Thursday, May 18, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 18

Guest: John Harwood, Michael Shermer; Maria Milito

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

The Hayden hearings. The NSA domestic surveillance and secret data-collection programs are front and center on whether they listened in on someone they shouldn't have.


GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: To the best of my knowledge, the folks out there are batting 1,000.


OLBERMANN: General, you may want to tell that to Senator Roberts.


SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), CHAIR, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Nobody bats 1,000 in the intelligence world.


OLBERMANN: On the border, President Bush hits the dunes in Arizona.

Our David Gregory hits the president with some tough questions.


DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Your disapproval rating is now 1 point lower than Richard Nixon's before he resigned the presidency.

You're laughing. But what - why do you - - think -


GREGORY:... why do you think that is?


OLBERMANN: Jimmy Hoffa, swimming with the horsies. Feds digging up a Michigan horse farm hoping to find the vanished Teamsters boss. Countdown's cameras are there.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very funny, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's the lake.



OLBERMANN: The bridge between the "American Idol" show and the Senate.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: And if you're going to be a good senator, you've got to be into the program.


OLBERMANN: Well, thank you, Senator Lott. He meant "American Idol," Trent Lott voting early and often. This guy gets forced off, and my producers continue to force me to do this bloody story.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening from New York.

From Benjamin Franklin's "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety," to FDR's "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," we're now left with this from Senator Pat Roberts at the confirmation hearings for CIA director-designate Michael Hayden. "You have no civil liberties if you are dead."

It is chilling, it brims with impact, and it's also a rerun. Senator Roberts said exactly the same thing seven weeks ago on a TV show. Keep using it, Senator, and maybe it'll wind up on "SPORTS CENTER" as a home run call.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the General Michael Hayden confirmation hearing, the moment at which the strategy of playing on the public security fears either triumphs for the Bush administration yet again, or jumps the cultural shark, the president's pick for the CIA aggressively defending warrantless eavesdropping and the tracking of telephone numbers as legal on Capitol Hill.

At one point, General Hayden even claimed that if the agency had been tracking calls before 9/11, it would have caught two of the hijackers, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhamzi. Sounded great, it wasn't quite accurate. According to the 9/11 commission report, plus a Senate investigation, the CIA did know about those two men, it just did not tell the FBI.

Whether today's hearing actually amounted to a referendum on domestic spying, not if Senator Roberts could help it, the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee trying to set the tone for the day's proceedings by intimating in his opening remarks that any Democrat who would aggressively challenge General Hayden about the NSA domestic spying program, or challenge warrantless eavesdropping in any way, shape, or form, might as well change his own name to Senator al Qaeda.


ROBERTS: I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, and civil liberties. But you have no civil liberties if you are dead.

HAYDEN: Respectfully, Senators, I believe that the American intelligence business has too much become the football in American political discourse. Over the past few years, the intelligence community and the CIA have taken an inordinate number of hits, some of them fair, many of them not. CIA needs to get out of the news as source or subject and focus on protecting the American people by acquiring secrets and providing high-quality, all-source analysis.

SEN. KIT BOND, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Could you explain for us the controls that you have to make sure that somebody doesn't listen in on a political - a domestic political opponent, or listen in on a neighbor, or listen in on a business rival, or listen in on the media?

HAYDEN: To the best of my knowledge, sir, the folks are out there are batting 1,000. No one has said that there has been a targeting decision made that wasn't well founded in a probable cause standard.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Would you say there are privacy concerns involved in this program?

HAYDEN: Clearly, the privacy of American citizens is a concern constantly, and it's a concern in this program, it's a concern in everything we've done. We always balance privacy and security, and we do it within the law.

BOND: Are you a lawyer?

HAYDEN: No, sir.

BOND: Congratulations. Did your lawyers at the NSA tell you the program was legal? Do they still maintain it's legal?

HAYDEN: Yes, sir, they did, and they still do.

BOND: Do you believe that your primary responsibility as director of NSA was to execute a program that your NSA lawyers, the Justice Department lawyers, the White House officials all told you was legal, and that you were ordered to carry it out by the president of the United States?

HAYDEN: Sir, when I had to make this personal decision in early October 2001, and it was a personal decision, the math was pretty straightforward. I could not not do this.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-OH), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, I came away from that briefing yesterday more convinced than ever that the program is illegal.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: General, having evaluated your words, I now have a difficult time with your credibility.

HAYDEN: Well, Senator, you're going to have to make a judgment on my character.


OLBERMANN: Time now to bring in John Harwood, senior contributing writer for "The Wall Street Journal," as well as chief Washington correspondent of our sister network, CNBC.

John, welcome back.


Hey, Keith. And you got to admit, Pat Roberts is not the first guy to recycle one of his own good lines.

OLBERMANN: Indeed. Take the temperatures for us. How did General Hayden do? How did any Democrats who might want to derail his nomination do?

HARWOOD: Keith, I think General Hayden did fine. You know, there are a lot of stages on Capitol Hill that are good for scoring points against political opponents. A confirmation hearing for a CIA director at the Intelligence Committee is not one of them.

Whenever you get into a sensitive area, the nominee can give the governmental equivalent of, If I told you that, I'd have to kill you. He kept referring questions to the closed session that followed the open session.

And I think we have to point out that Democrats don't really have the heart to go after Mike Hayden, because people on both sides of the aisle like the guy. Can't discount the human factor in politics. He's built up some trust and good wishes among Democrats and Republicans alike. And Ron Wyden may say he's got doubts about his character, but most other Democrats don't.

OLBERMANN: Having said that, Senator Roberts, certainly with all phasers firing here, with that repetition of that statement, "You can have no civil liberties when you're dead," this administration has had a lot of success intimating that Democrats, or people who are too concerned about the Constitution, might kill you.

Is there any reason why it might not work now, in the post-Katrina environment? Has the climate changed to any degree on this front?

HARWOOD: Well, let's face it. Everything the Bush administration tries doesn't work as well as it used to when he's as weak as he is politically. His poll numbers are atrocious right now. New CBS poll out tonight showing the president at 35 percent. So all of the arguments and across a range of issues, domestic, foreign, even the war on terrorism, his numbers are way down.

So all of their political stratagems don't work as well as they used to. However, of all the problems he's got, the war on terrorism is probably the least of them, given his political difficulties in other areas.

OLBERMANN: Another tried-and-true tactic here, attack the media, attack reporters, your newspaper breaking the news that BellSouth has sent a letter to "USA Today" demanding that "USA Today" retracts its report that that phone company turned over customer calling records to the NSA, the story we all know so much about here.

That would seem to be a really risky gesture, were BellSouth just bluffing. But on the other hand, I didn't notice the world "libel" in there.

HARWOOD: Well, we're going to have to see what "USA Today" does with it. And that's going to be kind of interesting. From the statements that have come out of the phone companies in the last few days, they've suggested that the story erred in suggesting as broad a collection of data as was first indicated. The suggestion is that only long distance calls - calling records were asked for.

And if that turns out to be the case, it's a little bit better picture for the phone companies, in particular.

Interesting result in this CBS poll, a majority, Keith, said they approved of how the administration was handling the phone records, and they thought it was appropriate for the government to do that. A narrow majority, but a majority has also said the phone companies shouldn't provide the records. So this is one place where the public skepticism of corporations and how they handle data may be greater than those fighting terrorism within the government.

OLBERMANN: And that earlier, earlier poll threw in a third wild card in there, which was that the, that the public seemed to be extremely satisfied that the media had broken that story. So it's all a jumble still at this point.

Last question here about, about, about General Hayden. The "Roll Call" report that the Republican leaders and the Bush administration might be working out some sort of ad hoc arrangement by which General Hayden's rank would be suspended, Secretary Rumsfeld's authority over him would be suspended in some way. He'd stay in the military, but he wouldn't be in the military while running the CIA. Is there anything to that story?

HARWOOD: Well, they could work that out. And that's one option. But I talked to a senior White House official yesterday who said that the option of him simply leaving the military altogether is still on the table. And he said so at the hearing again today, that if he felt like his military rank was in tension with his, his carrying out his responsibilities to the CIA, he'd make the right decision.

OLBERMANN: John Harwood of CNBC and "The Wall Street Journal," as always, sir, great thanks for your time.

HARWOOD: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: Time being something that has finally caught up with the White House (ph) Ethics Committee. Investigations of congressmen, you may have noticed, are pretty much a dime a dozen these days, with none of them being conducted by Congress itself. Finally, after more than a year of doing little more than fighting over its own rules of operation, the committee is getting busy looking into the actions of some of its own members.

Our correspondent Chip Reid getting us up to speed.


CHIP REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Republican Bob Ney of Ohio and Democrat William Jefferson of Louisiana, both already under investigation by federal prosecutors. Now, the House Ethics Committee, ending 16 months of partisan gridlock, has launched its own investigations into whether the two men accepted bribes. The allegations are serious, but long-time Congress watchdog Fred Wertheimer says these two cases are just the tip of an ethics iceberg.

FRED WERTHEIMER: We are facing the worst corruption scandals in Congress in decades.

REID: Wertheimer points to the still-unfolding Jack Abramoff investigation, which could implicate half a dozen members of Congress. Congressman Ney allegedly did legislative favors for Abramoff in return for overseas travel, expensive meals, and tickets to sporting events. In a statement, Ney welcomed the opportunity to lay out the real facts, instead of the distortions and innuendo reported by the media.

But it's not just the Abramoff scandal.

WERTHEIMER: These scandals reach deep inside of the Congress...

REID: There's the expanding investigation of former Republican congressman Duke Cunningham, now in prison for receiving bribes from lobbyists.

As for Congressman Jefferson, whose home was raided by the FBI Last year, he faces allegations he received more than $400,000 from a Kentucky businessman who recently plead guilty to bribing the congressman. Jefferson says he's innocent.

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: But I will not plead guilty to something I did not do...

REID: Recently, the Ethics Committee's top Democrat, Alan Mollohan of West Virginia, stepped down after questions were raised about his finances.

(on camera): The committee said it would have launched an investigation of former Republican leader Tom DeLay and his overseas travel, but decided not to, because he's resigning from Congress next month.

Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol.


OLBERMANN: Not ethics, but work ethic. The president's immigration speech seems to have upset more Republicans than it has pleased. And David Gregory's interview with the president on that, along with Mr. Bush's reactions to his poll numbers reaching Nixonian levels of disapproval.

And the numbers are in for "Idol." If you choose to believe Fox, it was a razor-thing margin separating that one guy from the other guy, and what's-her-face. You realize the drama is manufactured, right? You get that? All right. We'll talk about it anyway.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: It seemed at first that President Bush's speech on immigration Monday might just evaporate into the ether. Except there are lawmakers, some from his own party, who are getting worked up about this issue again. Mr. Bush wants to send National Guard troops to help secure the Mexican border.

And in our fourth story on the Countdown, as for building a fence, there's always our nation's many military contractors. A multibillion-dollar federal contract to build a virtual fence, according to "The New York Times." the administration asking contractors to devise a strategy that combines personnel and technology along with physical barriers, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrup Grumman just three of the companies saying they will submit bids within two weeks.

Not doing the president's bidding, the congressman James Sensenbrenner, the conservative Republican from Wisconsin, who has said now that the president has abandoned legislation for which he'd previously asked, quoting, "He basically turned his back on provisions of the House-passed bill. Now the president appears not to be interested in it at all. I was very disappointed in the president's speech," the representative continued. "I think he doesn't get it."

This despite the fact that Karl Rove went to Capitol Hill Wednesday, calling on Republicans to rally around Mr. Bush's immigration plan. The president went to the border itself, to Yuma, Arizona.

Joining him there, our chief White House correspondent, David Gregory.




This was a day that was carefully choreographed to highlight the president's new get-tough approach to border security. In fact, the White House said today that the president supports fencing off some, but not all, of the border with Mexico to keep immigrants out.

(voice-over): The president in what's called the Yuma Sector today, ground zero in the nation's immigration debate. Along this 62-mile stretch of the border in southwestern Arizona, federal agents are catching an average of 300 to 450 illegal immigrants per day.

The president grinned for the cameras as he took a spin in a Border Patrol buggy. But it's not beefed-up security, but Mr. Bush's push for a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the U.S., that has divided his party.

In an interview with NBC News today along the border, the president refused to say how he'll bring Republican critics in line.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I get criticized from the right and the left, David. Now, there are some who say you should be for amnesty, which I think is a mistake. There are some, I guess they're for deportation, which I don't think will work.

But you cannot secure the border, in my judgment, without a temporary worker plan. Because we got people coming here to work and doing jobs Americans aren't doing. They're sneaking across the border. It seems like if we're trying to enforce the border, it makes sense to let them come here on a temporary basis to do jobs that Americans aren't doing, provided they can pass a criminal background check.

GREGORY: On his political standing, the president brushed off the fact that his poll ratings are now similar to Richard Nixon's when he resigned the presidency.

(on camera): You're laughing. But what - why do you think...

BUSH: I'm not laughing, I just...

GREGORY:... why do you think that is?

BUSH: Because we're at war. And war unsettles people.

GREGORY: Do you think it's possible that, like Nixon and Watergate, that the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?

BUSH: Of course not. The enemy's got a powerful tool, and that is, to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people. And my job is to continue to remind the people it's worth it. We're not going to retreat hastily.

GREGORY: What's the momentum changer, in your mind, for the presidency, to turn it around?

BUSH: You know, I guess Iraq. I mean, that's what colors everybody's vision, it seems like.


GREGORY: Immigration and Iraq, the two big challenges for this president at this stage in his presidency, Keith.

OLBERMANN: David Gregory in Arizona. Great thanks.

This is not video supplied by those Minutemen guys. It's a hamster.

Well, at minimum, it used to be a hamster.

Speaking of running around in circles, the FBI is either on the verge of a major breakthrough, or it's on yet another wild goose chase to find the body of Jimmy Hoffa.

Ahead on Countdown, and maybe even a torso.


OLBERMANN: On May 18, 1897, Frank Capra was born in Sicily. Later, slightly west of there, he conceived and created such films as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Meet John Doe," and the one of his films that absolutely bombed at the box office, "It's a Wonderful Life," I think it was called. Boy, you never see that one on TV.

Dedicating this episode to Zuzu's pebbles (ph), let's play Oddball.

We begin with two from the file of Weird Stuff We Find on the Internets. And we begin with Yogi, the little dog who can lick himself without even bending his neck. Oh, God, I'm just a simple black pug. Why have you cursed me with the tongue of this Great Dane. You know, if I could do that, I would never leave the house.

It's OK, Yogi, you're only the second-best Internets video of the day.

To this, this is a hamster, quite possibly the world's fastest hamster. Look at him go! Yes, whoa, oh, boy, you know, he'll be all right, folks. He's a hamster. He's supposed to do that. And if not, it's only 79 cents for a new one.

And to Fort Worth for the Countdown Car Chase of the Week. This is going to be interesting. Looks like Somebody got their truck stolen on moving day. Now this guy is trying to relocate south of the border.

Checking the Oddball Scoreboard for the year, we can see it's cops 29, ding, guys who try to escape the cops, goose egg.

Though this fugitive chances to break the streak were helped when he started crapola from the trailer onto the road. A ladder, a chainsaw. Watch out, that - oh, that looks like wicker.

After leading police more than 50 miles, from Dallas-Fort Worth, the wheels finally gave out on him. Then they catch fire, and this chase is over, right there. Everything in the truck appears to have been a total loss, and you hope the owner had insurance, because Mr. Miscreant's moving company is now out of business. And this guy is moving in to the Big House.

Speaking of crime, new hope in a 30-year-old mystery. Where in the world is Jimmy Hoffa, assuming he isn't buried on the moon? Latest guess, right there, a little to the right, little to the right, there.

If they dig deep enough, maybe they will find my interest in "American Idol." It is buried far below the earth's crust. A U.S. senator chimes in on the voting. No, I'm not making it up. Details on those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Katie Couric, for the moment, an employee of NBCBS. Still working here, already selling ads there. The NBC contract says, No, no, no for doing promotion for her new employers, but she did anyway, at the CBS so-called up-front meet and greet for advertisers. Do I smell bridges burning?

Number two, an unidentified gas cheat in Munchenberg in Germany. Police say the woman filled up her car at a gas station, didn't have the money to pay, so she left behind as a deposit her 20-year-old passenger, promising to come right back with the money. Two hours later, the passenger figured out she'd been stranded and called the cops.

Number one, Trenton Camacho of Council Bluffs, Iowa. He was the victim of theft this week. Someone opened his mail and took a package he was expecting. It's the principle of the thing here. You can't let people get away with stealing, no matter how embarrassing it might be for you. So Mr. Camacho called police and filed a report that someone had stolen his $32 inflatable Jenna Hayes (ph) love doll that he ordered on the Internets.

Do I smell plastic burning?


OLBERMANN: When Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975, the FBI said it would take a year or two to figure out what happened to him. Nearly 31 years later, still no idea. There are claims that the mob killed him and buried his body under the end zone at Giant's stadium or the New Jersey turnpike or in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, or that his body was put in a cement making machine and turned into Redimix or dropped off in an acid tank and then used to rechrome car bumpers or delivered to a rendering plant, we'll leave that to your imagination. Now in our third story in the Countdown the latest theory that Hoffa is actually buried on a horse farm in Milford Township, Michigan. As Pete Williams reports for us, that's were the FBI is currently digging around, hoping solve one of the most enduring criminal mysteries of American culture.



countryside west of Detroit, the FBI is digging at Hidden Dreams farm to

see if something else is hidden there, the body of Jimmy Hoffa

DANIEL ROBERTS, FBI AGENT IN CHARGE: The last two years I've been here as the agent in charge, this is the best lead I've seen come across on the Hoffa investigation.

WILLIAMS: It's an informant tip, law enforcement officials say, that when mob figures long ago used the area as a meeting place, a flurry of cars came and went the day Hoffa disappeared back hoe was brought in, then quickly taken away. After that, the informant says, the mobsters never again met there. Now, investigators say, they may have to remove a 3,000 square foot horse barn and dig under it to pursue this tip.

JIMMY HOFFA, FMR. TEAMSTER LEADER: We don't have to hide for what we do.

WILLIAMS: Once the leader of the Teamsters, the nation's largest union, Hoffa's connections with organized crime kept him in hot water, he disappeared in 1975, lured, apparently, by two mob figures to this restaurant about 20 miles from where the FBI is digging now. For 30 years, the FBI has searched for Hoffa's body, under a Michigan swimming pool and in a Detroit house where someone claimed to have hot him. Others said Hoffa was buried in Giants Stadium in New Jersey or stuffed into a car and sent to the scrap heap. An author who has studied the case says the tips have never stopped.

DAN MOLDEA, INVESTIGATIVE AUTHOR: If it's just another empty hole, it's just another failed attempt to find Jimmy Hoffa and the legend will continue.

WILLIAMS (on camera): An FBI Official says this latest tip is not rock solid, but it is just good enough to bring in four dozen people and start digging again.

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: To help decipher this latest attempt to find Mr. Hoffa, I'm joined by the founding publisher of "Skeptic" magazine, and the executive director of the Skeptic Society, Michael Shermer.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: So, there are 40 to 50 FBI guys searching this horse farm to try to find his body. Given that every other tip of this nature, and there have been dozens of them, has turned out to be nothing, why is this one any different? Why is this one not other waste of everybody's time and money?

SHERMER: Well, it is a waste of everybody's time and money, but it's bigger in people's minds because Jimmy Hoffa is a big character. If it was Joe Schmo who's missing, and there's a lot of them, them nobody seems to care. But in this case, we're you know, looking for - you know, we're live on the air right now. Sorry about that.

So we're looking for conspiracy theories that match the size of the character, and in this case, Jimmy Hoffa is bigger than life, so we're looking for a bigger than life conspiracy to match it.

OLBERMANN: What's going on? Is Mr. Hoffa in the room there with you?

Is that what just happened there?


SHERMER: It seems like a conspiracy, doesn't it? But, I actually know who killed Hoffa and where he's buried. You want the secret?

OLBERMANN: Yes, please.

SHERMER: Her was killed by this union of albino monks.


SHERMER: .that were furious about the, you know, their rights that they didn't get, and so I think he's buried in the Louvre. And you can tell this, because if you look at the painting of the Last Supper, the character Mary Magdalene, she's whispering to Jimmy Hoffa. Yeah, that's it.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, get out. It's your turn, here.

SHERMER: Well, that's about as good as he's buried in Giants Stadium, right?

OLBERMANN: Exact - but this is - he's under the end zone at Giants Stadium has been around as long as Giants Stadium has. It's been proved two years ago. Our pals over at Myth Busters actually used equipment that detects anomalies underground, so he's not there. But almost all of the other possible locations are these outlandish oversized stories. It's a specific landfull (ph), it's a swamp in Florida, the cement factory story, even your joke just now relating that dippy movie. I mean, I hesitate to call, these ideas, romantic, but they are exotic. Why don't the rumors just say he's buried in the wood somewhere? Why exotic theories and what's our fascination with them and with him?

SHERMER: Yeah, well you would think the psychics would tell us he's buried in the woods, because that's usually what they say. By the way, why can't psychics tell us where Jimmy Hoffa's buried? Or the psychics who talk to the dead, why can't they just ask him where he's buried? But, you know, we never get answers to questions like that.

The reason it's like that is because for the same reason that we want to a giant, huge conspiracy that killed JFK rather than, you know, the lone nut assassin who happened to be able to sneak in and do it under the cover of night, so to speak. We don't like to think that a bigger-than-life character can be brought down by a lone nut. We want something than - something to match, cognitively balanced to match the size of the event. So, the idea that 9/11 could have been pulled off by 19 hijackers doesn't seem to match. We want a huge, Giant, conspiracy pulled off by Bush and the government and the FBI and CIA And everybody else involved in it. That's why conspiracy theories go for those kinds of things.

OLBERMANN: Michael Shermer, the founding publisher of "Skeptic" magazine and the executive director of the Skeptic Society. Great thanks for joining us. And next time see if you can get Hoffa to come on the phone with you, there.

SHERMER: There we go.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of enduring mysteries, for 100 years, real and amateur detectives have tried to figure out the identity of the most famous serial killer in Victorian England. And now and Australian scientist testing saliva DNA from old letters, claims to have answered at least part of the mystery - who was Jack the Ripper? Most of the letters purported to be from the Ripper are considered fakes, so Dr. Findly limited it DNA swabs to the handful which experts believe might possibly have been written by the killer. He focused mainly on saliva from an almost illegible letter that was littered with misspellings and sent to London medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Openshaw in 1888.

Dr. Findly says he was able to build a partial DNA profile and made a shocking discover. He thinks it's likely that the author of that letter was actually a woman. Jackie the Ripper? Of course, there's just one problem. Few ripperologists think the Openshaw letter was written by the actual killer, which would make Dr. Findly's efforts pretty much a waste of time. Ya want to take a shot at Hoffa maybe?

Of course, West Texas is big enough that Hoffa, Jack the Ripper, Amelia Earhart, and Generalissimo Francisco Franco could be living there and no one would know. A modest proposal in the land of really wide-open spaces. Raise the speed limit to 80.

The other number, 24. Kiefer Sutherland takes a pause from his duties, attacking imaginary terrorists, to spend some time attacking real Christmas trees. That's next, but first, here are Countdown's" "Top 3 Sound Bites" of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It took this experienced and fearless alligator trapper 3.5 hours to duct tape this 12-foot long gator weighing five to 700 pounds.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the gator doesn't go without one last fight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lapped in the face, but doing just fine, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) secures the angry gator into the truck.

CONAN O'BRIEN, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": Former presidents Bush and Clinton were spotted having lunch with Ellen DeGeneres. Yeah, former President Bush congratulated her on the success of her show and Clinton congratulated here on, quote, "The whole lesbo thing."


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it helps to have the president out here seeing the - uh, part of the area of the country that one time was overrun by people coming in here that's beginning get settled down because of - because of a strategy that's being employed. And so I really want to thank you for greeting me, plus I like riding in the dune buggy.


OLBERMANN: The need for speed in West Texas. Controversy a proposal so they won't have to drive 55. And the cultural 18-car pileup that is "American Idol," more gossip, an endorsement to watch - from a U.S. Senator? That's next, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: As truckers and travelers are well aware, the fastest you can legally drive until this country is 75 miles-an-hour and even then, only on select roads. And as perhaps everyone else knows, hardly anyone actually sticks to that speed limit, whatever and wherever it is. Now in our No. 2 story on the Countdown, a push to get the limit raised to 80 on certain stretches of highway, in, as our correspondent Don Teague reports, where else? Texas.


TON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're the kind of person who just can't drive 355, or even 75, you might want to plan a road trip to West Texas. Not necessarily for the scenery, but for that lead foot. Because the state Highway Department may raise the speed limit on sections of Interstate 10 and 20 to 80 miles-per-hour.

MARK BALL, TEXAS DEPT OF TRANSPORTATION: You don't set a speed limit based on politics, you set on based on what the majority traveling public feels is safe, reasonable, and prudent on an existing road.

TEAGUE: All right in West Texas, drivers on the interstate average up to 79 miles-per-hour, the speed limit right now is 70. And for many motorists in this sparsely populated area, even 80 isn't fast enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's great. I came from el Paso, been driving all day. I wish they'd make it 90, personally.

TEAGUE (on camera): Transportation officials say 80 mile- an-hour speed limits don't make sense in big cities, like here in Houston. Critics say 80 doesn't make sense anywhere.

MANTILL WILLIAMS, AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION: The basic laws of physics, when you increase your speed, if you get into a crash, you are more likely to be in a fatality.

TEAGUE (voice-over): Texas has among the highest number of traffic fatalities, but driving faster also uses more gas. Fuel economy drops drastically at speeds above 65.

BILL RAGSDALE, JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, KERR COUNTY: We know from history, that the faster more people drive, the more fuel that's consumed. That's going to hurt us all, economically.

TEAGUE: Still, there's a good chance that the speed limit will accelerate to 80 later in West Texas, later this month. And if it works, maybe to a desolate stretch of highway near you.

Don Teague, NBC News, Houston.


OLBERMANN: Careening into the world of celebrity news and gossip, "Keeping Tabs." And when he's not saving the world from terrorists who appear so often that even the administration has to giggle at the excess, Kiefer Sutherland is apparently getting drunk and assaulting Christmas trees. That's what footage from a new documentary shows. The film was actually about Rocco Deluca, the record label act that Sutherland manages, but it seems he's actually far more into the traditional bad-boy rock and roll behavior than are his performers. He recently talked about the incident and showed a clip of the on British television.


KIEFER SUTHERLAND, ACTOR: It was my holiday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is from Keither's documentary, "Rocco Deluca," this is from "I Trust you to Kill Me." It's on TV Monday might. Look at this.

SUTHERLAND: Monday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Kief, you're a pirate man.

SUTHERLAND: That would explain everything.


SUTHERLAND: Not funny.


OLBERMANN: No, actually, it was pretty funny. In Kiefer Sutherland's defense, I was once a witness of him becoming astoundingly inebriated before he boarded the interminable flight from Los Angeles to Sidney, Australia. He was not only well behaved throughout, but he tipped the staff of the restaurant generously and signed autographs for all who asked. He even redid one after he smudged it. And he didn't charge for the photos, either.

Just days from the birth of their first child, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have reported that they already sold the very first baby picture to a weekly magazine, back here in the U.S. No word which one, but the price, a reported $5 million. According to the British tabloid, the "Daily Mirror," however, that money is all going to be part of one of Angelina Jolie's pet charities, UNICEF. A sources telling the paper, quote, "Angelina's very private, but they figured they might as well use the opportunity of one child being born to help a lot of others."

Speaking of mothers, just days after an incriminating photo showed Sean Preston Spears Federline facing the wrong direction in a car seat in California, is mother has proved she can get slapped silly for bad parenting on either coast and in or out of a car. On the streets of New York, Thursday afternoon, La Spears was allegedly carrying a drink in her left hand, her a baby in her right arm when she tripped and nearly dropped Sea Preston. His hat flew off, his head fell forward, but she managed to right herself before the baby ended up on the sidewalk. And no, she was not doing an impression of her husband rap dancing.

And just two months after having announced his retirement from "60 Minutes," veteran correspondent, Mike Wallace, is again speaking candidly about his long battle with depression, telling the news magazine that he actually tried to commit suicide two decades ago, even though he's been asked in the past about so much attempts, this is the first time he acknowledged that he did try to take his own life. But he also told "60 Minutes" that the 20 years since his suicide attempt have been the best. Probably doesn't now it, but his interviews about the topic a decade ago encouraged other to examine their own emotional well-being, including me. So, thank you, Mr. Wallace.

His of course, this could send Mike Wallace and me back over the edge. Two days in a row of "American Idol" stories, including my friend Maria Milito's latest breathtaking scoop on the latest breathtakingly alleged breathtaking scandal.

First, time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World." The bronze goes to the penal and legal system of Lebanon. It has released Hussein Hariri after 17 years in prison for his part of a hijacking of a flight in 1970 - 1987. He now intends to pursue his new hobby. He's built his own airplane and intends to fly it. What could possibly go wrong with that?

The runner up, commentator Morton Kondracke on FOX blasting Qwest for purportedly not cooperating this NSA phone record sweep that everybody else says never happened. Quoting him, "for a company to say opt out and say no, no, no, we're too privacy minded for this, you know, it's basically helping terrorists," unquote. No Mort, undermining our freedoms and making money off fear mongering, that's helping terrorists.

But our winner, I'm telling you, somebody must be his friend, get an intervention going. Listen to this tortured logic from Bill O. Says his makeup artist was mugged on the streets of New York the other day. "Now," he says, "who does that? Drug addicts, desperate for money. Nine out of 10 of these guys are drug addicts. So, she is a victim of the Mexican drug corruption. And all you have to do is multiply that by 10 million and you see how all of this corruption in Mexico has infected our society." The makeup artist was mugged, therefore, the mugger was a drug addict, therefore, the addiction is Mexico's fault, therefore - you lost me! I'm surprised you didn't tie the mugging back somehow so me.

Bill O'Reilly, still today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: There is now reason to think during the telecasts of the "American Idol" program, FOX telephone is sending some sort of subliminal mind control signal that causes viewers to become addicts, in which they'll probably use later to convince us all to just cede Florida to Rupert Murdoch. Hear me out. In our No. 1 story in the Countdown, how else to explain what happened on this network just hours ago. A senior United States senator in our Washington studios to talk about the confirmation of General Michael Hayden as the new chief of the CIA, Senator Trent Lott had mentioned to our correspondent, Nora O'Donnell, that he was a big fan of "American Idol," so she asked which contestant he had voted for.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: I vote regularly and multiple times for Katherine McPhee. She's beautiful, she's very talented, however, Taylor is our neighbor in Alabama and he is a performer, so, yes I watch it. My whole family watches it, we argue. My grandson cried when I think his name was Chris was knocked off. So, I mean, this is a part of American culture. And if you're going to be a good senator, you've got to be into the program.


OLBERMANN: If you're going to be a good senator - and it gets worse and worse. I'm breathlessly told that this week's voting was one of the closest in "Idol" history.


RYAN SEACREST, "AMERICAN IDOL" HOST: Thirty-three point zero six percent. Take a look at the next figure. Thirty-three point two six percent. percent. Very close. Finally, the third figure. Thirty-three point six-eight percent. What are these numbers? We said it was close. That's how the 50 million votes got broken down between the three of you.

It doesn't get any closer than that.


OLBERMANN: Took an hour for that? We're really expected to believe it took an hour? What were they doing counting all of Trent Lott's votes. Two days in a row now doing "Idol" segments, leavened only by the appearance and participation of Maria Milito, midday host at New York's classic rock station, Q104.3.

Hello again, Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3: Hi Keith. Well, first of all, no newspaper reading tonight or you can't be my new BFF.

OLBERMANN: Gotcha. OK, but we must start here with Senator Lott.

MILITO: Of course.

OLBERMANN: I realize you're allowed to vote more than once for these people, but isn't there's something wrong when we've gotten to a point a major American senator saying, like the old joke from the Chicago democratic wards goes, "vote early, vote often?"

MILITO: Right. No, no, no. First of all, he should be thinking about what he says, but we know that. But the fact that he's - he's from Mississippi and he's not voting for somebody from Alabama? Why would he vote for Katherine from Sherman Oaks? It fuels my experience theory. Don't you think? Something's just not kosher, here.

OLBERMANN: Which conspiracy theory, Maria?

MILITO: Well, you know that doesn't - it's not going just by what people - that people are voting, that some people might be connected to FOX or the show. I - rumor has it - I have something new from the rumor mill.

OLBERMANN: Yes, let - I was going to say.

MILITO: I have something brand-new.

OLBERMANN: What is the brand-new - brand new rumor mill item? And what is - you first started by saying it's from the rumor mill.

MILITO: It is.

OLBERMANN: It's not - this is not necessarily coming from sources inside the Pentagon or something like that?

MILITO: No, no, no, but rumor has it - well, first we know for a fact that Katherine's father is a TV producer. Rumor has it that her father produced a Dick Clark show, "New Years Rockin' Eve."

OLBERMANN: Oh, here we go.

MILITO: And Ryan Seacrest was the host. How conspiracy theory is that?

OLBERMANN: Do you buy this conspiracy theory? Have not some of the conspiracy theories that have come up in the last couple weeks been completely wrong?

MILITO: Well, not completely wrong. There's always a little hint of truth in every conspiracy theory, don't you think? Yes.

OLBERMANN: Uh-huh. And.

MILITO: Uh-huh, uh-huh. But think about it. If her father is connected to FOX.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, but if.

MILITO: This isn't good.

OLBERMANN: OK, wait, all right.


OLBERMANN: Full camera on me for a second. I am defending FOX now.

MILITO: Oh boy.

OLBERMANN: You just said - we said "if." I mean, how do we know?

Did we call them, did anybody find out?

MILITO: It's just a rumor, but rumors always start somewhere and sometimes, you know, where there's smoke, there's fire. I'm just saying, rumor has it. Rumor has it. Um-hum.

OLBERMANN: All right, about the results, they had those big numbers and Ryan Seacrest got the challenge of reading four digits at a time, plus a decimal point and a percentage sign.

MILITO: Of course.

OLBERMANN: So, it's big, right, and official. They did not do that last week when the bald guy was ousted.

MILITO: I know.

OLBERMANN: What was this, some sort of response to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

Like, you wanted numbers, here are your numbers, you bastards.

MILITO: Well, there two ways of looking at it. Either America doesn't really care because they're not passionate about anybody so it's even, even, even. Or I just - think about it last week. Now there's a petition - PetitionOnline wants a recount for Chris being ousted - the bald guy. So, I guess maybe they're a little paranoid maybe that people are paying attention because remember the whole thing, people called for Chris and it was Elliott thanking them, or Katherine thanking them? Again, it's all rumor has it.

OLBERMANN: One other question. When those numbers were coming up there, did you have a flailing moment there where you thought Ryan Seacrest isn't going to get through this, there's too many digits. He doesn't know what the numbers mean?

MILITO: Well, yeah, I always think that about him. But yeah, yeah, because it just - you know what? They dragged it out for an hour last night. We talked about it. It was ridiculous, they could have done it in a half hour, in 15 minutes - in five minutes.

OLBERMANN: And you'll be watching again?

MILITO: Of course, I have to. I have to. I'm the princess of "American Idol" you said.

OLBERMANN: Maria Milito, midday host of New York City's classic rock station, Q104.3. Soon to add the title of Countdown's chief "American Idol" correspondent. Take care, friend.

MILITO: I love it.

OLBERMANN: Thanks for joining us again.

MILITO: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Take care, friend That's Countdown for this, the 1113th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now from "Scarborough Country."

Good evening, Joe.