Tuesday, February 15, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 15

Guest: James Roosevelt Jr., Greg Mitchell, Jane Velez-Mitchell

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? Jacko is sicko. He loses lunch. The trial loses a week. Flu-like symptoms.

Custer battles. Civilian contractors in Iraq supposed to guard supply convoys, accused of firing on innocent civilians. Accused by former U.S. servicemen working with them.

Privatizing parts of Social Security. Conservatives say President Roosevelt's speeches indicate he would have approved. President Roosevelt's grandson says that's taking his quotes way out of context. He'll join us.

Two reporters from the CIA leak, facing jail. One pseudo reporter from the CIA leak facing the troubling truth. He will neither confirm nor deny he has been an escort.

And if you remember David Grover (ph) and his tumor he called Frank, boy, are you going to be happy tonight.

All that and more now on Countdown.

Good evening. How did Michael Jackson know he had the flu and needed to go to the E.R.? Obviously his nose was running.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the proud parade of the tabloid figures of our time was actually delayed by an influenza bug today. Jury selection in Jackson's molestation trial was postponed for a week after the sudden onslaught of flu sent Jackson scurrying to the emergency room at Marian Medical Center at Santa Maria, California. Yes, it's your entertainment dollars in action day 456 of the Michael Jackson investigation. And the headline, Jacko Sicko. And the big question, did he or did he not get a flu shot? The second big question, Has there ever been a briefer news conference in history than this one?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CHUCK MERRILL, MARIAN MEDICAL CENTER: Jackson has been evaluated in our emergency department today for a flu-like illness with some vomiting. He's undergoing testing and is being treated with intravenous fluids right now. He's in stable condition and we expect a full recovery. His release from the hospital will be when he is stable and well enough to go home. Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: I'm here all week. Tip your waiters. And thanks for getting that word "vomit" in there, doc. Jackson reported the signs early this morning and Judge Rodney Melville (ph) told the courtroom at about 8:45 a.m., PST., that the defendant was ill, had gone to the E.R., and that jury selection would be postponed until next Tuesday, although some legalese would be discussed by the lawyers in the interim. Prospective jurors were already feeling kind of queasy themselves, having consumed too many celebrities at one sitting. The Jackson list of potential witnesses submitted to the court, 366 names long. Included, dozens of names from the A lists, B lists and whatever happened to lists starring Jay Leno as witness number 138 with guest stars Elizabeth Taylor, Ed Bradley, Maury Povich, and Martin Bashir as if there weren't enough media already with Larry King as witness 242. Hello. And with special guest star Kobe Bryant from the Kobe Bryant case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Jackson's attorney today says you're on the list to defend Michael Jackson in court.

KOBE BRYANT, NBA: Am I? Am I really? OK. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you good friends with him?

BRYANT: Yes, I've known him. I've had conversations with him and things like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Also scheduled to appear, these and many other celebrity witnesses. Paul Schaeffer conducts the orchestra.

So whether or not 12 jurors and eight alternates will be treated to that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of stars in whole or in part is clearly still open to question. Judge Melville however putting a damper on the coming attraction, saying it was unlikely that all those celebrity witnesses would actually take the stand. What is a potential juror to look forward to?

Following all of the Jacko news of this day from Santa Maria, Jane Velez-Mitchell from TV's "Celebrity Justice." Jane, good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, "CELEBRITY JUSTICE": Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's start with this news of the day. Michael Jackson is sick and reporters must have felt the same way after that briefest statement ever at a hospital. Has anybody found anything else out about his condition?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, this was a totally crazy day here in Santa Maria. Let's face it. Yesterday, when he was at court he seemed perfectly healthy. Then we were told he started feeling under the weather yesterday. And then he was late for court today. Everybody was wondering where is he? Suddenly we hear, he's at the local hospital a couple of miles away. We all take off like bats out of hell racing over to that hospital. The media circus goes from the courthouse to the hospital. And then we hear in that very brief statement that he had flu-like symptoms.

At one point, his brother Randy came out and talked to the media and was just overwhelmed. In fact, one fan collapsed and fell to the ground, hit her head on the asphalt and had to be rushed into the emergency room herself. All because Michael has the flu.

And I'm not doubting that he does have the flu. He has a history of getting sick during his legal proceedings. It happened during his civil case here in 2002 when he got the spider bite. And was walking around on crutches with a sock. It happened in 2003 when he gave a deposition or was supposed to in Indianapolis. He collapsed. And his lawyer told me at that time that he gets very stressed out over legal proceedings and doesn't drink enough fluids, gets dehydrated and whatnot. So we can expect more of the same possibly.

OLBERMANN: You would think he would have gotten used to them by now. I'm not sure I understand the premise of shutting down court for a week not to make any undue comparisons, but the pope is a lot older than Michael Jackson and a lot sicker and has a lot more important stuff to do and he still conducted mass from the hospital. What do they need Jackson for at jury selection?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I've talked to a number of attorneys. And they say he is pretty much required to be here during critical phases of his trial and jury selection is considered to be a critical phase. He got a waiver during the pretrial hearings. He did not have to be here. But that waiver ended at the start of the trial. And jury selection is considered the start of the trial and the premise is essentially, they don't want to give him grounds for appeal down the road where he could say, wait, if I had been there, I would have made sure that juror number XYZ was excused and I didn't get a fair trial.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of the jurors and the number XYZ, three digits, Jane, that Jackson witness list also known as night of 100 stars. How is that being received in and around the court? Is it being perceived there as absurdly as it seems to be everywhere else?

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It was such a shocker. I mean, 500 plus names. And we're all scrawling them as fast as we can, literally, not able to keep up. You hear Liz Taylor, Diana Ross, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder. These are all good friends of Michael Jackson. Diana Ross was credited by some with helping to discover the Jackson 5. If they're character witnesses, I suppose that might wow the jurors. But you know, it could also backfire. Look what happened during Martha Stewart where a lot of big stars showed up to support her. It didn't seem to help her. So a lot of people might ultimately end up resenting all that star power.

OLBERMANN: And if they all show up, you're going to be there for an awfully long time.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: It is going to be crazy.

OLBERMANN: Jane Velez-Mitchell with "Celebrity Justice" following the Jackson trial and bronchial congestion for us tonight in Santa Maria, California. Many thanks, Jane.

VELEZ-MITCHELL: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: From the absurdity of the endless Jackson circus at the start of one trial to the sobering conclusions at the end of another case. This one in South Carolina. A verdict in the so-called Zoloft trial. Christopher Pittman, 12 years old at the time of the November 2001 murder of his grandparents, convicted today after only six hours of jury deliberations. They chose to reject the defense contention that Zoloft, the popular antidepressant, was responsible for the boy's homicidal acts. The prosecution called that defense strategy a, quote, "smoke screen" and pointed to the brutal nature of the crime.

Pittman had shot both his grandparents while they slept. He then burned down their home. He then drove off in their car. Police say he told them the couple, quote, "deserved it." Pittman faced 30 years to life in prison. He received the minimum. Among those testifying preceding the sentencing, Christopher Pittman's father. It was his parents who were murdered by his son.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE PITTMAN, CHRISTOPHER PITTMAN'S FATHER: I lost my mom and dad and today I lost my son, too. But we're not giving up on him. We will get him back.

I love my son with all my heart. I want to take this opportunity to also, seeing that now we've got all these cameras in front of me, to ask the governor of the state of South Carolina, and the president of the United States, to pardon my son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: The prosecution contended the boy's motive was rage at his grandparents for having disciplined him after he choked a younger boy on a school bus.

And back the pendulum swings from the terrible to the absurd. We told you yesterday that Vili Fualaau and his sixth grade teacher Mary Kay Letourneau are to be married on or about April 16. We all found this out because Miss Letourneau signed up with an online bridal registry. But you ain't heard nothing yet. How about the Fualaau/Letourneau marriage on television? Nothing firm yet but Greg Olson, the author of a book about the rape case called "If Loving You is Wrong," says the bride and groom are both unemployed and in hopes of making some money have tried to sell exclusive wedding coverage to television, magazine, and tabloid outlets.

As to television it is not clear if that would be taped or some sort of live pay-per-view special. Nor if it is pay-per-view, if there will be a discount for viewers 13 and under.

Speaking of getting paid for your efforts. Again, the Gannon/Guckert scandal thickens. New allegations about his other lines of work and his possible involvement in the leaking of a covert CIA operative's identity.

Plus disturbing accusations against a private protection company in Iraq. Former U.S. servicemen say their fellow contractors wantonly attack innocent Iraqis while being paid with American taxpayer money. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Nothing in war is pretty but even against that stark landscape our number four story on the Countdown tonight is inescapably ugly. New allegations from four American military veterans that heavily armed private security contractors in Iraq are brutalizing Iraqi civilians. Our report is by NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers. And if there is no other clear lesson in this story, it will become obvious to you that it is really bad symbolism to take any organization operating in a theater of war and give it the name, Custer Battles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS SR. INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Four U.S. military veterans, Bill Krone (ph), captain army rangers, Jim Arante (ph), sergeant military police, Ernest Collie (ph), army corporal, Will Hugh (ph), marine, all went to Iraq months ago as private security contractors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went there for the money. I'm a patriot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't turn off being a soldier.

MYERS: They worked for an American company named Custer Battles hired by the Pentagon to conduct dangerous missions guarding supply convoys. They were so upset by what they saw, three quit after only one or two missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we saw, I know the American population would not stand for it.

MYERS: They claim heavily armed security operators on Custer Battles missions, among them, poorly trained young Kurds who have historical resentments against other Iraqis terrorized civilians, shooting indiscriminately as they ran for cover smashing into and shooting up cars. On a mission November 8 escorting ammunition and equipment for the Iraqi army, they claimed to clear a traffic jam, a Kurd guarding the convoy, allegedly shot into a passenger car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He (UNINTELLIGIBLE) down his AK-47 and started firing through the window, and as far as I could see, they hit the passenger. And they didn't even know we were there.

MYERS: Later the convoy came upon two teenagers by the road. One allegedly was gunned down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rear gunner in my vehicle shot at him.

MYERS: Unarmed?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unarmed, walking kids.

MYERS: In another traffic jam, they claim a huge Ford pickup truck like this smashed into then rolled up and over the back of a small sedan full of Iraqis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The front of the truck came down like this. I could see two children sitting in the back seat of that car with their eyes looking up. At the axle, as it came down, it pulverized the back and I said, wow, what hit this car?

MYERS: Could they have survived what happened to that car?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably not. Not from what I saw.

MYERS: These men assumed that in all three incidents, the Iraqis were seriously hurt or killed. But can't be sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was chaos and carnage and destruction, the whole day.

MYERS: These two men say they quit immediately. Krone, in this email two days later to a friend at the Pentagon said, "I didn't want any part of an organization that deliberately murders children and innocent civilians."

Arante says he also quit after witnessing wild indiscriminate shootings on two other missions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said I didn't want to be a witness to any of these - what could be classified as a war crime.

MYERS: Once back in the U.S., Krone, recipient of the Bronze Star, took the allegations to army criminal investigators. The army tells NBC News it is looking into the matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These aren't insurgents that we were brutalizing.

It was local civilians on their way to work. It's wrong.

MYERS: Iraq is a brutal deadly place. Why blame Custer Battles?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simply they're negligent in throwing people out there and then forcing us to use these brutal tactics. They're responsible. Absolutely.

MYERS: Custer Battles declined to be interviewed on camera. The CEO calls the allegations completely baseless and without merit. It says there's no evidence to support them. He adds that the Kurds work for a subcontractor, not Custer Battles. The company provided conflicting information about the crushed car but arranged for us to talk to the leader of that mission who says no one was hurt and provided this photo of what it says was the car.

These men say it's not the same car. However, Custer Battles claims all these men are disgruntled former employees who believe the company still owes them money. It says Will Hugh was fired and that Bill Krone once confided to a colleague that he knew the company didn't really kill any children.

So why are these men going public with these allegations now? They say because they care about American soldiers and about winning the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We continue to let this happen, those people will hate us even more than they already do.

MYERS: And they say that only makes Iraq more dangerous for American soldiers. Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN: Taken out of context and twisted for political gain. At least three political pundits to say nothing of politician using part of an old speech to argue that president Roosevelt would have supported President Bush's reform of Social Security. FDR's grandson, former associate commissioner for Social Security begs to differ. He'll join us on Countdown after we take the nightly detour out of the serious news to indulge in the daily collection "Oddball." Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: We're back. And once again we take leave of the serious news, and perhaps our senses, for the segment devoted to weird stories, cool video - Freudian slip, weird studios. And strange people. Let's play "Oddball."

We begin in Melbourne, Florida, with the Countdown car chase of the week. As if four hurricanes are not bad enough for these people, now they've got to deal with this guy on high speed rampage through they're quiet gated community. A quick check of the "Oddball" score board, showing the cops are off to an early lead this year with four, guys trying to escape the cops, zippo.

But Mr. George Ostin Jr. (ph) thinks he's the one to break the streak, and he doesn't care how many lawns he wrecks in the process. Making a right. He later told police he did not pull over because he had a suspended drivers license and he had been drinking. Well, you know what you can add to list pal, that's right, felony evasion.

For 10 minutes, Ostin Jr. (ph) or O.J. for short, speed recklessly through Melbourne in his white Ford SUV. But as the great poets of Black Sabbath wrote, living in the fast lane is easy until you run out of road. Release, rotation, splash. I'm not sure if Sabbath had a song about the foot chase, but it doesn't matter because Ostin couldn't outrun the swift footed sheriff deputy. And it is all over by the side of the road, right there! So maybe next time, this sopping wet scuff ball will keep his paper up to date. Something he can ponder while he makes other people's license plates in the big house!

To Columbus, Ohio, where it was finally time to start bringing down a famous eyesore, the old trash burning plant. Today we do the smoke stacks, the rest come down next month. The controlled implosion process involved using 120 pounds of dynamite to precisely blow the stacks in one direction away from the building.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN: Well, two out of three. In baseball were in the hall of fame kids. Folks in Columbus have driven past those smoke stacks since the $200 million facility was built way back in 1983. It was closed down 11 years later in 1994, and sat there until it was destroyed today in 2005. The rubble will be left as a monument to one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer money in Ohio history.

And in frigid Winnipeg, Manitoba, where international artists have gathered at this years Les Festival Devoir (ph) to try their hand at snow sculping - sculpting in English. Here's my question, why does it have a French name when we're in an English speaking province? Anyway, the international artist came from Columbia and Mexico and Africa, places where they've never really seen snow. So, it was a new medium for gang. Nonetheless, some top notch work was done. Very good, and you brought your own saw. The art will be on display for the rest of the week and the artist will return to their warm climates wondering, why didn't anybody tell us to bring coats?

Back to the news. In fact, to this guy again. Yes, you, sir. First we didn't know who he was, now we don't know what his regular job was.

And remember the little boy, the illness and the bidding on eBay? There's very good news on the story on Frank the tumor tonight. These stories ahead, now here are Countdown's top three news makers of this day.

Number three, Jose Canseco, get a little update from somebody who has now read his book. In addition to accusing, Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzalez, Evan Rodriguez, Rafael Palmero and Jason Giambi with using steroids, it turn out Canseco also accused players, Wilson Alvarez, Bret Boone, Dave Martinez, Tony Saunders and Barry Bonds of being users. And he thinks they were all used by Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. Canseco tomorrow night here.

Number two, unnamed German couple from Eptaho (ph). Packed for their vacation, put on their alarm, stopped the newspaper delivery, of course, and attached the timer to the stereo speaker, so that while they were gone each morning at 2:00 a.m., all their neighbor would be awakened by the sound of a tape of a crowing rooster. They're not hosting the block party this year.

And number one, researchers at the National Institutes of Health. They have concluded that all these years of giving flu shot to the elderly have saved the lives of exactly nobody. Zero. None. Which may explain why this year's flu vaccine shortage turned out to be a lot less of a disaster than they told us it was going to be!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and at minimum, midwife to the Social Security system would have endorsed President Bush's plan to partially privatize it.

Our third story on the Countdown, that is the claim, anyway, of at least three conservative commentator and several Republican Congressmen. But it turn out those guys pretty much just made it up. In a moment, FDR's Grandson, himself a former associate commission for Social Security, joins to us discuss the fraud. First the back ground, it began on television with Brit Hume of Fox News, taking quotes from the three principles of security for our old people, that FDR expressed to Congress on January 17, 1935. Not all the quotes, mind you, just some of them, and out of context. I'm reading from the transcript on the Fox Web site of Mr. Hume's newscast of February 3rd.

"It turn out," Hume said, "that FDR himself planned to include private

investment accounts in the Social Security program when he proposed it. In

a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social

Security plan should include, 'Voluntary contributory annuities, by which

individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age.'

Adding that government funding, 'ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-

supporting annuity plans.'"

As promised, I'm joined now by James Roosevelt Jr. Now senior vice president of Tough's Health Plan, formerly associate commissioner for Social Security and of course, grandson of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Great thanks for you time tonight, sir.

JAMES ROOSEVELT JR., FDR'S GRANDSON: Nice to be with you Keith.

OLBERMANN: The argument is that Mr. Hume more or less twisted this entirely around. Can you explain it in layman's term?

ROOSEVELT: I think I can. And it's really quite an amazing distortion. What they did was that they took a very simple statement that my grandfather made, which said that Social Security, when it was enacted almost 70 years ago, ought to first of all have a part that took care of people who didn't have time to build up a Social Security account. And the government should fund that out of general revenue think.

Secondly, Social Security should have a self-sustaining portion that was funded by contributions from both employers and employee. That's what we know and have known for 70 successful years as Social Security.

And thirdly, those who wanted and who needed to as many, almost everybody did, to have a higher income and retirement, should have account where they could pay in voluntarily, in addition to the guaranteed Social Security benefit.

And then my grandfather said, that eventually, the self-sustaining portion of the guaranteed insurance would phase out the government paid portion. That's because we would have a fully functioning Social Security system as we do today.

What Brit Hume and others have done is take portions of that paragraph and rearrange it so that it says something entirely different from what he intended.

OLBERMANN: At the risk of doing a little too much reading, just to put it on the historical record, let me read the entire quote from which those quotes were pulled. The ones Mr. Hume pull only that he wanted to pull.

"In the important field of security for our old people, it seems necessary to adopt three principles: First, noncontributory old-age pensions for those who are now to old build up their own insurance. It is, of course, clear that for perhaps 30 years to come fund will have to be provided by the states and the federal government to meet these pensions.

Second, compulsory contributory annuities which in time will establish a self-supporting system for those now young and for future generations.

Third, voluntary contributory annuities by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age." That's one of the Hume quotes there. "It is proposed that the federal government assume one-half of the cost of the old pension plan, which ought ultimately to be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans."

So, where he raised the prospect of self-supporting annuity plans?

That was not to replace Social Security, it was to replace the money the government was contributing to Social Security for the people born in say, 1870 and earlier.

Is that about it?

ROOSEVELT: That is exactly it. And he rearranged those sentences in an outrageous distortion. One that really calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.

OLBERMANN: He may have been the only news reporter who did that. The other people who have made the comment on it were people like William Bennett, also in one of the live circus programs that they have over on Fox and John Fund from the "Wall Street Journal Online" political commentary Web site. Of course, the president referenced this vaguely in the State of the Union. What do you make generally speaking of what we might fairly call revisionist history?

ROOSEVELT: It is really quite amazing that all of the folks supporting privatization from the president on down, keep invoking the name of my grandfather, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I think its, in a way, it is flattering to him. It's a testimony to how successful the program that he put in place has been and continues to be. And there's - on the screen you just saw my dad standing next to my grandfather. There he is again.

OLBERMANN: But you are convinced from all that you know, and if anyone actually literally took all of the word of your grandfather and went through them with the proverbial fine tooth comb, they would have never found anything in his mind ultimate privatization in whole or in part of Social Security.

ROOSEVELT: I'm definitely convinced of that. And I'm convinced he never intended to phase it out. That indeed is why some of the greatest supporters of Social Security initially said, it ought to be paid for out of general tax revenues. And Secretary of the Treasury Morganthau, who headed the commission my grandfather appointed, said no, it has to have a payroll tax that's dedicated to Social Security. Because if it doesn't, it will either get to look like welfare, or it will be traded off against other good things. And the dedicated Social Security tax has been very successful over the years in raising almost all of our elderly citizens out of poverty, where half of them were in poverty before Social Security.

OLBERMANN: Indeed. James Roosevelt Jr., grandson of our 32nd president, former associate commissioner on Social Security, our great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

ROOSEVELT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of the press, for all this country's proud pronouncements about its freedom, the jailing of reporter has hardly been an infrequent appearance in our history. But tonight what might be a first. Two reporters now facing time in the big house for refusing to answer questions about a story neither of them first record.

The Federal Appeals Court in Washington this morning ruling that Judith Miller of the "New York Time" and Matthew Cooper of "Time" magazine must answer questions before a grand jury about their confidential conversations with government sources. If they don't, they're going to jail.

They're employers have filed motions to stay the decision. And the thing will probably end up before the Supreme Court. The grand jury is investigating whether the Bush administration officials knowingly leaked the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA knock, an agent deep under cover. The apparent motive was to discredit Plame's husband, the former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who himself had investigate and discredited the claim in the president's State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase nuclear materials from the African nation of Niger.

Another reporter the feds wanted to talk to about the outing of Valerie Plame has now been outed himself, so to speak. James Guckert, aka Jeff Gannon of Talon News, has refused to confirm or deny evidence posted on the Web site, America Blog, that he was still offering his services as an escort for a month after he was first granted press credentials by the White House.

"I'm not going to talk about that," he told the news trade publication "Editor & Publisher. "I'm just not going to address it," he told satellite radio host Michelangelo Signorile. America Blog reported Guckert's first personal Web site offered his services at $200 an hour or $1,200 a weekend. And that the site was still active until May 8, 2003. As Gannon/Guckert first began to attend press conference briefings in April of that year. The blog also reports that his phrase today on the Web today, salon.com, Guckert's escort profile on working boys.net was still active as of Monday.

And how does exactly does Gannon/Guckert intersect with the CIA Leak?

As we mentioned, "Editor & Publisher" has been following both stories intensely. I'm join now by it's editor, Greg Mitchell. Greg, good evening.

GREG MITCHELL, "EDITOR & PUBLISHER": Thanks, happy to be here.

OLBERMANN: Do we know exactly what Guckert had to do, if anything, with the leaking of the identity of Valerie Plame as a CIA covert operative?

MITCHELL: Well, it has been reported in various media operatives that he was subpoenaed in the case, which turns out not to be true, according to him. He has said for over a year that he saw or received secret documents that related to the case. He sort of bragged about it, or boasted about it. But we interviewed him a few days ago. He said that he had been interviewed by the FBI about it. And he wouldn't confirm or deny that he had seen the documents and claimed he never said that he had.

So I think the Guckert-Gannon CIA claim connection is probably weakening at this point.

OLBERMANN: But on the other hand, Plame's husband, the former Ambassador Joe Wilson, was interviewed by Guckert, and in that interview, Wilson says Guckert referred to seeing documents identifying Plame, with the implication there being that not only was a guy who worked as an escort admitted to the White House as a reporter from a vanity Web site four days after the Web site was set up, but that somebody at least gave him the fact that there were classified or confidential government documents relating to this, within weeks or months after that. Is that - that is an implication, or is there any evidence that there is a connection there?

MITCHELL: Well, probably the first thing we should say is, how can we believe anything he has ever said? That's probably the bottom line. I think it is quite possible that he was referring to something he had picked up somewhere and was trying to pretend that he had seen the document. So I would give it mixed credibility right now.

OLBERMANN: Let's go back to the leak investigation itself and Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper. As I said, it was seen as kind of extraordinary in the context even in the history of jailed journalists. Summarize their status, and also why the guy who actually published the leak, Robert Novak from CNN, is not up there with them facing jail time?

MITCHELL: Well, that is the irony in the whole thing. Well, they're in trouble because they have refused to testify before the grand jury. Where Novak, even though he is sort of the bad guy in this case, he is the one who outed the agent, has not been brought into the dock. So the implication is that he actually has testified.

But they're in trouble because they - in Cooper's case, he did write an article; Judith Miller did not, but according to the court, you're not allowed, once you have basically witnessed a crime or been leaked information about a possible crime, the fact that you did not write about it is not a defense. You know who the perpetrator is, and it's in the public interest and the legal interest for you to identify this person. Like anyone who knows about a crime.

So it is really a misconception among most people who think the media, reporters have ironclad guarantees in the First Amendment. Actually, they can be quite restricted in cases like this, where a crime is at the heart of it.

OLBERMANN: As these two reporter know very well right now. Greg Mitchell, the editor of the news industry publication "Editor and Publisher." Greg, great thanks for your time tonight.

MITCHELL: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: From the shake-up in a press room to a shake-up in the East Wing. President Bush said he's got some political capital to spend. And now apparently so does the first lady.

And part of the continuing plot to improve America. You think I don't like the Gates? I haven't written anything on them. Others have.

Those stories ahead. Now, here are Countdown's "Top 3 Soundbites" of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taser X-26. It's similar to the police version, except made for home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Safe, it will not kill. However, it will incapacitate someone who gets into the house and gives my wife something that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must be 18 to buy one. And if you have a felony conviction, Taser says they won't sell you one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Neapolitan mastiff No. 6.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would that deter you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for dogs, this one would be first in line. He would be Jubba the Hutt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if you watch "Harry Potter," you recognize Fang.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's where I've seen him.

JAY LENO, HOST, TONIGHT SHOW: Jose Canseco is not the only one doing steroids. I'm sorry. Show that interview.

MIKE WALLACE, CBS NEWS: You essentially strengthened your body with a cocktail of steroids and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

JOSE CANSECO, FORMER MLB PLAYER: Yes.

WALLACE: Where do you inject it?

CANSECO: Into your butt muscle.

WALLACE: Your butt muscle?

CANSECO: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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OLBERMANN: Who's in, who's out and who is a definite maybe? Our No. 2 story on the Countdown tonight, the administration's second-term shuffling continues, even reaching the East Wing, with a shake-up at the hands of the first lady.

First, the hiring. Despite some misgivings and a week's worth of delay, the Senate today confirmed Federal Appeals Court Judge Michael Chertoff as the nation's second secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He has been sworn in tonight. The Senate debated Chertoff's role in developing guidelines for interrogating terrorism suspects immediately after 9/11, when hundreds of suspects were detained for an average of 80 days, some of them on minor charges. And then it voted him in anyway, 98-0. Chertoff had defended the investigation strategy before the Senate committee considering his nomination and conceded that while he was head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, the methodology, quote, "had not always been executed perfectly."

A phrase President Bush would certainly be willing to use about the approval of some of the judges he wants on the federal bench. The president has now renominated 20 candidates for federal judgeships, many of whom have been blocked by Senate Democrats last year, because they were considered extremist. A charge renewed today by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who noted that only 10 of Bush's judicial nominees were rejected last year, while 204 were confirmed by the full Senate.

And then there are not the hirings nor the would-be hirings but the White House ousters. Our correspondent Norah O'Donnell now on the recent rash of unusual things said by the first lady, ranging from "welcome to my party" to "are you fired?"

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NORAH O'DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The party has already started last night. Mrs. Bush hosted a black tie Valentine's Day dinner here at the White House. It's just the beginning of what advisers say will be a busy social schedule - more entertaining and a lot more glamour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, Mrs. Laura Bush.

O'DONNELL (voice-over): With a new term, the first hints of a new first lady. Stepping out in style. And starting a trend, the first first lady to attend fashion week in New York, making clear things are changing dramatically.

SALLY QUINN, WASHINGTON WRITER: I think that she's really coming into her own now. She really seem to be blossoming.

O'DONNELL: In the first term, there were few parties.

CAR S. ANTHONY, FIRST LADY HISTORIAN: Laura Bush has entertained less than any first lady in modern history.

O'DONNELL: She's hosted just four state dinners, the same number Barbara Bush hosted in her first six months in office.

ANN GERHART, "WASHINGTON POST": The social calendar was also held back a little bit by September 11 and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But I think she has an opportunity now to do some things a little more aggressively.

O'DONNELL: Now Mrs. Bush is ready to put her mark on White House social life. Already cooking up her new plan for change.

L. BUSH: And this is our chef.

O'DONNELL: The White House chef hired by the Clintons is out. He said he could not satisfy Mrs. Bush's stylistic requirements. The search is on for a new kitchen executive. There's also a new pastry chef and a new social secretary. Part of an unusually large East Wing shake-up.

GERHART: They've always said that lawyer a Laura Bush really liked to clean house. That was one of her favorite things to do to relax.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, she's looking to change things up a little about it.

O'DONNELL: And the first lady's new mandate doesn't just include a lot more entertainment. Already she's visited three cities, promoting her plan to help at risk youth, especially young boys.

Norah O'Donnell, NBC News, the White House.

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OLBERMANN: From the serious entertaining to those entertainers who merely take themselves seriously, our nightly round up of entertainment news, "Keeping Tabs." And we start with the worst fears of the artists, Christo and Jeanne-Claude. No, not that their project in New York Central Park looks likes a bunch of cheap orange shower curtain drying on the backyard clothes lines of a gigantic trailer park, but rather that the project, which they called the Gates has been vandalized.

The word art with a question mark was written in black marker on several of the Gates not far from West 93nd Street. I was nowhere near West 93nd Street. A more thoughtful graffitist wrote, invasive art in chalk, at the bottom of one of the gates, near Central Park's Great Lawn. I was nowhere near Central Park's Great Lawn!

The vandalism occurred despite the fact that hundred of New York police officer and private goons, hired by the artists themselves have been protecting the controversial Gates since the road comb color fabric was unveiled on Saturday, and despite the fact that New York's professional graffiti artist have already conferred and decided the damn things are ugly enough already.

And from expensive, crappy impersonations of art to cheap crappy impersonations of royal jewelry. A Cubic Zirconia version of Camilla Parker-Bowles priceless engagement ring goes on sale at, ASDA, the British version of Wal-Mart, for the low, low price of $36. ASDA's jewelry buyers say the "Exclusive Camilla inspired ring will give all budding Prince Charming's the chance to impress their princesses this spring and still have change left over for the weekly shop." Another version using platinum and three quart diamonds will also be available for about $57,000, for those whose royal envy has long passed all reasonable bound or just in case Charlie wants to make a few last-minute economies.

Also tonight, Frank is dead. And why that's the best news we've heard all day. Standby.

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OLBERMANN: It defies all logic and all instinct to celebrate death. But our number one story on the Countdown had defied a lot of logic and instinct over the months we've been covering it. In short, there's good news tonight. Frank is dead.

Countdown's Monica Novotny has been following this story here and explains why this is such good news.

Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.

Frank, is the name given to a large cancerous tumor that was at the base of 9-year-old, David Dingman Grover's skull. But after battling this rare form of pediatric cancer for almost two years, today the Grover family let David announce his hard won victory.

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DAVID DINGMAN GROVER: Frank is now dead.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): David Dingman Grover's personal demon is defeated.

(on camera): How'd you come up with the word, "Frank?"

D. GROVER: Because I was scared of Frankenstein, and I had to conquer my fears. I named my tumor Frank, and it sort of made me laugh.

NOVOTNY (voice-over): The location of the tumor made impossible to remove. But after months of chemotherapy shrunk it from the size of a grapefruit to a walnut, a California doctor performed a near impossible biopsy on February 2 to determine the next phase of David's treatment. The result announced today.

DR. HRAYR SHAHINIAN, SKULL BASE INSTITUTE: And I'm delighted to say there are no active cancer cells in that specimen.

NOVOTNY: The family's fight had taken them online to eBay. Inspired by previous unique auctions, they auctioned off a bumper sticker with the family motto to help pay for David's medical bills.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone can make so much money off a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe I could get at least $500. That's all I anticipated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was insane. I was wrong.

NOVOTNY: Really wrong. The winning bid grew to $10,700.

(on camera): What do you think of this?

D. GROVER: I think it's sweet.

NOVOTNY: And when another $39,000 in private donations came in, the Grove'rs donated the auction money to a local cancer children's charity. The doctor offered to perform the biopsy for free, and The family flew to California for the 90-minute procedure days later.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just so grateful I have the chance to continue to be David's mother.

D. GROVER: I want to go home and live a normal life again.

NOVOTNY: Somehow even before the good news, David had already found his silver lining.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would tell him, tell me something good today about cancer, because there's always something positive about whatever the situation is. He said, "I have more time with mommy."

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NOVOTNY: Today's news means that last Friday was David's final day of chemotherapy. It'll take five years without any reoccurrence of cancer before David can be considered officially cancer-free. And there's a long road ahead for his recovery. The month of radiation did cause damage to his brain. His immune system is still weak, and his muscles deteriorated a bit, but as you saw David will not be defeated. Also we should point out that his parents are turning that Frank franchise into a charity thing. They're going to get it out there so that other families who are dealing with children's cancer can also talk about Frank dying.

OLBERMANN: And you know what that cake was for, March 1, 10th birthday right?

NOVOTNY: That's right, very big birthday.

OLBERMANN: Great news. Monica Novotny, great thanks.

That's Countdown, thanks for being part of it. I'm Keith Olbermann.

Good night and good luck.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END