Friday, October 6, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 6

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Mark Klaas, Jonathan Alter

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

The October surprise. First, Speaker Hastert blames the Democrats for the Foley scandal, then Speaker Hastert assumes responsibility for the Foley scandal. Today, Speaker Hastert blames the Democrats for the Foley scandal. What's that phrase for when you do that? Oh, yes. Flip-flopping.

The embattled president heads to Illinois to shore up his embattled, flip-flopping speaker.

While the Republicans portray themselves as the real victims here, anybody still worried about the pages? We'll be joined by a man who worked alongside Congressman Mark Foley, making him another advocate for children in jeopardy. Mark Klaas, father of the late Polly Klaas, is not happy with Mr. Foley nor those who protected him.

Drifting sideways. The Republican chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee says, Give Iraq two or three months, and if it isn't better by then, it is time to determine...


SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), CHAIR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Is there a change of course that we should take? And I wouldn't take off the table any option at this time.


OLBERMANN: Did the top Republican in the Senate suggest we should start considering pulling out?

Twin nightmares in the South. A cloud of chlorine gas outside Raleigh, North Carolina, after a fire at a chemical plant. Thousands evacuate. And fire in Memphis, erasing part of the very fabric of the city's history.

And the Republican sex scandal isn't funny, except when it is.


JAY LENO, HOST: Who cares he's addicted to Jack Daniels? He's addict to little Jack and little Daniel, that's the problem.



STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST: At no point did Foley gay marry or gay adopt these pages.


OLBERMANN: We can all pretend we're not laughing while we laugh anyway.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I make you a little horny?


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Friday, October 6, 32 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

The good news for the Republican Party, no one is talking about Bob Woodward's book at the moment. The bad news, with little more than four weeks to go till election day, the Mark Foley sex scandal has fractured the GOP, putting the Democrats within striking distance of taking back the Senate, while quite possibly causing the Republican speaker of the House to lose his mind.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, like a pendulum, a large pendulum, Dennis Hastert swinging back to blaming the Democrats for the mess that happened on his watch, calling the disclosure that a Republican congressman was, at minimum, sending sexually explicit instant messages to teenaged boys a October surprise orchestrated by the opposition, fellow Republicans yesterday urging the speaker not to repeat the George Soros defense, told "The Chicago tribune" it was, quote, "incredibly inept," Speaker Hastert, however, ignoring the advice, now telling the conservative Web site late Thursday evening that the timing of the disclosure was, quote, "suspicious," quoting again, "On the last day after Foley can't get his name off the ballot, and we're leaving for a national campaign, and then this thing falls? It's kind of an October surprise, I guess you'd call it," Speaker Hastert added that there's plenty of blame to spread in the media's direction, quote, "You know, the press has its own values, and where it wants to be. They're feeding on this, and I don't think they have much more to talk about in Washington right now, so it's just full time. They're looking for a story, for sure."

Yes, there's no war or Woodward book or anything.

Speaker Hastert becoming political kryptonite as this goes on, Republican candidates in close races now canceling or postponing campaign appearance with the Illinois Republican, much in the same way they have been deep-sixing photo-ops with the commander in chief, which leaves the speaker and the president free to campaign with each other, NBC News confirming tonight that President Bush will travel to Illinois next week for a public event with Speaker Hastert.

For more on the speaker's mindset and whether his claims come close to passing the proverbial smell test, time now to bring in our own political correspondent, David Shuster, who is in Washington.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening to you.

Regardless of whether the claims are motivated by politics or by desperation, a number of false charges are being made. So let's take a closer look.

Number one, did the Democrats know in advance? Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert has told Newsmax, quote, "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was ready to go. We were told by sources that they had that information on a Thursday night before we did, or Wednesday. They were up ahead of us for a day before we ever knew what was going to happen."

Hastert won't tell us how he knows this, or who his sources are, but more importantly, Brian Ross of ABC News, who first broke the Foley story, said ABC sources, to the extent they had party affiliations, were Republicans, and Ross didn't share a story with the Democratic Party.

And "The Hill" newspaper, which matched ABC's reporting early on, said their source on the Foley revelations was a Republican Hill staffer.

Number two, did the Republicans work for Foley's resignation? Congressman Tom Reynolds, in charge of the national Republican Campaign Committee, said, "I immediately began to work for his resignation." House speaker Dennis Hastert said on Monday, "We found out about it, asked him to resign, he did resign. He's gone."

But a timeline of what happened a week ago shows Foley resigned before the Republican leadership even had an opportunity to act. And Denny Hastert originally said, "I think Foley resigned almost immediately upon the outbreak of this information. And so we really didn't have a chance to ask him to resign."

Number three, what did Dennis Hastert know, and when did he know it?


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: I, first of all, learned of this last Friday, when we were about to leave Congress for, you know, the break to go out and campaign.


SHUSTER: House majority leader John Boehner says he told Hastert this spring that Foley had a page problem. Congressman Tom Reynolds says he told Hastert a year ago that Foley had a page problem. And Kirk Fordham, Reynolds' former chief of staff, said he told Hastert's office about it three years ago. Kirk Fordham says he has now shared this information with the FBI, Keith.

OLBERMANN: David, while we have you here, let me switch gears on the scandal beat and ask you, there's been something of significance in the Abramoff investigation today that speaks to the Republican lobbyist's ties to the White House?

SHUSTER: That's right. Susan Ralston, who is the top aide to Karl Rove, she resigned, and the White House said it was in the wake of a congressional report that found that Susan Ralston passed inside White House information to Jack Abramoff, who she worked for before she started working for Karl Rove.

In addition, the congressional report found that Susan Ralston was the recipient of dozens of free tickets and sporting events, all in violation of House - of government ethics rules. The Democrats are suggesting that the White House is simply trying to make Susan Ralston a scapegoat, and take attention away from Karl Rove, because the congressional report also found that there were some 485 lobbying contacts between Jack Abramoff and his aides and White House officials.

And questions about several White House officials other than Susan Ralston remain unanswered, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Rove ought to go hunting for lost wallets, David. He seems to have lucked out every time.

MSNBC's David Shuster. As always, sir, great thanks for your efforts tonight. Have a good weekend.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith. You too.

OLBERMANN: So, how is this showing up in the poll numbers? Ipsos, polling for the Associated Press, showing nearly half of likely voters now saying the Foley Republican sex scandal will be very or extremely important when they vote. By a nearly 2 to 1 ratio, those same voters also saying that Democrats are better at combating corruption than are Republicans.

Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: In addition to the AP-Ipsos thing, there's a survey by Gallup for "USA Today," that showing that the race for the Senate has tightened considerably, possibly unexpectedly, now giving the Democrats a 50/50 shot at winning control. Has the scandal blown the midterm elections, if not wide open, then at least a lot wider than it was just a few weeks ago?

WOLFFE: Absolutely. And if you talk to senior Republicans, as I have all week, they're in a very despondent mood here. You know, the previous problems for the administration, like port security or Hurricane Katrina, those were bad. But they weren't on the eve of the election.

The one hope the White House has is that there are 30-something news cycles left. They may be able to get control of it. The other (INAUDIBLE), the other thing that has given people more confidence is, curiously, Speaker Hastert's performance yesterday, in spite of all of the sort of contradictions that David was just talking about, people do feel that there was a line in the sand there. They've got something there that is a little stronger in terms of something to defend, but as I said, the mood inside the party's incredibly bleak here.

OLBERMANN: So the Hastert option is the best option, if not necessarily a good one, I'm inferring from what you say. But are the Republican gambles here basically two things, one that there's no more evidence that surfaces regarding Foley or anybody else, or anything worse regarding Foley, and also, that nobody can prove that Hastert knew about Foley before last week?

WOLFFE: Well, let me give you a measure of how they're feeling slightly more relieved at the end of the week. The Republican operatives tell me, Well, at least we've had 24 hours of no new revelations, just 24 hours of no bad news is enough to make people feel a little better.

And this has been the worry all week. What else is out there? Are there photos? Are there other allegations? Are there even more lurid e-mails? Does it take in other members of Congress? That uncertainty is just driving people inside the party crazy.

And so they're having to deal with that. Yes, you know, there's is a sort of - the - at least they have a road map with these various investigations, the House Ethics Committee and the FBI. But, you know, there's just a sort of sense of unknown, of uncharted territory.

OLBERMANN: But regarding Hastert and his statements and the swing back and forth between blaming Clinton and Soros and ABC and then coming out and saying, No, I'm responsible, and then coming back again today to Newsmax and saying, No, it's an October surprise, implying that the Democrats in some way managed to manipulate this story to come out when it did, has he won the battle, but possibly lost the war? I mean, if Democrats retain control of the House, is the first thing they're going to do, get rid of him as the leader? Will his colleagues still want him if they believe that, that, that, that, that he could have let something like this happen under his watch in the weeks before an election?

WOLFFE: Absolutely. He's damaged goods. Things have moved on. You know, there's been a whole sort of debate inside the party. Were Boehner's comments an attempt at an early attempt at a coup? Doesn't Boehner know any better, that you can't be seen to be trying to throw the guy overboard?

There's been this whole sort of question about intent and conspiracy over the last week or so. Whatever happens, politics is going to move on, 2008 campaigns are underway. As I said, Hastert's future is in question. And there is just the, as I said, this deep sense of uncertainty about who to trust and who the leadership can actually be coming out of this election, no matter what happens.

OLBERMANN: What about trusting the Ethics Committee and its ability to remain bipartisan during the actual investigation of these Foley interaction? (INAUDIBLE) two of the Republicans on the committee, one of them Chairman Hastings, received campaign contributions from the Hastert political action committee. Is that going to be perceived as a problem, even if it really isn't?

WOLFFE: There've been perceptions of problems with this Ethics Committee all along. Remember, they had a problem with the whole DeLay scandals. You know, the Republican chair of the committee had to be corrected mid-press conference by his Democratic counterpart when he seemed to be endorsing Hastert.

(INAUDIBLE), most people think this Ethics Committee is a paper tiger. If you're an optimist, you'd say, Well, this is a chance for the committee to prove that it really has a value. But, you know, I have, again, I haven't spoken to party operatives on either side who really thinks the - who think the Ethics Committee has either a good reputation or a good prospect of success here.

OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, of "Newsweek."

As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE: Any time.

OLBERMANN: Not surprisingly for a man who so stridently declared that he is the decider, he makes the decisions, President Bush has once again overridden the decisions of the guys we actually hired to make the laws, Congress. Two days ago, the president signed the Homeland Security bill. It reads that no one but the department's privacy officer can alter, delay, or prohibit the mandatory annual homeland security report on any activities that affect privacy, including your complaints if you think your privacy has been violated.

The president changed that. He issued a signing statement, the law may say only the privacy officer can deal with privacy. The president says, That's all right, screw the law. He can do that himself.

He also decided to disregard a requirement that the director of FEMA have at least five years' experience in the field and knowledge of emergency management, saying that rules out too many people, which we presume was kind of the point. Heck of a job, Brownie. Seven hundred and fifty signing statements from this president so far.

That, of course, not the only tool he uses. On Monday, we will show you how this administration has managed to take away habeas corpus through the detainee bill.

Returning to the Foley scandal, how is it that a congressman who was known to have questionable contacts with pages ends up running the committee to protect children? We'll talk to Mark Klaas, who's had contact with Foley and other members of Congress on child safety issues about how so many people dropped the ball.

Dropping the ball in Iraq. Now a prominent Republican senator says it will soon be time to change course there if things do not improve. Kind of a surprise for Republican candidates saying just the opposite right now.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: "The Los Angeles Times" reporting today that during the Republican National Convention of 2000, Congressman Mark Foley hosted a party at a gay bar in Philadelphia. An acquaintance took a photograph of an intern sitting on Mr. Foley's lap, and months later offered to send Foley the snapshot. Foley asked if the intern was male or female, the answer, female. And according to this acquaintance, Mr. Foley said, quote, "Oh, thank God. Send me that photo. I might need it someday."

Our fourth story on the Countdown, Mr. Foley apparently believed the picture could be used to suggest that he was heterosexual, betraying a certain fear that now seems almost quaint. Mr. Foley's apparent assumption that a female subject would make the inappropriate behavior OK was obviously more than misplaced, because, despite what some rightwing pundits might have us believe, the Foley page scandal is not about Mr. Foley being gay. It's also not about what the kids did.

It is about an adult, male or female, straight or gay, taking sexual advantage of children, in this case, underage pages. It's also about other adults, adults protecting that adult.

Joining me now, the founder of the Klaas Kids Foundation, father of the late Polly Klaas, Mark Klaas.

Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: You worked with Congressman Foley on issues of child safety. What was your experience in that, and specifically, what legislation did you work on together?

KLAAS: Sure. The first thing I worked on with Mr. Foley was the Volunteers for Children Act, which was in 1998. And, in fact, he wrote an article for the Klaas Kids Foundation newsletter, which can be found still, to this date, online.

Now, anybody that worked on child safety legislation on Capitol Hill over the course of the last decade would have had to cross paths with Mr. Foley, because he positioned himself as the go-to guy in the House of Representatives.

Now, I've only met the man once, in a setting where we actually exchanged pleasantries. And I can tell that you over the course of the last couple of years, whenever I would go to his office to talk to staffers, they were very standoffish towards me.

OLBERMANN: What was your reaction, then, hearing that Mr. Foley had, at the least, skirted dangerously close to violating legislation that he helped to write?

KLAAS: Yes, isn't that ironic? The very legislation that he championed may be the legislation that puts him behind bars for years.

Well, you know, what? I'm in a position in my life where I'm not terribly surprised by anything. But I'm certainly dismayed that the individual who would sort of position himself as America's babysitter, or the paragon of virtue for children and child safety in this country, is undermining, is undermining the very laws that he's tried to put together, that he's out there luring these little kids and trying to groom these little kids to do his bidding, whatever that happen to be.

OLBERMANN: You've worked with various congressmen on child protection issues for years. How disappointed were you with the other lawmakers? Not with Foley here, but those in positions of leadership, and how they handled the early warnings, whether they heard about them 11 years ago or 11 weeks ago or 11 days ago. Aren't the telltale signs the things you act on, rather than sit around and wait till something bad happens?

KLAAS: Well, there are more red flags in this affair than there are in a Chinese New Year's parade. Remember, in 1995, according to AP, the pages were talking among themselves and warning each other about Foley. And then you can just go down the list, from Representative Alexander, who brought the initial e-mails, the Katrina e-mails, to leadership, to Mr. Boehner, to Mr. Reynolds, to Mr. Shimkus, to Mr. Hastert, to Mr. Fordham, who said that he brought this information to them three years ago at the very best.

At the very best, they chose to ignore a very difficult situation. And certainly, at worst, they are involved in a massive coverup, which I think betrays all Americans, and everything that we all stand for.

OLBERMANN: Since it is extremely difficult for a teenager to complain to anybody about something like this, is not the general idea to err on the side of the child? Let's say there - he just was fond of these pages, and there had been nothing else. It's still necessary to go and say, Hey, this doesn't look good. You need to stop it, because we're worried that it might turn into something bad. Isn't that the minimum that was needed earlier on?

KLAAS: Well, sure. You know that, and I know that. And every right-minded parent in America knows that. But what we have here is a massive betrayal of position and of power. He was - on this issue, he was probably the most powerful person on Capitol Hill, or certainly among them. And he had positioned himself so that he had access to these pages.

That's what people like him do. That's what child predators do. They build themselves up, they find ways to get close to children, and they then exploit those children whenever they're given an opportunity to do. He just happened to do this on the world stage, as opposed to in a little room on a computer, as many of the others happened to do.

OLBERMANN: Mark Klaas, the founder of Klaas Kids Foundation. Our great thanks for your time and for your continuing efforts.

KLAAS: Can I say just one more thing, Keith?


KLAAS: Well, you know, I know a lot of people are pointing fingers here. But I think another way to look at this is to understand that the Republicans came very, very close to getting away with this. They were within hours of adjourning the session. And if that had happened, and everybody had scattered to the four winds, we might very likely be looking at Mr. Foley coming back to engage this nefarious conduct once again.

So I think that however this came out, and whatever it is that prompted this, it's a very, very good thing for the American people.

OLBERMANN: An excellent point that has gotten overlooked in the political backbiting on this. Mark Klaas, thanks again.

KLAAS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: The Foley headlines overshadowing another kind of mess, life and death in Iraq. But Republican Senator John Warner bringing the news front and center again, challenging his party and the White House to consider changing course if things don't improve in Iraq presently.

And an overnight fire sending dangerous chlorine fumes into the air in North Carolina. Thousands evacuated. We'll have the latest ahead here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The late author and commentator Shana Alexander was born on this date in 1925. In the '70s, she was paired with conservative James Kilpatrick in a famous and contentious and widely imitated "60 Minutes" segment called "Point Counterpoint." Apart from lending credence to the unfortunate idea, in fact, the noose, that every issue has to have two equally weighted points of view, Ms. Alexander did in part inspire the Dan Aykroyd-Jane Curtin sketches on "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," in which Curtin would offer her point, and Aykroyd would begin his reply with, "Jane, you ignorant slut."

Let's play Oddball.

And just one tonight from the Internets, where we first found this story we brought you earlier this week, video of radio guy Mike McAllister of Santa Barbara, California, setting a world record for most T-shirts worn at one time, 155 of them, one on top of another, from size small to size 10XL. This video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube in the last week, spawning copycats around the world, our favorite of which, an Australian guy known only as Dr. Lemur, who will now attempt to do this same thing, only with socks.

Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I've fallen just 47 socks shy of the record. But at least you got to out and about and give the old sock foot a little test drive. Dr. Lemur writes, after an hour of steadily increasing the sockage, he felt as if his foot was being mashed in a vice, and he then required urgent podiatric assistance. No permanent foot damage was sustained. The socks, however, have to be burned. Better luck next time, Doc.

Nothing gets bigger laughs, of course, than deadly serious scandals. The week Mark Foley highlights from the titans of TV comedy, and some of the sharpest amateurs on the Internet.

And the debacle in Iraq, the Senate's top Republican suggesting a rethinking of our strategy there. What is that going to do to the stay-the-course Republicans trying to hold onto power on the Hill?

Details ahead.

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

Number three, James Lee of Movath (ph), Maine. His SUV crashed into a tree. He received only a bloody nose. He was trying to get out of the moving vehicle at the time. Why? There was a spider inside.

Number two, Congressman Tom Feeney of Florida, decided to smear his opponent, Clint Curtis, in an original way, sticking a picture of Curtis's head on Hugh Hefner's body, then superimposing all of it over the front cover of "Hustler" magazine, then mailing 100,000 copies of that to people in the district. Some mother.


OLBERMANN: No. 1 Jens Lorek, a lawyer from Dresden, Germany. He's offering his services on behalf of anybody who wants to sue under the German law that grants state compensation to kidnap victim, that would be anybody who says they've been abducted by aliens.

Mr. Lorek says he's serious and insists, "nobody's laughed about it up until now." You know, sir, that might change.


OLBERMANN: Two powerful Republicans go to Iraq. Two different

assessments come back. Our third story on the Countdown tonight. The GOP

changing course on "Stay the Course." After his eighth trip to Iraq,

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner addressed Iraq's

failure to crackdown on the militias that have infiltrated and been spurred

by Iraq's own security forces.


JOHN WARNER, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHMN: In two or three months, if this hasn't come to fruition and if this level of violence is not uncontrolled and this government able to function, I think it's a responsibility of our government internally to determine is there a change of course that we should take?


OLBERMANN: Secretary of State Rice in Iraq yesterday, not indicating any imminent change in U.S. policy, but also pushing Iraq's government to crackdown on the escalating violence and also repeating the administration's consistent line that Iraq is making progress.

That claim of progress coming after her plane's surprise landing. A surprise due to danger was delayed by mortar fire at the airport, presumably not made during the power outage that struck while she met with Iraqi officials. Nevertheless, Rice blamed a familiar scapegoat for pessimistic views of the situation saying "What the American people see on their television screen is the struggle... it is harder to show the political process that is going on at local levels, at provincial level."

Especially hard if you want to gauge that progress by checking in with Kurdish lawmaker Muhammad Ridha Muhammad whose body was found on the same day Rice spoke, shot in the head just a few yards from the government office that oversees Sunni mosques. Senator Warner's assessment on this progress?


WARNER: I would say in some areas there are steps forward, in other areas, there are step backwards. And to summarize it, it seems to me that the situation is simply drifting sidewise.


OLBERMANN: Never drifting sideways on to this program, our regular contributor, "Newsweek's" senior editor, Jonathan Alter. Good enough to spend some of his birthday with us.

Thank you for your time, sir. Happy birthday.


OLBERMANN: I want to start with something another senator, Joe Biden, said today. The commission studying Iraq has looked at the Biden plan to divide that country into three semi-autonomous regions, a central government that handles only the broadest of issue. Today Biden says several Republican Senators have told him that the White House has - let me do the rest of it as a quote, ".already made a decision... they've to get the hell out of the position they're in now and they can't do it from under pressure from Democrats and they're going to be able to do it by this quote partisan commission."

Is it really conceivable the administration hatched a plan to start all over again in Iraq with the Democrats' plan but they won't tell us until after we vote next month?

ALTER: That's pretty close. Yeah, that could very well happen. You know, in Bob Woodward's book, General Abizaid was talking to Democratic Senator Carl Levin and he said we're about this far apart, in other words, the Democrats in the administration.

But what the Warner thing does, Keith, is this really gives the Democrats cover from Republicans on Iraq in this election. Remember, he said, "change the course." That's what he said just on the tape a few minutes ago. That's very different from the official Republican view of stay the course. So, when Republican candidates say to the Democratic challengers, hey, you want to cut and run, you haven't suggest anything specific for what we should necessarily do in Iraq. All the Democrat has to say is I'm with John Warner. I'm with your chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation - the Senate Arm Service Committee. And Warner, in this case, gives the Democrats some real cover.

OLBERMANN: But what does he do to the Republican, obviously, other than take that away from them in a debate. Does he not put a lot of Republicans who have been trying to distance themselves from the president about Iraq? Does he not in turn give them some could have as well?

ALTER: He might. But you know, the distancing from the president on Iraq is a little late for these Republicans. What was of greater danger to Democrats - just to talk about the politics of it for a minute - was this idea that somehow they could be tarred as being war weenies, which is what the Republicans have used to win the last two elections.

So this undercuts the Karl Rove playbook. I don't - you know, I don't know why John Warner said this. It wasn't really very effective for his party. I don't know, maybe he found some truth serum in Elizabeth Taylor's old medicine cabinet. I don't know what. But he committed truth in this statement, he went there, saw something on the ground that he just couldn't ignore, which was lack of progress, and he came back and fortunately told us the truth about it.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, here's a wild idea. Maybe he's a senator. Maybe he's an American. Maybe he decided to check his political party coat at the door, as the way they're supposed to do. Maybe he is the former navy secretary. Maybe he's the chairman of Armed Services. And maybe, is it also that he could be the guy who's actually listening to the military commanders who are not getting heard by Secretary Rumsfeld?

ALTER: That very well may be. And it's interesting, another thing that's in Woodward's book is that Warner was one of the people was considered by Andy Card who wanted Rumsfeld fired. And Warner was one of the candidates possibly to replace him, but the president and Dick Cheney weren't having anything of it. So we've, you know, been stuck in a ditch ever since.

OLBERMANN: One last thing that's just slightly off topping but so fascinating, we can't skip this. The president tells to listen to what al Qaeda says that their take on Iraq is as important as anybody in America's take on it. U.S. officials said they found a letter from a top al Qaeda leader that says "Prolonging the war is in our interest." Al Qaeda does not want to us withdraw from Iraq. They like having us there. Is this message that al Qaeda and George Bush are on the same page, likely to get out before these elections?

ALTER: I don't think so. But what it does do, look, I mean, it's hard to really credit anything that these sick killers have to say. But the point is that the presence of American forces in Iraq is a recruiting mechanism for al Qaeda. This is something that Democrats have been saying for a long time and this just confirm it.

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter from MSNBC and "Newsweek." Many thanks for your time. Many happy returns. Happy birthday.

ALTER: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight here, fire rips through the downtown

Memphis district in the middle of the night destroying an historic church,

gutting several other buildings including a high rise in an extraordinary

scene. Pathetic

And the walk down the aisle for Tomkat. More rumors of a wedding date surface, so too, do stories that won her heart by realigning her chassis. Details on that automotive news ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: One fire leading to the evacuation of thousands in North Carolina. Another in downtown Memphis, looking more like a Hollywood movie. And the fallout from Foley-Gage providing plenty of fodder for late night comedy. That's next this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The town has a motto, "The peak of good living," but right now life in Apex, North Carolina is anything but. Fierce fire breaking out a local toxic waste facility, sending a cloud of chlorine gas into the air, prompting 17,000 residents to flee overnight. Now, as our correspondent Michele Kosinski reports, in our second story in the Countdown, thanks to the noxious cloud hanging over the town, they're still not allowed home.


MICHELE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pillars of smoke, flame, and chlorine gas billow over Apex, North Carolina overnight, pouring from a toxic waste processing facility. Explosion eventually collapsed the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was people setting off fireworks.

KOSINSKI: The fire started in this industrial park, forcing officials to evacuate a mile in every direction, as many as 17,000 people in all. Some went to shelters, nearly 30 others went to hospitals with respiratory problems. All were treated and released. As the fire burn through the night, there were fears about which way the win would carry the toxic cloud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And winds have been fairly consistent. It would make sense to evacuate all of this area.

KOSINSKI (on camera): Federal environmental official are now here, monitoring the air, but say so far, air quality has been safe.

(voice-over): The facility, owned by EQ Industrials, was cited and finded $32,000 in March for violations including "failure to minimize the possibility of a sudden release of hazardous waste." But the cite passed its last inspection just eight days ago.

Today firefighters had to let the flames burn out but were help by faverable winds and rainfall.

KEITH WEATHERLY, MAYOR OF APEX, NC: The rain is the best thing that could have happened today.

KOSINSKI: As for the evacuees...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just tired, frustrate, want to get home.

KONSINSKI: Late today, official say they will be forced to spend a second night away from home.

Michele Kosinski, NBC NEWS, Apex, North Carolina.


OLBERMANN: And in Memphis, another overnight fire burned three downtown buildings and destroyed the 100-year-old First United Methodist Church, that's where the blaze started about 3:00 this morning, spreading quickly through the old building, collapsing the steeple. Winds clocked at 10-mile-an-hour, quickly carried the ember to the Lincoln American Tower, once the tallest building in that city.

Witnesses say the resultant fire lit up the whole downtown area.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The flame was tall as the building. I mean, I'd never seen nothing like that except for on TV. Looked like the inferno.


OLBERMANN: While the church was destroyed, firefighters believed the Lincoln Tower might still be salvaged. Officials still don't know what caused it, though they say it was not arson.

Turning to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment and tabloid news, "Keeping Tabs." And thrill of thrills, apparently Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting married. This being nearly the 495th time we've reported on the purport date of said union. Latest word, the nuptials are now set for sometime in the first three weeks of November. Or as a sports commentator once called them, the nupitals (SIC).

The latest news coming as more details now emerging about how these two actually got together. According to published reports, upon meeting Miss Holmes, Tom Cruise invited her to Rome, gave her a credit card with $100,000 on it. He had her car completely overhauled. Nothing says lovin' like a good lube job.

To add to the whole creep factor, apparently none of Katie Holm's friends from before she met Mr. Cruise have even heard from her since she hooked up with him.

Speaking of creepy things, football's most controversial player, Terrell Owens, has written a book for children. Who wouldn't want their kid written by a man not only famous for being one of the most undisciplined players in the NFL, but who also accidentally overdosed last week and got censured for this little nugget on Monday night football two years ago.





OLBERMANN: Oh, hell indeed. "Little T Learns to Share," the first of a trilogy of Terrell Owens' books for children, coming out next week reportedly to be followed by "Little T Grows up and Forgets How to Share."

The D.C. outrage of the week has also been the top laugh-getter for late night TV. The Republican sex scandal with all those pesky restraints of reporting erased and only the satyr and stand-up comedy left for your enjoyment.

That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

I'm out of cute ways to hock this thing. I'm happy to say it's still outselling "Rachael Ray" at Amazon, thank goodness. Ack! Buy one. Thank you!

Tonight's Bronze, to Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist who said on Tucker Carlson's show this afternoon that Democrats have been "preying on the fact they hoped there's some other type of terrorist attack."

Pardon me, madam, but are you insane or - or - sorry, I can't think of any other option. Honestly, take a shower, check yourself into a hospital. Get your blood chemistry tested. Gees!

The Silver to the indomitable Wall Street Journal" editorial board proudly trying to take journalism back to the 15th century. Trying to spin this Foley disaster by saying the House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had voted in favor of revoking the charter of the Boy Scouts because the group had banned gay scout masters.

You might want to hire a fact checker. There was a vote on that, Representative Pelosi, like 49 other House Democrats voted neither yes nor no, but present, basically that would be an abstention. Nice try though "Wall Street Journal" editorial board.

But tonight's winners, "NewsBusters." Rabid right-winger Brent Bozell's self-style media watchdog with its typical kind of breathless headline: "Is Brian William the next Dan Rather?" Somebody named Al Brown claiming that the Mark Foley instant message story was a prank and that in breaking it, "Brian William and ABC have already abused the anonymous source dodge at least once in this saga." And quoting again, "Perhaps Brian Williams should resign. But for now, ABC is standing by their story."

Listen, I don't want to tell you how to do your jobs "NewsBusters," I mean, after all, you are the experts, we're just the that ideologues trying to feed falsehoods and mistakes to the gullible American public. But don't you think you'd look a little in the know and a little less deranged if you didn't write articles in which you suggest that Brian Williams, the anchor of NBC NIGHTLY NEWS and Brian Ross, the investigative reporter who broke the Foley story for ABC New, that they're the same guy?

I mean, if you prefer looking like slovenly political hacks who make the same mistake 10 times in an eight paragraph story, hey, go nuts! You're obviously highly trained professionals when it comes to humiliating yourselves. But you already know all this. You don't need to get the names or the networks right. Facts, smacts. Keep page sixing this thing, it's working for you. Brian Ross, Brian Williams, hell, maybe it was Brian Kilme from FOX!

I'm just sayin'.

"NewsBusters" and Al Brown, if that is your real name, today's "Worst Persons in the World."


OLBERMANN: It was simply just a little much for us. Here we'll suspend the newscast to do 11 minutes on the president's prevarications and when there are no cameras in the Michael Jackson courtroom, damn it, we will send puppets. But the line that occurred in the newsroom Monday night, was just too over the line. Mark Foley's headed into rehab, we can turn over a new page.

Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, we did not use it Monday night, so the next evening I'm in the dressing room at "Late Night with David Letterman" and I'm watching him sail through the monologue, as usual, and he says, "Mark Foley is now in rehab he says that once he gets out he wants to turn over a new page." We thought, oh well, what the hell. Let's temporarily erase that line between the occasional good taste of this newscast and the highlights from a week of the take-no-prisoners approach of TV comedy and Internet satyr.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the calendar for the day. You find a Senate manual in here. Anything else you want, just snap for a page.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you (BLEEP) this weekend yourself?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, been too tired and too busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow I am never too busy, ha ha.


REP. MARK FOLEY (R), FLORIDA: They're sick people, they need mental health counseling. They certainly don't need to be interacting with children.

JON STEWART, "DAILY SHOW": That was mark Foley from 2002 reacting to himself three years later.

JAY LENO, "TONIGHT SHOW": Well, (INAUDIBLE) Mark Foley has resigned, so his seat was up for grabs, which is what garrotte him in the trouble in the first place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you make you a little horny? A little.


STEWART: See, this is why I treat my interns lie garbage. When you start being nice to them, next thin you know you've gone and made them horny.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take this instant message he sent to a former page.

"How my favorite young stud doing?"

The word "stud" there raised a lot of eyebrows, but that's an instant message acronym for "strong teen using democracy." Thank god Capitol Hill is filled with young STUDS.

CONAN O'BRIEN, "LATE NIGHT": Apparently new evidence, this just came out, shows the former congressman, Mark Foley, once engaged in internet sex with a former page while a vote was being taken in the House. Apparently instead of voting "aye," Foley voted "oh, god yes!"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you wearing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T-shirt and shorts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love to slip them off you.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well the messages and these e-mails are disturbing they do not violate the Republican platform. At no point did Foley gay marry or gay adopt these pages. He didn't even gay flag burn them.

FOLEY: Who they're looking for is some pervert that's watching on-line to find a nice young thing that they can then act out their own sexual fantasies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, maybe the light bulb should have tipped us off.

LETTERMAN: Well, you know, a couple of days ago he checked himself into rehab. Checked himself into rehab. Yeah, it's gotten so bad he had to go out and develop a drinking problem.

STEWART: To be fair though, Mark Foley's problem wasn't that he drink, it was what he drank. Young Boyschlager.

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN: Leave alcohol out of this. Alcohol might make you, you know, sleep with a fatty or pee on your neighbor's yard, but you don't turn into a pedophile.

LENO: I guess he had a little going away party at his place.


LENO: Yeah, a little going away part. Show the party from Foley's house today. There he is. Yeah, some of the kids.

LETTERMAN: Anyway, he's trying to restore his battered image.

Take a look at this - Mark Foley.

ANNOUNCER: While you may attack him for his personal indiscretions, former congressman Mark Foley would like to remind people that he did a lot of good for his district. He got money to have roads repaved and bridges built, providing employment for hundreds of sweaty, muscular construction workers - hundreds of shirtless, hunks of men - tasty, tasty.

Mark Foley, bringing home the pork.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But in fairness to Republics, let me throw this out there. Who invented the Internet? That's right, Al Gore, a Democrat. If it wasn't for him none of this would have happened.

Run with it FOX News. Go ahead.

STEWART: John, in your mind, the Democrats are to blame for this situation.

JOHN OLIVER, COMEDY CENTRAL: Them and the pages, Jon. They all saw the same intelligence. They'd been briefed at orientation; they all saw the memo specifically addressing this allegation. If you don't heed a memo like that, you're an idiot.




OLBERMANN: That's Countdown, for this the 1,252nd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

This reminder to join us again at Midnight Eastern tonight, 11:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 Pacific, for the late edition of Countdown.

Up next, MSNBC REPORTS, "Tracking a Killer in New York."

I am Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.