Monday, February 13, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 13

Guests: Dana Milbank, Catherine Garcia, Danny Mantle

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

Shoot first, ask questions later. Much later. The shooting was an accident. What about what happened afterwards? Incident, 6:00 p.m. Sheriffs interview Mr. Cheney, 8:00 a.m. News gets out, 3:00 p.m. I wonder if this came up at the White House briefing.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That - I mean, the vice president knew immediately, Oh, no, I've shot somebody accidentally. And it takes 22 hours...


OLBERMANN: Full coverage of a contentious day in the White House press room, and with Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," and with Catherine Garcia, a "Corpus Christi Caller" reporter who broke the story.

And, oh, by the way, the first Abramoff-Bush photo is out.

As is two-year-old video purportedly showing British troops beating up protesters after a 2004 riot in southern Iraq.

In the middle of the warmest winter in the Northeast in decades, 27 inches of snow. We need some spring in a hurry.

How about Mickey Mantle's sons celebrating their late father's return to the packs of baseball cards? Danny and David Mantle join us.

And the inevitable Countdown computer recreation of the Cheney incident. Can we make sense of it? Well, we'll give it a - shot.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

Vice presidents get very small biographies in the collective American memory. If they are remembered at all, they are usually remembered for just one thing, Dan Quayle for not knowing how to spell potato, Al Gore about the Internet, Aaron Burr for dueling.

And now, Vice President Dick Cheney has his, accidentally shooting a guy.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, really, it's all of the above. He was shooting at some quail, he inadvertently left a fellow hunter covered in gore, and he's become the first VP to actually shoot somebody since Burr.

All accounts continue to confirm it was an accident. But what happened afterwards, in terms of notifying the authorities and the public, that seems less and less like an accident and more and more like a coverup.

The victim, 78-year-old Texas lawyer Harry Whittington, remains in stable condition after being peppered with spray, pellets from a .28-gauge shotgun, injuries to his face, neck, shoulder, and chest. He was moved from the intensive care unit to a private room this afternoon, and he's reported by the owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred to be sitting up, talking, cracking jokes, razzing the nurses.

Sounds just like Scott McClellan.

Six minutes of how this impacted his day coming up, along with the legal penalty Mr. Cheney will now face.

The focus turned quickly today from the shooting to the nearly 24 hours that elapsed before news of it became public, to say nothing of the interval between Mr. Cheney's Oopsie and the time the authorities interviewed him.

"The sheriff came the next morning," said that ranch owner, Catherine Armstrong, "and took a statement."

In a moment, Catherine Garcia, the local reporter from Corpus Christi, Texas, who broke the story, the political analysis of Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," and Countdown's official computer animation of the accident.

First, our You Are There segment, Mr. McClellan versus the media, or, I think he knows how Harry Whittington feels.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott, do you think that the shooting accident involving the vice president on Saturday should have been disclosed to the public on Saturday?

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's important always to work to make sure you get information out like this as quickly as possible. But it's also important to make sure that the first priority is focused where it should be, and that is making sure Mr. Whittington has the care this he needs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Aside from the medical attention, which I'm sure was swift, isn't there a public disclosure requirement that should have kicked in immediately?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you can always look at - you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job.

GREGORY: It's all - well, it's not, it's not really a hindsight issue here. I mean, the vice president made a decision about how the public should be notified that basically is at odds with the standard practice of how the president's own press operation in this White House notifies the public, isn't that right?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, this was handled by the vice president's office. The vice president thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to give that information out, since she was an eyewitness.

GREGORY: (INAUDIBLE) the vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who had witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because there's a report coming out of a sheriff's deputy there who said that he was prevented from interviewing the vice president by the Secret Service. Do you know anything about that, and is that appropriate?

MCCLELLAN: No, I don't know anything about that. You ought to direct that to the Secret Service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What time on Sunday morning did you learn that Vice President Dick Cheney was the shooter?

MCCLELLAN: It was early. I was woken up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), 5:00? Give me (INAUDIBLE) just some sort of sense of how...

MCCLELLAN: In this - probably in the 6:00 range or so. Usually, I'm up at 5:00, but it was Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) was it Cheney's gun, is that his gun, that shotgun?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is this the vice president's

MCCLELLAN: You ought to talk to the vice president's and check that fact. You can check with their office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) this morning that the president was informed Saturday night by Karl Rove and Andy Card.

MCCLELLAN: Yes, initially by Andy Card.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At that point, what was he informed? Was he informed that the vice president had accidentally shot somebody? This happens at 5:30 on Saturday, and you're saying that until the morning, the president of the United States...

MCCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that. I said there was additional information coming in later that evening and into the morning hours of Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to clarify the timeline...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, when did this president know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... because that doesn't make any sense.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... when did the president know that the vice president was the shooter? What time?

MCCLELLAN: Again, there was additional information coming in that night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did the president definitively know that the vice president had shot somebody?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did the president know that the vice president...

MCCLELLAN: He was learning additional details into that evening on Saturday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the vice president that pulled the trigger...

MCCLELLAN: Yes, the - we didn't know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... when did he...

MCCLELLAN:... we didn't know the full details.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he knew, so he knew Saturday evening, Scott, definitively, did the president...



MCCLELLAN:... additional information, yes. And that the vice president, and that the vice president was involved, but didn't know the full facts of what had occurred.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He - wait, wait. He knew...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:... (INAUDIBLE) - Scott, he knew Saturday night?

MCCLELLAN: Carl, go ahead.

CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS: Straight chronological question, so we don't have to yell it.


CAMERON: If the deputy chief of staff had a conversation with the president late Saturday night, what time was that conversation? And did the information, though developing at the time, contain the fact that the vice president had actually been the shooter?

MCCLELLAN: Yes. And I don't know the specific time on that. Go ahead. I'm going...

GREGORY: Human beings are not normally this inefficient. I mean, you know, if...


GREGORY:... was the vice president immediately clear that he had accidentally shot his friend, or not? Or did that information become available later? You make it seem like there's all this information that had to develop.

MCCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't suggest that at all. I'm sure that that was the case. I mean, I think it...

GREGORY: I don't understand what (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN:... Mrs. Armstrong was there...


MCCLELLAN:... and saw it, and saw the incident.

GREGORY:... had to trickle in.

MCCLELLAN: Well, David, I - again...

GREGORY: You sound like it's - you've got a situation room here. You've got people who monitor stuff. It's impossible to find out - I mean, the vice president knew immediately, Oh, no, I've shot somebody accidentally. And it takes 22 hours...

MCCLELLAN: And you know what his first reaction was? His first reaction was, go to Mr. Whittington and get his team in there to provide him medical care.

GREGORY: Why is it that it took so long for the president, for you, for anybody else to know that the vice president accidentally shot someone?

MCCLELLAN: Well, early the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it appropriate for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate the information that the vice president of the United States has been - has shot someone?

MCCLELLAN: That's one way to provide information to the public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know whether he's taken a hunting (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN: My understanding that he had the hunting license for this hunting trip.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) perhaps where he's taken that...

MCCLELLAN: You can check with his office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), has he taken a hunting safety course in Texas.

MCCLELLAN: Check with his office. I don't have those facts, Mike, I haven't checked into that.

Is this on this subject? John, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Scott.

MCCLELLAN: And then Connie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the vice president be available soon to answer all questions himself about the incident?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we get someone from his office...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why can't we get someone from his office?


MCCLELLAN: Well, talk to his office. I think they have provided response to your questions.

Go ahead, Connie.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Scott, is it proper for the vice president to offer his resignation, or has he offered his resignation?

MCCLELLAN: That's absurd question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Surely they immediately knew that the vice president of the United States shot someone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott, under Texas law, is this kind of accidental shooting a possible criminal offense?

MCCLELLAN: I won't even speculate on that. But I think the sheriff's office or the local law enforcement office has already commented on that and said it was a hunting accident, so...

OK. Let's wrap it up on this subject here.

Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will the vice president, and the president, for that matter, continue to go hunting? And is there some thought about, maybe this is too dangerous an activity for such an important person (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN: I haven't had any discussion with (INAUDIBLE) about that.

All right, let's go to new subject. New subject. New subject.


MCCLELLAN: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was there any consideration, to your knowledge, that the information should be delayed in order to avoid it becoming red meat on the Sunday talk shows?

MCCLELLAN: Not that I know of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scott, isn't the Corpus Christi paper, that's reported (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCLELLAN: You want to answer that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... a member of the AP?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sure they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn't the AP pick it up?

MCCLELLAN: Having come from Texas...


MCCLELLAN: You know, unfortunately, these type of hunting accidents happen from time to time.


OLBERMANN: It was a exactly a century ago this year that the satirist Finley Peter Dunne (ph) put the vice presidency in the perspective it has been stuck with every since. "It isn't a crime, exactly," he said in the voice of his Chicago bartender, Mr. Dooley. "You can't be sent to jail for it, but it's kind of a disgrace. It's like writing anonymous letters."

With that, we turn to "Washington Post" national political reporter Dana Milbank, until recently, the White House correspondent for the newspaper.

Dana, good evening. You know, if I didn't know him better, I'd think you were mocking the vice president here.


Oh, not so, Keith. It just happens that your studio's - I'm using the one uptown, which is not far from the Naval Observatory, which is his residence. So we can't be too careful.

OLBERMANN: And also, it's reporter season.

You were the White House correspondent in this administration. Under what circumstances would this administration leave it to a private citizen to release the news to a local paper that the vice president of the United States had shot somebody?

MILBANK: Well, admittedly, I don't believe this has happened before, but I think this could be the beginning of a new strategy. In fact, I have learned today that, as we speak, there's a manicurist in Kansas who is revealing the Bush administration's global warming plan right now to the "Wichita Eagle Beacon." We'll be able to read about that in the morning.

OLBERMANN: Share the wealth with all the reporters.

For those who are suspicious about this delay, I have one question. Has anyone - I mean, the first time I heard anything was in the McClellan briefing here, this prospect that maybe this was - the motive would have been in getting this away from the Sunday morning talk shows. Is that a sufficient explanation for some conspiracy theory? I mean, the waiting only made it worse, didn't it?

MILBANK: Yes, I think so. Let's make a couple of points here. The -

it didn't achieve anything by waiting, so even if you - this wasn't actually a coverup, it has the effect of looking like a coverup, which is unfortunate.

But if you know how the vice president operates, typically, he doesn't travel with press. His notion to say, Well, forget it, we don't need to tell anybody, then you could sort of speculate that somebody in the White House was saying, Well, Mr. Vice President, perhaps that's not a good idea, that it'll get out anyway.

Now, on a positive side, they've managed to bump down the Katrina coverage, the Iraq video, the Abramoff photo. This is all down way lower on your show tonight, and that's what they have in mind.

OLBERMANN: We'll get to all of it, and probably throughout the week.

It does seem to me, practically speaking here, that the thing the White House is going to have to spend the longest explaining, somewhere around 7:00 Saturday night, Secret Service notifies the county sheriff about this, arranges for the vice president to be interviewed the next morning.

Right there, that could be trouble enough. But then later Saturday night, some sheriffs' officers who did not know that the interview appointment had been set up show up at this ranch, and they are turned away.

Does that not, A, not sound like nonstandard operating procedure? And B, just provide another rabbit hole for everybody to go down, and make the vice president look suspicious in this?

MILBANK: Well, the vice president's always been a big believer in executive privilege, so this is just taking it to its logical extreme.

Now, in fact, in reality, you know, the story, I suspect, doesn't go a lot further than this. It becomes embarrassing, it becomes, you know, sort of the episode of Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit. But in terms of actually trying to, you know, imply or suggest that some criminal activity could have occurred here, I hear people out there speculating about, you know, would an officer ask if there had been drinking, that sort of thing.

It's hard to see this story going in that direction. But politically speaking, it's embarrassing enough as it is.

OLBERMANN: And this becomes, whether he likes it or not, whatever else he does, this becomes the vice president's legacy?

MILBANK: Well, we've got two and a half more years of hunting trips.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves.

OLBERMANN: And will there be more hunting trips? I mean, would you actually go hunting with the vice president at this point, even dressed the way you are?

MILBANK: I understand that Pat Fitzgerald has been offered an invitation to the next one.


MILBANK: But look, there was a - it's already out on Craig's List, the - a senior administration official is looking for a new companion. So it could be you.

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," headed back out to direct the traffic in the district, talk about taking aim at political opponents.

Many thanks, sir.

MILBANK: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Stories like this do not break in newspapers, as Dana pointed out, with Sunday circulations of 88,000, except this story. We will talk to the reporter from "The Corpus Christi Caller Times," who got the scoop.

And late news on the legal ramifications Mr. Cheney will face.

Disturbing video out of Iraq as well, British soldiers beating local teens in an incident from 2004. The English military is already taking this very seriously.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: It proves tonight, the vice president will not get off scot-free in the accidental shooting of a Texas attorney during a quail hunt.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the reporting of the incident.

In a moment, the reporting by the local newspaper in Corpus Christi, Texas.

First, news from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It says Mr. Cheney had purchased the required nonresident hunting license, but not the new upland game bird stamp that has been necessary since last September. The department says it is giving a one-year grace period for those who did not know about the stamp, so Mr. Cheney will be issued a warning citation.

And about the shooting the guy part, pure accident, no alcohol, no citation. The vice president's office, which still has not issued a statement about the incident, has tonight issued a 210-word response to the Parks and Wildlife Department news release, claiming it had asked for all permits needed for Mr. Cheney, and nobody said anything about an upland game bird stamp.

Overshadowing the event, how we learned about it. The White House says the vice president chose to have it revealed by the owner of the ranch rather than, say, the elaborate, plugged-in media apparatus of his office or the president's.

So it was Sunday morning, when Cheney's hostess, Mrs. Catherine Armstrong, called a local newspaper, "The Corpus Christi Caller Times." Only after "The Caller Times" posted its story at about 2:30 p.m. Eastern time did the actual national news corps catch wind of it, the Associated Press newsflash hitting the wires an hour later.

Catherine Garcia of "The Caller Times" took the call, wrote the story.

She joins us now.

Thanks for your time tonight.


Thank you so much for having me.

OLBERMANN: What time did you first speak to Mrs. Armstrong yesterday?

What did she say, and how was it that you got the call?

GARCIA: Well, she called the "Caller Times" newsroom at approximately 11:00 a.m., Central Standard time. She'd been trying to reach one of my fellow reporters, Jamie Powell, since about 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

I fielded the phone call. She talked to me. She was explaining to me that the vice president had visited the ranch this weekend. She never actually said his name, though, and by the end of the conversation, I had to double - check. Are we talking about Vice President Cheney? She confirmed that we were, and then I, you know, had to ask several more follow-up questions. It was very surprising, though.

OLBERMANN: I can only imagine. What did you do after that? I mean, I presume you went to the White House with this, correct?

GARCIA: Right, absolutely. It's not every day that my Sunday morning, my quiet Sunday morning, ends up being so chaotic. So as soon as we hung up, I was a little frazzled, and thought, OK, need to call the White House, need to confirm. It took a few seconds for me to get that phone number. I called the White House. I talked to the switchboard operator. I had to actually find the number on the Web site. It took me a little bit of time there.

Called the switchboard operator. I explained to her that I needed to speak with the public relations office or the press office. She apologized, told me that they wouldn't be open till Monday morning. I said, No, absolutely not, that's not going to wait. The vice president has accidentally shot someone. I was trying to be as dramatic as possible in order to get a reaction.

She said, Oh, OK, and she immediately patched me through as quickly as possible.

OLBERMANN: Back to the phone call from Mrs. Armstrong. At any point, did she explain this question that seems to be reverberating in Washington today, why it was that she made the call, and not that she shouldn't call you, but why she called your paper?

GARCIA: No, she did not explain at all. She had said that she had been trying to get ahold of Jamie. From what I understand, Catherine Armstrong, the Armstrong family, and "The Corpus Christi Caller Times" have a very close relationship. We've been reporting over their family for, you know, many decades now. And Catherine Armstrong and one of our amazing reporters that we have here, Jamie Powell, and her have a very close personal relationship as well.

So I wouldn't be surprised that she had decided to relay to "The Corpus Christi Caller Times," you know, the first information, the first part of it, so we could at least be able to have the scoop.

OLBERMANN: This isn't a beat that you cover, is it, I mean, accidental shootings at ranches? What kind of stuff do you normally get on the weekends?

GARCIA: Well, normally, I'm the health and fitness reporter, so it's very definitely very different from what I normally do. I was working the weekend. We rotate weekends. So I'm not normally in the office on the weekend. I'm certainly glad that I was this weekend, though.

On our weekends, we usually cover about live events, we cover cop stuff, we cover, you know, shootings, accidents, car accidents, fires, that kind of thing, as well as when we actually publish on Sunday, we have lots of investigative reports.

OLBERMANN: Well, this was a health and fitness story of a different kind. It worked for Woodward and Bernstein. Good luck with it. Catherine Garcia of "The Corpus Christi Caller Times," thanks for the insight, thanks for your time tonight.

GARCIA: Absolutely. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Hard to say if it's good news or bad news that this story was not even captured by a newspaper photographer, let alone someone with videotape. Today, in the age of the image, of course, it will not do. Thus we turn instead to one of the greatest office time-wasters ever invented, with apologizes to folks at Nintendo.

Here now Countdown's official computer simulation of the Cheney event.

This, this is no wiseass newscast Photoshop job. This is the real thing, President Bush and Jack Abramoff, together again for the first time. What's going on here? Are there more photos to come?

And newly released videotape of beatings in Iraq. In the wake of this, the British have already arrested a member of their own military.

Details ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: We think of Gerald Ford as the golfing president, or vice president, who had the most trouble keeping the ball from hitting somebody in the crowd. But a propos of the story of Mr. Cheney, it was on this date in 1971 that Vice President Spiro Agnew hit three shots into the gallery at the Bob Hope Desert Classic in Palm Springs. Incredibly, he hit the same spectator twice.

Oh, for the good old days of vice presidential aim.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

We begin with images from the big East Coast blizzard over the weekend, starting with the winter wonderland that is Philadelphia. And there, at the Museum of Art, on the very steps that Rocky Balboa ran up in the movie, local whack jobs did a little sledding. Wheee. Oh, my back.

Now, here's a really big snowman, 33 feet tall, more than 60 feet wide, standing in the center of a remote village in Romania called Povasna (ph).

I know it's not from the same blizzard that hit our East Coast, but you know what? Neither are these little doggies on a monorail. Yay, doggies on a monorail. Someone e-mailed us this picture, and we just...

Have you ever seen anything so cute? Unless that's a really big life-sized monorail. Ah! Run for your lives!

Enough of that. Concord, California, another episode of Elkcops (ph), Elkcops, whatcha gonna do? Elk roundup time. The old Concord Naval Weapons Station, biologists flying a net-shooting helicopter, and 130 more on the ground have been tracking down, track down and capturing elk to make way for development of the land. None of the animals were injured, unless they made a mistake taking a swing at a cop.

But all of them were transported to better habitats in a nearby state park, where they can tell the other elk about how they were abducted by some sort of crazy flying machine, and guys in orange jumpsuits. But no one will believe them.

After record warmth this winter, nobody back east could believe this, the latest on the cleanup.

And Mickey Mantle and baseball cards, synonymous signs of spring for anybody over 45, and as of tonight, for anybody who buys baseball cards.

But first, time now for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Pauline Clayton, an Australian tourist visiting Webster, Texas. She was at the movies when a cell phone rang. Its owner answered it and began a conversation. Ms. Clayton asked the woman to stop, she didn't, she touched her arm and asked her again. That's when the woman with the cell phone called the cops and had Ms. Clayton arrested for invading her personal space.

Ma'am, we Americans are not all like that, just the ones who use cell phones at the movies.

Number two, Grace Sium of West Fargo, North Dakota. Police there say she phoned them Saturday morning and asked them where she could buy some marijuana. When they told her it was illegal, she refused to believe them, so they suggested she stop by the station house. She did, asked them for three dollars worth, and was arrested.

Number one, possibly a cousin of hers, a man of Everett, Washington. He went to a court hearing Friday, saw the metal detector he'd have to pass through, and emptied his metal objects in one of those little trays, including his bag of cocaine. He was arrested, faces a sentence of writing a thousand times on the black board, "There's no metal in cocaine."


OLBERMANN: As the old cliche goes, a picture can be worth a thousand words. Nobody said anything about the words having to be good words.

Our third story on the Countdown, two very different pieces of potentially scandalous evidence caught on camera. In a moment, the visual proof of the president and Jack Abramoff, that they've been at least in the same room together.

But we begin with an inflammable example of alleged abuse in Iraq. A disturbing videotape given to a British tabloid newspaper reportedly showing English soldiers beating unarmed Iraqi teenagers. The English military does not doubt the authenticity. It has already identified the unit and made at least one arrest.

Our correspondent in Baghdad is Mike Boettcher.


MIKE BOETTCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 2004, a riot erupts in southern Iraq. The videotape that the British newspaper "News of the World" claims was shot by a corporal purports to show British soldiers grabbing four of the protestors, dragging them into their compound, and beating them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You're going to get it.

BOETTCHER: The authenticity of the tape cannot be confirmed, but the British government quickly called for an investigation.

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: We take seriously any allegations of mistreatment. And those will be investigated very fully, indeed.

BOETTCHER: There are currently 8,000 British troops in Iraq, based primarily in the relatively quiet southern sector of the country.

COL. BOB STEWART, BRITISH ARMY (RET.): It's very bad for the army, particularly as the army's tried so hard and has worked so hard to stop it. Morons seem to come out regardless.

BOETTCHER: Authentic or not, the tape, broadcast throughout the Islamic world, emerged at a dangerous time. Muslims, incensed by the publication in Europe of cartoons mocking their prophet, Muhammad, protested in numerous nations. The flags of Western countries were burned during this demonstration in Pakistan. The beating video will likely inflame passions.

(on-screen): The worry in Iraq, this new video, combined with the cartoon controversy, will only heightened the danger to U.S. and allied troops who need to make friends here, not enemies.

Mike Boettcher, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Back here, another kind of new old image. Several news organizations have now published the first photo to show President Bush and the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff at the same function. The May 2001 meeting at the White House was, according to "The New York Times," meant to be for a group of state legislators who had supported Mr. Bush's tax cuts.

But Mr. Abramoff's client, the then-chairman of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, Raul Garza, is seen here shaking the president's hand, with Karl Rove and Mr. Abramoff himself looking on.

"Time" magazine obtained the color version of the same video and helpfully highlighted Mr. Abramoff in the back, your left there. It quotes him as telling friends he was standing right next to the window and, "After the picture was taken, the president came over and shook hands with me, and we chatted and joked," unquote.

The White House says the photo is authentic, but added that does not mean the president had a personal relationship with Abramoff.

For a look at the significance, if any, of that first Jack and George together photo, we turn to MSNBC's David Shuster in Washington.

Good evening, David.


OLBERMANN: Does that photo have any real significance by itself or is it just a first drip from a faucet?

SHUSTER: No, it is significant, because previously the White House has only acknowledged that Jack Abramoff was at the White House for holiday parties. Clearly, this was not a holiday party.

And the reason that Jack Abramoff may be smiling is because the person in the white shirt, he's one of the tribal chiefs, just one that was at this particular meeting.

And a tribal chief from the Coushatta Indian tribe, which is another Jack Abramoff client, they've told us that, after Jack Abramoff was able to get him into the White House, they turned around and wrote a $25,000 check for Grover Norquist, a friend of Jack Abramoff's, who set up this meeting.

And remember, Grover Norquist is President Bush's closest advisor outside of the White House. So editorially, there's a lot of significance and then also, of course, the fact that there's Jack Abramoff and the president together.

OLBERMANN: And also, when we last spoke on Friday before that picture became public, you had suggested that if something exactly like this happened, that if Abramoff or a friend or someone released the photos of him with the president, that it left the White House, which had chosen not to release any of these pictures, at a territorial disadvantage, so to speak. It left them on somebody else's playing field.

Given the release of this one photo, do you think the White House machine might change tactics now, and release some photos so they can get ahead of this, or at least get back into this contest of photographs?

SHUSTER: Well, that's what they're being advised by top Republicans on Capitol Hill who are extremely nervous that, while this particular photograph may seem innocuous, the other photographs that are out there that are in Jack Abramoff's possessions reportedly show Abramoff and the president shaking hands, and smiling, and having their arms around each other.

So that would be extremely damaging if, in fact, Jack Abramoff were to release it on his terms. And that's why you hear so many Republicans saying, look, the White House may not want this out there, but Jack Abramoff, who I'm told wasn't exactly pleased to have the White House and have the president say he doesn't know Jack Abramoff.

At a certain point, the guy's sitting there in his home by himself. A lot of friends have abandoned him. And at a certain point, he may say, "I'm going to demonstrate that the president knew me and considered me to be a friend, and I'm going to show these photographs to reporters and possibly leak them out there." That is the nightmare scenario for a lot of Republicans.

OLBERMANN: What are the legalities outside of the White House and the president? Is the administration capable of preventing photos that might be considered in the public domain from coming out? What is the process?

SHUSTER: Well, it's funny you should mention that, because there's a private photographer firm called Reflections Photography that has gotten a contract worth millions of dollars by the Republican National Committee to take photographs outside the White House, at official fundraisers, Republican fundraisers, events with the president.

And a month ago, a colleague of mine tracked down the actual dates that Jack Abramoff was believed to be at these fundraisers. And wouldn't you know it that the photographs of Jack Abramoff had been scrubbed from the CDs that are available to people who attend these events who want to buy photographs after the fact.

The president of this company, Reflections Photography, Joanne Amos, was asked why these photographs were removed. And she described it as a business decision.

Of course, it would be good business to scrub any photographs that the White House doesn't want out there, and that's apparently what she did.

OLBERMANN: Lastly and briefly, another topic, David, the NSA domestic wiretap program. On "Meet the Press" yesterday, the ranking Democrat on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Jane Harman, and the former Senate majority leader, Mr. Daschle, both said they had been indeed briefed on the program before its inception, said the spy program was necessary, but that the president might not have had the legal authority to enact it without Congress.

Did they save face there, because they didn't protest in 2001? Or is there a tactical change here by the Democrats regarding the spying program?

SHUSTER: Well, two issues. First of all, these two Democrats have gotten a lot of grief from their Democratic colleagues for not complaining more loudly about the president's program. So there's part of the saving face there to satisfy their own Democratic colleagues.

But I think the other point about it, Keith, and that is the Democrats have been arguing that, yes, it's important to continue conducting the surveillance, but you have to do it legally. And there's a sense in the Democratic caucus that the argument is not going over very well, that what they need to say is, yes, we need to spy, and then, at that point, once they've established that, yes, they support this spying program, then they say, "Well, but we also need to make sure that the president follows the law."

And again, Democrats aren't convinced that that is such an easy argument to make, when you have the president out there saying we need to protect Americans by conducting this program. They're arguing apples and oranges, and right now the Democrats aren't sure that they're winning this argument.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's David Shuster. As always, sir, great thanks.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Two weeks ago today in New York City, it was 63 degrees. Today, there's 27 inches of snow on the ground. Instant winter, and the clean up.

And what better sign of spring? New Mickey Mantle baseball cards with his sons, David and Danny, here to unveil them on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: For just about everywhere north-northeast of the Carolinas, the day before yesterday looked more like the movie "The Day after Tomorrow."

Our number two story on the Countdown, after the warmest January on record comes the heaviest snowstorm on record in New York City, anyway. A shade under 27 inches at Central Park. Snowdrifts pushing three feet in Massachusetts, six in the North Carolina mountains. Forecast for this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: 51 degrees.

Our roundup from correspondent Lisa Daniels.


LISA DANIELS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a New York minute, the snow turned into grime in Manhattan, quickly losing its luster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dirty show. But while it was coming down, it was very nice.

DANIELS: The aftermath of yesterday's wintry blast looked similar whether in Beverly, Massachusetts, or the nation's capital, residents removing the snow shovel by shovel.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not bad. I've only been out here not even 20 minutes. I got a decent amount done.

DANIELS: In some places, the clean-up was more difficult. At the nation's airports, airlines are still scrambling to make up for yesterday's 2,000 canceled flights. Tonight, northeastern airports are back up and running but with limited service. Overnight, New York's La Guardia airport did its best to accommodate travelers, if only by providing beds.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least we're comfortable and warm.

DANIELS: But for travelers like Joanna Goldstein (ph), she can't get out fast enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so frustrated. Oh, my god, I'm so frustrated. Getting into the bed in New York last night was, like, the saddest thing ever.

DANIELS: Some good news for those sick of the snow. Procrastination might have its rewards.

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS: Those who didn't dig out yet, temperatures are really going to help you. Snow is going to continue melting all week long. And by this weekend, a lot of that snow will be gone.

DANIELS (on-screen): The snow is now falling off in blocks. But just a week ago, children were standing here outside New York's Central Park waiting for a carousel ride.

(voice-over): Not that kids are complaining. Why go in circles when you can fly downhill?

Lisa Daniels, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: From snow to ice. The easy segue tonight into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment, "Keeping Tabs." Goods news for one ice hero, bad for another.

Wayne Gretzky's version of the gambling ring that touched his assistant coach, his long-time agent, most particularly his wife, got some huge support this morning. He said he knew nothing of it, until just before investigators made it public. Original media reports suggested he was on tape wiretapped, talking about it with the alleged ringleader weeks earlier.

Not so, at least not according to law enforcement sources quoted by the "New York Daily News." They say the wiretaps are from a week ago today, that Gretzky called his assistant, Rick Tocchet, only after investigators showed up at Gretzky's house to serve his wife a warrant as a witness in the case.

Gretzky's headed to the Olympics, says the executive director the Canadian Olympic hockey team.

You will not see Michelle Kwan there. The American figure skating champ given a special injury dispensation to make one more try for an elusive gold medal has withdrawn, claiming a recurrence of her groin injury. It's going to knock the hell out of those Olympic gambling rings.

Also tonight, more than a decade after his passing, half a century since he won the Triple Crown, Mickey Mantle returns to the baseball world in an extraordinary way. We'll talk to his sons, Danny and David.

But first, time for Countdown's list of today's worst - three nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

Bronze tonight: Ann Coulter. Using the term "ragheads" in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington would ordinarily be very offensive. Except the degree of difficulty for Ann has dropped over the years, so now when she says something offensive and clever, she will score higher.

Our runner-up, William Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, complaining against that Hollywood producers and performers are destroying America. He said that some of them, quote, "will do anything for the buck. They wouldn't care if you asked them to sodomize their own mother in a movie. They would do so, and they would do it with a smile on their face," end quote.

I want to know which films this guy's been watching.

But tonight's winner, Mel Hooker, human resources chief of the Veterans Affairs Agency. A woman in New Mexico wrote a letter to the editor, as a private citizen and evidently on her own time, away from work, published in a weekly newspaper in Albuquerque.

Laura Berg strongly criticized the president and his administration for its handling of Iraq and Katrina and suggested the country act forcefully to impeach and/or prosecute. Mr. Hooker, the V.A. H.R. chief, discovered that Ms. Berg was a nurse in VA hospital, so he ordered his agency to seize her office computer and investigate her.

He says he has to investigate, quote, "any act which potentially represents sedition." Sedition? Who do you think you are, pal, President John Adams, Trotsky? Sedition for writing a letter to the editor?

Mel Hooker of Veterans Affairs, today's worst person in the world!


OLBERMANN: Our number one story on the Countdown begins with a caveat and a curiosity. I need to tell you that I am a consultant for Topps baseball cards. I go and show them my cards from a century ago and help them design sets that look like the old ones. They pay me in cards. I get to be 10 again for a few hours at a stretch.

I mention this because, working a little for Topps, I'm actually less inclined to do stories on their products than I probably would be otherwise. My threshold for being interested is higher. And if I'm not interested, I usually find you're not.

But something strange happened that tied baseball cards to scientists discovering dozens of unknown species of frogs and other creatures in a stretch of Indonesia nicknamed the Garden of Eden.

It happened last week after we decided that the fact that the 2006 Topps baseball card set would include cards of Mickey Mantle for the first time in a decade was a much-needed harbinger of spring, especially as Mickey's sons, Danny and David, could join us to talk about it.

The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is still the most famous modern baseball card. The 1958 Topps Mantle has been carried around in the wallet of my colleague, Bob Costas, for over 20 years. And to generations of collectors who never saw him play, Mickey Mantle remains synonymous with the very idea of Topps baseball cards, still the cornerstone of the entire baseball memorabilia hobby.

What does any of this have to do with an expedition into the pristine Indonesian jungle? Just a moment.

Let me first welcome in two other guys who don't know what the heck I'm talking about here, the sons of the late baseball immortal Mickey Mantle, Danny and David Mantle.

Gentlemen, good evening.

DANNY MANTLE, MICKEY MANTLE'S SON: Hey, Keith, how are you doing?

Thanks for having us.

OLBERMANN: My pleasure. Now, this is a scientific discovery connection to your dad's baseball cards. This is one of the scientists just back from Indonesia trying to explain what finding the new species was like. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like a young boy opening up a pack of baseball cards and finding Mickey Mantle. You know, you're finding something that's so special to you.


OLBERMANN: Danny, David, that about sums it up, doesn't it?

DANNY MANTLE: Yes, it does.

DAVID MANTLE, MICKEY MANTLE'S SON: Man, it's an honor. I mean, that's just how, you know, people were in such awe of dad's, you know, playing abilities.

OLBERMANN: Do you guys have actual recollections as kids of getting baseball cards and seeing your own father on them?

DAVID MANTLE: Yes. One of our biggest thrills - or should I say, for me, one of my biggest thrills was when Dad took us to the ballpark. Back in the old days, they had a dozen balls that all of the players had to sign. Each one had to sign all 12 dozen. But they had the Topps cards sitting there at the end of the table.

Then we had our Yoo-hoo chocolate drinks, where we'd run in and grab four or five decks of cards, open them up, save the cards, put them in our pocket, and, you know, and chew the gum, and have our Yoo-hoo, and then Big Pete and Little Pete would take care of us the rest of the game.

And then 30 minutes before the game, you know, we'd get booted upstairs and we'd watch the game.

DANNY MANTLE: The sad part of it is we probably - no telling how many cards we've ruined on our bicycle spokes.


OLBERMANN: Join the club, guys. But of course, without that, the cards wouldn't have been as valuable, right?


DAVID MANTLE: That's right.

DANNY MANTLE: Who would have known, though, right?

OLBERMANN: So this deal now is done. By the way, we're showing these home movies. I should explain. I know you guys can't see them, but these are shots that I actually filmed in 1968 when I was nine years old.

DAVID MANTLE: Wow. That is so cool.

OLBERMANN: Well, yes, it's not that good, but it's not that bad for a nine-year-old kid.


OLBERMANN: Back to this story here...

DAVID MANTLE: It's history.

OLBERMANN:... the deal with Topps. There's a card of your father in

every box this year. And I don't want to get too cheesy, but I'm wondering

you know, it's a decade since he passed away. When you see him connected to today's baseball, even in such a simple kind of way, if somebody opens a pack of cards, there's an Alex Rodriguez card, there's a Barry Bonds card, there's a Mickey Mantle card.

Does that, in some sense, keep his memory more alive?

DANNY MANTLE: Yes, you know, it's about nostalgia. And I think kids would love to see that, you know? They open up the pack. They have their A-Rod card, you know, a Jeter card, whatever, and a Mickey Mantle card, because, you know, Dad's '52 rookie card is still the most expensive card on the market and the most sought-after.


DANNY MANTLE: You know, I just think it's neat to combine the two. You know, the kids of today can learn, you know, about the nostalgia of the era of my dad. So I think it's a great combination.

OLBERMANN: When I was a kid just becoming a fan, my folks said, "OK, we're going to buy our tickets at Yankees Stadium behind first base." The premise was your father already moved to play first base, so I would see him more often.

Twenty years later, I did a long interview with him, after which he told me he was going to do some of the Yankee announcing the next season, and could I give him some pointers on interviews, which is when my heart stopped.


And, you know, I mention Costas still keeps that 1958 card in his wallet.


OLBERMANN: Have you guys - you guys have had this your entire lives. And you will for the entirety of your lives. Have you ever gotten used to the level of hero worship for your father?

DAVID MANTLE: I'm finally getting, you know, kind of used to it. But to tell you the truth, when I finally saw for the first time where I really got goose bumps and tears in my eye was at an all-star game, and it's when the Rangers came to Dallas. And they had an old-timers game there. And Dad, and Joe D., and, you know, a bunch of the other old-timers were there.

But when they introduced Dad, you know, everybody stood up, including me. And I mean, he got, like, I don't know how long of a standing ovation. And just everybody cheering and clapping and stuff.

And that's when I really realized how much he was loved and adored by his fans or just anywhere. Even Boston fans had said, hey, you know, they hated the Yankees, but they loved my dad.

OLBERMANN: And then there's - I always think of this with memorabilia, and your dad, and the story that he used to tell that he would one day go to Heaven and remarks would be made by God that he couldn't stay because of the way some of his life was spent. But before he left - one of you guys want to do the punch line?

DANNY MANTLE: Would you mind signing these two dozen balls?


OLBERMANN: Well, now there's a bunch of new Topps cards for him to sign. Danny and David Mantle, sons of the legendary Mickey Mantle, great pleasure to talk to you gentlemen.

DAVID MANTLE: Great, we're just happy to be back where it all began, you know, the '52 cards. And now we're back with Topps. And the missing cards will be put in.

And, you know, this is New York. And this is where we belong.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, gentlemen.

DANNY MANTLE: Thank you, guys.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, LIVE & DIRECT.

Good evening, Rita.