Friday, September 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 30th

Guests: Charles Gasparino, Larry Star

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

Thirty-two square miles burned, 3,000 firefighters on the front lines. A month since Katrina (INAUDIBLE) the Gulf Coast, wildfires sear Southern California.

Judy, Judy, Judy. The "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller finally testifies, four hours, 87 days later. Why did she wait?

Who is Valerie? Someone left her on a New York street corner in the middle of the night. She isn't hurt, but no one has yet come forward to say, That's my daughter.

A phrase Larry Starr does not want anybody saying to him. Yes, he's been on this show wearing a wedding dress. Now he rejoins us with relationship advice, like, Men, don't wear a wedding dress.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

When the irony became first evident to our ancestors, that can only be guessed at. We might have still been living in caves. One day, too much water would imperil us, seemingly the next, too little. And the resultant fire would imperil us.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, that irony underscored anew tonight in Southern California, with 20,000 acres burned, 2,000 homes threatened, when five weeks ago, the nation was bracing for the impact of the killer with water, Hurricane Katrina.

Our correspondent George Lewis has been at the lines with the firefighters outside of Los Angeles, and joins us now from the fire command post in Thousand Oaks, California. George, good evening.


Tonight, the firemen are winning their battle in what was - what is being hailed as a rapid, well-coordinated, well-planned response to what could have been a major disaster.


LEWIS (voice-over): The huge fire continues to burn this evening, but the high winds that whipped it into a frenzy have died down. That's helping firefighters as they try to fill containment lines around the blaze to stop it from spread spreading any further.

This is what they were up against at the height of it, an inferno roaring into the back yards of multimillion-dollar homes, winds gusting to 40 miles an hour, and a wall of flames 15 miles long.

Remarkably, only two homes burn burned to the ground. Thousands more were saved. And today in California, they were talking about the lesson learned from Hurricane Katrina that quick response to a disaster is absolutely vital.

REP. ELTON GALLEGLY (R), CALIFORNIA: It gives you tremendous pride and relief to be in an event like this, to praise our first responders rather than having to apologize for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) advise you leave your homes now.

LEWIS: Another effect of Katrina, this time, people heeded the evacuation orders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They told us to evacuate, or that we would get arrested.

LEWIS: Today, this scorched hillside next to some of the houses was evidence of how close it came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house is OK. We made it.

LEWIS: As people were permitted to return home, they praised the fire crews.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We appreciate what the firefighters did. They literally saved the entire complex.

LEWIS: Ilana Lukoff (ph) returned home with her poodle, Cuddles, still wearing an air mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want the air mask so it doesn't get in - smoke doesn't get in her little lungs.

LEWIS: But tonight, As firefighters were knocking down this blaze, another one flared up in nearby Burbank, underscoring the forecast of a bad fire season in the West.


LEWIS: The fire crews are hoping that if the weather holds, they'll have this, the biggest of the blazes, completely contained by Monday, Keith.

OLBERMANN: George, 4:00 Pacific Time or thereabouts, Governor Schwarzenegger was at the scene with you there today and spoke to the media afterwards. Did what he say provide any insight or relevance?

LEWIS: Well, he said he used to play a firefighter in the movies, and that these guys are the real action heroes. The reason he was here was basically a photo-op with the successful firefighters in the background. He's been having a political fight with the firefighters' union over an initiative which would limit the union's ability to do politicking. So he wanted to show some solidarity with the firefighters.

But some of them told us they were ordered to appear with the governor, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Certain irony to that, considering some of those firefighters have appeared now in ads opposing the governor. George Lewis reporting from Thousand Oaks, California, great thanks, George.

Three thousand firefighters battling that blaze on the ground, at least a dozen planes and choppers dropping retardant from the air, some of it, as you've seen, basically muddy water, on these two fires that are still threatening the communities.

At one point, some of those aircrafts had even flown over the fire at night in hopes of containing the flames before the winds kicked up again in the morning.

For more on the firefighting efforts, we're joined now by inspector Ron Haralson of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

As George Lewis just pointed out for us, the hope is that this thing will be contained by Monday. Is there an estimate at this point in terms of full control, when the thing is roughly going to be no longer a threat?

INSPECTOR RON HARALSON, LOS ANGELES COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: (audio interrupt)... take advantage of this window of opportunity, that window being the weather. We did get some relief from the weather, we got more of an onshore breeze as far as the winds. And we also, the increase in the humidity has helped us out significantly.

OLBERMANN: At one point, it was - this particular blaze was supposedly at risk of jumping the 101 Freeway and go right through Malibu, which is an identifiable name even if somebody has never been to Southern California and know where Malibu is, and go straight to the Pacific Ocean.

How was that - what would have been certainly an economic disaster and a cultural disaster and a financial disaster, how did the firefighters stop that from occurring?

HARALSON: We were very much aware of that threat and that potential, had this fire crossed the 101 Freeway. Our efforts throughout the night with our bulldozers and our crew on the ground, putting in line or trying to stop it at that point, carried over into today. And once again, with the assistance of the weather and crews from all over the state, local crews, a group effort, jurisdictional municipalities did a great job.

OLBERMANN: If you got two big fires at the start of the fire season, and 30 square miles burned in total, and yet the final result, or at least the current result, is two homes that were destroyed, essentially, by the fire, that's such a remarkable ratio. Is that skill, luck, a combination of the two? How did that happen that way?

HARALSON: I think it's a combination. We have to credit everyone, everyone meaning the residents, who adhered to our brush-clearance program, and who understand the importance of clearing away debris, vegetation that is flammable around their structures. The group effort from firefighters from all over the country, again, and also Mother Nature. The weather played a significant part in us being able to get a handle on this.

OLBERMANN: George Lewis just mentioned this too, and I'm sure this will be a fascinating contrast for people who have been involved in neither but watched both of these disasters unfold, the Hurricane Katrina experience, did it really factor in this time? Have you found the residents more cooperative than in previous years?

HARALSON: We have to think that, due to the disasters in Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf states, that America and across the country, everyone's aware of the importance of being prepared and disaster preparedness. So we have to believe that that has carried over to the residents here in Southern California.

They are no strangers to the brushfires here, and neither are our firefighters. So we understand that it is that time of the season, and we prepare for it, we train for it. And the residents, they do a excellent job.

OLBERMANN: Ron Haralson, inspector with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, one of the, one of the best municipal organizations in this country. Great thanks for your efforts, sir, and great thanks for your time tonight.

HARALSON: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: This year alone, over 40,000 acres have burned already in Southern California, and the height of fire season is just about hitting now, according to the calendars.

For a look and why and how the Golden State starts to burn every year, I'm joined by phone by Professor Reese Halter, founder of Global Forest Science, and a house, of host of "Dr. Reese's Planet" on PBS in California.

Thanks for joining us, sir.


Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As I mentioned last night, it seems like this season the fire season kicked off a little early in California this year, not by a great deal of time, but a week or so. Is that a coincidence, or is it a harbinger of a bad fire season to come, do you think?

REESE: Well, not really, I don't think so. I mean, give or take a day or a week. Where we live in a - not only in an earthquake zone, but we live in a fire forest. Our forests and the vegetation along the coast are well-adapted to fire. It just so happens you've got 12 million people who call Southern California home.

So it's tricky. And plus, we've just come off a rainfall that's a one in 100-year event, seven times the normal rainfall. And that translates on the ground to lots and lots of vegetation. And what happens is, over a period of three, four months, which we've had a nice long, warm, summer, as usual, we get lots of vegetation that's cured and ready go up in flames.

OLBERMANN: Yes, if you have not lived in Southern California, it's hard to make that connection, that rain would cause fires. You've explained it, I think, to the point that most people would get it, but explain why the exceptional amount of rain produces the exceptional amount of brush, and why that stuff is even more like a tinderbox than usual.

REESE: OK, well, basically, Botany 101, it's so beautiful here, the temperatures are so conducive to luxuriant growth, that what actually prevents growth from taking place is moisture. You give a plant a lot of sunlight, you give it the California moisture, and voila. You've got great growth.

And, you know, that's fine, well, and dandy. But it's a problem when fire comes in in the fall. And the fire comes in. And we know it comes in. I mean, we have a climate here that they call a Mediterranean climate. That's because it mimics Western Europe and around the Mediterranean. That is, we've got wet winters, cool, wet winters, and long, dry summers.

So the vegetation is - it just takes off, and then fire comes in. And then you add behind that, Keith, this wonderful event of Nevada, Utah, and Arizona that are hot for three, four months, and all of a sudden, the air has to go somewhere. Where does it go? It outflows through Southern California, that's what we call the Santa Ana winds. And when a lightning bolt, and lightning bolts happen here, and fire is ignited, those winds fan these fires.

OLBERMANN: And they are a part, obviously, a natural part of the ecology in California, especially the southern part, yet people still build houses right on the edge of this risk area. Is another part of the California ecology man's willingness to rationalize these risks? I mean, I lived there for a total of 10 years, and it seemed essential for survival to deny that the fires existed and deny that the earthquakes existed, or you'd just go nuts worrying about those risks.

REESE: You, you, you, you hit the nail right on the head. And, you know, what we've got to do, obviously, is work with Mother Nature, not against her. So what does that mean on the ground? Well, it means don't plant nonnative vegetation. Look, I lived in Australia for five years, I love the country. It's very botanically cool. But eucalyptus is - belongs in Australia, not in Southern California. Eucalyptus is volatile, it explodes with resin and spits fire onto houses.

So we got to get back to the basics, and love our plants here that live in Southern California.

OLBERMANN: The host of the PBS program "Dr. Reese's Planet."

Professor Reese Halter, great thanks for your time, sir.

REESE: Thanks very much, Keith.

OLBERMANN: A mystery, meanwhile, gripping New York City. A 4-year-old girl found in the middle of the night, unharmed, on the street. She knows her name, she knows her parents' names. And no one has come to claim her as their own.

Speaking of homecoming, Judith Miller enjoying freedom once again after finally having testified before a grand jury in the Valerie Plame leak investigation today. Why today, after 85 days behind bars?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: She knows her name and her parents' names, and she knows she's lost. She even managed to tell police how she ended up wandering the streets of Middle Village, Queens, in New York City just after midnight last Sunday. But being just 4 years old, little Valerie didn't know how to tell police where to find her family.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, especially because no one even reported her missing.

Countdown's Monica Novotny is here with this extraordinary story.

Good evening, Monica.


There is some good news tonight. New York City police have been able to identify the abandoned 4-year-old's mother. But this woman has not been seen since Saturday, and they've now declared her missing.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what's your mommy's name?

VALERIE: Monica.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monica? And how about your daddy?



NOVOTNY: This lost little girl holds the key to her own family mystery. Officers have identified her mother as 26-year-old Monica Lozada (ph). But while the 4-year-old has told police who her parents are, nearly a week later, they still don't know where they are.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you tell us your name?



NOVOTNY: She was found walking alone and barefoot in Queens, New York, 1:00 Sunday morning, by a woman who heard noises outside her home. Valerie says it was her father who left her there.


VALERIE: I got lost, and when I was sleeping, he took me in the car, and he took...


VALERIE:... took me outside with no shoes. So I was crying. And some people find me, and they give me a sweater and everything.


NOVOTNY: Taken immediately to a local hospital, doctors found no signs of abuse or neglect. Today, police peered into the mother's home and searched the area and say they found nothing unusual.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you speak English at home, or Spanish at home?

VALERIE: English and then Spanish.


NOVOTNY: Right now, Valerie's staying with a foster family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's adjusted now. For the first couple of days, she was crying, saying that she missed her mommy. So I tried to comfort her, and tell her, Yes, we'll try to find her mommy.

NOVOTNY: Police continue to follow tips and are reportedly questioning a man named Caesar about her mother's whereabouts. But for now, the best lead they have is Valerie.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does your mommy look like?

VALERIE: She looks like a princess.


NOVOTNY: Valerie says she has two fathers. Police believe one, who Valerie identified as Caesar, is the mother's boyfriend. Now, reports are that he has told police that he drove Valerie and her mother to the airport to catch a flight, and he doesn't know how Valerie ended up lost in the middle of the night.

I should mention that homicide detectives have been put on the case.

Of course, they're still hoping for a happy ending, but...

OLBERMANN: It's a heartbreaker one way or the other.


OLBERMANN: Countdown's Monica Novotny, great thanks.

NOVOTNY: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: San Francisco's streets turned into a ski jump. That can mean only one thing, publicity stunt that got into Oddball.

And a rescue from Rita, a dolphin in distress. A team of experts called in by our own correspondent Kerry Sanders, who saved the day of the dolphin. That's next.

This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We're back. And for the final time this week, we pause our Countdown for the segment of stories where no one is indicted, no one is investigated, and no one gets hurt - that badly.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in San Francisco, where the summer has been the coldest winter they've ever spent, even though it's fall now. Apparently it's cold enough to have a ski-jumping competition right down the middle of Fillmore Street. Two hundred tons of snow trucked in and dumped on the city's steep steepest road, which was closed for most of the day, along with the surrounding streets, to accommodate this crowd.

(INAUDIBLE) and snowboarders took part, and the ones who landed upright had a grand old time. The others, oh, they'll be OK in a couple weeks. All this to celebrate the birthday of Olympic gold medalist Johnny Mosely (ph). Happy birthday, Johnny. Hope you (INAUDIBLE) enjoyed your surprise gift, a traffic jam that enveloped the city.

To Tokyo, where the latest kids' craze combines everything that's cool about video games and card collecting with everything that's fun and about watching hideous rhinoceros beetles wrestle. They've long been the favorite pets of Japanese children, but now kids can let them battle each other without having to clean up the nasty goo that always comes with a beetle fight.

Mu Shi King (ph), the king of beetles, has been the hottest thing to sweep the country since Pokemon. With more than 250 million of the bug cards sold, the beetle game it's expected to spread to the U.S. soon, except, of course, they will be substituting pit bulls for the beetles here.

Finally, to Dallas, where the Butter Elvis is the star attraction at this weekend's Texas State Fair. Thank you, thank you very much. The real Elvis Presley would now be about 70 years old, and he probably would have fared just about the same as his dairy counterpart, which broke a hip and collapsed yesterday in the Texas heat. Parkay.

The King's sculptor is rushing back to repair the statue, which, like the real Elvis's last breakfast, took more than 800 pounds of butter to construct.

Thank you, thank you very much.

No word on if Judy Miller (INAUDIBLE) passed her time behind bars sculpting butter herself, but she was waiting for a phone call from Scooter Libby, a wait that lasted 85 days, and the thought probably occurred to her. Big developments in the Valerie Plame leak investigation.

And later, relationship on the rocks? You think this guy might have the answer? (INAUDIBLE), we're not sure either. But we will listen to what Wedding Dress Guy has to say.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Mark Bridgewood of Dartwood's - Dartmouth, England. He and the missus separated. She got the $200,000 yacht. She didn't care, she put it up for sale, asking $72,000. Mr. Bridgewood was not going to stand for that, so he rode out to the yacht and sank it.

Number two, Christian Canabou of Boulder Creek, Colorado. Actually, Mr. Canabou's pig. Mr. Canabou has been evicted from his home but will not leave. Police say every time they go out there to evict him, he runs into the woods, and his pet pig attacks them, chases deputies, chews up parts of their (INAUDIBLE) bars. As a sergeant says, The pig, and I don't know her name, is aggressive. Well, maybe if you troubled yourself to learn her name, sir, she'd be more agreeable.

Number one, Alicia Evans, an animal psychic from Aspen, Colorado. Authorities recovered a Jack Russell terrier there, apparently abandoned, on whose side someone had written the word "Free." The obvious conclusion, the dog was free to whoever would take him.

That's not what Ms. Evans says, though. She thinks it might be a message that animals were meant to live free, or that people should live their lives as free as dogs. So she's going to go ask the terrier psychically. We are hoping that the terrier then tells her, What in the hell do I know about this, lady? I'm a dog.


OLBERMANN: There is the mystery of: What did Judith Miller know and when did she know it? And then there is the mystery, more perplexing still, of: What did Judith Miller know about her source releasing her from confidentiality and when did she know that?

This much we know: Her first meal as a free woman, a fruit plate and a martini. Our third story on the Countdown, Washington, weirder than ever. Highlighted by the New York Times reporter saying that the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, just let her off the journalistic hook yesterday, while he says he did so nearly a year ago. Either way, Ms. Miller is out of jail and back in court, her testimony clearing the way for prosecutors to decide who, if anybody, broke the law by knowingly revealing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Mr. Libby's lawyers said they were surprised when attorneys for Ms. Miller asked them again for permission for her to testify, claiming they had already done that long ago. But, Ms. Miller standing firm today that she personally had not been released by her source, nor had the special prosecutor agreed to limit his questioning to that one source.


JUDITH MILLER, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: I said I had not received a personal, explicit, voluntary waiver from my source, what I considered that. That was my position and I said it many times. I said it before I went to jail. I said it when I was in jail.


OLBERMANN: Confused yet? We are. Especially as to why anyone would spend 12 weeks in jail if perhaps they did not have to. As we so often do when befuddlement sets in, we call in our own Craig Crawford, also of Congressional Quarterly, for guidance. Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hello there. Out here on the road, signing books and meeting a lot of Countdown fans showing up.

OLBERMANN: We appreciate both of those things. What are we.

CRAWFORD: Most would rather meet you than me, but that's okay.

OLBERMANN: I'm not going to say it. Let's stick with the interview. What - do we have any idea what actually has happened here? Was she literally sitting there waiting for an engraved invitation to talk?

CRAWFORD: There seems to be a change in her position, Keith, although she said it's been consistent. I thought the position that she and the New York Times had taken is that no waiver is good enough, that it's almost like taking a hostage. The government takes a reporter hostage and forces a source to reveal or to waive the confidentiality, and so it's just not valid.

I thought that was their position. Now, it may be that they adjusted it somewhat because she want wanted to get out of jail, and you know what? I'm not going to blame her for that.

OLBERMANN: People who visited her in jail say she did not want to be there. They insist she was not grandstanding and she was not being a masochist of some sort, but that would also mean that either Mr. Libby is not being honest about when he relieved her of journalistic obligations or the outcome is the way you suggested it: that they fudged just a little bit because she was just tired of being there. Or is it conceivable that this whole stay in jail was the result of a misunderstanding or a miscommunication?

CRAWFORD: I don't think it was a miscommunication. She took the position that these form waivers that a lot of government employees now have to sign just are not valid, and I agree with that. I think it does have to be a specific waiver if you are going to accept a waiver.

But, I have to tell you, as a purist on this stuff, I liked what I thought was there position in the beginning, which is that no waiver is good enough. Because once you have a judge forcing a source basically to waive confidentiality, because otherwise he takes the hit for keeping a reporter in jail, that's just not a valid waiver in my mind. I thought that was their original position.

OLBERMANN: In terms of the case, Judith Miller was the last of the witnesses holding out. Matt Cooper had spoken nearly three months ago with the approval of his source. If we are going to see any indictments against Scooter Libby or Karl Rove, does this mean they would come soon or is the whole thing going to be closed soon? What does it tell us about the timing?

CRAWFORD: The suggestion is this was the last step. This prosecutor has been at this for two years. The deadline is coming up for this grand jury to disassemble. He could always go for an extension, but one would think that we are at the point where if there are going to be indictments, there's going to be. If I'm Libby, for his sake, I hope he's not indict and convicted. I wouldn't want to go to jail with a name like "Scooter."

OLBERMANN: Speaking of anniversaries, 10 days from now, it will be two years since Scott McClellan said that Karl Rove, Elliot Abrams and Mr. Libby were not involved in this. They didn't tell any reporter Plame's name. How does the identification of Libby as Judith Miller's source jibe with that McClellan statement? And what relevance does it have for the Bush administration at this point?

CRAWFORD: Oh, again, I think it proved that either Scott McClellan, the press secretary, was prevaricating or just didn't know the situation when he said they were not involved. I mean, that's a very blanket denial that has turned out to be just simply not true.

OLBERMANN: Congressional Quarterly's Craig Crawford. And the book he mentioned was "Attack the Messenger: How Politicians Turn You Against The Media," now at a bookstore near and near Craig. Thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD: I will be out in north Florida and Georgia next week, and my schedule is on the Web site at

OLBERMANN: Two shows nightly, and a three-drink minimum. Thank you, Craig.

CRAWFORD: You bet.

OLBERMANN: In the same week that saw Ms. Miller finally testifying, we also witnessed the indictment of House Majority Leader Tom Delay and the opening of an insider trading investigation by the SEC into a questionable stock sale made by Mr. Delay's counterpart in the Senate, Bill Frist. A trifecta of murky legal maneuvers, about which we can all hope to learn more in the days, weeks and months to come.

What we know so far about Senator Frist's stock sale goes something like this: In mid-June of this year, the good doctor ordered the sale of all his shares in a family company, HCA, the nation's largest hospital chain. At that time, the company was trading at a 52-week high. Dr. Frist's wife and daughter dumped their shares, too, at that point. Those transactions coming before HCA's announcement in July that its quarterly profits would fall short of expectations, which would drive the share price down by 9 percent.

Oddly enough, Dr. Frist, previously claiming in 2003 that because they were held in a blind trust, he no longer even knew if he still owned any shares in HCA. May be the tale of Dr. Frist's investment portfolio sounds something like a story you heard before, perhaps like the one involving a so-called "domestic diva," who dumped her stock in a company called ImClone the day before the rest of us learned the FDA had rejected one of its cancer drugs. You would not be alone in making that analogy.

After following the Martha Stewart case in the very beginning, a Newsweek senior writer, Charles Gasparino, is now hard at work on the Frist story for next week's issue of his magazine. Good evening to you, sir.


OLBERMANN: As we mentioned, several people have noticed some structural similarities here between the Frist case and the Martha Stewart case. Do you think there is a parallel?

GASPARINO: There's some parallel. They're both celebrities. You know one thing I think Frist is going to do is not lie. And I think that was the big problem with Martha. She made up one of the dumbest lies known in white-collar crime history. Frist is not going to do that, because usually they don't get you on the exact crime.

Insider trading is notoriously difficult to prove. They get you on the cover-up. So, I don't think you'll see much cover up from him. As a matter of fact, he has said he's going to be completely cooperative and hand stuff over, and in his view by handing stuff over, he's going to be exonerated.

OLBERMANN: There was a lot of belief, almost a broad assumption, that Ms. Stewart was targeted, so that she could be made an example of, and if she had been, you know, someone named Stewart Martha, there would never have been any case whatsoever. And we can face this now. She is well past post-prison poncho and ankle bracelet stage.

GASPARINO: She still faces insider trading charges by the SEC by the way, civil charges.

OLBERMANN: But, while that's all wrapped up, that whole thing is now in her past, Ken Lay from Enron has yet to go to trial. Is the majority leader of the Senate more likely to get A, the kid glove treatment, or B, the possible overzealous make-an-example-of-him prosecution treatment?

GASPARINO: I mean, he is going to get the Wall Street version of a proctologist exam, basically. They are going to do it quick. I think they do it over the next three months, but they're going to look at everything. Basically, if you are the SEC, you can't look like you are laying down for the Republicans at this point. The SEC is run by a Republican, Chris Cox, appointed by the president.

So you really do have to go in there, and you have to look at everything, and I think that's what's going to happen. Yes, there is a sort of tendency by the SEC to make examples out of high-profile people. But these are high-profile people that in many ways deserve to be looked at in a certain way. Martha Stewart traded, from what I remember, hours before this announcement came out. Frist is a little different. He traded, I believe it was, a month before. But it still was before, and so he deserves to be looked at.

OLBERMANN: Explain, as we sit on the sidelines and try to look at it without understanding most of the components to any great degree, the concept of the blind trust and how it relates to the senator's case. If it's a blind trust, how could he have known what was in it? And also, how could he have accessed it to make a trade, to sell off this stock?

GASPARINO: That's a great question. I mean, here is the problem:

The one thing that - I'm basically ready to say the guy is going to get off, except for this concept of the blind trust. Because, if it's blind, he is not supposed to be dealing with it. Why is he dealing with something that's mostly blind, that a trustee is supposed to be dealing with? And I think that's the one problem he has, and I think that's one of the things that the SEC is somewhat skeptical about.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe it was a near-sighted trust. Where does it go from here? Is this just going to stick around as a sticky rumor? At what point are we going to have further developments? Or is the thing going to go away?

GASPARINO: No, they're going to really investigate this. They're going to subpoena his e-mails, his telephone conversations. His brother's involved in this whole thing, so I'm sure the e-mails and telephone conversations of the brother, who is apparently a director of HCA. They're going to really investigate this stuff. And I think we will know in three months or so. I mean, there is a tendency by the SEC to get these sort of things wrapped up quick when, you know, let's face it - the guy's political career is hanging in the balance.

OLBERMANN: Charles Gasparino of Newsweek magazine, also the author of "Blood on the Street," on the Frist HCA case and the Frist-Stewart parallels. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

GASPARINO: Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Hurricane Katrina pulled a group of domesticated dolphins out to sea, you remember that, but Hurricane Rita had the opposite effect, pushing one desperate dolphin miles inland. We'll show you the race to save it and the unlikely saviors.

And the effort to rehabilitate the image of Prince Harry of England. We are putting him in harm's way in Bosnia to do the trick. Well, we know he can bring his own uniform. That one ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Ahead on COUNTOWN: How to save a dolphin displaced by a hurricane, how to save your relationship using the real-life experience of a guy who wore his ex-wife's wedding dress on this newscast.


OLBERMANN: Despite the objections of the state's lead environmental officer, nearly a third of the residents of New Orleans were permitted to return to their homes today. Whether or not that many did was another question. Mayor Ray Nagin opening neighborhoods which largely escaped flooding, such as the French Quarter, despite the fact that the sewage system still doesn't work and the drinkability of the water has been called into question. Regardless, the desire to return to some sort of post-Katrina normalcy is unavoidable.

More evidence of that tonight in our number two story, the semi-regular dolphin report. As we told you Monday, the rumors are not true. There no secret Navy-trained dolphins with frickin' toxic dart guns attached to their heads, swimming around in the Gulf after they were liberated by Hurricane Katrina. The eight aquarium bottlenoses from Gulfport, Mississippi, have all been rescued now and are at a naval base awaiting the rebuilding of their home. So let's make it a trifecta of dolphin good news. Call him Flipper, the dolphin rescued by none other than our correspondent Kerry Sanders is apparently safe tonight, and so is Kerry.


KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When we first saw the dolphin, it was in a sort of jail, trapped by marsh grass in shallow water in a roadside ditch.

SANDERS (on camera): I think if I pull the grasses out of the way.

SANDERS (voice-over): We tried our best, but failed to free the 500-pound bottlenose dolphin.

SANDERS (on camera): Look how far he has to try to make it out to the Gulf.

SANDERS (voice-over): Hurricane Rita's storm surge had carried him four miles in from the Gulf, in Cameron Parish. When the waters receded, he had no way out.

SANDERS (on camera): I know. We're getting the tangles off of you.

SANDERS (voice-over): Our story on the wayward dolphin on Tuesday's "Today Show," including the call for outside help...

SANDERS (on camera): Think you can rescue this little guy?

SANDERS (voice-over): .made him a local celebrity. A few town residents said the attention given the dolphin seemed misplaced, what with all the devastation here. But even those who lost everything are not without a soft spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to save the dolphin. No need to let it die right there. No sense for something to die a senseless death.

SANDERS (voice-over): So, with the help of the Coast Guard, the Army and the locals, a team of volunteer marine experts from Texas monitored.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're very sensitive animals.

SANDERS (voice-over): .rehearsed, corral and finally captured the dolphin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unbelievable that he is still alive.

SANDERS (on camera): But it was just too heavy for the team to bring up alone on the sling. So it was all hands on deck.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need an even number of people on both sides.

SANDERS (voice-over): His frisky tail hitting my tail. A good sign, said the scientists. This dolphin was still strong. Loaded onto a Coast Guard chopper, yet one more amazing adventure for this guy.

SANDERS (on camera): Were you surprised how easy it was?


SANDERS (on camera): Think he's just tired?


SANDERS (voice-over): A two-minute flight across the marshes to the beach.

SANDERS (on camera): This is the most critical time now for the dolphin. One of the concerns is that dolphins instinctively sometimes will just stop breathing when they are out of the water.

SANDERS (voice-over): Twenty-one minutes after leaving the ditch, the team gingerly lowers him back into the Gulf of Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Think we're about there.

SANDERS (on camera): You excited?


SANDERS (voice-over): He quickly gets his bearings, and he is back in the wild.

SANDERS (on camera): Now we wonder, does he make it? Does he live a happy life?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what we are going with. The happy life, yeah.


OLBERMANN: From rescued dolphins after Hurricane Rita and, by extension, dolphins with frickin' poison dart guns stickin' out of their heads to British princes with guns stick out of their hands.

Our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news begins with Prince Harry of England, make that Dirty Prince Harry. The 21-year-old performing his military duty says he wants to be a frontline soldier in the Welsh Guard. They are the British squadron on assignment to NATO keeping the peace in Bosnia. "It is about the most dangerous place you can be in the Army," says the man third in line for the British throne. The royal family is not sure it wants his fair-haired boy being shot at by rival ethnic groups. Although, his dad, Prince Charles considered letting him.

And, there is the ex-Navy Seal, ex-pro wrestler, ex-governor of Minnesota, ex-MSNBC host, yeah, like that distinguishes you. Jesse Ventura, appearing on our sister network, CNBC with host Donny Deutsch, and saying he's leaving the country, in part because the FCC is acting like Nazis.



I'm not even going to live here anymore.

DONNY DEUTSCH, CNBC HOST: Why are you leaving the country?

VENTURA: I find there is more freedom in other countries. We've lost personal responsibility here, in the sense that our freedoms are being taken away from us every day in the name of terrorism. We are getting an assault on the first amendment right now by the FCC. I mean, they can now fine you, Donny, a half million dollars. That's the same the Nazis used to do with a gun, only our government is doing it with money.


OLBERMANN: You saw, Jesse's now playing Ming in the latest remake of "Flash Gordon." Actually, the FCC can't fine Donny or me or, if Jesse gets another show, even him. It has no jurisdiction over cable. You might know that if you had, say, been a governor. Where he is moving, no word, or if it will cost him his latest gig as a pitchman for an internet gambling site.

When we first met Larry Star, he was trying to get rid of his ex's wedding dress. Well, he's back. Now he's trying to unload his own special brand of relationship advice. Dr. Phil he's not. That's ahead, but first I have the Countdown's list of the nominees for the coveted title of "worst person in the world."

Nominated at our bronze level, Mayor Marcos Irizarry of Lajas in Puerto Rico. The territory is in dire financial straights, with the government asking its employees to voluntarily shorten their workweeks, but the mayor thinks taxpayers should pay some of the $100,000 it will cost to set up a proposed landing strip in their city, a landing strip for UFOs.

The runner up here, Major General Lief Simonsen, head of the Danish air force. His people have agreed to pay nearly $5,000 in damages to Olovi Nikkanoff. Mr. Nikkanoff is one of Denmark's many professional Santa Clauses, his territory the island of Fyn. Last February a Danish fighter jet made a low pass near Mr. Nikkanoff's farm, and the shock of the deafening noise proved just too much for one of Mr. Nikkanoff's Christmastime employees: his reindeer named Rudolph. That's right, the Danish air force killed Rudolph the reindeer.

The winner: the promoters of NecroComicon, a comic and horror convention in the L.A. suburb of Northridge, whose special celebrity guests this weekend are O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings. Pose with O.J.'s arm around your shoulders and neck for only $95. Bad enough, but get this additional note from the press release. The Red Cross is also scheduled to hold a blood drive at the event. The promoters of NecroComicon, today's worst persons in the world.


OLBERMANN: This is not a quid pro quo program. Just because I'm mentioned on about page five of Craig Crawford's book does not mean we'll put him on the show all the time. Of course, he was on earlier this evening. Just because in Larry Star's new book, the third name on his list of acknowledgements is MSNBC's Countdown, that doesn't mean we're going to put him on the show to promote the book. I mean, besides tonight.

Our number one story on the Countdown, would you take dating and relationship advice from a guy wearing his own ex-wife's wedding dress? This guy. You may remember him as the jilted gentlemen who tried to sell his ex's bridal gown on the internet auction site eBay. The bidding, as with all highly publicized auctions, got a little out of hand. One offer, $99 million. Most bids were not surprisingly fake, and Larry was stuck with his taffeta.


OLBERMANN: Do you re-list this thing? Do you wear it on stage with your band? What do you do with it?

LARRY STAR, AUTHOR: You know, I was actually going to use this forum to sell this beautiful wedding dress. Used only 6,000 times.


OLBERMANN: That was more than a year ago, and he did not sell the dress, but he is selling advice: relationship advice. His new book is entitled "Bitter, Party of One, Your Table is Ready: Relationship Advice From Advice From a Guy Who Has No Business Giving It." Larry Star, welcome back.

STAR: Mr. Bloggermann, thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: So, this 15 minutes of fame thing sure went a long way.

Did you need to keep your day job?

STAR: I still have my day job, and I hate it.

OLBERMANN: So, now it is writing advice. Let's get right to some of it here. The dating courtship stage: "If you know you are going to do something that will upset your woman," you write, "you'd better be sure it's worth the trouble." When you say "upset your woman," you mean what?

STAR: If you're going to do something you know will piss her off, you might as well piss off her entire family to go along with it. I call it the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tactic. You know you're going down, so take down as many of them as you can.

OLBERMANN: Your thoughts on marriage include the following observation: "You will never win any argument if you are naked and your antagonist is not." That sounds like it is based on bitter personal experience.

STAR: Well, you know, when you come out of the shower and you go to the fridge and you reach for the butter and the woman is standing there behind you, arguing with you, no matter how big your point is, in full-frontal nudity, you will never, ever win the argument. You'll always get deflated. Pardon the pun.

OLBERMANN: No matter how big the butter is. Some may agree with you on the observation on the divorce process. "Attorneys have no sense of humor or as the comedian Ray Goulding once put it, they do have a sense of humor. A sense of humor like a bankruptcy referee."

STAR: That's true. I asked my attorney when writing the book if I could put in his law firm, and I asked if I was going to get sued, and he said, "Well, you can use it, but they won't think it's funny." And I'm like, "It is funny." But, you know, apparently attorneys have no sense of humor. And if they do sue me, refer to the point that attorneys have no sense of humor.

OLBERMANN: That's right and perhaps you might catch one of them naked with butter in his hand. So, throughout this whole process, have you heard anything from the ex?

STAR: No, not at all, and I want to keep it that way. So, don't tell her about it, OK?

OLBERMANN: All right. Well, she's probably not watching. But what's next for you and what's going to become of that dress?

STAR: Well, the dress is probably going to go curled up into a ball and thrown in a garbage bag and stuck in the bottom of my closet until my next appearance here. But, you know, I figured I would like to come on this show with, like, one shred of dignity. You know what I mean? At least once.

OLBERMANN: That would make one shred of dignity between us.

STAR: But I'm writing - I'm in the middle of writing another book. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking about teaming up with Tom Delay and writing a book called "It's Not Really Money Laundering."

OLBERMANN: Larry Star, the genius behind "Bitter, Party of One, Your Table is Ready." Pleasure to talk to you again, sir, and all the best. Maybe you could cut up the dress and sell it on baseball cards, game-used uniforms. That just occurred to me. Thank you sir. That's Countdown, I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose, good night, and good luck. Our coverage continues on MSNBC now with "RITA COSBY, LIVE AND DIRECT." Good evening, Rita.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for September 29

Guest: Richard Wolffe, Andre Wimer, Tasha Joseph

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


JOHN ROBERTS:... the duties of the office on which I'm about to enter......

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... so help me God.

ROBERTS:... so help me God.


OLBERMANN: One down, one to go. As the chief justice is sworn in, is the president about to swear by a Supreme Court nominee who's never even been a judge?

DeLay, day two. The Democrats answer his charges of political prosecution, and his successors' conduct comes into question. Married to a lobbyist? Father of a lobbyist?

Chatsworth, Redlands, Moreno Valley, they are the unlucky winners in this year's California lottery. It is brushfire season again. Those are the towns and cities threatened.

How long was New Orleans threatened by the 17th Street levee?

Exclusive details tonight on what looks like shoddy construction.

And the entry on the Web site tells the story. Originally from Aruba, has lived in Pittsburgh, married to me and another girl, and goes back and forth between Aruba and Pittsburgh. The warnings, for women, by women, about men who cheat. The Web site is called

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

The new chief justice, and maybe another associate justice, of the Supreme Court in a moment.

But first, "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller, in jail these last three months for not revealing a source for a story she never wrote about the Valerie Plame-Joe Wilson leak investigation, is free tonight.

Pete Williams broke the story tonight and joins us now from Washington. Pete, good evening. What in the world happened?

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Keith, she got out of jail at about 4:00 this afternoon, we're told, by a number of sources, including the Alexandria Jail itself, where she's been held for 86 days.

This is a picture of her going to jail with a smile on her face on July 6 after she refused a judge's order to discuss conversations with her source at the request, the request of discuss it, of Patrick Fitzgerald, who is the special prosecutor handling this case, the U.S. attorney in Chicago.

Now, as you say, she never wrote a story here. Nonetheless, the prosecutor said that she had information that could be useful to the grand jury and to his investigations. But she said she could not violate the confidence, the confidence through which she had the discussions with her source.

Now, what we are told late tonight, Keith, is that the source personally called her and gave her assurance that she no longer needed to protect the confidentiality of the source. She and her lawyers went to the judge and got a court order, and that's why she was released from jail.

Undoubtedly, she'll be back at the federal courthouse here in Washington before the judge tomorrow to see where we take it from here, what sort of questions she will answer.

But now, of course, she will have to answer questions. She's, in essence, agreed to, because she says there's no longer, we understand, any confidentiality to protect.

Now, Keith, the big question here is, what's special about now? Why did her source wait 86 days to call her, knowing full well she was in jail?

Now, she had always claimed that she couldn't go by the blanket statements that the White House asked people that were potentially under investigation to sign, saying that they would waive any confidentiality. She had always maintained in the past that those had the air of coercion about them, and that she couldn't honor them.

But there's a lot we don't know here tonight, Keith, like, why now?

What does it mean? All we know is, basically, she's out of jail.

OLBERMANN: And we certainly don't know who the source is, not formally. But I imagine, I infer from what you say, that sometime tomorrow we probably will know who that source is.

WILLIAMS: It is possible. I just don't know. I just - I mean, we've heard a lot of names, but I don't have it confirmed tonight.

OLBERMANN: Does it say anything? You mentioned the timing. Does it address at all the questions of the status of the investigation and whether the prosecutor might be acting, might be wrapping it up without acting, anything whatsoever on that?

WILLIAMS: You know, it's (INAUDIBLE) - I guess no, is the quick answer to that question. I've asked people that question tonight too, and I've not gotten a satisfactory answer.

OLBERMANN: Anything regarding the buildup to this? Had it been the result of a series of negotiations? Was it as abrupt as it seems to have come out in your reporting on this?

WILLIAMS: That's an excellent question. I don't know the answer to that one either.


WILLIAMS: I've asked the question, but I - but tonight, we are not hearing a lot about this, other than the bare details.

OLBERMANN: I'm happy to be - to share your lack of knowledge on this particular subject.

The drama of Miller going to jail when Cooper did not, the entire question of whether someone who had been seemingly sympathetic to the administration, perhaps going to prison over protecting the - an administration source, the irony of that, all of it being tied together. Any of those mysteries, do you suspect, will be unthreaded for us if we find out who that source is...


OLBERMANN:... if that comes out tomorrow?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I - although I suspect it will be somewhat simpler than that. I doubt that the politics will come into it. But yes, I think it all will be unthreaded, and perhaps as early as tomorrow. And, of course, during her 86 days in jail, she was visited by many luminaries and supporters, journalists, Tom Brokaw from NBC, prominent journalists from "The New York Times," columnists, all people who supported her cause.

And among the visitors to her in the Alexandria Jail was Bob Dole, the former senator, presidential candidate, who felt it was improper that she was jailed, and he wrote an op-ed piece saying that it was time that there should be a better and tighter reporter shield law.

So the whole question of Judith Miller, and, to some extent, Matt Cooper, has reenergized the debate about whether that should happen. And there are member of Congress who are interested in pursuing it.

OLBERMANN: Interestingly, Ms. Miller managed to preempt, at least at this hour, the news that we had intended to discuss with you tonight, the new chief justice, the 17th chief justice of the United States and his - it wasn't rapid, it certainly wasn't a surprise, but it did all occur today, his confirmation and his swearing in.

WILLIAMS: It did. And when it happened, there was drama in it, Keith, as it unfolded in the Senate and at the White House.

The (INAUDIBLE) - swearing-in ceremony at the White House, Keith, the chief justice Roberts standing there with John Paul Stevens. John Roberts, who now becomes the youngest chief justice in about 200 years, sworn in today by John Paul Stevens, the most senior justice, and the oldest member of the court at 85.

The vote was 78 to 22 today, Keith. He got the entire body of Republicans in the Senate and half the Democrats. So it was - that was the only drama coming in today was, how many Democratic votes he would get. And now we know the answer.

Tomorrow, he'll show up at the Supreme Court for the first time as a member of the court. He's been there many times as an advocate before the court and as a clerk. But now, this former clerk will take the center seat, and the court, of course, opens for oral argument on Monday. But he'll be there tomorrow for the first time as a justice.

OLBERMANN: His time, first time as a justice, and perhaps, if "The New York Times," we circle back to Ms. Miller's newspaper here, if what "The New York Times" reported this morning is correct, could be joined at some point by another - an associate justice who has never been a judge before. What do we know about the prospects of a nominee to replace Justice O'Connor?

WILLIAMS: Well, it'll be a much tougher battle, of course, for the White House this time, because before, you were replacing a conservative with a conservative. Now, you're replacing Sandra Day O'Connor, who's been the moderate vote.

The president has several choices. He could decide to appoint a woman. And if he does, there are several candidates that have been mentioned, many of them federal judges, one of them who is not. That's Harriet Miers, who is the White House counsel now, a long-time Bush confidante.

She did some legal work for him when he was governor, private legal work, and then she became a member of his staff. They'd worked together for many years. She came to the White House when he got elected as what's known as the staff secretary, the person who looks at every piece of paper that heads for the president's desk. And then, briefly, she worked in domestic policy. Now she is the White House counsel, having replaced Alberto Gonzales.

Which leads me to the second category of people, Hispanics. The president may choose a number of federal judges, or Gonzales. The third possibility is members of other minority group. And finally, we're told, don't leave anybody out. Be inclusive when you talk about who might be nominees, including other white males.

OLBERMANN: The president just got scalded, day after day, for at least two weeks, because his former head of FEMA had no prior emergency management experience. Would he really appoint somebody, and go to bat for somebody, and use what political capital he has left in a controversial situation, who has never been a judge to the Supreme Court? Or am I guilty, Pete, of thinking too linear again?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, there's no question that she - if you're talking about Harriet Miers (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN: I am, yes.

WILLIAMS:... there's no question that - And remember, there'd been some suggestion early on that perhaps the president would choose a U.S. senator who didn't have any judicial experience. But that would be, I think you would agree, a different matter in the Senate.

But Harriet Miers obviously has a lot of legal experience. She's long been a lawyer, first, a woman president of the state bar association in Texas. So she's - she knows legal issues, she's an experienced litigator. This is not be the chief justice position, where court administration experience or experience as a judge would be handier.

I think you're right. I think the bar would be higher for someone who doesn't have judicial experience.

And the other thing is, Karl Rove, we're told, was on Capitol Hill earlier this week telling members of the Senate that the next nominee would be someone who had judicial experience at the court of appeals level. If the president is still thinking in those terms, that would seem to let Harriet Miers out.

And let out another person too, and that is Maureen Mahoney, who is a very experienced litigator here in Washington, argued the University of Michigan affirmative action case, a very bright person, an experienced Supreme Court advocate, a Supreme Court clerk for William Rehnquist, someone who has argued before the court, served in the solicitor general's office with Ken Starr, just as John Roberts did, but, again, no experience as a judge.

OLBERMANN: Pete Williams, who, I'm pleased to say, has been our co-host here for the first 11 minutes of Countdown. I - boy, I'd like to do this every night. Let's, let's...


OLBERMANN:... recap this - the various stories here, just to give it to you again. Judith Miller, the "New York Times" reporter, out of jail after 86 days for having refused to reveal her source in the Plame-Wilson case, as Pete has broken for us on NBC and MSNBC.

And the bottom line, I guess, Pete, is that, thank goodness, we have...


OLBERMANN:... we have a chief justice to preside over that upcoming Anna Nicole Smith case. So great thanks to Pete Williams.

And we can debate cause and effect on all this, and also on the context of the political climate in which this all occurs. And let's do that with Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek," who has a probing analysis on the Web right at the moment of the relationship between the president and Tom DeLay.

And if Tom DeLay was the lead story yesterday, Richard, Tom DeLay just got put not just on the back burner, he's not even on the stove anymore, is he?


Well, Judy Miller is a big story. And it reminds everybody here that, for all of Tom DeLay's problems, there are other inquiries going on right now that reach even higher than Tom DeLay, if that's possible.

OLBERMANN: "The Philadelphia Inquirer," on its Web site, is just reporting, as we speak, even more breaking news on this story, that the source, who just let Judith Miller off the hook, is Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. No explanation as to why it would be 86 days before he would go and let her, as we say, off the hook.

But the - what are the implications, if that report is indeed correct, that it would be the vice president's chief of staff?

WOLFFE: Well, you know, all the speculation has focused around a couple of people for a long time. And Scooter Libby was really one of the principal suspects here in term of where the rumor mill was pointing. And that was for good reason.

You've got to remember what this was all about. It wasn't about journalists and sources, it was about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And what Joe Wilson pointed out was, for the first time, in a serious way, that that case had fallen apart. The people who were most exercised about that at the time was the office of the vice president. And the vice president's chief foreign policy adviser is Scooter Libby. He's also his chief of staff.

So there was naturally a focus on his role. If you think about the NSC, for instance, and Condi Rice's interest, they were most upset because they let 16 false words into the president's State of the Union. There was a whole debate about how that happened.

But Scooter Libby, office of the vice president, were very concerned about the case falling apart. And they felt very exercised about the weapons and what Joe Wilson was saying. So that's why it's kind of looped back here.

OLBERMANN: Is there any greater guidance into this question that Pete Williams and I just batted around, about, why now? Is there something special about this day on the calendar? Is it a big weekend that she had to get out for? Has Scooter Libby been out of the country for a while? Is there some - in this time of - that we live in of political backstory to everything, is there something? Does this Judith Miller story somehow wipe DeLay off the front pages, and that's a motivation for why this would occur now? Do we have any idea as to why this would occur now?

WOLFFE: Well, I think it's really hard to pin a sort of political motive on this, because one of the characteristics about Fitzgerald, the prosecutor here, is that for his Republican affiliation, he's actually been well out of the sort of political dynamics that normally dictate what goes on in Washington. So - and that's been very frustrating for the administration, for anyone who's trying to put pressure on him.

The other frustrating thing about him, from our point of view, is that, unlike Ken Starr, who was referenced by Pete Williams before, this guy doesn't leak. He doesn't tell us about his motives. His office isn't feeding us little snippets of evidence. And so it's very hard to read what's going on.

There's been a lot of talk about how he was wrapping things up, how this seemed to be coming to fruition. Some of that was fueled by Matt Cooper from "TIME" talking. And this is also going to - this is, in many ways, the last piece of the puzzle that we knew was still out there.

OLBERMANN: While we have you here, let's talk about briefly about what we were going to talk about, the role of Tom DeLay and the White House's reaction to it, as you've analyzed on the Web at the "Newsweek" Web site. There certainly - there was an immediate, almost an immediate back-away from this event yesterday by the White House. And there seems to be a silence from Mr. DeLay almost today, and a certain silence from the White House.

Is it possible that Mr. Bush and his administration are seeing the removal of somebody who has become too controversial for them, who has not been the friend that one would just sort of generally assume one Republican, another Republican?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's very interesting, how they have phrased their support for him in the past. They've always talked about him as being an effective leader. And that's because he's delivered for them on many things that he doesn't necessarily believe in, like No Child Left Behind, or prescription drugs for Medicare.

And the point about saying he was effective was really also to signal that when he was no longer effective, or where there were question marks about his effectiveness, maybe it was time for him to move on.

And that's the point we've kind of reached here. It's not as if the White House thinks nobody else can do this job. Of course, they were grateful that he did it. But there was no love lost there. And that's what we're seeing now.

OLBERMANN: And it means the ascension of David Dreier, who is a friend of President Bush's, and, of course, to the leadership, at least in a temporary role, Roy Blunt, who turns out is married to a lobbyist and is the father of a lobbyist. So the Democrats will have a field day with that too.

Richard Wolffe, we have to, we have to go. The senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek," great thanks. And it is, although we have not been able to address it at the length we wanted to today, it's a great analytical piece on the Web site now about Mr. Bush and Mr. DeLay.

Thank you, sir.

WOLFFE: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's recap the breaking news for you. Judith Miller, the "New York Times" reporter who was jailed in a dramatic series of events 86 days ago for refusing to reveal a source about a story she never wrote relating to weapons of mass destruction, perhaps relating in some way to the case of Ambassador Joe Wilson and his outed CIA operative wife, who worked in the area of weapons of mass destruction, Valerie Plame Wilson, who would not give this information to the prosecutor in the case, Patrick Fitzgerald, while "TIME" magazine's Matt Cooper was absolved of his responsibilities to keep his sources secret.

Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than reveal who his - who her source was, for stories she never wrote, is free tonight. MSNBC's and NBC's Pete Williams breaking that story. She was released at about 4:00 this afternoon. And the identity of the source will presumably be officially revealed, certainly, at least, to the court tomorrow, and to the prosecutor, if not publicly.

In the interim, as you're reading on your screens, "Philadelphia Inquirer" Web site is saying that the source for Judith Miller this whole time, who just left her off the reporter source hook after 86 days, was Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Jr.

The details on this story will continue to reverberate throughout the rest of the week, and we will update you throughout this news hour as developments warrant.

In the interim, from the political fires to the real ones, in Southern California. Hundreds evacuated in an annual but nonetheless terrifying ritual.

And was New Orleans doomed long before Hurricane Katrina even hit? New evidence tonight that experts knew at least one levee would probably not hold, because it wasn't built the right way.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Anyone who has ever lived in Southern California, or had friends or relatives there, knows that in terms of climate and living conditions, the calendar is almost irrelevant, almost. There is one stretch of time in which summer is actually at its peak. Hot winds smack you, humidity appears out of nowhere, the air becomes almost solid at times, and the brush fires begin. That stretch of time begins more or less on October 1.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, as our correspondent George Lewis reports tonight, the always-shocking fire season has arrived, a couple of days early. George?


GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, behind me are some of the 17,000 acres that have burned here on the border between Los Angeles and Ventura County. This fire only 5 percent contained tonight.

(voice-over): Fire crews have been battling since yesterday afternoon to save about 2,000 homes directly in the path of the flames. They're aided by big tanker planes loaded with fire-retardant chemicals and water-dropping helicopters.

BATTALION CHIEF SCOTT SCHUSTER, VENTURA COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: You see them working in concert, so we have a number of tools at our disposal to suppress this.

LEWIS: This is what they're trying to avoid, expensive houses like this one burning to the ground. So far, firefighters have been pretty successful. Thousands of people living near brush-filled canyons were ordered to evacuate, others told to get ready to leave on a moment's notice.

Kevin Sweeney lives here with his wife, two children, and six cats.

KEVIN SWEENEY, LOS ANGELES RESIDENT: If it comes over that ridge and hits this house, we're out of here, because it will go. That means it's coming, and it's fast, and it'll be down the hill.

LEWIS: Galene Knowles (ph) and her family moved in here only three weeks ago.

GALENE KNOWLES, LOS ANGELES RESIDENT: Thank God I didn't unpack too quickly. I didn't even think of it as being in a fire area until now.

LEWIS: The brush in Southern California is thicker than usual because of near-record rainfalls last autumn and winter. Now, with hot, dry winds blowing, weather experts are predicting a nasty fire season.

JOHN MCGINLEY, NOAA FORECASTER: We're thinking that these fires could go on at least through October, and perhaps longer.

LEWIS: So firefighters are bracing for much more of this.

(on camera): There's some good news tonight for the firefighters. The Santa Ana winds are beginning to die down, and the forecast calls for lower temperature as well, a welcome relief for the firefighters, Keith.


OLBERMANN: Indeed, George. George Lewis in the Oak Park section of Agura (ph) Hills, California. Thanks.

The worlds of high art and Oddball collide. The quick brown fox jumps over the big Van Gogh.

Countdown continues next.


OLBERMANN: A quick update on a story that we will be continuing to follow for you throughout the hour. As NBC and MSNBC's Pete Williams reported exclusively, the "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller is out of jail after 86 days, having refused to disclose to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald the identity of a source to whom she spoke in 2003 about the Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson case.

The Associated Press has now confirmed that Miller will, in fact, be talking, speaking before the grand jury investigation into the case tomorrow morning. The "Philadelphia Inquirer" Web site says that her source was the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby. We'll update this story more fully later on in Countdown.

And in the interim, we'll once again pause the day's important stories to waste a few minutes looking at strange people and weird animals from all around the world with absolutely no news value whatsoever, also known as our international news block.

Let's play Oddball.

Beginning in - beginning in London, where the lives of foxes are much improved since they banned the practice of hunting them. Here, we see a little fellow enjoying some of Great Britain's finest works of art at the National Portrait Gallery.

Just a year ago, he would have been running for his life, with bloodthirsty hounds on his trail and crowds of festooned British men on horses aiming to put a bullet in his back. Ah, progress. The fox was actually less loose in the gallery by a Belgian artist named Francis Alys, who says he wants to demonstrate the omnipresence of surveillance cameras there.

Security cameras in a museum? Who knew? The fox roamed the art museum for hours. An, din various spots around the building, he left little masterpieces of his own, if you know what I mean.

And then we're here now in Nagpur, India, where young Devender Harn

(ph) says he is making the best of a rare birth defect. He was born with

25 fingers and toes. That would be above average. Is that right? Let me

· wait. Let me count. Yes. That's right, six fingers on each hand, six toes on each foot, seven on the other foot.

But Devender is not letting those extra digits slow him down. To the contrary, he says he can type faster and work harder than anybody else in his class. He says the other kids joke that God has given Devender an unfair advantage over his friends. And if they think he has got an unfair advantage with 12 fingers now, just wait until he starts dating.

Even if FEMA had been lucky enough to have little Devender on its payroll, it could not have gotten all the aid to the right places fast enough in the Gulf Coast. Five days after Hurricane Rita, some Texas cities still outraged at the slow response or the no response. We will talk to the city manager of one of these places.

And we all know about the breach in the 17th Street levee in New Orleans. What we will discover tonight, the possible breach of faith in the construction of the 17th Street levee in New Orleans.

These stories ahead, and the recap of the Judith Miller story.

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

Number three, the fans of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. This afternoon, the club closed down its home season with a 2-0 victory over Cincinnati. Their dome stadium seats 42,400 fans; 27,008 fans attended today. So what? The tickets were free. And there were still 15,000 empty seats. What do we have to do for you people?

Number two, Curtis Salisbury of St. Louis. He is apparently the first defendant to plead guilty under the new laws enacted to stop people from taking camcorders into theaters and making copies of first-run movies. Mr. Salisbury could face a fine of a quarter-million dollars and up to three years in jail. The movie he pirated, "Bewitched." Yes, that's worst three years in jail.

And, number one, the starstruck operators of the New York night spot Spirit. To their shock and delight, late Friday night, who walks into the place but Mick Jagger. They gave him his own bodyguard. They gave him free drinks. They let him use the bathroom for 10 minutes, the ladies bathroom. Mick then said he had to go. He was exhausted. He had only just flown into New York after his concert Friday night earlier that same night in Columbus, Ohio.

One small problem. The Rolling Stones concert in Columbus, Ohio, that was Saturday night, not Friday night. It hadn't happened yet. So, to the operators of Spirit and especially to those three young ladies who went into the ladies' room with him, that was not Mick Jagger. Sorry.


OLBERMANN: After Hurricane Katrina, the criticism of FEMA was universal, but almost bipolar. Management failed. The workers on the ground were heroes.

After Hurricane Rita, the criticism of FEMA has been almost nonexistent. Management, chastened, was ready and the workers on the ground were again heroes.

Our third story on the Countdown, the first part of that, maybe not, the agency criticized on the ground and in its management in Port Arthur and in Beaumont and in Houston. FEMA closed its disaster relief center in Houston about 1:00 p.m. yesterday, citing an unexpectedly large crowd and because some of the thousands of people in line were fainting in the triple-digit heat.

Those already present, who were in a parking lot of a vacant supermarket, were allowed to stay. And relief workers handed out bottled water and snacks. More than 2,500 heads of households eventually registered for services yesterday, victims of Hurricane Rita and/or Hurricane Katrina. The center reopened this morning.

But officials from two other Texas cities now say FEMA's response has been inadequate. Port Arthur received 121 small generators on Tuesday, nearly four days after Rita had made landfall and several days after complaints from its mayor.

But for the smallest of rural areas in southeast Texas, the situation has been worse. Some officials say they saw relief convoys passing them by on the way to other localities. According to a city councilman from Silsbee, Texas, population 8,000, "They don't even know we're on the map."

And that brings us to our next guest, the city manager of Nederland, Texas, Andre Wimer.

Mr. Wimer, good evening. Thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: What is happening there? What don't you have? And why don't you have it?

WIMER: Well, I wish we knew why we didn't have it.

You know, basically, everything that we have requested through FEMA - and we made our initial requests through the state on Saturday, about three hours after we had returned, our employees had returned to the community. We came back into town about 9:00 a.m. immediately following the hurricane, did an initial assessment and made our requests for generators, fuel supply, chain saws, things like that. And, basically, everything that we have acquired was acquired through alternate means.

OLBERMANN: The FEMA answer to you and to the leaders and officials of other cities of your size and in the region would probably be something like, well, we have got literally thousands of communities to get to. Somebody is going to have to be last and next to last in this list. Why is that answer not good enough?

WIMER: Well, I understand the logistics involved. This is a widespread situation. I can certainly appreciate that.

But, from our perspective, we followed the process that we have been instructed to follow, that being to make the request through the state. The state forwards it to FEMA. And then either we should get the equipment supplies or we shouldn't.

Part of the problem is, is that we never get a response back. We don't know what the status of our requests are. If there's something that FEMA can't supply, then simply tell us that and we will find another way to get it, which is what we have done. And, of course, FEMA has indicated to us that they never received the requests that we had made to the state. So, I'm not sure exactly where the process has failed.

OLBERMANN: Of course, your community is about 18,000. But we're hearing similar complaints from Port Arthur, which is 57,000 people, from Beaumont, which is 114,000 people. It's the 202nd largest city in the country. Is there something in terms of priorities that is askew here, where all of what FEMA does and even, I guess, returning phone calls, is going to the big cities that people nationally would recognize the names of, and the rest of you guys are basically on your own, both in terms of support and even in terms of knowing if that support is coming or not coming?

WIMER: Well, I don't know that that is necessarily the case. But they do have a number of people on the ground here in this area. We have been working with them directly.

We have a liaison assigned to the FEMA representative at the county emergency operations center. And I would suggest to you that the complaints that we have are similar to that of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and our neighboring cities of Port Neches and Groves. So, it is countywide. It's not something that I think is necessarily attributable to the fact that we're a smaller community.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, after Katrina hit, we heard these horror stories about FEMA, the complaints from city officials in Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi. Listening to them at that time, did you think that the complaints might be somewhat exaggerated, and would you think they are now?

WIMER: I don't think they were exaggerated.

And, you know, again, it is a logistics effort. And I understand that. But, certainly, you would think that there would be a process that is able to quicker deliver the goods and materials that the cities request. Were it not for the efforts of our dedicated employees, our fire, police, our public works, we would not be at the stage we are in recovery at this point.

OLBERMANN: Congratulations on doing that.

Andre Wimer, the city manager for Nederland, Texas, great thanks for your time tonight and all the best, sir.

WIMER: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: We suggested two weeks ago that the flooding of New Orleans was not literally a natural disaster. Direct damage to homes and people from the hurricane, certainly, that was natural.

But the flooding happened because the levees failed. And they were as manmade and unnatural as a crashed airliner. Tonight, more evidence that at least one of those levees, the infamous breached wall on 17th Street, was not merely inadequately conceived. It was also improperly constructed.

Exclusive details from senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers.


LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This thin gray line of concrete flood walls was supposed to protect New Orleans. But when Katrina hit, portions of the walls came tumbling down, flooding the city.

IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY HURRICANE CENTER: This is fairly typical of some of the failures we have seen.

MYERS: Professor Ivor Van Heerden, an expert on hurricanes and levees, has examined the wreckage.

VAN HEERDEN: These walls underwent catastrophic structural failure.

MYERS: But why?

(on camera): NBC News has obtained what may be a key clue hidden in these long forgotten legal documents. They reveal that, when this flood wall on the 17th Street canal was built a decade ago, there were major construction problems, problems brought to the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

(voice-over): This document shows that the contractor, Pittman Construction, told the Corps of Engineers that the soil and the foundation for the walls were not of sufficient strength, rigidity and stability to build on.

VAN HEERDEN: That is incredibly damning evidence, I mean, really incredibly damning.

MYERS: Here's how the wall was built. There already was an earthen levee made of soil. Embedded in that was a thin metal wall called sheet piling. The contractor then poured concrete on top of all that to form the flood wall.

But the 1998 documents filed as part of a legal dispute over costs indicate the contractor complained about weakness of the soil and the lack of structural integrity of the existing sheet pile around which the concrete was poured.

We showed our findings to engineering experts.

JOE SUHAYDA, LSU ENGINEERING PROFESSOR: That type of issue about the strength of the soils, of course, bears directly on the performance of a flood wall.

ROBERT G. BEA, U.C. BERKELEY CIVIL ENGINEER: I think it is very significant. It begins to explain some things that I couldn't explain based on the information that I have had.

MYERS: The construction company said, as a result of these problems, the walls were shifting and out of tolerance, meaning they did not meet some design specifics. Nevertheless, the Army Corps of Engineers accepted the work.

VAN HEERDEN: It seems to me that somebody in authority should really have questioned whether these walls were safe.

MYERS: A judge blamed the contractor for the construction errors and turned down Pittman's request for more funds. The company is now out of business.

The Army Corps of Engineers tells NBC News that these documents and the issues raised will be part of its investigation into what went wrong.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: From the breach in New Orleans to the breach of trust? A question of infidelity and technology. Ladies, has your guy already been branded a cheater online? We will meet the founder of

And we will see if Judith Miller is out of jail yet. We know she is.

We don't know if she's dating.

This is Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: "The New York Times" now reporting that Judith Miller's source in the case of Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson was indeed the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby.

Continuing to following this story, and we have others ahead, still, in this hour of Countdown. Stand by.


OLBERMANN: It is a literal fact that I have been dating since 1974, 1974. It is thus a literal fact there are some infants in this country whose grandfathers were born in 1974. Thus, when the subject is dating, I am, by bitter experience, an expert.

Our number one story on the Countdown - our number two story on the Countdown, rather - if I tell you there's new dating territory being explored, I know what I'm talking about, online dish about men who allegedly cheat. The Web site is called Launched in July, it's getting upwards of 2,500 hits, 40 new submissions a day from women. They post pictures and profiles of men who they claimed have strayed. Others want to see if their current flames might be among those strayers.

The searchable database includes winners like Shawn Davidson, age 20, from Fort Lauderdale. The anonymous poster wrote of him - quote - "He has slept with my sister, with my cousin, best friend and many, many more."

But you doubtless thought you, and you alone, could change him.

This gentleman's name is, again to Latoya from Wisconsin, Isaac Hayes. See, there's your problem right there, miss. Isaac Hayes was a musician in the '70s. She writes, "He used to be an exotic dancer, Paris Blaze." He also goes by names such as Josias West, and Depriest."

And, finally, Jelle Dooper, I guess is the name, from Pittsburgh, originally from Aruba. Hello.

Tasha Joseph created the site. And she joins us now.

Thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: What's - what's the - I'm almost afraid to ask. What's the inspiration here? This sounds like it comes from, to use that phrase again, bitter personal experience.

JOSEPH: No. Actually, I have been pretty lucky in relationships.

But the Web site started out of a conversation that I had with some girlfriends of mine. And we were talking about guys. And, of course, actually, the conversation turned to cheating. And we thought, wouldn't it be great if there was a way that you could find out if a guy was a cheater and it could be done online and it could be free to women? And from that conversation, was born.

OLBERMANN: Are you worried, with all these postings - and we are showing the photographs here, too, so I guess, if you're worried, we need to be worried, too - about the accuracy, the legality? I mean, it's very possible that some woman is smearing an innocent man here for any one of 14,000 reasons.

JOSEPH: Well, you know, we do have a terms-of-use policy on our site.

And, in order for a woman to post a guy to the site, she's got agree to our terms of use. And part of that states that what she's telling us is actually the truth. So, we do have that in place.

OLBERMANN: Do the men have recourse? Is there some way back for any of - for Isaac Hayes out there?


We do offer guys a chance to rebut whatever was put on the site about them. They do have a chance to write into us and tell us their side of the story. And that will go over there with their profile that's on the site.

OLBERMANN: As you read some of these things, like the one about Isaac Hayes, do you - have you - do you say, my God, how could you have not seen this loser coming?


JOSEPH: I try not to judge. I try not to judge.

OLBERMANN: All right. So, then, the obvious question here becomes, how soon before we get a

JOSEPH: Well, everybody has been asking me about it. And I'm definitely not going to start a site like that myself. But I'm sure that there's a guy out there that probably will.

OLBERMANN: Conclude for me. What does it say about the dating scene that your site isn't just necessary, but flourishing?

JOSEPH: Well, you know, it's really treacherous, the world of relationships, particularly for women. So, I think the site is just one more way that women can navigate those treacherous waters.

OLBERMANN: Tasha Joseph, the mastermind behind

I think I say that pretty well for a guy.

JOSEPH: You do. You do.

OLBERMANN: Thank you kindly.

Thanks for your time. And good luck with your next - next relationship.

JOSEPH: Thank you. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Our segue tonight into the disturbing and self-indulging world of celebrity and entertainment news, an easy one.

And a rolling stone may gather no moss, but Kate Moss is trying to gather how to stop getting stoned. While she's reportedly in rehab here at the Meadows Clinic in Wickenburg, Arizona, the images that cost her two of her modeling contracts will shortly be broadcast in the United Kingdom, next Monday. Britain's notorious Sky Television, yes, owned by Rupert Murdoch, destroyer of worlds, will show the documentary "Kate Moss: Fashion Victim?" which purports to show the model snorting cocaine.

Grainy still images from that video printed in the British tabloid "The Mirror" were what started the whole Moss roll downhill in the first place.

So, the latest on two Kate Mosses in waiting, a source telling's Jeannette Walls that the new season of the FOX Paris Hilton-Nicole Richie train wreck will have an added extra life-destroying twist. The casting call is out for married husbands and fathers who will hit on either or both of them.

In the show, the two dim bulbs will try to be surrogate mothers in what are termed strange households. FOX executives have reportedly told producers, the friskier the dad, the better. They're looking for dads who are likely to play for Paris or Nicole. While I join you in your appallment, just remember, the odds are only about 2-1 against one or both of us knowing somebody who will watch this show.

Ahead, more on the real-life drama playing out inside the beltway right now. "The New York Times" reporter Judith Miller is out of jail tonight and will be appearing before a grand jury in the Wilson-Plame CIA leak case tomorrow. We will recap the hour of breaking news next.

Stand by.


OLBERMANN: And our number one story on the Countdown tonight, let's recap the dramatic events from Washington, broken for us tonight by Pete Williams of MSNBC and NBC News.

Judith Miller, "The New York Times" reporter jailed 86 days ago for refusing to disclose a source for a story she never wrote, was released from a facility in Alexandria, Virginia, at about 4:00 Eastern time this afternoon. Miller has been released from her pledge to keep her source confidential by that source directly.

On its Web site tonight, "The New York Times" identifies Miller's source as Lewis Scooter Libby, chief political adviser and chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. NBC News has not independently confirmed Libby's identity. But since Miller is the source of who the source is, that is a fairly reliable report.

Additionally tonight, "The Philadelphia Inquirer" Web site reports that Miller's release followed a phone conversation between the two individuals in which Libby reiterated to Miller what he says he told her a year ago, that she was free to talk to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and the grand jury in question.

And talk to that grand jury, she will, NBC News reporting Miller will appear before the grand jury investigating the leaking of the CIA identity of the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson tomorrow morning. In a statement on that "Times" Web site, Miller says the meeting is for the purpose of making arrangements for her to testify, her being Miller.

The identification of Plame's covert CIA duties was widely believed to have been political retribution for her husband's criticism of the Bush administration's claims before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein was trying to buy nuclear material for weapons of mass destruction from the African nation of Niger, a claim that Joseph Wilson debunked.

Why Mr. Libby and Ms. Miller conversed today or what their conversation means for any actual indictments in the prosecutor's case or its further status is as yet unreported.

To confirm now what we do know, "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller is free tonight after 86 days in jail. And she'll appear before the Plame-Wilson CIA leak grand jury tomorrow morning, the end, perhaps only the middle, of an extraordinary story that began 86 days and more ago.

And that's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees lose.

Good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues now on MSNBC with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT."

Good evening, Rita.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 28th

Guests: Tony Potts, Dana Milbank, Wayne Slater

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

Justice delayed is justice denied. But is justice denied because he just is DeLay? The indictment of the House majority leader.

And why just him? It seems as if Washington is swimming with charge of ethics violations just now. We'll try to assemble a checklist.

New Orleans. Why did FEMA spend more money on cruise ships to house evacuees, than it would have cost to send each evacuee on a six-month cruise to the Caribbean?

And do you remember this woman?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look how hot he is. He's not waking up very easy.


OLBERMANN: An update on one of the faces of the New Orleans Convention Center.

And is this the face of the new Mrs. Ashton Kutcher (ph)? Or is it just one of the actors in his practical joke TV series? Was the Kutcher-Demi Moore wedding a fake?

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

His critics will say this is long overdue and self-induced, like an ethics version of Russian roulette finally clicking over to the chamber with the bullet in it. It would be an odd defense, given that this was the last day the grand jury that did the indicting was to sit.

His defenders will argue that it's a political witch hunt, the head of the Republican Congressional Committee already having called the prosecutor who sought the indictment a, quote, "unapologetic Democratic partisan," a curious criticism, given that the man indicted is certainly an unapologetic Republican partisan.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, either way, a Texas grand jury has accused House majority leader Tom DeLay of one felony count of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws, and he has stepped aside from his leadership post. Republican Party rules require that. And House whip Roy Blunt of Missouri will take over as leader, at least temporarily, with the assistance of David Dreier, who headed Governor Schwarzenegger's campaign in California.

DeLay can remain in the House, even as the prosecution by Ronnie "My name is Earle," the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, is ongoing. The grand jury accused him - DeLay, that is - of shepherding $155,000 in corporate donations first into his own political action committee, and then funneling $190,000 into a Republican PAC with instructions on how to divide it among candidates for the Texas state house.

That would be illegal there. Mr. DeLay says he did not do it.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: I have violated no law, I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House. I have done nothing unlawful, unethical, or, I might add, unprecedented, even in the political campaigns of Mr. Earle himself. My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic. It will be categorical and absolute.

I am innocent. Mr. Earle and his staff know it. And I will prove it.


OLBERMANN: If ever tried, if ever convicted, DeLay could face up to two years in jail or five years of probation. Right now, he is facing the climax of a political blockbuster has been building for literally years.

Reactions from Texas and from Washington in a moment.

First, what must have been for Mr. DeLay a fairly surprising reaction from the White House. His own press office issued a 320-word statement today. Seven of those words are the word "partisan." And the phrases "political agenda," "political foe," "political paybacks," and "purely political" appear a total of five times.

At the White House press office, the president's spokesman seemed to be backing away from the majority leader to the degree that he did everything except say, Tom DeLay? Tom DeLay who?


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that the president's view is that we need to let the legal process work.

TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: The president take the allegation of wrongdoing seriously, that Tom DeLay used the Republican National Committee as a money-laundering operation to fund local elections in Texas? That's what the grand jury is indicting him for.

MCCLELLAN: That's what the legal process will proceed to address. We need to let the legal process proceed. And that's what the president believes. This is a different circumstance. And we're going to let the legal process, we're going to let the legal process work.

MORAN: Do you think this is politically motivated?

MCCLELLAN: We're going to let the legal process work.

There are some instances of individual situations, and we'll let those, the legal process proceed in those instances.

We need to let the legal process work.

There's a legal process in place to address these matters.


OLBERMANN: A veteran of Mr. Mcclellan's salon joins us now. Dana Milbank, national political reporter, former White House reporter of "The "Washington Post."

Good evening, Dana.


Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Is that the missed headline there, contained in what Mr. Mcclellan said, that as this storm of partisan this and political retribution that is swelling, that the White House was terrifically cautious about what it said in his defense today?

MILBANK: Sounds like you wouldn't want Scottie in your foxhole there. But, you know, I think it's probably just a matter of arithmetic. The president's sitting there at about 40 percent in approval rating, and Tom DeLay was at about 27 percent before he was indicted. So there's probably not a great percentage in the White House cozying up to him right at this moment.

OLBERMANN: Is there the potential in this to be one of those inside-out political stories that we see so often, that it looks like a hole has been blown in the side of the Republican Party, when, in fact, something like this might merely give them martyrdom points and let them shunt aside a man, for the time being,who is, at the very least, guilty of being a lightning rod for controversy?

MILBANK: Well, that's sort of the Clinton impeachment model. Everybody rallied around the president. His approval numbers continued to go up. It may be a little different with DeLay, who is such a controversial figure, with very low support to start with here.

But it is possible that the Republicans wouldn't suffer as much as all that, because of the fund-raising that he put in place, the party discipline he put in place. The question is, is it larger than Tom DeLay? Can they continue DeLay Inc., the K Street project, and all these other apparatuses he put in place without him?

OLBERMANN: Which leads to the question, other than the ascension of leader Blunt, and that's an odd name for a politician, but what changes practically for the Republicans and DeLay just because there is an indictment instead of merely an investigation?

MILBANK: Well, nothing changes politically in the sense that the damage is done regardless of what happens with what Scott calls the legal process from here on out. The truth is, discipline for now was already in a lot of trouble over Hurricane Katrina, over Iraq.

And now the - you're going to see a lot of these Republican back-benchers just heading for the hills, because they don't have the Hammer there to keep them in line. This is a man who liked to pose with a bullwhip and could dole out favors and punishment to people who did not hew to the party line. And now we don't have a guy like that.

OLBERMANN: A piece of tape that I'd like to play for you that just occurred in the last hour or so. All day we've heard, this is a rogue partisan prosecutor, et cetera, et cetera. But Tonight on "Hardball," Mr. DeLay told Chris Matthews something else.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "Hardball": You believe that this is a political vendetta.

DELAY: I know it is.

MATTHEWS: A coordinated vendetta by the House Democratic leadership in, here in Washington.

DELAY: And Democrat leadership in Texas, and Ronnie Earle, and absolutely.

MATTHEWS: Do you believe that there was a heads-up to people like Nancy Pelosi before this thing today?



OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE), to twist a phrase here, Dana, is there a vast leftwing conspiracy working here?

MILBANK: It sure sounds that way. I mean, I, I, I - in defense of Mr. DeLay, the first I heard of it was in a press release from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But it is interesting, in a way, that the lines that DeLay is saying right now almost exactly echo the lines of Hillary Clinton, of Bill Clinton, when they were the victims of the same sort of personal bare-knuckled political efforts that Tom DeLay feels himself the victim of now that he was perpetrating in the past.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, this does not touch on any of the Washington fundraising controversies regarding Mr. DeLay's ethics? Are those investigations, possible one by the House, possible one by the Department of Justice, still ongoing?

MILBANK: They are ongoing. Jack Abramoff, who was a close friend and associate of Tom DeLay, is in big trouble with the Department of Justice in this investigation. Those really affect Tom DeLay in terms of House ethics rules, as opposed to actual violations of law. So those can get him in trouble with his colleagues, but they don't tend to land you in the pokey.

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," with the perspective from the capital. Great thanks, as always, Dana.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's get the view from Texas. Wayne Slater joins us. He is the senior political writer of "The Dallas Morning News" and co-author of the biography of Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain."

Wayne, thanks again for your time.


Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: Same question I just asked Dana. Other than the fact of the indictment and the naming of Roy Blunt as acting majority leader, how does this materially change things for Tom DeLay in Texas or in Washington?

SLATER: Well, obviously it's a problem in Washington, where the Democrats are talking about linking this to other problems that have befallen the Republicans. But here in Texas, it's going to be a problem for Tom DeLay, who's up for reelection next year. He won the last time with 55 percent of the vote, which may sound like a lot in a red district in a red state. But that was the poorest performance he's ever had in almost 20 years in Congress here in Texas.

Democrats think he's in trouble. Some analysts question whether he really is. But Tom DeLay is going to have to run for his political life next year here in Texas.

OLBERMANN: Trying to explain state campaign finance laws is, to quote the political scientist Iggy Pop, it's like trying to - hypnotizing chickens. But what is the gist of what DeLay is personally accused of here? Clarify that for everybody.

SLATER: Basically, in Texas, it is illegal to use corporate money to elect candidates for the legislature or statewide office.

What DeLay is accused of doing in this grand jury indictment is involving himself in a conspiracy to launder corporate money, to take money from big corporations that was given for one purpose, and could not be used to elect legislators in Texas in 2002, send that money to Washington, bring it back as laundered money that could be used to elect legislators, who subsequently redrew the congressional boundaries, which subsequently gave DeLay more Republicans in the Congress, in the Texas delegation, and helped his power in Washington.

DeLay was intimately involved in the construction of the company - of the group that did this. Now, whether or not DeLay was involved in the specific transaction, in which $190,000 was laundered to Washington and back, is up to the jury to decide.

OLBERMANN: The dismissal by Mr. DeLay and the Republicans of the DA in the case, Mr. Earle, as partisan and political, 12 times in a 320-word statement, does that hold water factually? Mr. Earle has stated that he has prosecuted many more Democratic politicians than Republicans.

SLATER: He has. In his political life here in Travis County, and I've watched much of it, he has prosecuted about three times as many Democrats as Republicans. When Democrats were in control in Texas, they were in power, and Ronnie Earle went after Democrats, including the former attorney general, the former house speaker here in Texas.

When Republicans were in control, more recently, then he's gone after Republicans.

This charge by DeLay, I heard Dana say that this reflects or resembles the thing what happened to Hillary Clinton. It also resembles, deja vu all over again, here in Texas, what happened in 1993, when the same prosecutor indicted a Republican, Kay Bailey Hutchison, subsequently who went to the U.S. Senate, and the charge by the Republicans was exactly the same, runaway district attorney who's working for the Democratic Party establishment in the state.

It's the same thing then as you hear now. Question is, whether Ronnie Earle can make it stick this time.

OLBERMANN: And ultimately, the question is, an indictment is not a conviction, but in your opinion, was, to some degree, Tom DeLay kneecapped today?

SLATER: Look, it's a real problem for him. I know we saw these Republicans in Washington today talking about, Well, this is only temporary, he'll come back. You have to wonder how long this prosecution's going to last. It'll go into the next election year, most likely. That's the off-year elections. And even if he were acquitted, after an extended period of time, could he then come back and be majority leader?

That's up in the air. This may be the death knell politically for Tom DeLay.

OLBERMANN: Is it enough to be the death knell regarding his reelection? Or is this simply his death knell as leader?

SLATER: I would never want to go against Tom DeLay's chances in a red district near Houston to run for reelection. I think he likely would be reelected in that district. And I've spent some time down there. But let me tell you, he's going to have to campaign. He's going to have to show himself. And we've heard the outlines of the campaign argument. It's all a bunch of Democrat operatives in Austin, Texas, hippy-dippy Austin. They aren't the kinds of people who live here in my district. Reelect me.

He's likely to be reelected, but it's not a sure shot.

OLBERMANN: Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News," great thanks for your insight, sir.

OLBERMANN: Lest you think Tom DeLay is the only one in trouble in D.C., think again. The fickle finger of investigation continues to point at many. We'll take you through the latest and greatest bombshells.

And she's captured the nation's attention during a plea from the New Orleans Convention Center, a mother battling to keep her baby alive. Tonight, what happened to both of them?

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: So the indictment House majority leader Tom DeLay marks only the third such set of blockbuster legal charges against a sitting congressman since 1996, and one of the other two was for vehicular homicide.

But as to the number of current politicos in some kind of ethics hot water, seemingly none of us can count that high.

MSNBC's senior Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell, however, has tried, and joins us now to show us her math.

Good evening, Norah.


Well, today's indictment makes House Republican leader Tom DeLay the highest-ranking member of Congress ever to face criminal indictment. And today Democrats claimed that DeLay's indictment is the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a, quote, "culture of corruption."


O'DONNELL (voice-over): When Tom DeLay emerged after a closed-door meeting with his fellow Republicans.

DELAY: We all know what this is. It's a political witch hunt.

O'DONNELL: He promised his own problems won't affect the party's goals.

DELAY: If the Democrats think that we're going to go crawl in a hole, and not accomplish our agenda, I just wish they could have been a fly on the wall and seen these members come together for an incredible, a bold and aggressive agenda.

O'DONNELL: But DeLay's indictment coincides with a growing swirl of political and ethical questions that could spell trouble for the Republican Party and the president's second-term agenda.

MORAN: Is the president concerned that there's a stench of corruption around the Republican establishment in Washington?

MCCLELLAN: Terry, I don't think you can make such a broad characterization. There are some instances of individual situations, and we'll let those, the legal process proceed in those instances.

O'DONNELL: One of those individual situations involves the Republican leader of the Senate, Bill Frist. He is under investigation for selling stock in his family's hospital company just days before the price fell.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: An examination of the facts will demonstrate that I acted properly.

O'DONNELL: Frist's problems come after the arrest a week ago of David Safavian, the White House's top official responsible for government purchasing. Safavian faces charges of obstructing a criminal investigation into Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist with close ties to DeLay.

Abramoff is also under investigation for allegedly defrauding Indian tribes of millions of dollars. And the House Ethics Committee plans to investigate whether Abramoff improperly paid for overseas travel by members of Congress, including DeLay.

CHARLIE COOK: Republicans are justifiably very worried right now.

O'DONNELL: Charlie Cook says DeLay's indictment, along with the president's low approval ratings, and the still-unresolved CIA leak investigation involving Valerie Plame, could all have an effect in the 2006 elections.

COOK: These are the kinds of things that can create these wave elections that, suddenly, all politics aren't local. And suddenly, big changes can happen, and a lot of upsets.


O'DONNELL: And tonight, Democrats are already trying to capitalize on that, sending out a fundraising letter saying that DeLay and Frist are, quote, "governing in a shady style," and calling it systemic throughout the government.

There's also been a development tonight involving the case with Frist. The SEC, which is investigating the sale, has moved the status from informal to formal. And that means that gives investigators subpoena power to force individuals to talk and produce documents, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Norah, that's the Republican list. Are there Democrats also facing corruption charges similar to those?

O'DONNELL: There are. Congressman William Jefferson, a Democrat from Louisiana, is under investigation by the FBI, at the same time there have been media reports that the congressman allegedly used National Guard resources to gather his own personal belongings from New Orleans amid the hurricane rescue.

And, of course, just recently, we had the case of Sandy Berger, who was the national security adviser for President Clinton. He was fined $50,000 for taking highly classified documents from the National Archives and intentionally destroying some of them, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Nice to see some of the traditions of the capital continue in my absence. Norah O'Donnell, MSNBC senior Washington correspondent, great thanks, Norah.

O'DONNELL: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: To another long investigation, with no partisan agenda, however. The search for the elusive giant squid of Japan. You've seen them in the movies. You've seen them as calimari. Now, the real thing.

And when "I do" might really be, "I don't know." First the big wedding scoop about Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher wedding, now the big question, was this a marriage made in heaven, or one made for TV?

Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: We rejoin you now, and enter into the nonindictment portion of the program, where the corruption is limited to doctored pet photos, and the only slimy characters are giant blockbuster squids.

Let's play Oddball.

And first we go one-fifth of a league under the sea, off the coast of Japan, where scientists have for the first time in history observed the elusive giant squid in its natural habitat. And they managed to rip one of its arms off. Well, tentacles. One got stuck on some photo equipment rigged with bait. And you wonder why they're so camera shy.

The researchers estimate that the once-mythical creature is more than 26 feet long. It's much faster and also much uglier than previously thought.

To the Internets, where good old-fashioned American ingenuity is alive and flourishing on the World Wide Web. And today we celebrate a tremendous cyberbreakthrough. Thanks to futuristic photo-manipulation technology, it is now possible to order eight-by-ten color glossy prints of your dog dressed in full military regalia. has stepped forward to fill this void that so many of us thought would never be filled, could never be filled.

But the future is now. And for $20 a pop, any family can send in a photo of its flea-bitten, mangy animal and receive back a memorial to that pet's imaginary lifetime of heroic military service.

And who knows? Perhaps in the future, they will be able to do this for prominent American politicians as well.

Finally, it's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Kevin Marsh of Parker, South Dakota, believes he has shattered the state record with this behemoth, a 1,200-pound pumpkin. The gourd, follow the gourd! Marsh says there's no secret to growing one big mamajama of a pumpkin. He just gave it plenty of water and some special vitamin B-12 shots that he got from Miguel Tejada and Rafael Palmeiro of the Baltimore Orioles.

From juice pumpkins to juice contracts. Why did FEMA spend more to park evacuees on a cruise ship than it would have cost to send them on a vacation on the ship?

And the National Guard speaks out about its role in disaster relief.

And the desperation from New Orleans. One month later, we'll tell you what happened to the mother and the baby she said was having trouble waking up.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Brad Hodson of Muncie, Indiana. He had a 55-gallon tank in his van, a battery-operated pump, and an almost undetectable siphon hose, which he inserted into the underground tank of a local gas station. Police say he would have probably gotten away with his gas-siphoning theft, if, while siphoning, he had not fallen asleep, and thus when it was filled, he would not have been able to drive away. Just sort of sitting there.

Number two, Leon Holliman, Jr., of Jacksonville being evaluated now at a psychiatric facility in North Carolina, after he was caught there driving a stolen ambulance while he was wearing a stethoscope and a pager, and with a dead deer in the back of the ambulance hooked up to an IV.

And number one, Glooscap, the giant statue of a legendary Native American hero off Highway 120 near Truro, Nova Scotia. Let's take a closer look at Glooscap, please. See, they're going to fix the optical illusion in the picture. See, Glooscap's right hand is at such an angle that, well, hello.

Authorities say they plan to remodel that statue and give Glooscap a staff or a hammer or something to hold in his right hand. And as soon as that happens, as soon as they finish that, they're going to do something about that Washington Monument.


OLBERMANN: The juxtaposition could not have been more stark.

While much criticized Louisiana Governor Blanco went to Capitol Hill to beg for federal money to create jobs in her devastated state, "The Washington Post" reported that FEMA had given Carnival Cruise Lines a $236 million deal for the use of three ships as floating shelters. It would have only cost half that much to send each evacuee on a one-week Carnival trip every week to the Caribbean for six months.

And "The New York Times" quoted National Guard commanders in Louisiana who said that their men who are serving in Iraq could have been tremendous use in the response to Katrina, but, more importantly, their equipment that had gone to Iraq could have been of even greater value.

Our third story on the Countdown, pay now and pay later.

First, Governor Blanco testifying to the Senate Finance Committee. And, unlike former FEMA Director Brown's blame-filled recitation to Congress yesterday, the governor never mentioned other agencies' past performance. She talked about what the federal government needs to do now.


GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Jobs. We need jobs to bring our people home and restore our economy.

Katrina and Rita have shuttered or displaced 71,000 firm, almost 41 percent of Louisiana's businesses. Most of them are small businesses. They are family businesses without deep pockets.


OLBERMANN: And we are finally told one thing FEMA was doing on the 1st of September. Three days after Katrina struck, two days after New Orleans flooded, the day that the Superdome and Convention Center were becoming packed with evacuees, FEMA was making a deal with Carnival Cruise Lines, and the facts are mind-numbering, $236 million to rent three ships for six months, ships that are now being used at about 25 percent of capacity.

The expectation that the ships would be filled with 7,000 people did not pan out, since many evacuees apparently saw it as impractical. But, even if the ships had been full, that six-month deal works out to be $1,275 per week per evacuee, in other words, more than twice the cost of sending each of them on a seven-day Caribbean cruise for $599, a cruise every week or one long six-month Caribbean cruise for each evacuee.

The two ships in the Mississippi River and one in Mobile Bay now house about 1,800 evacuees and first-responders among them, your tax dollars in action.

What those evacuees and first-responders needed, instead of cruise ships, they did not get, another amplification on that, this one from "The New York Times" today about challenges and problems facing the National Guard in its response, first, the obvious, 3,200 Louisiana National Guard troops stationed in the Iraq, meaning that only 5,700 Louisiana Guardsmen were station in Louisiana, a number far from adequate, according to disaster experts.

The other unfortunate displacement, specialized equipment, high-water trucks, fuel trucks, and satellite phones, they're nearly all in Iraq. The National Guard in Louisiana said it only had about 34 percent of its equipment. And then there were 375 Guardsmen at Jackson barracks in New Orleans, just downriver from the French Quarter. They spent critical hours after Katrina's landfall protecting their nerve center and even rescuing soldiers who could not swim. All of them were evacuated to the Superdome.

And 222 other Guardsmen wound up holed up in the Convention Center surrounded by angry civilians. But those troops were not trained in police work, rather, in levee repair. Thus, did the stricken Gulf Coast have to wait for up to 72 hours for more National Guardsmen from around the country to arrive.

As ever, an honor to be joined now by General Barry McCaffrey, U.S.

Army retired and now an NBC and MSNBC analyst.

General McCaffrey, good evening. Thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: How do you assess this? I mean, hindsight is pretty easy here. It would have helped to have those Louisiana Guardsmen in Louisiana for the hurricane. But should that have been the conclusion before the hurricane hit?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think the one problem, clearly, was the enormous deployment of Guardsmen and reservists to Iraq and Afghanistan. There's no question; 65 percent of the combat service support units in Iraq are Guard and Reserve.

So, these three states so badly affected lacked half their equipment in some cases and a third of their forces. The real big problem, though, Keith, in my judgment was a failure of leadership, FEMA, Mr. Brown, to a large extent, the governor and, to a significant extent, the mayor. It was just a failure of imagination to see what would happen would have to be responded to before it hit.

OLBERMANN: Explain and amplify for us, if you can, this issue of equipment, that more of it seemed to have wound up from the Louisiana National Guard in Iraq than even the Guardsmen themselves. Was it more important than the issue of the personnel?

MCCAFFREY: Well, the personnel were absolutely vital. I mean, thank God for the National Guard. We could not prosecute this campaign, either Afghanistan, Iraq, peacekeeping in the Middle East, peacekeeping in the Balkans, without the Reserve components.

But, in many cases, we have cherry-picked their equipment, so the high-value hospital transportation signal, engineering equipment, a lot of it has been deployed. A lot of it is being run into the ground. And it is left in-country for later deploying units. So, it was a factor. And I'm sure it hampered the state adjutant general in Louisiana's immediate ability to respond to the crisis.

OLBERMANN: The 72-hour response delay in the sort of domino effect here, where you had to get other National Guardsmen from other states from around the country into the Gulf Coast, one of the analysts said afterwards, we will to have up with a new model. What kind of new model would that be?

MCCAFFREY: Well, it certainly won't be hard to think through it.

We had a disaster affecting four million people in three states. Immediately, we had mobilized some 4,000 Guardsmen. We now have 42,000 active and Guard forces there. The whole model depends, Keith, on the mayor asking the governor asking the president for support.

When it comes to a meltdown of authority and infrastructure, such as befell the Gulf Coast or would happen in a terrorist attack, we simply have to step in with a top-down-driven model with this military headquarters, U.S. Northern Command, Admiral Tim Keating, established by Congress. That's where we need to plan, organize and execute a huge disaster.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, does it just - does it just make your blood boil to hear that the levee experts were at the New Orleans Convention Center, rather than near one of the levees and were thus left in the position, not only of not doing what they were good at, but being forced into a situation where they were virtually hostages of the crowd and were not police-trained?

MCCAFFREY: Well, I don't think the engineers could have done much good in the levee. That was a problem 10 years in the making. The Army Corps of Engineers jumped into the breach, did all they could that night, minute one. The Coast Guard was brilliant. Thank God for the U.S. Coast Guard.

The real problem there was, you know, we could have brought in active-duty military police and been on the ground in 12 hours, for God's sakes, Fort Hood, Texas, 40,000 troops, 12 hours away, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The minute the 82nd Airborne got there, this thing wrapped up. We should have acted earlier.

OLBERMANN: General Barry McCaffrey, as always, sir, great thanks for your perception and perceptiveness. And great thanks for your time.

MCCAFFREY: Yes. Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: At the time she was thrust on the world stage outside that Convention Center in New Orleans, we did not know her name; we did not know what happened to her; we did not know what happened to her baby, the one she said could not wake up very easily. We will find out.

And Elton John coming to a venue, very, very personal venue, near you.

The price tag is out for a blockbuster private concert from Sir Elton.

Those stories ahead. First, now here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


BARRETT NICHOLS, GOLFER: Too much. Too much. Too much. Oh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Let's go. Great putt. Great putt. Great putt. Jesus, what lovely putt. Oh, that's a gorgeous golf shot. Where the hell did that go?


JAY LENO, HOST: Vice President Dick Cheney had surgery over the weekend, luckily, a huge success. He had 18 organs replaced. That's amazing.


LENO: Organs.


LENO: Amazing. In fact, the Milton Bradley people just came out with this. This is the new Dick Cheney operation game.


LENO: See how that works? You can do your own knee surgery there.

You have got the heart surgery. It's a fabulous, fabulous...



DAVE YELVERTON: Has your horn ever failed to honk? Have your interior lights ever croaked? Your stereo stopped working? Oh, man.

Oftentimes, a little fuse like this is to blame.



OLBERMANN: They epitomized the growing horror outside the New Orleans Convention Center, a young mother holding a visibly wilting baby, desperately asking for help. What happened to them?

That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: How many of the people you saw on television in the wake of Hurricane Katrina haunted your nightmares, only you can know.

Here, we kept seeing that erudite 9-year-old boy Charles Evans (ph), who said calmly, but clearly, that there were dead people near here at the New Orleans Convention Center and he did not want to be one of them. He did not. When last we heard, he was safe with relatives in Texas.

And then there were the images of a woman in the same crowd who told our cameraman that her overheated baby wasn't waking up so easily. What happened to her? What happened to her baby?

Our number two story on the Countdown, the happy answers to those questions from our correspondent Dawn Fratangelo.


DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few can forget the desperate cry of this woman at the New Orleans Convention Center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look how hot he is. He's not waking up very easy. I'm not - this is not about low income. It's not about rich people, poor people. It is about people.

FRATANGELO: Charlotte Hackman (ph) of Wilmington, North Carolina, was among those so concerned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was a moment in TV that I think captured people's hearts. And it put a face on that tragedy.

FRATANGELO: Then, in her local newspaper, that face had a name, a familiar name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like I could not catch my breath. It was like, oh, my God. That girl is - it's Lee Ann (ph).

FRATANGELO: Lee Ann Benbum (ph). Turns out, she's Charlotte's second cousin.

A search began and after nine days, Charlotte found the shelter where Lee Ann was taken in tiny Addis, Louisiana. That's where we caught up with her.

(on camera): This is your - where you sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's my apartment. That's what we call those.

There's the bed, the TV.

FRATANGELO (voice-over): And what about her baby, so limp when last we saw him?


FRATANGELO: Little Jahon (ph), 11 months old, is doing much better.

Even before Katrina, life had its knocks. A single mother whose parents had died, Lee Ann had been living in a shelter for battered women. It burned three days after the hurricane hit.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's time for a little bit of a change. A little bit too much negative going on right there for me. I just - I just want to start over.

FRATANGELO: And cousin Charlotte, who hasn't seen Lee Ann in 25 years, wants to make that happen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And maybe - maybe the fact that she knows that we looked, and we didn't stop looking.

FRATANGELO: She does. Late last night...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is so good to see you. Gosh.

FRATANGELO:... Lee Ann and her baby began that new start, landing in Wilmington, North Carolina, one woman's plea answered and a family found.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And Lee Ann is right. You shouldn't ever lose touch. OK. You can stay forever.

FRATANGELO: Dawn Fratangelo, NBC News.


OLBERMANN: So, there will be Christmas for Lee Ann and Jahon Benbum.


And Christmas is our tenuous segue from that story to our nightly romp through the self-indulgent world of entertainment and celebrity, that which we call "Keeping Tabs," not just Christmas, but the newest high-priced item available in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue, Sir Elton John. That's right. Along with the $20,000 personal photo booth, the $200,000 ridable toy train set and the Lexus hybrid for $65,000, your own personal 90-minute Elton John concert is available.

You and 499 friends can be entertained by the rocker for a mere million-and-a-half, all of which of goes to Elton's AIDS foundation. That would be $3,000 a person, by the way. But, for a limited time, we here at Countdown can offer you this free, no-obligation preview.


ELTON JOHN, SINGER: Rude, vile pig.


JOHN: You know what I mean? Rude, vile pig.


JOHN: Pig. Pig.


OLBERMANN: Woo-hoo! He's doing "Rude, Vile Pig." Light some matches. Maybe he'll sing it again. "Rude, Vile Pig." "Rude, Vile Pig."

Which brings us to the latest on the Rush Limbaugh investigation. The assistant state's attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, is asking the courts there to let him talk to Limbaugh's doctors in an effort to expedite the investigation, he says, and out of an abundance of caution. That actually translates as, they want to ask the doctors if the radio host is guilty of doctor-shopping, getting a lot of prescriptions for a lot of painkillers from a lot of different physicians. If so, it would be a blockbuster story.

And noting the recent absence of any stories about Paris Hilton,'s Jeannette Walls supplies this one. The woman famous for being fame, soon to translate that into new lousy films, has been ripped by two veteran actresses. Former child star Shirley Temple Black - you know, "Good Ship Lollipop" - she tells a London newspaper that Hilton is stealing the thunder from really talented actors who have learn their craft.

Meanwhile, Shirley MacLaine, on the right, promoting a new film, piled on: "She calls herself not a starlet or an ingenue. No, according to Paris, she is a movie star. It irritates me, as, in my day, you had to really work."

After the remarks from Shirley Temple and Shirley MacLaine, no comment from Shirley Jones, Shirley Bassey, Shirley Booth, Shirley Manson, Shirley Eaton, Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney, or former Major League pitcher Bob Shirley.

Speaking of celebrity jokes, did Ashton Kutcher just pull off his best "Punk" ever? 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.

Nominated at the bronze level, Scott Peterson, yes, that guy. He's on death row, but, of course, it could be decades before he is executed or has his sentence commuted in some way. But his wife's insurance company is ready to pay off on her quarter-of-a-million-dollar policy. And Peterson will not waive his rights to it. Nice.

Also nominated, Tennessee State Representative Stacey Campfield. He was rejected for membership in the Black Legislative Caucus, possibly because he is a white guy. Odd enough, but then came Representative's Campfield's bitter response to the rejection - quote - "My understanding is that the Ku Klux Klan does not even ban members by race."

Somebody voted for this dude.

But the winner, the national scold, Bill Bennett, talking on his radio show about recent economic theories, suggesting that one of the reasons the crime rate has declined in the last 35 years is that abortion has been legalized. He said he found the following idea - quote - "impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible" - unquote - but - quote - "if you wanted to reduce crime, you could abort every black baby in this country and your crime rate would go down."

Mr. Bennett, could you just go back to devoting your radio show to tips on how to win at high-stakes slots and video poker? Thank you.

His name is Bill Bennett.


OLBERMANN: Many a marriage has later proved to be a practical joke, not necessarily a planned one, although the spouse who believes him or herself victimized may in fact convince themselves that it was planned.

Even some celebrity marriages fall loosely perhaps in this category.

Consider Britney Spears and her first husband, whatever his name was, Mr.

All Night Boozing in Vegas Guy.

But our number one story on the Countdown, what about two celebrities participating in a marriage ceremony that was entirely fictitious, designed as an elaborate prank to be shown later on the television show of one of the two celebrity marriagers? That's the allegation of a dedicated watcher of the actor Ashton Kutcher. Several news entertainment outfits have received copies of a blockbuster e-mail purportedly traced back to one of Kutcher's staffers, insisting that Saturday's nuptials, starring Ashton Kutcher and girlfriend Demi Moore, constituted nothing more than a taping for his practical joke series "Punk'd."

I'm joined now by Tony Potts, correspondent with the syndicated TV show "Access Hollywood."

Good evening, Tony.

TONY POTTS, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Well, clearly, somebody is getting punked here. Which is the red herring, the wedding or the story about the wedding being a red herring?

POTTS: Well, you know, I have said e-mail here of what it's about.

And it actually was sent - this man claims that this e-mail came from Jason Goldberg, who is also one of the co-executive producers and Ashton's friend on "Punk'd." And this guy sent out something, like you mentioned, to all the outlets, saying, look, I have this inside information. I will give you all the information that will really happen if you pay me to the highest bidder.

We said, we don't pay for stuff, so just move on. But he gave us all these e-mails. I think, actually, the wedding happened. I think maybe there is disinformation on disinformation, which is a double negative, which means that, actually, it probably did happen. I don't think cabala has a word for punked.

And, since they both follow that, I think it indeed probably did happen. And all this other stuff flying about is probably by a guy by the name of John Myers, who sent out the e-mail, if that's his real name, just wants to be paid. And, apparently, some entertainment networks paid him $500 for the exclusive.

OLBERMANN: "The New York Daily News" says it has a statement from a spokeswoman for Mr. Kutcher saying that the e-mail is a fake, but also that that same spokeswoman will not confirm that Kutcher and Moore actually got married over the weekend. That - why wouldn't you just come out and say, well, look, they got married; there's a ring; there's a picture? Why wouldn't you just dismiss that this way?

POTTS: Because I think what might happen is, is the paparazzi will go even more mad.

I have heard that "OK" magazine, which is now published now in the United States, which is infamous for paying for articles and pictures and what have you of celebrities, will pay as much as $3 million for the first picture of the bride and groom together. If they confirm that that's the case, then the paparazzi out here in Los Angeles who knows where they live.

They will swarm them even more intensely than before. A lot of times, the publicists just don't want to say exactly what happened. I know both publicists. In fact, Matt Labov is actually Ashton's publicist. And they both say that they're not saying anything about it. And, sometimes, that comes, as you know, Keith, from above, from the stars themselves. I think maybe they want to orchestrate it at a proper time.

OLBERMANN: Or just keep it a secret forever to avoid the paparazzi?


OLBERMANN: They just never announce it?

POTTS: Well, I think that - I do think, though, that there's a ring involved. I'm kind of old - a traditionalist here. But I think there was probably an exchange of rings.

So, I think, at some point, she'll have a big ring on there when we see her on the red carpet or we see Ashton somewhere. And that will probably be the indicator that, yes, indeed, they have - they are married.

OLBERMANN: Tony Potts from Access Hollywood on this great conundrum facing American society at the moment. Great thanks, Tony.


POTTS: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The bottom line, then, even actors, jaded Hollywood morons, would not be so low as to defraud their own friends and guests in the great institution of Hollywood marriage.

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues now with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT."

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, "RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT": Good evening and thanks so much, Keith.