet on that. But will a shuttle fly again in September as scheduled? Will it fly again this year? Will it fly again in a year from now? Nobody knows.

STEWART: And realistically, how long do you think it'll take to figure this all out?

OBERG: They've got to go and requalify the tank, and they said so. They were - they can't make an estimate now. But let's face it, the tanks they now have at the cape to launch have the foam on them they thought was safe. They've proven it's not safe. So they'll have to probably go back and recoat a tank with new foam once they figure out why the old coating didn't hold. That's going to take more than a month, more than three months.

I'd make a stab at it and say we're lucky to fly by early or the middle of next year.

STEWART: We will all stay tuned. James Oberg, the man you want to talk to when there are any questions about the space shuttle, thank you so much for your perspective tonight.

OBERG: Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: NASA officials tonight making the point that for all intents and purposes, the shuttle mission was still a test flight to assess all the improvements made post -"Columbia." There's only one American alive we can talk to right now that knows the stress of commanding a return shuttle flight after a disaster, Captain Rick Hauck commanded the "Discovery" in 1984 and again in 1988, the first launch after the "Challenger" explosion.

He joins us now on the phone.

Captain Hauck, put us aboard the shuttle "Discovery" right now. What will the astronauts be considering and thinking about when they wake up to this news?

CAPT. RICK HAUCK, FORMER "DISCOVERY" COMMANDER (on phone): Well, I'm sure that they'll be wanting to get the results from their surveys, both from the survey that they are conducting themselves, but also the survey that will be taken with photographs from the space station as they approach it tomorrow.

And I'm sure that they'll be concerned that their families don't get overly worried about their safety. I think Jim Oberg captured the station quite clearly, and it does not appear that the "Discovery" astronauts are in any danger.

The major, major problem, of course, for NASA is, when will they feel comfortable launching again?

STEWART: And certainly it's going to have an effect on those who work at NASA and work so hard and so many long hours and put so much into these shuttles. Tell us a little bit about the effect you think this information's going to have on NASA.

HAUCK: Well, there'll certainly be a lot of frustration and angst by the people that work on the tank. They have worked extraordinarily hard over the last two and a half years to try to understand the mechanism that cause the foam to come off of the tank.

We know, of course, that NASA never said that they could absolutely guarantee that no more foam would come off. That's just too difficult a problem. But clearly, they're going to have to go back to the drawing board, as Jim Oberg said, and that's got to be frustrating.

Meanwhile, everyone else on the NASA team is probably going to be spinning their wheels as the focused effort takes place on the tank.

STEWART: I suppose you could also maybe look at this as the glass is half-full scenario, where it could possibly be a rallying point, a motivating factor.

HAUCK: Well, every challenge brings the best out of people. And I believe that this challenge will bring the best out of the NASA team. And five years from now, we'll look back on this as a trying, difficult time. But my guess is, people will be able to say that it was one of their better hours.

STEWART: And finally, is there a point when improvements that need to be made, considering the fleet was going to be retired in five years anyway, not really worth it?

HAUCK: Well, you always have to do a risk trade versus cost. Of course, where you have the problems that we had with the foam on "Columbia," the risk trade is balanced very much in favor of fixing that problem. There certainly have been other improvements that were going to be made to the shuttle fleet that have not been made because of financial considerations. But those are taken one at a time, and think are fairly judged.

STEWART: Captain Rick Hauck, former NASA astronaut, thank you so very much for your time tonight, captain.

HAUCK: My pleasure, Alison.

STEWART: In London, a big break in the terror investigation there.

One of the suspects behind the botched attack is in custody.

And ominous warnings of homegrown terror right here.

And the outing of a CIA officer, Valerie Plame, new information that Robert Novak, the original leaker, was allegedly told twice by the CIA he better not write her name, buddy.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: Three weeks after the city of London was first attacked by suicide bombers, police have netted their biggest fish yet, the prime suspect in last week's failed attempt to repeat the horror of July 7.

After nearly a week on the run, the would-be suicide bomber is behind bars tonight at the most secure police station in all of Great Britain.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the hunt for the London bombers. Police raiding four homes across Britain today, an early-morning assault in Birmingham, capturing a man believed to be one of the fugitive bombers in last week's failed attacks. He is Yasin Hassan Omar (ph), thought to be responsible for the botched blast at the Warren Street Tube station.

Police had to use a powerful stun gun to detain this 24-year-old Somali man. At least three others believed connected to the attacks were picked up today as well, but none are thought to be part of the July 21 foursome seen here.

Today also gave us our first glimpse at the London bombers' tools of destruction. Photos of homemade bombs that Scotland Yard recovered after this July 7 bombings, a small bottle ringed with large nails or tacks intended to inflict maximum injuries. This is an X-ray of a similar bottle bomb, also packed with nails. It is thought they police recovered this explosive device in a car abandoned by the 7/7 bombers.

There are also concern tonight about the threat of homegrown terror cells here at home. Only days after a false alarm forced the evacuations of New York's Penn Station, a federal official is now warning that New Yorkers have more to fear from homegrown terrorists than from al Qaeda operatives sent to America to carry out attacks.

This warning comes from one John Brennan, the interim head of the National Counterterrorism Center, who is actually leaving the job. His remarks the kind of thing that's a lot easier to say when you're on your way out.

Here's the good news. Brennan says the U.S. has succeeded at disrupting al Qaeda's operations. The bad news, Brennan also says that has made radical Muslims from local communities more willing to take part in smaller-scale attacks, well, at least compared to 9/11, smaller attacks like London and Madrid bombings.

Now, for a reality check on all of this we are joined by Steve Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us."

Steve, nice to see you.


STEWART: Officials in Great Britain are calling today's developments their most significant breakthrough yet. Do you agree?

EMERSON: Absolutely. This is this strand they've been looking for, and it possibly could lead to the unraveling of the entire mystery behind the second set of bombings and even the first set of bombings.

Clearly, if he talks, he could provide a wealth of information. And even if he doesn't talk, he may have personal information on him, cell phones, computer, laptops, whatever, PDA, that will help provide identification of where the other bombers are, and they're still missing, and potential would-be attackers again.

STEWART: There's been so much information floating out there as this investigation continues. I want to run one theory by you, the one that questions whether the July 7 bombers actually intended to die. Apparently they had bought round-trip train tickets, they paid for long-term parking, and they didn't leave suicide notes or any sort of taped messages. What's your take?

EMERSON: Well, it's an interesting debate, and I think they need to find out. On the other hand, I'm not reassured, as some people are, by the notion that somehow, if they weren't suicide bombers, we can be less concerned. It's if they're still willing to kill, but unwilling to take their own life, I'm still very worried.

So, in fact, the likelihood is if they were not suicide bombings, there are more of them out there. So the debate still needs to take place in a forensically - I think they'll pretty much solve it in the end.

STEWART: The investigation has taken them from Leeds to London to Birmingham. We are talking 125, 200 miles. How widespread is this network we are talking about?

EMERSON: Well, the network actually goes as far as France, Pakistan, Egypt, the United States. This is a global jihad village today. And with the Internet, with the spread of Wahhabism, with radical Islamic clerics around the world, with them having, you know, status as local, as citizen s(INAUDIBLE), as citizens in Britain or the United States, that is, they're not foreigners, it's not a problem that can be contained to the Middle East or to large cities. It's all over the United States, for that matter, as John Brennan stated, at least specifically with (INAUDIBLE) reference to New York today.

STEWART: And are you talking about, when you say it's homegrown, the concern that we should have, should that be about cells, or should that be about recruiting?

EMERSON: It's about both, because in the end, before you have a cell, you have to be recruited. And what we have seen, with respect to terrorists, is that first they are recruited and indoctrinated with this militant Islamic theology, and then it's a small step toward then taking that plunge into jihad, willing to kill or be killed (INAUDIBLE) for a larger cause of advancing Islamic extremism.

That theology is rampant around the world and rampant in the United States. The only problem is, you can't contain them any longer, with the Internet and with the fact that people have constitutional right to say what they believe.

STEWART: Steve Emerson, head of the Investigative Project on Terrorism and the author of "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us." Thanks so much for joining us.


STEWART: Taking a turn from the more serious news of the day, we'll take a walk on the wild side, the fashion show to end all fashion show. That was (INAUDIBLE) nice moves.

Oddball's ahead.

And would those models be brave enough to walk down this? Plans unveiled today for the Windy City to build the new tallest building in the world.


STEWART: We're back now. We pause the Countdown news caravan to tour the day's sillier offerings. It's bad boys midair, fashion on the edge, and the shocking video that is just too good to miss.

Let's play Oddball.

Well, Tuesday's majestic return to flight of the space shuttle "Discovery" captured the imagination of a nation and the attention of the American news media, which may explain why just about everybody missed Monday's gravity-defying feat. Puffy can fly. That's rapper producer Clodera (ph), now flying guy, Sean P. Diddy Colmes, arriving via jetpack at the MTV VMA nomination festivities.

Regarding his entrance, the player in midair said, "I like to do it big. If I'm going to do it, I am going to do it big all the way." Of course, like most everything Diddy does, he sampled this stunt from Mary Poppins.

Speaking of gravity defiance, Target, or rather, Target, is turning the fashion world on its head, or at least making the fashion world turn its collective under fed heads. This morning, it was billed as a vertical fashion show when a troop of world-class athletes moonlighting as models rappelled down a building in New York City's Rockefeller Plaza, touting Target's new fall line. Either that, or they were trying to get a really good spot to see Katie Matanal (ph) tomorrow morning.

Mosimo (ph) is Isaac Mizrahi. Those are the designer people were part of the sidewalk sale. Target says they, quote, "want to inspire our guests with our fall collection and want them to have fun with fashion."

They also say, All the fashion seen here is perfect for the window washer or cat burglar in your family. We made that part up.

And it's been a big week for TASERs. First, the company that manufactures the stun gun for police use announced a major campaign to begin selling these bad boys to real live people. Then news today that a TASER was used to apprehend one of the suspects in the London bombing. Naturally, our British partners, ITN, decided they'd better shock one of their own guys to show us what it feels like.




STEWART: OK. Clearly, they've never seen this tape.



It hurts.


STEWART: Never gets old.

The headlines hurting Robert Novak today. Remember him? He's the guy that he outed the CIA officer, Valerie Plame. Well, word came today he was warned by the CIA that he shouldn't name her. That happened on two separate occasions.

And the other Capitol Hill gossip, who's hot and who's not. D.C.'s top 50 list of beauties is out. We'll tell you who the hottest elected official in all the land.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, an unnamed German man, pulled over on the Autobahn for doing six kilometers an hour in his electric wheelchair. The 80-year-old man was spotted by other motorists (INAUDIBLE) the shoulder of this dangerous German highway. Police rounded up the elderly rascal, took him back to the retirement home.

Number two, Gladys Gaffoor of Trinidad, who said she's almost died after getting food poisoning at a government-run hospital. Well, the irony here is that Gladys is the head of the commission investigating Trinidad's health care sector. (INAUDIBLE) Gladys (INAUDIBLE) at the hospital.

And number one, you may remember the Kansas student accused of intentionally vomiting on his Spanish teacher. Well, today the 17-year-old was found guilty of battery with barf, and the judge got a little creative with the sentence. The teen faces four months of having to clean the puke out of the back of cop cars. So if you're looking for a place to get arrested and honk in the back of a cruiser, the town is (INAUDIBLE) Kansas.


STEWART: Since, the CIA leak probe began a year-and-a-half ago, one question is obvious: Who leaked the name of a CIA covert operative? That's Valerie Plame. Not so obvious, whether the special prosecutor would ever be satisfied answering only that question.

Our third story on the Countdown tonight: The what and the who of the CIA leak investigation apparently is broader than anyone knew. "The Washington Post" reports that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has interviewed a wider range of administration officials than previously known, including former CIA director George Tenet, former deputy director John McLaughlin, and former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, as well as State Department officials.

And Fitzgerald is not just interested in who leaked Valerie Plame's identity, he is interested in how the Bush administration shifted blame to the CIA for the claim that started the controversy in the first place, those 16 words in the president's 2003 State of the Union address, that Iraq tried to acquire uranium from Africa.

And "The Washington Post" report makes one other key element quite clear. According to its sources, former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow confirmed that Valerie Plame was an undercover officer, and he did this before Robert Novak outed Plame on July 14, 2003. While Harlow did not describe Plame as undercover, he did tell Novak not to use her name.

Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei of "The Washington Post" have been at the forefront of the reporting on this leak investigation, and we're joined now by Jim VandeHei, the White House correspondent for "The Post." Jim, good evening to you. These ex-officials from the CIA that Fitzgerald's interviewed - what seems to be the main message there?

JIM VANDEHEI, "WASHINGTON POST": Clearly, he was looking, at least early on in the investigation, at a much larger damage control effort by the White House to protect President Bush from any blame for including those now famous 16 words in the State of the Union address. Basically, he's trying to figure out how that leak, the leak of that CIA operative's name, fit into this larger effort and what role the CIA played in this and what role the White House did.

STEWART: There have been so many twists and turns in this case, including someone who apparently approached Robert Novak on the street about this. Explain to people this part of the story.

VANDEHEI: It's truly one of the most bizarre things I've heard so far in reporting out the story. Apparently, according to Joe Wilson, who told us on the record that a stranger had approached Bob Novak before he published his column and had asked about this uranium charge and about what led to those 16 words you mentioned before. And Novak said, you know, that, basically, Joe Wilson's wife had sent him on this mission and that she was CIA.

And it turns out that this person was friends with Joe Wilson, went back and told Joe Wilson about the conversation. What we learned from our reporting is that this stranger has been called before the grand jury and has talked to the prosecutors about his conversation with Novak.

STEWART: Now, if Robert Novak was not told point-black that Valerie Plame is undercover, is it still a problem for him that he leaked her name?

VANDEHEI: It's not a problem for him legally. The leak investigation centers on did any government officials, because if you look at the law, the law says that any government official knowingly leaked the name of a covert CIA operative, knowing that the government was trying to protect the identity. I think what we've learned from the CIA spokesman, who told us on the record for the first time, was that he did warn Bob Novak. Before, we had heard - I think Bob Novak even wrote a column about it in October of 2003 - oh, that he was told - that he did not get any signals that it could put her in harm's way or that he should not report her name. And what Harlow told us was that he said in as certain terms as he could, given that he cannot himself out a CIA operative, warned Bob Novak not to use her name.

STEWART: And so long, all the heat was on Karl Rove in terms of this case.


STEWART: Haven't heard his name in a few days. Why?

VANDEHEI: Right. I think that there's many different aspects of this investigation. And truth be told, nobody knows, except for Fitzgerald, who's the special prosecutor in this case, and people around him, what direction he's going. So most of the reporting, most of our reporting, is based on talking to people who've either gone before the grand jury, talked to prosecutors or represented people in those two instances. So what we can glean is what kind of questions they're being asked, what kind of testimony they're being asked to give. So I think what you're seeing in this story are just different aspects of it being explored.

STEWART: Building blocks and building blocks. Jim VandeHei, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post," thanks for helping us out tonight.

VANDEHEI: Yes. Have a good evening.

STEWART: You, too.

And further evidence today that the public has doubts about whether the Bush administration was honest in its run-up to the war in Iraq. For the first time, a majority of Americans, 51 percent, say the Bush administration deliberately misled them about whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

But the Iraq war has often produced conflicting poll numbers because it generates mixed emotions. Now a veteran of the Iraq war has come home and is asking his community to elect him to Congress. We're joined now by Countdown's Monica Novotny. Hi, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, Countdown: Hi, there, Alison. A special election next week in Ohio will fill the congressional seat vacated by current U.S. trade representative Rob Portman. And hoping to succeed him, a Marine reservist who wants to become the first Iraq war veteran in Congress.


PAUL HACKETT, OHIO DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm running for Congress. I need your vote August 2.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): You're watching one man's journey from a war zone to a political battlefield, Paul Hackett, the first veteran of the Iraq war to run for Congress, a Democrat fighting for every vote in a deep red Ohio district, grabbing the attention of local Republicans by placing his war experience and the president front and center in his campaign ads.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no higher calling than service in our armed forces.

HACKETT: Hey, look, in the military, we were taught maneuver warfare, and we make the best out of what we're given.

NOVOTNY: This 43-year-old lawyer, husband and father of three disagreed with the president's decision to go to war but volunteered last year, serving in Iraq as a civil affairs officer with the 1st Marine Division.

HACKETT: It's my country, Democrat or Republican. And I just - I saw it as the best way that I could serve.

NOVOTNY: His opponent, Republican frontrunner Jean Schmidt, a former state representative who is not convinced that time served in battle can compare to experience at home.

JEAN SCHMIDT, OHIO REPUBLICAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Everything's local. Of course, it's more important here. The issues that the people have are more important to those individuals than anything outside of that region.

HACKETT: I'm more than just a reserve Marine. Look, there's literally millions of men and women who've done what I've done in Iraq. But I'm a little bit more than that, and I think that I bring a fresh, honest, direct approach to the political debate today.

NOVOTNY (on camera): While Hackett may be the one gaining national attention this week, Republicans still like their odds. In fact, it's been more than 20 years since a Democrat filled this seat. But Hackett says he's not your typical Democrat.

HACKETT: I'm very conservative on some issues. I own a number of guns that I enjoy doing everything from hunting to skeet shooting to target practice. And I think the Democratic Party's wrong on it.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): Hackett, abortion rights advocate, says he's for limited government and is strong on national defense. Schmidt is anti-abortion, believes the 10 Commandments should be displayed in area schools, and says she and her opponent clash most clearly on one issue.

SCHMIDT: I support our president, as does this district. My opponent does not.

HACKETT: Didn't vote for him, willing to die for him.

NOVOTNY: The race has Republicans talking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My father was a veteran of World War II. I'm not sure I would have voted for him to go to Congress. I'm seeing apples and oranges here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Hackett is new, but he's an Iraq veteran, which I think makes a difference, too. A lot of us are impressed with that.

NOVOTNY: Another battle between blue and red where the issues aren't black and white.


A spokesperson for Schmidt says their polling has the Republican ahead by 17 points and that one out of five voters remains undecided in that district. Now, the race is attracting high-profile support, with Schmidt receiving campaign donations from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay, while James Carville and former senator Max Cleland of Georgia stumped for Hackett in recent weeks - Alison.

STEWART: And what will Mr. Hackett do if he does not become the first Iraq war vet in Congress?

NOVOTNY: You know, it's interesting. He says he really is this Washington outsider, so he - he hasn't had political ambitions his whole life. He says if this doesn't happen, he'll move on. He'll go back to private practice. He is a lawyer. He says he'll go on vacation with his family, and then he has plans to go back to Iraq with his...

STEWART: He's actually going to go back to Iraq?

NOVOTNY: He says he'll go back year if he's not elected.

STEWART: Monica Novotny, thanks so much. Great report. Appreciate it.

Burning questions from the nation's capital tonight. Like, Is your representative representing? Is your senator a stud? Coming up, we'll kick off the Beltway's top 50 hotties, elected and otherwise.

And reaching for the skies. The race for the world's tallest building now centers on this planned skyscraper in the city of Chicago. And guess who's not happy about it? The Donald.


STEWART: A little history lesson. A hundred and twenty years ago, the world's first skyscraper was built in Chicago. OK, so it was only nine stories tall. The name didn't exactly sing, but the Home Insurance building gave birth to more than a century of skyscraper wars. In the late '20s and early '30s, The battle for the tallest building bragging rights centered on New York. The Chrysler building trumped the Bank of Manhattan by keeping it's signature steel top a secret until its unveiling, only to have the crown snapped away just two years later by the Empire State building.

In our number two story on the Countdown tonight: A new crop of towers are now clamoring to throw Taiwan out of the current top spot. Among them, as our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles reports, a high-rise in the city that started it all.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the city already home to the nation's tallest building, the Sears tower, it may soon be time to look up, look way up.

MERT SAHINOGLU, REAL ESTATE BROKER: The skyline is there for us to create. We cannot just remain constant and happy with the past. We have to grow and we have to develop..

TIBBLES: The new high-rise, dubbed the Fordham spire, would twist into the skyline, some say, like an over-sized birthday candle, a 115-story tower with a glistening steel spire that would spike at over 2,000 feet, 400 feet taller than the current world's tallest building in Taiwan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That would be enormous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't like that at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's very artistic, for one thing, but I think that it's going to be just a little too artistic for Chicago.

TIBBLES: A new shot in the bragging rights war. The Fordham spire would surpass the planned Freedom tower in New York and dwarf Donald Trump's new building already under construction in Chicago. Not surprisingly, the Donald is not amused.

SAHINOGLU: I believe that bigger and better is better, and if Mr.

Trump is (INAUDIBLE) he should build a bigger one.

TIBBLES: Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a building that was a mile high. That dream was never fulfilled. This new tower, if built, would be close to a half mile high and once again prove that in Chicago, size does matter. Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


STEWART: We descend from on high now to those stories of celebrity news and gossip we call "Keeping Tabs." O.J. breaking the law, a federal judge ordering the former football star to fork over $25,000 in fines, plus legal fees, for stealing satellite TV signals. Authorities recovered several illegal devices used to unscramble the signals. They got them from Simpson's Miami home during a 2001 raid. A DirecTV spokesman coined (ph) the evidence in the civil suit, quote, "overwhelming."

Simpson's attorney plans to appeal the summary judgment, that being one made by a judge, no jury required. I guess O.J. just wanted a chance to use a line he'd been rehearsing: If the signal's legit, you must acquit. Rest in peace, Johnnie.

There are no signals to unscramble here. Burnt Sienna - that girl's moved on. Just a week after calling it quits with her philandering fiance, Jude Law, the actress and former model has been caught canoodling with a former love, "Lord of the Rings" star Orlando Bloom. The two were spotted together at a polo match in Windsor, England, over the weekend, one witness telling British tabloid "The Sun," quote, "They spent ages cuddling, kissing and gazing at each over. There was real chemistry."

Decidedly bad chemistry for former NBA star and perpetual C-lister Dennis Rodman, and this while the man was just trying to do a little bit of good. A mere four days into the eight-day 3,000-mile Bull Run, a charity rally, Rodman was pulled over twice by Colorado police for speeding. In a race.

Not so bad until you consider that in between the two citations, he was allegedly involved in an accident and apparently stole a hat, a spokesman for the celebrity saying the accident was minor, a car hired by the sponsor to photograph the race got too close. And for the hat, that apparently was just a misunderstanding, Rodman saying, quote, "The lady gave it to me." He then added, "Is everyone picking on me today?" That's it, Dennis.

Beauty and the bureaucracy. It's been a hot summer thus far in the nation's capital. Find out which pretty politicos and lovely legislators are giving off all that heat. Washington, D.C.'s 50 most beautiful people is the subject is next.


STEWART: It is as true as it is cliche, Washington, D.C., is Hollywood for ugly people. Well, there are exceptions, occasionally, when Hollywood makes a call. Most recent visit yesterday by Oscar-nominated actress and Latina lovely Salma Hayek. But it's not like anyone who actually works in D.C. is topping any 50 most beautiful people lists.

Our number one story on the Countdown tonight: My bad, Washington, D.C., newspaper "The Hill" today releasing its 50 most beautiful list. Hotties on the Hill. Who knew?

Apparently, the people who work with Hanz Heinrichs in California congressman Buck McKeon's (ph) office. This 23-year-old aide is number five on the list. Number four, Katelin Dial. The coat-check chick of Bungawait (ph) has nothing on this Senate Republican cloakroom gal. Olson twins, no thanks. This lady hangs with the Bushes. Bring in the heat all the way from Miami. Miguel Mendoza - Hello! - legislative correspondent for Florida congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. What, no elected officials? Number two, the distinguished senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. I'd sign on for this one! When "The Hill" told him he was number two, his response was, quote, "Who's number one?" That'd be beauty queen turned research assistant Kate Michael. This Georgia peach turned in her crown to work on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Now, that is hot!

For reasoned analysis in these irrational times, we turn now to television personality and hotness wonk Mo Rocca. Hi, Mo.

MO ROCCA, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Hi, Alison. Kate Michael is hot. She was Miss Gwinnett County in Georgia. But Hanz Heinrichs looks too much like a role from "The Sound of Music."

STEWART: I want to see him in some Lederhosen now!


STEWART: OK. These 50 people on this list - let's going to only focus on the top 10. Only one of those people is actually connected to the Democratic Party. So does this mean Republicans are hotter in 2005?

ROCCA: Well, hot Republicans go to Washington. Hot Democrats star on network sitcoms and hour-long dramas. It's just a fact. The issue here for Democrats is that hot Republicans are taking over Washington. They control two branches of the government. And look what's happening at the Supreme Court. I mean, John Roberts is a good-looking guy. Now, John Paul Stevens is a liberal and is good-looking in sort of an older, distinguished way, but it's like comparing Jeff Bridges and Lloyd Bridges. I mean, it's not that much of a competition there.

STEWART: And then there's always poor Bo Bridges.

ROCCA: Well, exactly. He's an independent running somewhere.


STEWART: So does hotness equal power, if the Republicans are hotter?

ROCCA: I think it does equal power. I mean, you know, it's important to note that not a lot of these hot people are elected officials because to be elected in Washington, you have to be ruthless and have a modicum of brains. It's what do you with that elected power that matters. And in most cases, you hire hot staffers. And I think constituents are very happy about that.

I mean, some of these staffers are piping hot. I mean, they could be strippers at Scores (ph), to be quite frank about it. None of them are strippers, as far as I know, and that wouldn't be right because tax-paying constituents shouldn't have to tip their representative's staffers, you know, $100 for a lap dance. I mean, they're already paying them enough in taxes, I think.

STEWART: OK, so we talked about the elected officials a little bit. Do people just not - there aren't that many elected officials on this list. Do people not vote for pretty?

ROCCA: Look, these elected officials don't have much time to be hanging out in gyms, I guess. But no, I don't think that there are - there are some elected officials on this list, though. You pointed out Barack Obama, and there are others.

STEWART: All right. Let's - there's one we've been trying to figure out. Some of the ladies in the office were all sitting around. Oregon senator Gordon Smith. Could you walk throughout hotness of this man for me and explain that to me?

ROCCA: Well, hello! Gordon Smith is only the hottest U.S. senator from Oregon! I mean, come on. Compare him to Senator Ron Wyden. I mean, with all due respect, it's like Senator Wyden, if he weren't so wide in you know where, he might have made the top 200, not - I mean, let's face it. Like, Senator Wideload, maybe you could spend more time on the Oregon Trail because right now, you're bigger than Lewis and Clark combined.

I mean, I don't want to be rude about it, but Senator Gordon Smith is super-hot. I mean, he's got this whole Wink Martindale (ph) thing going on. It's, like, tick (ph), tack (ph), don't you want to know who he's canoodling with?

STEWART: I love it when...

ROCCA: And the answer is his wife, Sharon, by the way. Yes, he looks a little bit like Chuck Woolery, too. It's - and you know, it's true. He'll be up for reelection in two and two, in four years. It's true.

STEWART: Any glaring omission? Who do you think should have been on this list?

ROCCA: Mary Landrieu is luscious. And she's hot. I know her, so I don't think it's appropriate for me to say that. It's kind of like talking about your sister. It's a little bit creepy. Blanche Lincoln is someone I don't know, but is super-duper hot. She's the hottest person on the Senate Finance Committee. And during their hearings, she's known to put on various sort of sexy librarian glasses and take out a big adding machine and sort of very coyly punch numbers, adding, subtracting. She's got a lot of money in front of her. You know, if you please her, she'll appropriate you. If not, she'll withhold. She's really got it going on.

And if you're bored tonight, Google images of her. And there's a wonderful shot of her receiving a meritorious service award from the American Soybean Association, and she looks amazing in it.

STEWART: Soybeans?

ROCCA: Yes. I have to issue a quick apology...

STEWART: (INAUDIBLE) out of time.

ROCCA:... to Senator Ron Wyden. I really don't know what he looks like.

STEWART: Television personality and Countdown cultural visionary Mo Rocca. As always, it's a pleasure.

ROCCA: Thank you.

STEWART: That's Countdown. I'm Alison Stewart, filling in for Keith Olbermann. It's time to find out what THE SITUATION" is with Tucker Carlson. I'm going to make Barbara Eden proud.