Friday, December 29, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 27

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: He was the only American president never elected haven't nor vice president. The first president to serve under something the name he was given at birth. The only president to have served on a commission investigating the death of another president. The longest lived of all 43 of them. Perhaps in some, our most unexpected commander in chief.

And perhaps, despite all of the qualifiers, perhaps one of our most important presidents, the calm after the storm that was Richard Nixon and Watergate. The seasoned professional, matter-of-factly smoothly healing a nation's wounds, honored in fact, for having done just that in the inaugural address of the man who would succeed him and fondly remembered for his good humor about himself.

The all-conference football star who met his match on airport stairways, the dedicated golfer whose shots seemed to find as many spectators as greens.

Gerald Rudolph Ford Junior, born Leslie Lynch King Jr. Vice president, because another had resigned, president, because another had resigned. The man asked to quiet a nation's storm.

This is Countdown's special coverage of the death of the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

On a football team, the center is seldom the star, seldom even known well beyond the side lines and the huddles and the scrimmages. And yet, without him, nothing happens. The ball is never snapped; the higher profile players can't even really move.

It should come as no surprise then, that when the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford, played on the undefeated football teams at the University of Michigan in 1932 and 1933, he was the star center.

Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, the death and life of President Ford, a man whose time on this earth spanned from before World War I through the war in Iraq, Mr. Ford dying last night at his home in California at the age of 93. No cause yet given for his death, but he had been in and out of the hospital all year since a bout of pneumonia last January.

The announcement coming late last night from his beloved wife, Betty. She said in a statement - quoting - "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

Mourners signing a book of condolence at Mr. Ford's presidential library and museum in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, today. The rest of the nation to pay tribute in the days to come, including outside the House and Senate doors, where President Ford will lie in state and at the World War II memorial in Washington, the state funeral Saturday, funeral services in Washington next Tuesday.

On this day, the flag over the White House, flying at half staff all day.

At the western White House in Crawford, Texas, the current president calling Mr. Ford a blessing to America, recalling the unusual circumstances that brought the 38th president to office.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On August 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office. He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that need a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we need him most.

Americans will always admire Gerald Ford's unflinching performance of duty and the honorable conduct of his administration and the great rectitude of the man himself.


OLBERMANN: That rectitude, perhaps, defined by the fact that Mr. Ford's top ambition in politics was to become speaker of the House of Representatives. The Michigan congressman instead finding himself, instead, leader of the free world, the first appointed vice president in history, the first and thus far the only in our history to succeed a resigned president.

In October, 1973, Mr. Ford nominated to become vice president after Vice President Agnew resigned during a tax evasion and bribery scandal. And just 10 months later, Mr. Ford ascending to the Oval Office after Richard Nixon finally ended the scandal of perilous Watergate by resigning.

Mr. Ford entered the White House with approval ratings in the 70's, largely because he simply was not Richard Nixon. But then, a month to the day that Nixon announced he would resign, Ford pardoned his predecessor, a move that would prove to be extremely unpopular.

On the day he had taken office, the new president showing signs that he would be putting national healing above retribution.


GERALD R. FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of man. Here, the people rule.

But there is a higher power. By whatever name we honor him who ordains not only righteousness, but love, not only justice, but mercy. As we bind up the eternal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.


OLBERMANN: Our privilege now to call upon our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, also former White House correspondent for NBC News and most importantly in this content - context, somebody who was very close to late President Ford.

Andrea, thank you for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Balance these two headlines from the presidency of Gerald Ford, that sense that he calmed the waters after Watergate; yet the fact was, 31 days into his presidency, he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that was so unpopular that even his own press secretary resigned in protest. Were these contradictions? Or did he see them as components of each other?

MITCHELL: He saw that as a component, the pardon, of calming the waters, of bringing the country together. And there was a fury I don't think he quite anticipated. Tom Brokaw was there at the time. I was not covering the White House back then. I was covering politics and watching from a distance.

But Tom said that the fury that attached to this was really extraordinary and, as you just pointed out, Jerald terHorst, resigned, the press secretary. So he believed it was the right thing. He still thought to the end of his days that it was the right thing and I think was vindicated by the awarding of the Profiles in Courage Award from Ted Kennedy, who was a disbeliever and became - he was won over to that, as was Caroline Kennedy.

And Gerry Ford really treasured that honor, to have been given the Profile in Courage Award for the very act that really did, according to all political analysts at the time, particularly Sue Spencer, Gerry Ford's campaign manager, caused his defeat in a very close race. It was 48-50.1, and a couple of thousand votes in two states would have switched from Jimmy Carter to Gerry Ford.

OLBERMANN: If he did not fully see the pardon as potentially being an act of self sacrifice in 1974, did he come to think of it as a bargain he had made with his - with his own standards, something he had to do and realizing the consequences of it thereafter? Did he - did he believe that it had cost him his an election to the presidency?

MITCHELL: I think so. I think he felt that it was going to be self sacrifice. I'm not sure to the extent that he realized the furor.

And again, I wasn't there then. But certainly, in conversations in later years, he really believed it was the right thing to do, and I think most people have come around to that point of view, that in fact, Bob Woodward and others who were among the most famous and aggressive of the Watergate inquisitors and investigators, really felt that there was no cover up, there was no deal. That Gerry Ford, as always, just spoke the truth when he testified to the House committee and said that there was no bargain. He just thought it was the right thing to do.

And in later years, he said that he was persuaded that Richard Nixon were to stand trial and he would be convicted based on the evidence, that Ford was very well aware of and that then the country would have been completely torn further apart by three or four years of appeals.

This, a former president of the United States convicted and fighting his conviction just was something that could not be tolerated.

OLBERMANN: And perhaps something you mentioned in there was as key as anything else, the fact that as a sitting president, he testified to Congress to answer the questions about that very act.

MITCHELL: Which was presidential.

OLBERMANN: Yes. The other key issue probably being discussed today, Mr. Ford and Vietnam. The end of the conflict, the actual conflict. But so seldom mentioned at the same time as the Nixon pardon came President Ford's clemency program for those who had avoided service in Vietnam.

It was flawed; it was incomplete. But it was the first outreach to people who had been branded by perhaps half the country, maybe more, deserters. Draft dodgers was the term of the day.

Did he see Vietnam and those who would not serve in the same way that he saw Watergate and a Nixon trial: we need to get this behind us no matter what it costs?

MITCHELL: Yes, and I think in 2004, his last visit to Washington and everyone in that audience privileged to be there in Statuary Hall knew it was his last visit, that he was so frail and he wasn't going to be able to travel extensively any longer. And this was on August 9, 2004, the 30th anniversary of taking office. And he said that he came into office 30 years earlier to heal the wounds and heal the nation's heart.

And that's also what he was trying to do this. I don't know this, but I do believe that was the broader sense of bringing people together. That was very much the man.

He could always step outside of himself. As partisan as he could be, and there were moments, he also could reach beyond that and emphasize and understand the other person's feelings and beliefs.

He really had an extraordinary sense of not dividing people and of trying to get beyond his own world.

OLBERMANN: Was that ever more greatly challenged than something else that has not gotten a lot of attention in the last two days, and understandably so, but the end of the ultra violent era in our politics, that he survived, not one, but two assassination attempts in a span of three weeks?

How did he feel about that, as time went by, as his life lasted as long as it did?

MITCHELL: Well, a couple of times, talking to him about that, just in a family context, and it was pretty scary stuff.

I mean, that motorcade speed off after Squeaky Fromme, the first of the two incidents. Both were in California. And of course, Betty Ford was quickly encircled by the Secret Service. No one knew whether this was a freak incident or part of a larger plot.

It was a very scary business and something that tends to be overlooked in later years by those of us who weren't there at the time. But obviously, it was a profoundly affecting moment for them and it did carry on. It was part of their DNA afterwards.

OLBERMANN: And yet his - I remember after the second one, his comment was that this was - the American people were good people and kind people and that this was not something that would change his interactions with them, that he was not going to become a prisoner of the White House or be anything of that sort.

MITCHELL: Exactly. We've seen other kinds of reactions, of course, some more serious assassination attempts. But he really believed in the goodness of people, partly a religious belief and probably what made him a good politician, a good congressman, a good representative of that district in Grand Rapids. And I think that's why he was so late to fully understand the depth of depravity, frankly, and criminality in the Nixon White House.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, the analogy that I made at the start of the news cast, that how we view Mr. Ford as president is analogous to the position he played in football. He was the center: no glamour, no glory, a lot of hard work and yet of central importance. Will that be said of his legacy? Did he - would he have said that of his own legacy?

MITCHELL: I think so. I think he, as modest as he is, would be proud of that. And he liked and was proud of the fact that he was a good athlete. I remember in his later years, he would swim laps. He remained a good athlete. He played golf. He skied when he was younger.

And you know, he reminded people that he had offers from the Detroit Lions and also the Green Bay Packers, but chose to go to law school and to accept a job - a coaching job at Yale because he felt that that would be a better profession and a better use of his talents.

But he really did - he was an all-American, as you know, and Chevy Chase notwithstanding, he was not the klutz that the members of the press and the comedians portrayed him to be. He was a very graceful man.

OLBERMANN: Got up after every one of those falls. That's for sure.

Andrea Mitchell, our chief foreign affairs correspondent and great friend of the late President Ford, our special thanks for joining us tonight.

MITCHELL: You bet. My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Also here tonight, the current president giving at least the impression that he's still deciding what to do to change course in Iraq, calling all his men and his women to the ranch for a daylong discussion on the issue of what to do now.

And again, the top story. He was only president for two years, yet Gerald Ford, having already been a member of the commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, himself survived two attempts on his own life. The details on the escapes that we just discussed with Andrea Mitchell, ahead.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Among the many extraordinary aspects of the life of Gerald R. Ford, he was the only president to survive two assassination attempts, and both of them by women. The longest lived of our former presidents, but 31 years ago, he was nearly shot twice in a span of just 18 days. That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We mentioned that, as a sitting congressman from Michigan, the late Gerald Ford was a member of the Warren Commission, part of the official investigation, or as a large percentage of the country still suspects, the official cover up of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Ford's membership was anything but honorary. Ninety-four witnesses were interviewed in person by the commission. He was part of 70 of those interviews. And he was the last living member of the commission, although Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania was one of the commission's staff lawyers.

Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, in another of the ironies that dotted his long life, Warren Commission member Gerald Ford not only became president himself, but he also survived not one but two close range assassination attempts.

Our correspondent is Jane Pauley.



In California today, President Ford looked down the barrel of a loaded automatic held by a red-haired woman in a long red dress, but the gun didn't go off and he's all right. The woman was wrestled to the ground by a Secret Service man. The president was hustled away.

TOM BROKAW, FORMER NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Accompanied by aides and Secret Service agents, the president reached for every hand in sight. Suddenly, a young woman holding a gun appeared at the president's side.

A Secret Service agent grabbed the gun and wrestled the young woman to the ground as other agents formed a tight, protective shield around the president and moved him swiftly to the Capital.

Mr. Ford had seen the gun. He had a dazed, bewildered look as he was rushed along.

FORD: I saw a hand coming up behind several others in the front row. And obviously, there was a gun in that hand.

JANE PAULEY, NBC NEWS: The hand with the gun belonged to Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson. Less than three weeks later, again in California, another woman with a gun. The name this time, Sara Jane Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was not hit. The suspect, a woman, is now in custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And George, we had an eyewitness. Cameraman Chuck Hastings shot the footage you're about to see right now. The president just coming out. Chuck Hastings was across the street. And suddenly, there was a shot. This is about 10 feet from the suspect.

This was right across the street now from the St. Francis - the woman was across the street in the crowd. We are told that quite a few people lunged at the woman. Apparently, they saw her weapon before she fired it. We are also told that a policeman's hand came down on the weapon and immediately thereafter, it fired into a sidewalk.

BOB COSTAS, NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You yourself were the subject, or the object, of two assassination attempts, Squeaky Fromme and then later Sarah Jane Moore, each within the span of several months.

What do you remember of that? How frightening is it? Or is it, as you sometimes hear people say, it happened so fast, you didn't have time to be frightened.

FORD: Well, in the case of both, it happened so quickly. It's over; nothing you can do about it. Thank goodness you survived.

In the case of Squeaky Fromme, it was on the grounds of the state Capital in California. She was following me as I walked from the hotel to meet the then governor, Jerry Brown.

She stuck a pistol under several people in front of me and, fortunately, one of the - my agents, Larry Boondorf (ph), grabbed her before she pulled the trigger. The gun was three, four feet from me at the time. And that happened so quickly, there was no time to think about it.

And three weeks or four weeks later in San Francisco, I came out of the St. Francis Hotel after giving a speech and walked towards the limousine, and the shot was fired by Sara Jane Moore, who stood across the street.

Fortunately, a Marine or an ex-Marine saw her with a pistol in her hand and bumped her hand. And as a consequence, the shot missed me. But there's still a mark on the hotel out there.


OLBERMANN: Jane Pauley from her original report for the "Time and Again" series.

President Ford's influence, stretching beyond his presidency to the current administration. Both his chief of staffs instrumental in forging U.S. policy in Iraq.

And the rest of the night's news, looking to the next potential president. Last time, he picked Jon Stewart's show as the venue at which to announce his candidacy. This time, evidently, John Edwards has chosen cyberspace. That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: This is Countdown special coverage of the death of the 38th president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.

The memorial schedule has now been confirmed. He will lie in repose at a church in Palm Desert, California, on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday morning, the late president will be taken east. A motorcade through Alexandria, Virginia, late Saturday afternoon, which will pause at the World War II memorial.

He will then lie in briefly outside the doors to the House of Representatives and be moved to the Capitol Rotunda, where Mr. Ford will lie in state until Tuesday morning. The funeral service there is scheduled for approximately 10:30 that day at the Washington Cathedral, Tuesday, January 2, 2007.

The final trip to Michigan shortly thereafter, and again, lying in repose there until Wednesday afternoon, with internment on the grounds of the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr. Ford's life ended last night. His presidency 30 years ago next month. Yet his legacy is still with us. Certainly, his second defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, his chief of staff, Dick Cheney, his director of central intelligence, George H.W. Bush, who also figures into the great "what if" of the Ford administration.

How would history played out if President Ford had not pardoned Richard Nixon? Would he and not Jimmy Carter have been elected in 1976? Would there have been a Ronald Reagan presidency? And what of the 1980 negotiations that would have made former President Ford Mr. Reagan's vice presidential running mate?

Also tonight, is the surge in Iraq already under way as 3,500 fresh troops are called back from holiday leave to rotate to Kuwait? The current president will host his national security team, part of a seemingly endless rethinking of Iraq. That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: President Gerald Ford's relationship with the Supreme Court of the United States was also ultimately ironic. In 1974, he appointed as an assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel a young attorney named Antonin Scalia. When he was still a congressman in the Republican minority, Gerald Ford staunchly supported President Nixon's attempt to impeachment a liberal justice at the Supreme Court, of William Douglas.

Later, as president himself, Mr. Ford would appoint to the nation's highest court John Paul Stevens, who is still on that bench after 31 years, and who is, more than ever, regarded as its most reliable liberal justice.

In our third story in the Countdown, such are the twists of a presidential legacy. But as a matter of history and consequence, there is nothing to rival President Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon. The passage of time may have increased the perceived wisdom of the decision, but had he not granted the pardon, President Ford would likely have won re-election, and the chain reaction from then on might have included a starkly different lineup of presidents. More on that at the end of this news hour.

Then there is the matter of the two people who are now universally acknowledged to be the chief architects of the war of Iraq, men whose careers were furthered, shaped by, perhaps created by the Ford presidency, Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. When Brian Williams interviewed President Ford for his 90th birthday, with the Iraq war only a few months old, the former president supported the Bush administration about Iraq, but he was concerned even then that the nation's armed forces were spread too thin.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): The 1972 Republican National Convention, House minority leader Gerald R. Ford introduces dignitaries in the audience.

FORD: Donald Rumsfeld, Ambassador George Bush.

WILLIAMS: Just two years later, under extraordinary circumstances, Ford would become president with Bush, Rumsfeld and a young Rumsfeld deputy named Dick Cheney among his top aides. Also in the audience, a 26-year-old, gum chewing George W. Bush. Almost 32 years later he too would become president and he too would tap Cheney and Rumsfeld.

FORD: I'm very pleased, because it is a good reflection on my choice of top-notch people when I was in the White House.

WILLIAMS (on camera): Talk about Cheney as a character. He's not a clubby type of politician. What is he?

FORD: He's a very able first class, decent person. He doesn't project himself in the forefront for his own aggrandizement.

WILLIAMS: Don Rumsfeld was not known of someone who suffered fools gladly back when you knew him. Is that OK?

FORD: Well, I wouldn't put it quite that way. Don is a person that has great confidence. And he is very appealing as a person that can do a job that he's assigned to do. He did it for me when I was in the White House. I think under very difficult circumstances now, Don's doing a fine job, and I'm proud of him.

WILLIAMS: Throw modesty aside, what do all of these men say about you?

FORD: You better ask them.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): And so we did.

(on camera): Mr. Vice president, how are you? What does where you are today, the position you hold, say about your former boss, Gerald Ford?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, he trained a lot of us. If you look around government today, you'll find people in key positions who once worked for Gerry Ford. He gave me tremendous opportunities, in terms of what he let me do at a very early age, and then, of course, eventually made me chief of staff.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): And he made Donald Rumsfeld secretary of defense.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And to have been able to have worked with Gerald Ford and now with George W. Bush, each of them has a naturalness about themselves. They're comfortable in their skin, as they say. And that makes it very easy to work with them.

WILLIAMS: The Bush administration's war in Iraq has Gerald Ford's total support, but that comes with a warning.

FORD: I wish we could share some of these responsibilities. It worries me that we are getting so deeply involved in many areas of the world, we are spreading too thinly.

WILLIAMS (on camera): Does that criticism matter to you either way?

CHENEY: I don't see it as criticism. I see it as a man who has been there, who has wrestled with these problems in his own day. He's somebody that has views and opinions that are very valuable and it would be foolish not to listen to them.

WILLIAMS (voice-over): For Gerald Ford, the respect is mutual.

FORD: I would rather have people smarter than me, better educated than I was. I was never one to say I had to be the best. If you get good people, even better than you are, I think that's a sign of good management.


OLBERMANN: Joining me now former speech writer and senior advisor to President Nixon, communications director for President Reagan, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. Thanks for you time tonight Pat.


OLBERMANN: President Ford spoke there about Vice President Cheney and the Former Secretary of Defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, with evident pride, but do you think - did they forget any lessons that they might have learned at his political knee about the pragmatism and the flexibility and especially the bipartisanship in a time of crisis that you showed?

BUCHANAN: You've got to divide them up. Donald Rumsfeld has always been a very contentious, tough, aggressive individual, an A-type personality, if you will. He has been in bureaucratic battles wherever he's been in government, and he is very ambitious and very tough, and he's an extremely effective executive and bureaucrat.

Dick Cheney today is a different man than the Dick Cheney who I knew in the Congress of the United States. I didn't know him well when he became chief of staff. I served under President Ford for about three months. Mr. Rumsfeld gave me my walking papers in very quick and no uncertain terms. But what has happened to both these gentlemen, was - it's the 1990's, the rise of neo-conservatism, and if you will, 9/11. That really altered, in my judgment, Dick Cheney in a very dramatic way. And he and Rumsfeld and President Bush launched an invasion that I thought Gerald Ford would not have done.

I don't believe President Bush the first would have done it. I don't believe Nixon would have done it. And I don't believe Ronald Reagan would have done it. But I think it's the changed times as much as anything, although Dick Cheney does seem to be a different man than the moderate, centrist, conservative, someone who really brought all elements together in the Reagan years, when he was number two up in the House.

OLBERMANN: For those who were not aware of it then, or who were not alive for it, we can't recreate the mood of 1973 and 1974, confusion, fear, paranoia, Vietnam, Watergate, Cold War and the great honors being given to Mr. Ford have been about his soothing of those great crisis. But Chris Matthews said something last night when we were on the air after the news of the president's passing that stuck with me and I wanted to ask you about it, to a part of the Republican party, did Gerald Ford serve as an example of how not to handle the presidency from the political point of view? Can you, in some way, trace back the single mindedness of the current administration to the open-mindedness of Mr. Ford?

BUCHANAN: You know, that is a very good point. Gerald Ford came in and said, you know, I don't want a honeymoon with Congress, I want a good marriage, good long marriage. He tried to get along with the Congress of the United States. He tried to get along with this city. I don't think Gerald Ford realized what he was getting into. The savagery of the attacks on him after the pardon were unprecedented. He dropped 40 points in almost a fort night. He had to veto 60 bills. The Pike Committee and Church Committee went after the CIA. He went to Capital Hill to ask for funds for the guys fighting and dying in the last days of Vietnam, and two congressmen walked out of him, and cut him off. Keith, this was a fierce, bloody situation, and some of us did feel, and I'm one of them, that Gerald Ford was a good man for the time he was in, to move out of the Watergate, to handle the pardon, but he was not the man for the future.

And I'll tell you a little story, he invited me in, with a number of other columnists, I think it was January 1, 1976, and said John Paul Stevens, who just got 97 or 96 votes, is the kind of justice I will name to the Supreme Court if I'm re-elected. And I went out and said to myself, Ford's a good man, but I'm going with Ronald Reagan. We didn't get into politics to accommodate the other side, the establishment, the liberals. We came in to beat them. And that's why we all moved toward Reagan and I think Ford inherited detente when it appeared to be failing, post-Vietnam, and the country was moving toward a Reaganite foreign policy.

OLBERMANN: The issue of the pardon, obviously, as Andrea Mitchell mentioned at the top of the broadcast, he was very proud of the fact that he got the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award in 2001 for pardoning Mr. Nixon, and many people have come around 180 degrees on it. Is the verdict yet in on whether that was the right thing, or would the country have healed in just a different way if there had been a trial?

BUCHANAN: Oh, I think it would have been horrible, and that award came 27 years late. But look, to have the president of the United States hauled back to Washington, indicted, a trial, and all this going on in Washington, D.C., at the same time Vietnam was collapsing - Ford, what made Ford a successful president, and I think a near great one in some things he did, he came in and without anesthesia, he lanced this Boyle. He said we're going to put an end to it. All those who wanted to lynch Nixon, you're not going to be happy. The people who wanted him to stay, they're not happy. We are moving that behind us and we're moving this country on, and we went into bicentennial in 1976, where there was a measure of unity, more unity than we had known since before November 22, 1963.

OLBERMANN: Fair assessment, I think, indeed. The former advisor to Richard Nixon, former presidential candidate, political analyst Pat Buchanan. Always a pleasure sir, thanks for your time.

BUCHANAN: Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN: It's not just staff that President Ford contributed to President George W. Bush, but perhaps his very presidency itself, connecting a very unusual set of dots ahead. And speaking of the current president, his vacation in Texas is now evidently a working one, as he still tries to figure out what to do next in Iraq. The progress report, the political report, next, here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On the last day in the life of the U.S. who pulled the last U.S. troops out of Vietnam, the current commander in chief, through his new Secretary of Defense, ordered 3,300 members of the 82nd Airborne to cut short their vacations and head to Kuwait, to replace an on-call force that was pulled into Iraq last month.

In our number two story on the Countdown, President Bush is not cutting short his vacation in Crawford, Texas, but tomorrow he will get work in, meeting with the National Security Council, Secretary Gates and Rice, among others, to review the options he is considering for how to shift gears in Iraq. The White House today adding fuel to speculation that Mr. Bush has already decided, decided to send a so-called surge of tens of thousands more troops to Iraq. Spokesman Scott Stanzel, asked about Senator Joe Biden's opposition to surge, saying today, "We would hope that he, too, would also wait to hear what the president has to say before announcing his opposition."

Of course, it wouldn't actually be opposition unless that's exactly what the president is going to say. In fact, five hours later, NBC News learned that Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace is expected tomorrow to recommend at least a modest increase. Senator Biden just one of several Democrats who has effectively announced a presidential campaign. John Edwards scheduled to formally announce his tomorrow in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. He wound up announcing it online today, briefly, complete with logo and slogan, Tomorrow Begins Today, which apparently happened.

Joining us now to help sort out what these developments mean for the future of Iraq and the U.S., of course, Richard Wolfe, political analyst for us, chief White House correspondent for "Newsweek Magazine." As always, Richard, great thanks for your time.


OLBERMANN: Let's start with tomorrow, possibly a big day, an Edwards's announcement, the president's N.S.C. meeting. The latter first, obviously, is Mr. Bush's lengthy process creating a proverbial lose-lose for him, because either he offers a plan that everybody finds unimpressive, or if he's got one that is really good, people will say why didn't you come up with this three years ago?

WOLFFE: Yes, you know, that's a great question, because it really encapsulates the kind of quandary that Bush is in right now, having made the strategic decision to essentially stay the course, but try and do it better. He has got to now explain why it will be better, why he can succeed with this policy now, when it hasn't before, when most of the team is still there. Now, I'm sure there will be changes. There are military changes, Abizaid and Casey probably gone, Abizaid certainly. But Rumsfeld has moved on. So, they can say there is a different kind of leadership there, but the politics of this is very awkward for them, because expectations are that this is going to be something big. So it has to look big, as well as sound convincing.

OLBERMANN: Is bigness enough if your numbers suggest that 12 percent of the American people want more troops there, and 68 percent clearly do not, and yet, everything seems to indicate that there will be more?

WOLFFE: Bigness isn't enough on it's own. People have to have a reason to think that it's going to work this time, and that means showing progress in a way that all of the other suggestions that were progress obviously haven't panned out. So bigness, in and of itself, isn't enough. But, you know, this is really projecting out beyond this president's term. So, you know, it's bigness not just in what happens now, but the scale of what I expect the president to be talking about, not just the stakes of failure, but how long a commitment this has to be.

OLBERMANN: The vice president, secretary of state, General Pace, the security adviser Steven Hadley, they are all in the meeting tomorrow, all of them to some degree architects of the problem they are ostensibly there to fix. Is any one of them likely to tell the president he's wrong to rule out some of the options that have been suggested? Are they likely to tell themselves that, if they were the architects of most of the problems?

WOLFFE: Well, I'm told that this has been a very broad ranging session of briefings, that they've asked all the questions. They brought in outside advisors. But you're right, there is going to be a certain credibility question, both for the president and for the folks around him. You know, the question I have is not about denial about the state of things in Iraq. Because I've got to tell you, people know how messed up things are in Iraq, how badly things have gone, and they know where the mistakes have been. The question is, A, do they have the knowledge that they can correct it, and B, do they understand the politics of America right now, having campaigned so harshly on the war, do they understand what the appetite of the American people is, and how it's going to affect the debate in 2008. Are the next round of candidates going to want to take this up in the same way?

OLBERMANN: And from the other side of the political aisle, as of today, it's at least 2,978 U.S. military personnel who have been killed in Iraq. The death toll in Iraq, in Mr. Bush's war, for U.S. service personnel is now greater than the death toll of civilians here on September 11th. Are any of the Democratic candidates, maybe Mr. Kucinich, Mr. Edwards announcing tomorrow, is anybody likely to make that number a question, not of apples and oranges, but of apples and apples, and saying Mr. Bush has caused more American deaths than Osama bin Laden did, or is too raw a number to throw and too raw an issue to throw out into politics?

WOLFFE: I don't think it is actually, no. I expect this to be branded as Bush's War, as a Republican war, by not just Dennis Kucinich, who is still going to be the fringy candidate we saw in 2004, but I would expect John Edwards to be out there, being pretty strident on this, Barack Obama too. Both of these candidate, at least Barack Obama had the good luck not to have to have voted on the war in the first place. John Edwards has repudiated his vote. I expect them both to make those comparisons. Remember the force of 9/11 is not what it used to be.

OLBERMANN: A significant left turn here, something that happened today that seemed extraordinary to a lot of people, the Bush Department of the Interior saying - it's proposing classifying polar bears as threatened species because global warming - global warming is their exact use of the phrase there - global warming is melting the ocean ice that the bears use for fishing. Give us the implications here if this proposal makes it through. Is the legal defense of polar bears suddenly the key to recognizing and fighting global warming by the Bush administration?

WOLFFE: Well, you know, I hate to sort of toot a horn here, but we have been talking about this for several weeks on this show. I actually do think that the Bush administration is edging closer and closer to what is a fairly mainstream position on the environment, on global warming. They accept global warming is happening. The president has embraced alternative fuels. I think you are going to see much more of this over the next couple of years, not this, sort of, back door approach of legal challenges, but a much more open door approach to some of these very real things we are seeing in the Arctic Circle.

OLBERMANN: Is this a warning to the people in Mr. Bush's constituency that there is a climate shift coming in the approach to global warming?

WOLFFE: I think you are seeing that across the board, Newt Gingrich, John McCain, internationally. The British conservative party embracing the whole environmental agenda. Things have changed. And I think you're seeing that - I hate to say this about someone who has a bad reputation with the environmental movement, but even inside the Bush administration. Still reluctant and never it's going to be as full throated as it is with Al Gore, but things have changed.

OLBERMANN: Amen! Our own Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent for "Newsweek Magazine," as always, sir, our great thanks for joining us tonight.

WOLFFE: Any time.

OLBERMANN: And also here this evening, it's one of those obscure twists on which history turns. What if this had been the Republican ticket in 1976, Ford for president, Reagan for vice president? What if it had been the other way around in 1980? It nearly was. How that almost happened, Reagan for president, President Ford for vice president, next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Gerald Ford's presidency was in some respects most interesting for the what-ifs and the what might have beens. Most obviously, what if he had not pardoned Richard Nixon? Maybe a trial, rather than exile, in the long term, would have better healed the scars of Watergate, who knows?

And maybe Mr. Ford's impressive approval ratings as president, once above 70 percent, would not have plummeted to the point where a little-known southern governor could defeat him in the 1976 election. And in our number one story tonight, there is yet another little-known what if in President Ford's history. If he had followed this path, it would have returned him to the White House, and almost inevitably, it would have changed who is in the White House today.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): History often pivots on the head of a pin. The textbooks say Ronald Reagan won all four of his elections, and all in landslides. The textbooks ignore his brief joust for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968, and, more importantly, his hammer and tongues battle with incumbent President Gerald Ford in 1976. Not only did Ford stave Reagan off, but he also did not, as many hoped, select or convince Reagan to run with him as vice president. And then Ford, with Bob Dole on his ticket, lost the White House to Jimmy Carter, the first pivot on the head of a pin.

Reagan doesn't get the nomination, is not tarred alongside Ford by defeat at the polls, doesn't get stuck as his vice president during the lean years of the late 1970's. But the tiniest head of the pin would come four years later. Reagan rolls to the Republican nomination, but Ford is still a very forceful figure in the party. How forceful? July 16, 1980 -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening from Detroit, where a mighty effort is underway tonight to get former President Gerald R. Ford to run for vice president on a ticket headed by Ronald Reagan.

OLBERMANN: Find that in the history books. Even in its simple form, the real story was far more complicated. It involved not just Ford and Reagan, but also Henry Kissinger, using not shuttle but elevator diplomacy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kissinger and other members, other people, have been involved in negotiating during the day. Ford stated certain conditions under which he would accept the nomination for vice president.

OLBERMANN: The conditions for having an ex-president run as vice president? According to many witnesses, including Reagan's foreign policy adviser, later National Security adviser, Richard Allen, Reagan himself recited them in the hotel room from which he watched the 1980 Republican convention unfold in Detroit. Ford wants Kissinger as secretary of state and Greenspan at treasury, he said. Even Ford addressed his role in a would-be Reagan administration on television, as Reagan watched. Did you hear what he said about his role, Reagan told Carl Cannon (ph), sounds like he wants to be a co-president. Another pivot atop another pin.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that a number of Republican leaders, people in our party, office holders, felt, as I'm sure many others have felt, that a proper ticket would have included the former president of the United States, Gerald Ford, as second place on the ticket. He and I have come to the conclusion, and he believes deeply, that he can be of more value as the former president campaigning his heart out, which he has pledged to do.

OLBERMANN: And with that, Reagan for president, Ford for vice president, was dead. Dead so late in that Detroit night that stories of Ford's selection as V.P. made it into some eastern newspapers and radio news casts. With the unprecedented ticket now smashed, history had yet another head of the pin on which to pivot.

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just a few minutes before he appeared at the convention, out of a clear blue sky, I might add, Governor Reagan called me up and asked if I would be willing to run with him on this ticket.

OLBERMANN: Could Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford have defeated Jimmy Carter? Could Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford have defeated themselves during a virtual co-presidency? And what would have happened to that guy Bush? And didn't he have a son or something?


OLBERMANN: All that's still playing out in an alternative universe not near you. That's Countdown for this, the 1,334th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Monday, December 25, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Friday, December 22, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Monday, December 18, 2006

No show. (Or a clip show rerun, depending on which mood MSNBC are in.) Happy holidays.

Friday, December 15, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 15

Guests: Dana Milbank, Craig Crawford, Margaret Carlson

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

How can we miss you if you won't go away? Donald Rumsfeld's last day at the Pentagon, and we are finally told what he actually accomplished as secretary of defense. He chose "TIME" magazine's Man of the Year in 2003.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Without hesitation, Don Rumsfeld told them, Don't give it to me, give it to our men and women in uniform. And that's exactly what "TIME" magazine did.


OLBERMANN: Yes, great, no armor for your Humvee, but you can wrap yourself in this souvenir collector's edition of "TIME" magazine.

The health of Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota, opening his eyes as requested, no sign further brain surgery will be necessary.

What was this a sign of?


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I want to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it.


OLBERMANN: What does the right wing say after Tony Snow says he's sorry for calling David Gregory partisan, after they all parroted him calling David Gregory partisan?

Who thinks Condoleezza Rice couldn't become president? And not because she's a woman, nor African-American, nor anything political. The first lady, that's who.

The American pilots detained in Brazil after a deadly midair crash, they speak out for the first time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were doing what we were supposed to be doing.


OLBERMANN: And do parents of newborns know what they're doing? The first list of favorite baby names 2006. In 2024, we're going to hear a lot of this from a lot of college freshman. And these are my friends, Caitlin, Kaylee, Keira, Kayla, Makayla, and Layla.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


Good evening from New York.

Even the average American can recall the names of many former presidents. It is a guess how nonaverage an American you'd have to be to be able to remember as many secretaries of defense, or, before the 1947 change of terminology, secretaries of war. Robert McNamara, Edwin M. Stanton, Henry Stimson, Abraham Lincoln's son Robert, perhaps?

Thus, in our fifth story on the Countdown, on this, the last of his many controversial days at the Pentagon, how soon before Donald H. Rumsfeld is forgotten? His entire departure ceremony might as well have been taking place in an alternate universe, the fog of war seemingly having descended over the Pentagon itself, if not over the entire administration, the president concluding that America is better off for the time that Mr. Rumsfeld spent at the helm of the U.S. military and that his leadership skills are, well, skillful.


BUSH: I'm pleased to join you as we pay tribute to one of America's most skilled, energetic, and dedicated public servants, the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Every decision Don Rumsfeld made over the past six years, he always put the troops first. And the troops in the field knew it.

A few years ago, the editors of "TIME" magazine came to his Pentagon office, and Don correctly suspected they were thinking of naming him Person of the Year. Without hesitation, Don Rumsfeld told them, Don't give it to me, give it to our men and women in uniform. And that's exactly what "TIME" magazine did.

This man knows how to lead, and he did, and the country is better off for it.


OLBERMANN: Vice President Cheney, who began his career in politics as an intern for Mr. Rumsfeld in 1969, praising him as a man with, quote, "near-perfect recall who apparently does not sleep." Not so, as it proves, the commander in chief, wartime or not, Mr. Bush telling "People" magazine that he is, quote, "sleeping a lot better than people would assume," that being just about the only thing folks would not assume about the president, Mr. Cheney these days seemingly applying that old rule about children being seen and not heard to himself, the vice president, if not front and center, then at least front and to the side at a number of public events recently, but always silent, "U.S. News and World Report" writing this week that Mr. Cheney is trying to distance himself now from the president because, says a former associate, quote, "Iraq is now Bush's baby, and Cheney doesn't want to be tarred with it in the eyes of historians."

On that note, let's call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of "The Washington Post."

Dana, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: With the nation at war, giving every indication that the nation will stay at war for some time to come, in which universe does it help Mr. Bush politically to say that he is not losing any sleep at night?

MILBANK: You don't think he is preparing the Ambien defense to justify Iraq, do you?

Well, in fairness, this was to "People" magazine, and they asked if he ever uses sleeping pills. And he says, No, I don't have a whole lot of trouble sleeping. I don't think he was trying to say - sound as if he's heartless, but this is man who obviously takes sleep seriously, goes to bet early, and, indeed, travels with his own pillow. So I think, although we can have a little fun with it, it probably was a little more innocent than that.

OLBERMANN: Yes, there's always pretzels to turn to in a sleep emergency.

Now, as to the events here at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld, it's customary, when an executive is leaving a company, to send him off with a watch, a couple kind words. But did this departure ceremony seem to be far more than that? I mean, the word "coronation" seemed to be in the back of the mind, at leased, in watching some of these highlights.

MILBANK: I was thinking more of a state funeral. But it certainly had all the pageantry. In fact, it was called a parade, a farewell parade. And, you know, there's really no harm doing that. In fact, I think if a majority of the United States Senate knew that all that was required to get Donald Rumsfeld to leave was a parade, they themselves would have been marching right over there to Arlington.

But it's a small gesture to pay, and I think Rumsfeld did leave on one classy note today. He sent his last snowflake, those memos that he - annoying memos he sent to the staff, and he said, The blizzard is over.

OLBERMANN: That was apparently like number 30,000, however. It's maybe a little too little, too late.

"TIME" magazine told us tonight that it had already been considering the American soldier at its Person of the Year in 2003, before Mr. Rumsfeld made that pitch unsolicited to "TIME"'s editors. But in the president's telling of the story today, Rumsfeld not only made the decision for "TIME" magazine, he may have sacrificed at being the honor of being Man of the Year himself in the process. Even if that version of it was true, does that not ring of a White House grasping at straws to come up with something positive to say about him at the end of his tenure?

MILBANK: Well, there may be a certain bit of that. I mean, they didn't want to exactly bring up "old Europe," they didn't want to bring up "Stuff happens," they didn't want to bring up "a few dead-enders," they don't want to bring up "You go to the war with the army you have."

So there are a few great moments that Don Rumsfeld had. One of them was on September 11, when he ran towards the wreckage of the Pentagon. And, as we've learned today, another one was when he did whatever he did to selflessly sacrifice himself for the men in uniform.

OLBERMANN: In terms of magazine coverage.

Does - this other story here from "U.S. News," that the idea that the vice president is trying to distance himself from the president about Iraq, does that sound, under any construction, possible, plausible to you? I mean, even oxygen depravation? And if it is plausible, would it have any chance of working? I mean, for most of the past six years, it's been widely seen in this country, on both sides of the political divide, that it's been Mr. Cheney driving this part of the bus, at the very least.

MILBANK: Yes, no, I think that's right, and for good reason. It does

strike me as preposterous. It has been Cheney who's always been more

aggressive, more out there in saying what weapons Iraq had, or making the

case for war, or going after the Democrats. Very hard to see it. I would

I think the first lady would put some distance between her and the president before the vice president would actually attempt that.

OLBERMANN: Or Barney would resign. Dana Milbank of MSNBC and, of course, "The Washington Post." Great thanks. Good weekend. Have a good holiday season.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of distancing one's self, you have no doubt heard by now, probably many times, in fact, that last week, the president's press secretary, Tony Snow, accused our own and NBC White House news correspondent David Gregory of being partisan, for merely having quoted the Iraq Study Group in one of his questions.

What you may not have heard is that yesterday, a full week later, Tony Snow apologized for that remark.


SNOW: You and I had a conversation last week that got a whole lot of play in a lot of places, where I used the term "partisan" in describing one of your questions. And I've thought a lot about that, and I was wrong.

So I want to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it. And the reason I do that is not only because it's the right thing to do, because I want people in this room, and also people who watch these, to understand that the relations in this room are professional and collegial, and if I expect you to do right by us, you have every right to expect that I'll do right by you.

So at any event, I just want to say I'm sorry for that.


OLBERMANN: Coverage of that apology thus far paling in comparison to the beating Mr. Gregory took in the right-wing media in the wake of the press secretary's original comment.

For more on the possible reasons why, let's call in our own Craig Crawford, columnist for "Congressional Quarterly," author of the noted book, "Attack the Messenger."

Craig, good evening to you.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": Hi. I guess they're ready to talk to Iran, now that they're apologizing to the media. (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE). David Gregory can be welcomed back, then so could Ahmadinejad. Where are his conservative allies now that Tony Snow has apologized? I mean, mentions of this have popped up here and there in the last 24 hours, but by no means is it burning up the blogosphere or the airwaves. What happened here?

CRAWFORD: Well, I saw one effort on one of the sites to talk about how gracious Tony Snow was, and you'd never expect the media to ever be so gracious. But actually, David Gregory himself apologized to the last press secretary about a year ago over a similar incident they had had.

You know, I was stunned by this, Keith, because this is not the modus operandi of this White House. They have used these briefings a long time, before Tony Snow came along, as a platform to show themselves as martyrs getting beat up by the press. So, I mean, maybe Tony Snow just doesn't want to be part of that.

OLBERMANN: But what happened? Because it was - it's not like this was something he (INAUDIBLE) he slept on for a week. There was an abrupt change of heart in this over the weekend. He had been defending his treatment of David Gregory, he'd been standing by that accusation of partisanship. I mean, did he just wake up in the middle of the night and go, No, I meant it was silly?

CRAWFORD: Well, who knows? Maybe they've realized something I'm still not sure about, that the public's getting onto this game of blaming the messenger, attacking the messenger, to try to change the subject, which is what has become such a pattern for Democrats and Republicans, really.

But this White House has been especially good at it, and I have begun to wonder if the public's begun to see that. I can't credit my book, but that's what I tried to show in my book, and I think a lot of other sources have too. And so I - maybe it's starting to catch up with them. They're realizing that this is getting to be an old saw.

OLBERMANN: One would hope, and we'll give Mr. Credit - Mr. Credit -

Mr. Snow full credit for doing this as the right thing. I mean, we don't

have any problem with that. But is it - could this - could the

traditional cynical answer appear here to be more valid? I mean, the

change of heart took a full week, in the full week, all of the conservative

allies of this White House defended him, attacked Gregory, attacked NBC,

virtually called for the dismantling of this news organization, called for

there was a poll calling for Gregory to be fired. Is it possible that this reversal occurred simply because none of it worked?

CRAWFORD: Exactly. I think that's the possibility here, is that the environment's changed, that they've run this game so long, it just doesn't hunt anymore. And I do think there was some genuine - I really do think Tony Snow was probably pretty genuine about this. You know, he is new to this administration, and although he came from Fox, he's never been one of the attack dogs, and is a very popular guy among the media in Washington.

And I think maybe he realized it had gone too far once he saw the reaction, and how the right-wing blogs and so on had taken up this as some sort of cause. And I doubt he ever really meant for that to happen.

Also, the White House has been trying to show a more gentle face lately. They're on this listening offensive to show that they're listening to critics and they're not just being bombastic and stubborn, and also there was an implicit attack on the Baker-Hamilton commission when he called those quotes partisan, when he called Gregory partisan.

So maybe they realized it was time to step back from the breach a bit.

OLBERMANN: Well, sure, I'm - again, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt entirely and say, OK, there's been an epiphany there, and it's a welcome one, and everybody gets a round of applause.

But obviously, the - to the degree that the right wing, you know, follows what the White House does, they did not follow Tony Snow down this path of kumbaya. How is it that they're going to make this look like David Gregory's fault, or the media's fault, or the left wing's fault? And obviously they will. Do we have any clue yet on the how?

CRAWFORD: Well, I guess I've seen signs that they're talking about how gracious that Tony Snow was and how ungracious the media is, you never see them apologize for anything they say or do. And there'll be some of that.

But, you know, I would hope this whole construct of, you know, politicians just turning the media - turning the tables on the media every time they get in trouble or have something they don't want to talk about does change, because it has made it very difficult to get information out, and for, you know, voters to - and Americans to get the information they need, when there's this white noise in the middle of the conversation from politicians attacking the press. So maybe this'll be a sign of good things to come. It's the holiday spirit.

OLBERMANN: Right. And if it happens, then, of course, your book becomes a historical textbook and reference for a time that has been closed (INAUDIBLE).

CRAWFORD: I'd be happy for my book to officially become obsolete and have this problem fixed, but (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN: You are a, you are a generous man, Craig Crawford.

CRAWFORD: All right.

OLBERMANN: Columnist for "Congressional Quarterly," MSNBC analyst.

As always, sir, great thanks for joining us.

CRAWFORD: Good to be here.

OLBERMANN: And lastly in this topic, good news tonight from George Washington University Hospital, where Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota is showing marked signs of improvement. Family spokesperson says he has opened his eyes when asked to, in fact, and neurosurgeons say the pressure in his brain has normalized.

Senator Johnson will need to be hospitalized until the swelling in the brain subsides, then he'll need physical therapy to restrengthen the right side of his body. But right now, his fellow Democrats are hopeful that he will be able to eventually, in fact, perhaps shortly, return to the Senate.

Also tonight, a little bit more on that "People" magazine interview, the other half of it, with the first lady. Why Laura Bush thinks Condoleezza Rice won't run for president. It is a reason that is certain to infuriate about half the adult population, the unmarried half.

And clueless about Seattle. Bill-O slanders that city and the Toys for Tots campaign, and the Marines. It'll be Worst Person time before you know it.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If you've ever wondered why Condoleezza Rice will never, ever, ever run for president, wonder no more. The answer is simple, she has not got a man. You'll forgive me if I don't do the whole finger-snap neck-move thing.

In our number four story on the Countdown, First Lady Laura Bush's theories on why Rice won't run, the president and Mrs. Bush recently doing that hard-hitting interview with "People" magazine, but Laura Bush was asked about Secretary Rice and said while she would make an excellent candidate, she won't run, quote, "probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child."

In case anyone missed the point, the first lady elaborated, these factors are relevant because, quote, "You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have this job," unlike that of secretary of state, which is considered more of a hobby.

And who would know better that Rice has a lack of supportive friends than her supportive friend, Mrs. Bush? Ironically, Mrs. Rice is one of the few relatively popular members of the Bush administration, one of the few whose presidential aspirations are a subject of serious discussion.

Joining us now, thanks to the support of her family and friends, is Margaret Carlson, political columnist for Bloomberg News.

Margaret, thanks for some of your time tonight.

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Right, this is a job I couldn't have without the support of my friends and family.

OLBERMANN: I'm telling you.

I'm really confused by this quote. I mean, I know the first lady is a lot sharper politically than she would like us to think, but this is almost inscrutable. Is she intending to compliment the secretary of state here, or is she actually taking a big bite out of her leg?

CARLSON: Well, it may be what's inside Mrs. Bush, which is that to be single would be a terrible thing. She married three months after meeting George Bush, and obviously wanted to be married.

But these were - when you read it, it - I - you know, we don't know Mrs. Bush's demeanor, but it makes it sound as if these are really pathetic things to be. Now, you know, it's interesting that on the Democratic side, having a man is a problem for Senator Clinton, not having a man on the right is a problem for Secretary of State Condi Rice.

OLBERMANN: Not to get overly psychoanalytical on it, but another question on that area. Is there something - could there something - be something in here of the revenge of the real wife against the office wife?

CARLSON: Well, everyone does have office spouses, I think, on both sides. But in addition to being an office spouse, perhaps, Condi Rice is the daughter that Bush doesn't have. The twins never go to Camp David and barely come home for holidays.

And Condi Rice, Secretary of State Rice, goes most weekends to Camp David. She watches the football games. Remember, her ideal job is to be commissioner of football. She bowls, she does all the things at Camp David that, you know, a daughter might do. And she is around, so, all the time, not just at the - at work, but she's around on the weekends. And she's a great pal. I mean, Secretary Rice is great company. And she plays Brahms.

OLBERMANN: But the NFL job just opened up and closed again, so she's missed that wagon. She might have to settle to running for president.

Did Mrs. Bush inadvertently raise an issue that would not seem to matter to the average voter? But if there is the possibility of a Rice candidacy, that there might have been a red flag raised here to the proverbial conservative base, OK, she's a woman, she's an African-American, this is the 21st century, fine and dandy, but, hey, you know what, the first lady's right, she's not married, we can't even take her seriously as a prospective candidate?

CARLSON: Well, in the family values party, it's a problem to be of a certain age and not be married. It - you - it makes you odd, and they don't know where to place you. And who knows what you're doing with your time if you're not married and not home? You know, I have two out of three of Condi Rice's problems, so I took this very hard myself.


CARLSON: I'm not going to tell you which two.

OLBERMANN: This story, to some degree, seems to have flown under everybody's radar. But let me read this quote again, and then ask you a hypothetical about it and close with that. Condi Rice is a really good candidate for president, but she won't run, quote, "probably because she is single, her parents are no longer living, she's an only child. You need a very supportive family and supportive friends to have the job," unquote.

What if that had been said, not by Laura Bush, but by Hillary Clinton, or by any other Democrat? Would the right wing media be going nuts over this as a scouting report?

CARLSON: Well, you know, Mrs. Bush - I mean, I guess the answer is yes. But Mrs. Bush is not an acerbic person. You know, her mother-in-law is. So maybe she's picked up something there. But it makes you think she blurted it out, and that it has some truth to it about what she thinks about women, not so much about candidates, but about women.

You know, I also think - and Keith, I don't have the information here, but I think maybe First Lady Laura Bush is an only child.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I think you're right.

Margaret Carlson, political columnist for Bloomberg News. Great thanks for your time tonight (INAUDIBLE)...

CARLSON: Good night, Keith.

OLBERMANN:... we'll keep that one secret quiet. Many thanks.

CARLSON: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight - Sir, sir, there's a train coming. It's probably - Sir, there's a train coming. Probably not the best place to take a nap. Sir?

How about the best name to pick for your kid? Sophia, Ava? How about Keith? Well, not if she looks like that. A look at the top picks of 2006, ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1832, Alexandre Gustav Eiffel was born. He grew up, of course, to build the Eiffel Tower, along with his partner, Stewy Tower.

Let's play Oddball.

There was no Stewy Tower. I made him up.

We begin in Gwalior (ph), India, where dust clouds and thundering hooves signal the annual celebration of the end of the harvest season. That is the big chariot race out by the highway. Oh, look at them run. Just like the race in the "Star Wars" movie, except they use cows instead of jet engines, and no one has The Force, evidently.

More than 50 farmers took part in the race at the Family Fair in the central Indian province. Many have been training their bulls for weeks leading up to the event, and the winner took home more than 3,000 - no, more than $300.

To Epsom (ph), Surrey, in the United Kingdom for a story that should make every guy who ever got too drunk and woke up in a strange place feel a little bit better about himself. Hey, at least nobody videotaped me from a circling helicopter as he lay passed out on the busy train tracks. That's Kevin Crasswell lying there. He was a company director before he lost his job.

But he'll be keeping busy now at the community service to which he was sentenced today for this incident, which cost more than $16,000 in delays. Police say it took more than an half hour just to wake Mr. Crasswell up, that he had consumed a potentially lethal amount of alcohol. Yes, that's the only thing that could have killed him. I dare you to try that in India, pal. I double-dare you.

Finally, to Samiamish (ph), Washington, where a raging apartment fire leads to an amazing act of heroism by a good Samaritan caught on tape. A cat has leapt from an upper bore - floor of the burning building into a tree. Petrified, it clings to the branch until a man, without regard to his own safety, climbs the tree and delicately eases the cat down to a lower branch, where it is able to escape unharmed.

Who is this anonymous hero, this tree shaker of Samiamish? Whoever you are, sir, Oddball salutes you. Not only did you save the kitty, you did it in the most hilarious manner possible, and on camera to boot. It's everyday heroes like you that make this ridiculous segment possible. Thank you, Samiamish Samaritan, thank you, indeed.

No wonder he was holding on. Also tonight, the American pilots blamed in Brazil for a mid-air collision that killed 154 on a passenger jet, they give their first interview. And it is the worst storm to hit the Seattle area in 13 years. It has left a million people without power. It has suspended efforts to find three lost climbers in Oregon. Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of the day.

Number three, Josefina Campos arrested in Eagle Pass, along the Texas/Mexico border with a kilo of cocaine in her underwear. The really bad news, Mrs. Campos is 81.

Number two, Mr. S. Pachiapan, truck driver in Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, he lost control of his vehicle, he flipped it and spilled 16 ½ tons on Hydrochloric Acid all over the highway. Witnesses described it as, quote, very smelly. And why did Mr. Pachiapan lose control of his 16 1/tons of very smelly Hydrochloric Acid? Because he got stung by a hornet. Killer bees are here.

And number one, the unnamed failed robbery suspect in Des Moines. He tried to hold up the Get and Go Convenience store, but the clerk, Terry Cook, knew the guy did not have a gun in his pocket but just a finger. How? I could see his thumb, Cook says, sticking out of his coat pocket. When Cook told him so, the suspect fled and then paused in the parking lot, presumably realizing only then that when making the hand gesture associated with playing cops and robber, that is probably not a good idea to do it during an actual holdup?


OLBERMANN: The American pilots say they never saw the other plane coming, that they were flying at the altitude assigned them by air traffic controllers, that it was not until they landed their private jet safely that they realized they had collided with a Boeing 737, carrying 154 passengers and crew.

In our third story on the Countdown tonight, all those on that Brazilian airliner perished after it crashed into the Amazon Rain Forest. And for more than two months, the American pilots were kept in Brazil, while authorities there investigated. Brazilian police now say the pilots of the private jet should have noticed that their plane's transponder was turned off. Having it on might have prevented the collision. The pilots' first interview in a moment. First, as Matt Lauer reports, the issue of responsibility for the crash is far from clear, even as the Brazilian authorities draw closer to formal criminal charges.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): It was the worst aviation disaster in Brazilian history. Just before 5:00 p.m. on September 29th, an executive jet, piloted by Americans Joseph Lepore and Jan Paledino, and a commercial Brazilian airliner clipped wings. The larger Boeing 737 spun out of control, falling from an altitude of 37,000 feet into the dense Amazon Forest, killing all 154 people on board. But in a heroic effort, Lepore and Paledino were able to bring their damaged jet, with seven on board, to a safe landing at a nearby Air Force base. Their passports were immediately seized by Brazilian authorities, preventing Lepore and Paledino from leaving the country.

After months of investigation and legal wrangling, the pilots were finally allowed to return to the U.S., where a cheering crowd in Long Island, New York welcomed them home.

BOB SHERRY, PRESIDENT, EXCELCEAR: While we are all grateful for the safe return of Joe and Fan, and everyone aboard the Legacy, we are all saddened by this tragedy which took many innocent lives.

LAUER: Before they left Brazil, however, Lepore and Paledino were charged criminally with unintentionally endangering an aircraft by exhibiting a, quote, lack of necessary diligence that is expected and required. If convicted, they face up to a dozen years in prison, according to Brazilian police.

The charges were filed despite the fact both aircraft appear to have been assigned to the same altitude by Brazilian air traffic controllers, putting the planes on a collision course with disaster.

REP. PETER KING (D), NEW YORK: If there was any crime it all, it would have been by the Brazilian air traffic controllers. The American pilots are 100 percent innocent. They did everything they were told to do, everything they were instructed to do. They acted professionally at all times.


OLBERMANN: While the pilots have been charged by police in Brazil, that does not yet equal the American equivalent of formal criminal charges. Under Brazilian law, a judge will decide whether to actually indict the pilots and send them to trial. Meanwhile, the Americans and their lawyer, Robert Torcella, spoke with Matt today in an NBC exclusive. At the risk of putting too fine a point on this, it should be noted that the pilots were confined to a hotel in Rio de Janeiro, not jail, during the Brazilian investigation.


JAN PALADINO, PILOT: We were just basically level at our cruising altitude, according to what air traffic control - our clearance was, and it was uneventful flight, and all of a sudden, we experienced a horrific jolt, followed by the auto pilot disconnecting automatically. And the aircraft began to roll to the right. At that point we immediately grabbed the controls and stabilized the aircraft.

LAUER: How much damage was done to your plane?

PALADINO: We weren't sure at the time, exactly at that moment. But we were receiving reports from the passengers in the back as to what kind of damage we had. We had the wing tip -

JOE LEPORE, PILOT: The wing had come off and part of the - a little bit of part of the tail had been clipped also.

LAUER: You guys struggled, not only to keep this plane in the air, but find a suitable landing spot for this plane, and you managed to get it down at a military base. When you landed, how long after you landed did you finally get the word about exactly what had occurred in mid air?

LEPORE: It was probably a couple of hours later that we had found out that another airplane was missing.

LAUER: The 737.

PALADINO: We made it also. We did ask the controller at the air base, did you hear of any other distress calls from any other aircraft, and he said no. So we just assumed that the other aircraft, if there was some damage, that they landed safely somewhere.

LAUER: You find out it is a 737. Eventually you find out 154 people on board that plane were killed. You had to start thinking, my gosh, if we had been one foot to the right, or one foot to the left, either we wouldn't have hit this plane at all, or if we had been a couple of feet to the other side, we would have never known what hit us. We would have been annihilated in mid-air. Instead of being treated as survivors, and some would say heroes for getting your plane and your passengers on the ground safely, you were treated very differently by Brazilian authorities weren't you?


PALADINO: We were basically accused of wrong-doing.

ROBERT TORCELLA, LAWYER FOR PILOTS: And you know, Matt, the important thing here is that these two guys really don't view themselves as heroes. They think they were doing their job as pilots and safely landing their aircraft and saving the passengers on their plane.

LAUER: Basically though, the Brazilian authorities, guys, they allege that you allowed, for some reason, your plane to stray into this altitude, this 37,000 foot altitude, which is reserved for flights going in the opposite direction. Why were you at 37,000 feet?

PALADINO: That was our clearance that we received on the ground, also in the air, by the air traffic controllers. And we were basically having an uneventful flight. We can not leave without instructions.

LAUER: This is your clearance. In other words, you were told by Brazilian air traffic control to fly at that 37,000 feet?

PALADINO: Correct.

LAUER: Did you have any idea that that altitude was reserved on coming flights.

TORCELLA: It is a misnomer, Matte, to suggest that it is reserved for oncoming flights. Air traffic control has complete discretion over the sky.


OLBERMANN: Also here tonight, no discretion in the sky here. The northeast enjoying unseasonably warm winter weather, but the northwest hounded by extraordinary storms.

And shunned by the Baseball Hall of Fame in life, Buck O'Neal finally gets a small portion of what he truly deserves, a posthumous honor from the government.

Those stories ahead, but first here are Countdown's top three sound bytes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States and Mrs. Laura Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. Please be seated. Thanks for inviting me to what sounded like a festive occasion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight's unveiling took the holiday in a very different direction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is called the Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The empty store front is now home to a recreation of Nazi Germany, complete with Swastikas and Hitler and the notorious hand motion.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would you do something like that to ruin Christmas?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are a kinder, gentler Nazi.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Take a look at this public service announcement I saw last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recently Nicole Ritchie was busted for driving the wrong way down the street after smoking weed. Remember, if you're not sober, let your kid drive. A message from Britney Spears.


OLBERMANN: A 41-year-old woman has died in Seattle, trapped in her basement, screaming for help, as a deluge outside flooded her home with water. That freezing, frightening and fatal storm our number two story on the Countdown tonight. It has claimed four lives so far, and dramatically slowed efforts to rescue the lives of three others, the three mountain climbers lost somewhere on Oregon's Mount Hood. Search teams were forced back after facing wind gusts up to 130 miles an hour. There was new hope today, with the discover of notes that might indicate their whereabouts. But the missing climbers will still have had to have survive one of the worst storms the northwest has seen in recent history. Our correspondent, Peter Alexander, has been in that storm and reports on its toll so far. Good evening Peter.

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Keith. It was a fast moving storm and tonight it is mostly gone. All major bridges in this area have reopened, and Seattle's airport is back to normal operations. But after so much damage here, more than one million people are still without power.


ALEXANDER (voice-over): It was a deadly combination, record rains and fierce wind gusts, topping 100 miles per hour, bombarded western Washington and Oregon overnight.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a potentially deadly storm.

ALEXANDER: Daylight revealed it was the worst storm to hit this region in more than a decade, ripping the docks of a marina, grounding travelers at Sea-Tac Airport, and leaving more than a million and a half residents without power across the Pacific Northwest. At least four people were killed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had a very, very long winter, before winter has begun.

ALEXANDER: Christina Wabb (ph) barely escaped when this 130 foot tree collapsed on her home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ran out of the room, screaming into the kids' room, and there was this huge loud noise, and the tree went literally right through the house where I was sleeping.

ALEXANDER: This is what her bedroom looks like now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If I hadn't gone in to check on them, I don't think I'd be standing here talking to you right now.

ALEXANDER: With emergency managers warning residents to be ready for an entire weekend without power, employees at this hardware store are helping blacked out Widbey (ph) Island residents find essentials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If we had a 100,000 generators, we'd probably sell them all.

ALEXANDER: As crews begin the cleanup, clearing roads and separating cars from trees, forecasters say clear skies should give this region a badly needed break.


ALEXANDER: Late today that storm crossed the Cascades and slammed eastern Washington, and northern Idaho, shutting down some schools and ski resorts, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Peter Alexander at Mercer Island, in Washington, thanks.

It's a welcome occasion to move from such a grim story to a positive one, and rare indeed when such as story as that tops our nightly roundup of celebrity news, Keeping Tabs. Buck O'Neal, long time friend of baseball and of this show, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, two months after his death at the age of 94. He was both a pioneer and ambassador, a veteran of the Negro League, the first African American to work in Major League baseball as a coach, a living historian, who got more than two dozen of his long ago colleagues into the Hall of Fame, even if he himself was ignored by it. President Bush today said O'Neil helped change baseball in America for the better. Buck O'Neil was a legend, Mr. Bush said, and he was a beautiful human being.

Oprah Winfrey is expanding her empire into the world of prime time TV.

"Variety" reporting that Winfrey has sold two shows to ABC, reality shows. One of them called, "Oprah Winfrey is the Big Give," pitting 10 people against each other in the task of helping others, a heart warming celebration of altruism will end with the winner getting whatever they want most in life. Yes Oprah, thank you. I would like immortality please. The other reality show tentatively called "Your Money or Your Life." Winfrey action teams will swoop in on a family crisis, totally overhaul the family's life and monetary problems. Yes, Oprah, thank you. I would like you to get all these people out of my home, please.

Remember it is not just for a month, it is for your life. Why there are more 29-year-old Farrahs than one-year-old Farrahs.

That is ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. The bronze to defensive tackle Terry "Tank" Johnson of the Chicago bears. Police raided his Illinois home and there found unregistered guns and assault rifles, while Bears coach Lubby Smith was worried about a possible distraction for his team's preparations for the games Sunday against Tampa. Because of Tank Johnson's arrest, I'd prefer to think of this way, Tank Johnson, a cache of high powered weaponry in his house, it is nice to see an athlete trying to live up to his nick name.

The runner up, Fred Barnes of the "Weekly Standard" and Fox News, and that's Weekly with two E's and not an E and A. Responding to the positive news about Senator Johnson's health, Barnes saying on Fox, there is a long history of the doctor's reports about the politician, from the president on down, about doctors reports being untrue. You really have to be wary of them. Gee Fred, sorry about the good news. Maybe you should send Tim Johnson a get sicker soon card.

Our winner, Bill-O, just flat out lying again. He said the city of Seattle was keeping the Marines from staging their annual Toys for Tots drive there. Other than the 300,000 toys the Marines say they collected and distributed in Seattle, before they ran out, and went back and asked the people of Seattle for thousands of more donations, and got them. So Bill lied, which might explain, in part, why last night's rating were what they were. Among viewers 25 to 54, "O'Reilly Factor," 286,000, Countdown, 283,000. Bill O'Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: It's not the official list. That will come from the U.S. Department of the Census sometime in the new year. But has now released its list of the most popular names for our newest citizens, based on a database of 370,000 members.

Our number one story on the Countdown, this list is a doozy, Brooklyn meet Layla. Layla meet Brooklyn. And for the second year in a row the top names are Aiden and Emma.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Though they say her you'll be able to distinguish your 2006 class of Aidens from your 2005 class of Aidans by the spelling, AIDAN was the choice last year, AIDEN this. Emma continues her roller coaster history. In the days of the poetess (sic), whose words are inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus, the U.S. Census Department says Emma was the third most popular name for girls in this country each year from 1880 through 1886.

But by 1966, Emma was down to 364th and was still only the 177th most popular as late as 1987. The rest of the top ten, for each gender from this year, is a mix of pop culture influences and old timey favorites. Madison, Ava, Emily, Isabella, Kaitlyn, Sophia, Olivia, Abigail and Hailey, among the girls. And oh, how that Isabella sighting is going to make our executive producer Izzie Povitch happy. Isabelle, no (INAUDIBLE), is 34th for girls, meaning there will be a lot Izzies among the college freshwomen of 2024.

Back to the boys, two through ten are Jacob, Ethan, Ryan, Matthew, Jack, Noah, Nicholas, Joshua and Logan. Joshua Logan? The director of South Pacific and Paint Your Wagon. There is another one like that in here. Sixteenth tops among the boys, Connor, 17th, Jackson. No doubt a delight to the first baseman of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks, Connor Jackson.

A befuddlement as old as names themselves will continue. Jordan is the 49th most popular name among girls and the 51st most popular name among boys. Same for Riley, 17th favorite for the girls, 73rd for the boys. And then there are the Alex variations. Alexander, 20th, Alexis, 25th, Alex, for boys, 50th, Alexandra, 62nd, Alexa 80th. And we have the sound alikes, Kaitlin, 6th, Kaily, 21st, Makayla, 38th, Kayla, 39th, Kylie, 47st, and Keira, 50th.

Some old favorites have not stood the test of time. The Census Bureau says John was the top name for boys every year from 1880 through 1939. He's just 42nd now, though Jack is 7th and Jonathan is 60th. But Mary has fallen even further from grace. She was number one all but six years from 1880 through 1961. Not even in the top 100 this year. Oh and Grace is 20th. Some standards endure, Katherine is still 44th. Katie, 61st, Kate, 65th, Katharine, with two A's, 859th last year. And OK, we plugged Katie, Charlie is 79th. Sorry Brian, you're 86th.

Then you've got your novelty names, Brooklyn, 54th. The Census Department says it has no record of anyone being named Brooklyn before 1990. Trinity, 85th, Faith, 86th, Neveah, 89th, Destiny, 93rd. Neveah? Heaven spelled backwards. Angelina is 95th. Sorry, no Brad in the top 100. And be careful in this area, parents, Farah was unheard of before "Charlie's Angels." Then it became the 277th most popular name in 1976, the 177th the next year. It petered out after 1988, but this still means there are a lot of Farah's running around.

No doubt, by now you're wondering about Keith, having been number 1032 for baby boys in the year 1895, it zoomed to 39th the year I was born. It peaked at number 33 in 1963. Last year, 287th. I assume full responsibility.

And lastly, the last to make the cut, the 100th favorite boy name on the Baby Center list, Ben. One hundredth for the girls, Layla. Layla, a lot of Eric Clapton fans out there?


OLBERMANN: And if you want to have fun with the history of baby names, Social Security has a searchable website with all of the data going back to 1880. It's about 30 characters long, so we've saved you the bother and just linked it off of our website, at There you can find arcane information like last year, 63 sets of twins were slapped with the name Faith and Hope, but not since 1907 has any of the top thousand most popular boys names in this country been Newt.

One name has just dropped a notch tonight. News just in that book editor Judith Regan has been fired by Harper Collins publishers, not a month after her O.J. Simpson book project, If I Did It, actually made that company, and its parent, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, look bad. Regan's newest project was a controversial historical novel, portraying Mickey Mantle, the baseball star, as a semi-pornographic character. Judith Regan terminated tonight by Harper Collins in the wake of the O.J. Simpson, If I Did It, book project. That is Countdown for this the 1,322nd since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 14

Guests: Gerald Posner, Jeffrey Ross

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

The health of the Democratic senator from South Dakota, and thus the health of the incoming Democratic majority in the Senate. What may be just the first brain surgery for Senator Tim Johnson, a reported success after bleeding from a congenital condition that causes vessels in the brain to become enlarged and entangled. The next 24 hours critical to his recovery.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: He really looks good.


OLBERMANN: No expectation he would resign, even if not fully recovered. But if he's absent during recovery, the Senate effectively goes from 51-49 to 50-49.

The Dems go ahead with plans in both houses for the I-word, investigate, a congressional panel to examine the administration intelligence budget.

It used to be the first stop on the presidential campaign trail was New Hampshire, now it's Iraq, John Kerry going, Chris Dodd going, John McCain, already gone.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The situation, in my view, remains serious. It requires us to have an injection of additional troops on the ground in order to bring the situation under control, in order that the political process may proceed.


OLBERMANN: Theirs, or ours?

Is the process finally over in the inquest? Can we finally let the poor princess rest?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was a tragic accident.


OLBERMANN: Holiday time, the contribution to your Christmas party from the boys at JibJab, "Nuckin' Futs!"





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember when Dick Cheney shot that fun guy in the face.


OLBERMANN: But if you need more in person, Dana Carvey will attend your Christmas party for $100,000, Ken "Eddie Haskell" Osmond for $5,000, and for $4,000...




OLBERMANN: Of course, if you're Republicans, I think John McCain will show up for 20 bucks.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Fa-la-la-la la...


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

Senator Tim Johnson has not required additional brain surgery since the initial operation last night, and the attending physician at the U.S. Capitol, Admiral John Eisold, says that the senator's recovery suggests, for now, at least, that he will not need any further surgery.

Thus the fifth story on the Countdown tonight, the health of the senator and of the 110th Congress slightly clearer this evening, the top concern for all involved, of course, remaining Senator Johnson's condition, the South Dakota Democrat said to be recovering without complication from that successful operation late last night at George Washington University Hospital, the Capitol physician, Admiral Eisold, saying in a statement earlier this evening that Mr. Johnson has continued to have an uncomplicated postoperative course, specifically, he has been appropriately responsive to both word and touch, late word that he has, as of this morning, been reaching for and holding his wife's hand, that in a statement from his wife, Barbara Johnson.

As a result of all this, Admiral Eisold says tentatively, it looks like no further surgery would be required.

The diagnosis, not a stroke, not even clinically an aneurysm, rather, bleeding in the brain, the result of a condition known as arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, in which the arteries end up delivering their fast-flowing blood into veins instead of into tissue and capillaries. The danger comes when the pressure causes veins to rupture. It is congenital. He was born that way.

Among those at Senator Johnson's bedside today, the current majority leader of the Senate, Republican Bill Frist, himself a doctor, of course, and the man who would presumably assume Frist's old post next month, the Democrat Harry Reid, Senator Reid refusing to say anything about his colleague's condition today, not even whether he was conscious or, perhaps, in a medically induced coma, as for what he would say, Senator Reid leaving the impression of being either seriously upbeat or in serious denial.


HARRY REID: I was in his room with him. He really looks good. Best

care. It was perfect. This (INAUDIBLE) unit that they have at Georgetown

George Washington - is just superb.

There isn't a thing that's changed. The Republicans selected their committees yesterday. We've completed ours. We - I'm - I have a very busy schedule today, going ahead and getting ready for the next year.


OLBERMANN: For the very latest, we're joined now from the Capitol by our Capitol Hill correspondent, Chip Reid.

Chip, good evening. Thanks for your time.

CHIP REID, NBC CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith, glad to be here.

OLBERMANN: What more do we know about Senator Johnson's prognosis?

Do we have any idea at this point how long he could be out?

REID: We don't. We do know it could be a very long time, but I'll tell you, doctors are all over the map in trying to predict how long this could take.

But we are getting a bit of a flurry of good news late today. Things had been pretty grim before that, but as you mentioned, his wife, Barbara, issued a statement saying that he had reached out for her and held her hand.

He is not yet speaking, as we understand it, but we do understand that he is responding to voices, to her voice, and to other voices, blinking his eyes in response to those voices. He can, to some degree, move his limbs. And we are talk - we have talked to some people who have been in the room who say they are very encouraged, especially late today, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As it goes further here, Chip, there's a level of precedent. Most recently in 1998, Senator Joe Biden was recuperating from brain surgery, which kept him out of the Senate for seven months. Senator Clinton just invoked that in a conversation with me not an hour ago.

But in any previous case, has the control of the Senate or the House ever rested really on a stricken member's ability to maintain his or her seat?

REID: No. As far as we know, this is unique. That's why it is such an extraordinary situation. And that's why we've been running out these scenarios ad nauseam here. And I'm sure it's very difficult for the family and others to listen to this. And some senators, one accused me today of being ghoulish. And it is our job to be ghoulish sometimes. We do have to run this stuff out. And because so much is riding on this, it is important for people to know what's going on.

Now, I should say, there have been some dramatic situations in the past. For example, back in 1964, there was a senator from California who was carried into the chamber to vote on a civil rights bill, and pointed to his eye to vote Aye. But never one with this much riding on it, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Yes, and to one point you made there, I think it's important to address it. I mentioned this last night, that we are all, to some degree, sounding like ghouls about this. And to the degree that that is inappropriate, I'll apologize for everybody, again.

But say we have a positive outcome here healthwise, the senator recovers fully, and says, Look, after this, I want to spend the rest of my life with my family, I'm going home.

It underscores the role of the South Dakota governor, Mike Rounds, in all this, should it fall on him to fill Senator Johnson's seat. How soon before this becomes the political topic of the moment, that he was, or is, widely considered the front-runner to challenge Senator Johnson in 2008, in South Dakota? Could it complicate his decision? Could he, in fact, take himself out of running for a Senate seat by appointing another Republican? Could he wind up somehow appointing himself?

REID: Well, let me say, first of all, of course, we all hope that this is just a theoretical discussion, and we never get to that point.


REID: But if it does, as far as I know, there's nothing to keep him from appointing himself. It's certainly happened in other cases in the past across the country.

There had been some talk that maybe he would feel obligated to appoint a Democrat. I don't think so. He has had to appoint people before, not to a position of this kind of importance, but to appoint people to vacancies, and he has picked people from his party, even in Democratic districts. So I think it is widely expected he would pick a Republican.

But I'll tell you, if he felt obligated to pick somebody other than himself, that would be a real downer for him, because he may well be looking at and champing his bit at running for that seat.

OLBERMANN: One last question about the presumption of the Senate disabled list. What happens if Senator Johnson is not present, which we would presume would be the case, for the organizational votes when the Senate reconvenes in January, convenes, in this case. Are the Democrats at risk for a filibuster because they (INAUDIBLE) would only conceivably have 50 votes and not 51?

REID: I don't think so. I don't think the Republicans would play that kind of hardball. And certainly there is a history of incapacitated members being given the benefit of a doubt, and not - the other side not trying to take advantage of that situation. I would be surprised if something like that happened.

OLBERMANN: Correspondent Chip Reid at the Capitol. Chip, as always, good to talk to you. Thanks for your time.

REID: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: In the House, some 30 Democrats would have to experience health crises before the balance of power there would be threatened, as such, Democrats in that chamber proceeding with the sculpting of their power for next month, the key word for how the incoming leadership is planning to do things differently being oversight, Democrats not only planning to assert more control over the billions of dollars a month being spent on the war in Iraq, incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi also taking the unusual step of creating a new House Intelligence Committee that would oversee funding for the nation's major spy agencies, the current Congress's complete whitewash of the Foley inquiry this week also raising the bar for new standards about ethics.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), INCOMING MAJORITY LEADER: We're going to subject every decision to the - every manifestation of this House to the harshest scrutiny, whether it's the page board, whether it's the ethics process, whether it's smoking in the speaker's lobby - whatever it happens to be, to look at it and say, We are responsible for this, these decisions have to be those that have a consensus, and also will, again, uphold the highest ethical standard.


OLBERMANN: From his perch on the Government Reform Committee, Congressman Henry Waxman has spent the last six years investigating the White House on everything from military contracts to Medicare prices. From his new perch as chairman of that committee, Chairman Waxman was saying that the biggest challenge he is facing is picking and choosing what to probe.

Time now to call in our own David Shuster at the MSNBC headquarters in Washington.

David, good evening to you.


OLBERMANN: Based on what we've heard from the Democratic leadership today and so far, sounds like the exactly the kind of oversight that we have not seen on Capitol Hill for the last four years, maybe the last six. Is the White House worried, or should the question be, how worried?

SHUSTER: Well, they should be very worried. I mean, first of all, the dirty little secret in Washington - and it's really not so little, and it's really not a secret - is that the $8 billion a month, for example, that is being spent in Iraq, there is no oversight on that money at all, no oversight as far as the feeding of the troops, the energy, the subcontractors, how much the military really needs, how much is being used for former Iraqi exiles who presumably should be back in Iraq but some of them are not, and are still getting tens of thousands of dollars.

All of that is going to be sort of the proverbial worm under the rock that the Democrats are going to turn over. And at a time when the Bush White House is preparing to ask for another $120 billion to pay for the war through September, the Democrats are going to be able to use that opportunity and twist it on the White House. They're not going to hold the money back, but they're going to be very tight, and they're going to essentially embarrass the White House as far as how the White House has been spending this money and the lack of any accounting principles to it.

OLBERMANN: It the wake of the speaker-elect's news conference today about her immediate plans for the new session, are the grumblings coming not from the Republican side but from the Democrats, perhaps, that the agenda is not ambitious enough, that these do not meet the incredibly high expectations of not merely the people who put them there, but the people who are going there?

SHUSTER: Well, there have been some grumblings by Democrats who would still like to go back and revisit how the war was sold to the American people. And there have been some complaints that the Democrats don't appear to be headed in that direction as far as investigations.

But strategically, they really don't need to, because you remember that the Scooter Libby trial begins in January. Here's a guy, the vice president's former chief of staff, who's accused of essentially lying about an administration critic who was criticizing how the administration sold the war. That issue is going to be front and center in a Washington federal courthouse.

So that's going to be in front of a lot of people, even if the Democrats don't want to look back and look at, Well, how was this war sold, the shifting justifications for war. Some of that, some of that is going to come out in this trial anyway.

OLBERMANN: Might it also come out in the areas beyond oversight, with the - specifically in terms of potential for investigations? Do we have any idea who might get the first subpoenas? Who should be the most worried in that front?

SHUSTER: Well, actually, the people who ought to be the worried the most are the vice president's former colleagues over at Halliburton. Henry Waxman's made absolutely no secret that he has been disgusted by how Halliburton has gotten contracts from the government, the lack of oversight, the way that they have charged the military and charged the government for the services that Halliburton has provided, whether it was rebuilding oil refineries and energy lines or serving troops to the - serving food to the troops.

Waxman has suggested over and over that Halliburton has done a dirty job with all of this, and that he wants to get at Halliburton. He's also suggested that some of the no-bid contracts - never mind those that went to companies that received no-bid contracts for Iraq, that some of the no-bid contracts that went for rebuilding Mississippi and parts of Louisiana because of Hurricane Katrina, he sees major trouble there. So that's where the betting is, as far as the early round of subpoenas going.

OLBERMANN: Yes, for Henry Waxman, it is his trip to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. He is Charlie, and he's got all the subpoenas he can eat.

Our own David Shuster. Great thanks for joining us, David.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith. Take care.

OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE), eyes on '08 apparently means feet in Iraq, Republican hopeful Senator John McCain visiting Baghdad today, Democratic hopeful Senator John Kerry expected at the weekend. Remember when they used to start in Iowa and New Hampshire?

And it took three years for the British police to figure out what every other inquiry into the death of Princess Diana has concluded, it was an accident. That still has not stopped the conspiracy theories. Gerald Posner joins us.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: One month after Iraq provided a turning point for political control of Congress, it appears to have become the newest whistlestop for the next campaign, the one for president.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, has anyone told the 2008 hopefuls that Iraq does not have any electoral college votes?

Be that as it may, in the wake of the November elections and the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq, Republicans and Democrats alike are putting Baghdad on their itineraries. Senator McCain is in Iraq today, along with five other members of Congress, for Republicans and one Joe Lieberman.

While in Baghdad, McCain again pushed his proposal for fixing Iraq, spending at least five - or sending at least five more combat brigades, which would mean 15,000 more troops.


MCCAIN: The situation, in my view, remains serious. It requires us to have an injection of additional troops on the ground in order to bring the situation under control, in order that the political process may proceed.


OLBERMANN: Another possible '08 contender, Senator John Kerry, expected to be in Iraq soon as part of a nine-day Middle East trip that he started yesterday, speaking today in Cairo. Kerry pushed one of the key recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, diplomatic engagement with two of Iraq's neighbors, both greatly affected by what transpires in Iraq, and both crucial to Iraq's future, Iran and Syria.

That idea, the idea of talking to nations with whom the Bush administration disagrees, is not only being rejected by the White House, but those attempting to forge genuine diplomatic connections are being attacked by the White House, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The Democratic senator Ben Nelson yesterday defied President Bush by meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Bashir Assad, in Damascus. The White House accuses Syria of fostering terrorism in Iraq, but Nelson said he saw a crack in the door for future talks on how Syria could help stabilize Iraq.

The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, rejected that notion, and, when he was asked today about other politicians who also plan to meet with Assad, he went a step further still.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not only Senator Dodd who will be going, but also, by the end of the year, Senator Kerry. And Senator Specter, a member of your own party, is planning a trip to Syria. Is the president concerned that with the Baker-Hamilton report's call for direct engagement with Syria, that, in a way, these visits are costing him control of his own foreign policy?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. The president's in charge of foreign policy. It may cost some people their credibility.


OLBERMANN: Ironically, it was just three months ago that the U.S. was thanking Syria for its defense of America's embassy there against terrorist attack. And prior to Mr. Bush's invasion of Iraq, which Syria opposed, President Assad had shown signs of cooperating with post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts.

Also tonight, add another title to the resume of this guy, the tallest man in the world. He is now the Dr. Doolittle of dolphins. No word whether he's available for party tricks.

But you can rent K-Fed instead, for the affordable price of $20,000, a thousand for each CD he's sold. The burgeoning trade in D-list celebrities. I got your war on Christmas right here!

That's ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date just 503 years ago, Michel de Nostradame, Nostradamus, was born at Saint-Remy de Province in France. Among his many prophecies, he predicted that Katie Couric would not do well anchoring "The CBS Evening News," and that I would say that. And that.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin with scary video from Altamont Springs in Florida. We all know how hard it is to get a parking spot at the mall during Christmas season, but this is ridiculous. No one injured in this incident. The mall was closed at the time, though the driver was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation. I guess doctors would want to know why the 19-year-old drove his car through the front door of the mall, through a perfume kiosk, then down the escalator to the first floor. Got to get my TMX Elmo!

To Poshoon (ph) in China, where the dolphins at this aquarium have gotten sick from eating some of the plastic at the edge of their pool. Veterinarians - their instruments, anyway - were not long enough to get the plastic out, so naturally officials called on Bo Shi Shun, the world's tallest man, to save the day. Standing seven-foot-nine, the herdman from Inner Mongolia - never knew there was an Inner Mongolia too - also has extremely long arms, 41.7 inches long, just perfect for reaching down the gullet of a porpoise.

He reached in, grabbed the plastic out of the dolphin's belly, and everybody lived happily ever after, although we're guessing that the dolphin will be haunted by nightmares for some time to come.

Inner Mongolia.

Finally, the Oddball Sports Report from the exciting National Championships of College Water Polo. Admittedly, this took place a couple weeks ago, and we were not really paying close attention at the time. But the postgame interview on CBS with the Cal head coach, Kirk Everest, has since become a big hit on the Internets. Can't imagine why.


KIRK EVEREST, CAL HEAD COACH: They deserved that game the whole way

through. They got a lot of tough breaks at the end, kept stopping them,

kept stopping them. Yeah! I always wondered what that felt like. We were

they were trying to get them (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously the water there that was dumped on Kirk Everest has shorted something out.


OLBERMANN: Well, luckily you don't need to hear the coach water polo.

Also tonight, the latest report on Princess Diana's accidental death.

It will do nothing to sway the conspiracy theorists.

And the ever-expanding Brangelina brood may get a new addition in the new year, once everybody figures out which ethnicity the new baby should have.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Malcolm Maddox, the BankOne executive who won a charity auction for lunch with (INAUDIBLE) Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco for $1. We told you about this yesterday. Now he and the charity, the Monroe, Louisiana, Chamber of Commerce, have apologized to the governor. They say this was a prearranged gag, that Maddox was going to pay $1,000 regardless. He has sent the charity a check for that amount.

Number two, residents of a small historic town in Sweden who have to get government permission to change the name of the place after years of silent suffering - Fjuckby, F-J-U-C-K-B-Y, Fjuckby. They say globalization has made this necessary. Too many English-speaking visitors coming by Fjuckby and giggling, or worse.

And number one, Andrea Jaeger, the world's former second-ranked professional tennis player, runner-up at the All England Club in 1982, now telling reporters that she felt so badly about winning, about how badly her defeated opponents felt when she won, that she played less than her best in at least a dozen high-profile matches, including the final at Wimbledon in London. She tanked out of sympathy for her opponents. So her recent career change makes sense. Andrea Jaeger is now Sister Andrea of the Anglican Dominican Order. She has joined the Brides of Christ, from Wimbledon to wearing the wimple, from flying backhands to the Flying Nun.


OLBERMANN: It has been observed throughout history that we want conspiracies, psychologically we may even need them. It underscores the randomness of existence if a nomadic loser can assassinate the president of the United States from the window of text book warehouse in Dallas. A web of deceit and perfidy, whether it's likely to be real or not, seems necessary to blunt the unmanageable horror of a world in which some stranger can unleash chaos all by himself.

Our third story in the Countdown, it may be true not just for the murder of President Kennedy, but also for the death of Princess Diana. And yet, what is supposed to be the final inquest from the British government confirms not a clandestine clock work hit job, but just a tragic, stupid, horrifying accident. In a moment, the analysis of investigative author Gerald Posner, first the details from London and our correspondent Keith Miller.


KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The British waited almost 10 years for this moment, the official 800 page report on the deaths of Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed.

LORD JOHN STEVENS, LEAD INVESTIGATOR: There was no conspiracy to murder any occupants of that car. This was a tragic accident.

MILLER: With contributing factors, such as the paparazzi. The report says photographers were creating chaos at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, forcing Dodi Fayed to change plans. He switched drivers and ignored the advice of his father not to leave the hotel. Detectives, using D.N.A., confirmed that the driver, Henry Paul, was drunk. His alcohol level twice the legal limit.

Despite speculation, there was no evidence that the U.S. or British Secret Service were spying on Diana.

STEVENS: I have no that speculation as to what happened that night will continue.

MILLER: Dodi Fayed's father, Mohammed, called the report garbage. He claims the royal family had the couple killed so that Diana would not marry a Muslim.

MOHAMMED AL-FAYED, DODI'S FATHER: I will not let them get away with that. Whatever it cost me the rest of my life, until I find the truth.

MILLER: The report said Diana was not pregnant, as Mohammed Fayed claims, and had no plans to marry his son.

(on camera): There was no comment from Buckingham Palace today, but a recent poll showed that 31 percent of the population here believes that foul play was connected to Diana's death.

(voice-over): But her sons, Prince William and Harry, said today, they accept the findings. At the crash site in Paris people said it was time to let her rest in peace.

Keith Miller, NBC news, London.


OLBERMANN: One of those interviewed by the British police for their inquiry, investigative journalist and author Gerald Posner joins us tonight. Thank you again for some of your time tonight sir.


OLBERMANN: What information did they ask you about? What did you share with them? What kind of light does it shed on the circumstances surrounding Diana's death?

POSNER: Well, as you know, I'm cited repeatedly in n this report, because I spent several months on this investigation. Back in 1999 I had access to Mohammed al-Fayed, his investigators, his lawyers. I spoke to the paparazzi who had been involved, French investigators and American intelligence. And what I told the British, essentially, is that the French police had bungled this investigation from the very start.

That they didn't secure the accident scene, that photographers and witness were allowed to leave, that the medical examiner's office made some mistakes, some of which were important. I also - the French were unable to find out what Henri Paul, the driver, was doing in the hours before the accident. I uncovered that, that he was actually meeting with his own intelligence handler, a member of French intelligence, and I disclosed for the first time that Diana's conversations were picked with a friend from the Brazilian embassy, by the National Security Agency, innocuously enough, but were still picked up by American intelligence. So that's the information, in essence, of what I passed on to the British investigators when they came to Miami to see me.

OLBERMANN: So the French bungled their job on this. Did the British do a better job. Are you satisfied with what you know of this report?

POSNER: Absolutely. Look, it's 800 pages. So I can't say that I've been able to read every word of it, but I went through it as much as I could today, the moment it was posted on the web, and I think it's remarkably thorough job. Much better than the French investigation. The French investigation, Keith, is what I call a C.Y.A. job, cover your ass. The French had made enough errors that they just wanted to make sure that they looked pretty good. They issued that report back in 1999. It was not very thorough. This report has the D.N.A. analysis. It has 3-D reconstructions of the accident scene. They interviewed hundreds and hundreds of witnesses. It's about as good as we're going to get.

OLBERMANN: Scotland Yard was not allowed access to those U.S. surveillance records. The agencies here cited security concerns, yet the report concludes that they were not spying on the princess. Obviously what you have said agrees with that, but will the conclusion, being presented without the factual proof of some sort of information from this country, this government, simply feed in to the continuing conspiracy theories?

POSNER: Absolutely. You're right about that. Look, I've always been a proponent and advocate of full disclosure. I think government agencies and intelligence agencies do themselves a real disservice when they hold onto files, keep them secret. It feeds conspiracies. But in this case, I understand why they are. Look it, we spy on foreign embassies. That's just the bottom line. They're all on Massachusetts Avenue in D.C. for a reason. It's easier to listen to them. We lease them the buildings, and either the FBI or National Security Agency picks up conversations from there.

On Diana, they were actually listening in on a specific investigation, the Brazilian embassy. They picked up a conversation with Louisa Fletcher de Lima (ph), who was then the wife of the former ambassador from Brazil to the U.S. and Diana, things about hair style and everything else. But to release those records would embarrass the U.S. government because they were spying on the Brazilian embassy, which technically, they obviously aren't supposed to be doing.

OLBERMANN: So what, other than some sort of confirmation from American intelligence on those points, is there stuff still missing from the final picture?

POSNER: Yes, the two things I noticed were missing that jumped out at me is the Mercedes that Diana was in, in which she was killed, clipped a white Fiat Uno as it went in to the Pont Elmo (ph) tunnel. I had my own suspicions that I drew in the 1999 - in the article that I did, that said it belonged to a young Vietnamese kid in France, but the British were unable to determine who the car belonged to. That's still a mystery.

And also, they didn't address another issue I raised. I had the information that the Home Secretary's office in Britain had actually called up the autopsy doctors in Britain when they were working on Diana and asked them to omit any reference to a pregnancy. It turns out she wasn't pregnant, in the end, but the report does not address that at all.

OLBERMANN: Is the autopsy complete yet? Why is that still ongoing?

POSNER: It's a strange part of the British system. My wife is British, but sometimes I tell her they do things oddly over there and they have an inquest that was supposed to be done officially in to the whole question of her autopsy, and they put it on hold because of this police investigation, which has taken three years and costs millions of dollars. Now the inquest, which will go in to the questions of whether the autopsy was complete, and who might be to blame, will be competed some time in mid January. But it's certainly anti-climatic after this report today.

OLBERMANN: So would you put this in that classic conspiracy fodder file, that it's immediate mistakes, follow-up cover-ups and the labyrinthine processes that draw things out indeterminably?

POSNER: You named all three. And I'll tell you something, Keith, as far as I'm concerned, you need a report like this to really fuel the conspiracy theories. And what I mean by that is you needed the Warren Commission Report, you needed the 9/11 Report, and now we have the Diana Report. Conspiracy theorists really don't believe they're onto something big, like a convoluted murder, until the government has to get together, issue a large report like this, and say there wasn't any conspiracy at all. This confirms to them there really is a conspiracy. It's sort of reverse logic.

OLBERMANN: Yes, except the one component that's not here, that is in the others. Nobody is going to accuse the British government job of a rush job on this, at least.

POSNER: There is no rush to judgment, that's true.

OLBERMANN: Investigative journalist and author Gerald Posner, always a pleasure having you on the program.

POSNER: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the year in review Jib Jab style. Yes, it's not over yet, but from the vice presidential hunting accident, to celebrity babies, and a celibate Paris Hilton, it's all fodder for them again.

And how would you like a little piece of Hollywood at your next Christmas party? Eddie Haskell could be telling your mother she looks just beautiful, for a price.

That's ahead, but here are Countdown's top three sound bites of the day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do a lot of your Christmas shopping online, do you in a pseudonym, and, like, do you send the stuff to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: No, I use a pseudonym and I send it to another address?


BUSH: An undisclosed location.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then Cheney brings them over, right?


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You and I had a conversation last week, it got a whole lot of play in a lot of places, where I used the term partisan in describing one of your questions, and I thought a lot about that, and I was wrong. So I wanted to apologize and tell you I'm sorry for it. And if I expect you to do right by us, you have every right to expect that I'll do right by you. So, in any event, I just wanted to say I'm sorry for that.



OLBERMANN: Sometimes it seems as though year-end retrospectives are doing the same thing the Christmas shopping season does every year, starting a little bit earlier all the time. So, in our number two story on the Countdown tonight, even though there's still almost five percent of 2006 left to go, the year-end retrospectives are already here.

Trust the Internets to beat old media to the punch. That's right, Jib Jab is back. You might remember them from their 2004 Bush-Kerry send up. Well, now they have broadened their range of attack, cramming an entire year, or 95 percent of it anyway, in to just two minutes.




OLBERMANN: Do not attempt to say the title of that song, either on national television or just in front of other people. Just don't. But, set title does bring us to our nightly roundup of celebrity and tabloid news, Keeping Tabs, and Angelina Jolie. Her year-end contemplations include adopting another child. Ms. Jolie's daughter with Brad Pitt, Shiloh, is still fresh from her "Daily News" cover story at seven months, but Ms. Jolie says the family is ready to adopt again, in part so that her two adopted children will not think she and Mr. Pitt value their biological children more.

Quote, yes we have Shiloh, and it's been a wonderful experience, but we want to find another brother or sister in the world for our family. OK, but then the chosen kids would outnumber, they had to take you child, three to one. Ms. Jolie added this confession, quote, I'm on the pill. And she said she would not randomly choose another ethnicity for her mixed race family, but that it was a question of balance. That ship has sailed.

Life appears to be merrily off-balance for Paris Hilton, who has now become cuddly with sister Nickie in the back of a limo. They were scantily clad, according to's Jeannete Walls, and photographs of them are bouncing around the Internet. The sisters are both wearing teddies. Paris Hilton is in stockings and garters. In some of the photos, reportedly, the ladies had their legs up in the air and their behinds are touching. Merry Christmas. Where is a class act like Britney Spears when you need her?

A decidedly no class-act gets sentenced. Joe Francis of Girls Gone Wild infamy has been ordered to serve at least eight hours of community service a month for 30 months, come on. His videos of drunken college women on spring break made so much money for him and his Mantra Films that the judge found the 2 million dollar fine insufficient. Francis' company had admitted to using minors in films and violating other laws, so U.S. district judge Richard Smoke of Panama City, Florida ordered 32 hours of community service per month to be shared among the employees, including Mr. Francis. And they have to do it while wearing braziers. OK, I made the last part up.

Nothing quite says happy holidays more than having William Hung singing She Bangs at your Christmas party. It can be a reality if the price is right. That's ahead, but time now for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze, Fox News again, this time it was their website, posted the name of the accused alleged victim in the Duke lacrosse case, the accuser, excuse me. Management says it was an accident, just like it was an accident when they showed the name of the Kobe Bryant accuser/alleged victim. So giving you the benefit of the doubt, you guys sure make a lot more mistakes than, say, the "New York Times."

Our runner up, pitcher Joel Zumaya of the Detroit Tigers, the rookie who hit 100 miles an hour on the radar gun, but missed most of the American League Championship Series, and was not fully effective in the World Series, due to an inflamed pitching wrist and forearm, which we today learned from the Tigers he got from playing the video game guitar hero on Play Station 2. The Tigers are asking him to put the damn thing away for a few years.

But our winner, author Michael Crichton. In his last novel, he dismissed global warming. So a political columnist for the "New Republic," who went to Yale, named Michael Crowley, ripped him for it. Now Crichton has got a new book, in which he's created a minor character who is a child rapist, and described as a political columnist who went to Yale, and who's name Mick Crowley. Crichton's publisher, Harper Collins, owned by Rupert Murdoch. The real Michael Crowley is understandably upset that Crichton gave his name to a child rapist, but look, Mr. Crowley, it could have been worst, Crichton could have used your name for a character based on himself. Author Michael "Vengeance is Mine" Crichton, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: It's hard to imagine anyone paying 12,000 dollars for Kevin Federline to merely hang out an at a private holiday party. Maybe that's the point. Here's 12 grand, please don't sing. But in our number one story on the Countdown, Mr. Federline and other luminaries are available, if the price is right. In fact, the hiring of celebrities for corporate, even private holiday shin digs, is growing fast, and in most cases, all they have to do is show up and mingle.

How about Eddie Haskell, or rather the man who played him on "Leave It to Beaver," Ken Osmund, a great gentleman, by the way, for the bargain basement price of between two and five thousand dollars.

Here is William Hung, who should be sending us like, I don't know, seven and a half percent for all the exposure he got here. You can have him at 4,000 dollars and he'll throw in two songs. Say it ain't so, but Jeremy Piven has even done this, though he charged a premium, 50,000 grand, just to serve dessert at a birthday party. Melinda Blaire, five thousand clams, minimum. That's clam, no pea soup spitting. The whole head turning thing is unavailable at any price.

Joining me now for comment, comedian and roaster of the stars, Jeffrey Ross. Jeffrey, good evening.

JEFFREY ROSS, COMEDIAN: How you doing buddy?

OLBERMANN: Kevin Federline? Honestly, I mean, so he shows up to your company holiday party and he does what, exactly?

ROSS: I guess he impregnates people. That seems to be his biggest, biggest talent so far. You get a lot of bang for your buck with K-Fed. I think he also hands out copies of his CD, which comes in very handy if you have a wobbly kitchen table, you know. Or if you want to torture an enemy combatant, put on K-Fed's new CD.

OLBERMANN: And spend the four thousand on William Hung to sing She Bangs - oh never mind. In a case such as K-Fed, are the party planners hoping for a disaster, or are they looking to discuss art and politics and just have the wrong guy in mind?

ROSS: Yes, I don't think K-Fed can discuss art and politics. I think for an extra fee he will shovel your driveway and take your garbage out, though.

OLBERMANN: He'll be doing that full time, I think, next year, right? So supposedly, this is getting bigger, because it's fashionable to have a celebrity at your Christmas party, but it seems like for 12,000 dollars you could get, rather than a real Kevin Federline, you could get a really good fake of, I don't know, Marilyn Monroe, couldn't you?

ROSS: Or you could get - I hear for 12 grand, Michael Richards will come to your house and call you the racial slur of your choice, and then you can beat him like a pinata. Merry Christmas.

OLBERMANN: And Pauley Shore will then come by and stage fake version of the same event -

ROSS: Man can he take a bunch punch.

OLBERMANN: Yes, for 350 bucks. What about the actors from the old TV shows? Your thoughts on this, you can have Eddie Haskell and the Beaver, although Gerry Mathers is pricier - he's up to six grand - you can have Poxy from "Happy Days," Anson Williams or John Provoste, who played Timmy from "Lassy." Timmy from "Lassy," for god's sake. Is this what these guys are left now? I mean, to paraphrase scrooge, are there no more dinner theaters, are there no more work houses?

ROSS: I have one question, do these people come in black and white or technicolor? Do they show up for an extra fee in full color?

OLBERMANN: I did a thing with Ken Osmund years ago for "Nick at Night," and I can tell you, he was in full color. He's a very nice guy. But one last thing on this. There's an - talk about black and white. How about this for a segue. There's an even more extreme version of all of this, Michael Jackson is making a personal appearance at a Christmas party in Tokyo. Each person there is going to pay 3,400 dollars to meet him. Do you have any idea where that figure came from?

ROSS: I think what probably happens is they have to offset the cost, because obviously, kids are allowed in free.

OLBERMANN: Oh, I should have known. And the last - is there a sad touch here, when you hear the name of the great Jeremy Piven among them, even though it was just one hour at a ladies birthday party, bringing out a dessert tray. I mean, "Entourage" doesn't keep him busy enough?

ROSS: I think this is interesting because they actually saved money by hiring Jeremy Piven, because Jeremy is so short, he can jump out of regular-sized birthday cake. He's giving all the money to charity. That's a stripper that I introduced him to.

OLBERMANN: Comedian Jeffrey Ross, the roast master general, many thanks for some of your time tonight. The Federline image will stick with me for hours. Oh lord.

ROSS: I can come to your house for five grand and make fun of you Keith, any time you want.

OLBERMANN: Thanks. That's Countdown for this the 1,321st day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. Tomorrow night the top baby names of 2006, and we'll see of see how the right wing media covers Tony Snow's apology to David Gregory, or doesn't cover it. Reporting from New York, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.