Thursday, October 12, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 12

Guests: Michael Musto; Barry Lynn

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

"Tempting Faith." Part two of our exclusive look inside the explosive White House insider book, written by President Bush's former special assistant David Kuo, the former number-two man at his Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. He recounts a staffer asking Karl Rove how he was supposed to start that office virtually overnight, and Rove answering, quote, "I don't know. Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing, got it?"

Kuo describes a virtual political scam to get the evangelical vote. How the Bush tax cuts brutalized evangelical charities. How, when Jack Kemp removed religious values language from a speech to the Southern Baptist Leadership Convention, Kuo and another speechwriter put those quotes back in, in religious code words.

Karl Rove talked Mark Foley into not quitting Congress last winter? Chris Shays dragged Chappaquiddick into the Republican sex scandal? The House Ethics Committee is bearing down on three senior Hastert staffers? Former Foley chief of staff Kirk Fordham testified today? The pace quickens in the Foley disaster.

Are any Democrats running for president? A word on that from Mark Warner, a slightly different word from Al Gore.

The National Transportation Safety Board's word on the Cory Lidle plane crash.

And Tara Reid gets an implant adjustment. And apparently in the world of child actors-turned-adult performers, Screech needs no adjustment.

DUSTIN DIAMOND, ACTOR: I'm proud of myself, prowess-speaking. I mean, so it's nothing to be embarrassed about, I guess.

OLBERMANN: No, we're all embarrassed enough for you. All that and more now on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Thursday, October 12th, 26 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

"Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing," eight words attributed to Karl Rove by author and former special assistant to the president, David Kuo, that could by themselves very well decide those midterms. In our fifth story on the Countdown, part two of our look inside Mr. Kuo's extraordinary new book, "Tempting Faith," written from his earlier vantage point as the number-two man in Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

And though it's a very large tip, the Rove quote is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As we reported last night, Mr. Kuo is making several explosive claims, among them that, behind their backs, the nation's top evangelical Christians were regarded with routine mockery and contempt by White House staffers, called "nuts" and "ridiculous."

We also told you that Kuo writes that the faith-based office was so starved for support from the Oval Office that it was forced to transform itself into a political arm of Republican campaign efforts.

David Kuo is himself a self-described conservative Christian. His personal and his religion assessment of Mr. Bush is nowhere near the most newsworthy of Kuo's revelations in our report tonight, but it might be a valuable key to understanding this president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart.

OLBERMANN (voice-over): To this day, Kuo writes, he believes Mr. Bush loves Jesus, that he is a good man. However, Kuo also writes many Christians assume from his belief in Jesus Christ that Bush won't do what other politicians do: (INAUDIBLE) their work, hide their mistakes, spin the truth, and that those assumptions are wrong.

In Kuo's eyes, today's national Christians leaders are being used. They did not have the same shrewdness, he suggests, that Billy Graham had in the '70s to question whether Richard Nixon was using him solely for his appeal to religious voters. In fact, Christians who voted for Mr. Bush based on his religion may have ended up hurting the very people Jesus sought to help: the poor.

BUSH: I urge the Senate to pass the faith-based initiative for the good of America.

OLBERMANN: But Kuo writes that, when Senator Chuck Grassley tried to rewrite Mr. Bush's $1.7 trillion tax cut to include $6 billion in tax credits for groups helping the poor, tax credits Mr. Bush himself had publicly proposed, Kuo writes, "Bush's assistant told Grassley to drop the charity tax credits. The White House had no interest."

The cuts Mr. Bush did want made things worse for charities. Kuo writes that the estate tax cuts discourage charitable giving, costing charities an estimated $5 billion. "The ultimate impact of Mr. Bush tax cuts," Kuo writes, "was to brutalize the very charities Mr. Bush once identified as his top priorities. After only a year," Kuo writes, "charitable donations were down dramatically, and some charities had shut down."

Kuo also writes that the White House was more concerned with the appearance of doing something. He says the faith-based office wasn't even set up during the 2001 transition after the end of the Clinton administration. It was not set up until Mr. Bush took office and Karl Rove gave a transition volunteer less than one week to roll out the entire faith-based initiative.

The volunteer asked Rove how he should do that without a staff, without an office, without even a plan. According to Kuo, quote, "Rove looked at him, took a deep breath, and said, 'I don't know. Just get me a f-ing faith-based thing, got it?" unquote. After that, it was easier to push faith-based legislation rather than faith-based funding, because legislation was a cheaper way to show the president was supposedly doing something.

Bush assistant Margaret Spelling, now the secretary of education, asked Kuo for legislation and said she didn't care what kind. "Any kind of faith bill would do," he writes.

When the office got a substantive bill backed by every senator from Santorum to Clinton, the only hold-up was a green light from Josh Bolten or Andy Card. They did not get the green light. What kind of bill did get such a support? Kuo writes, "The White House liked the issue of religion hiring, not because it was a real issue affecting real charities, but because it was divisive, and that made good politics."

"Tempting Faith" also suggests that this Bush White House would use anything for politics. Anything.

JERRY FALWELL, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays, and the lesbians, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, "You helped this happen."

OLBERMANN: After those comments, Kuo asked whether Karl Rove still wanted to let Jerry Falwell attend the national service. Even while Ground Zero was still burning, politics still mattered. Rove let Falwell attend, as long as he stayed off-camera.

While others wept, Kuo writes, Falwell laughed about something with another conservative leader. Spotting Barbara Bush, Falwell remarked on how frumpy she looked.

Even choosing the new faith-based director, Jim Towey, was an issue of politics. Rove put out the word that, for Towey to get the job, he had to get as many cardinals as he could to vouch for him. He did, and he got the job.

Kuo freely admits that he, too, is no stranger to the politics of conservative compassion. He writes he spent much of the '90s lobbying for it. But at the time, he says the top Republican donors had no interest in fighting poverty. They had other enemies in mind and told Kuo they would provide lavish funding if the target was not poverty, but instead the Clintons.

And Kuo would know about this. By the early '90s, he was already a conservative insider, part of Jack Kemp's think-tank, Empower America. To help bring about the 1994 Republican revolution, Kuo writes that he and his team taught more than 600 candidates how to run for office: by blaming President Clinton for the nation's sad state of affairs at the time.

Kuo writes that they tried to ignore the fact that Clinton had only just started in office after 12 years of the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Bush.

Together with fellow Christian Mike Gerson, now Bush's top speechwriter, Kuo writes that he wrote political speeches designed to appeal to religion audiences, even when the speakers did not want to give those speeches. Jack Kemp, for one, removed religious values language from a speech he was to give to the Southern Baptist Convention. So instead, Kuo writes, Gerson and Kuo snuck in a few phrases that evangelicals would recognize but laypeople would not.

Kuo writes that it was a code that would continue to be used in speeches over the years by politicians, including John Ashcroft, Ralph Reed, Bob Dole and George W. Bush.


OLBERMANN: The Reverend Barry Lynn is not a conservative Christian. He's a Christian, also executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the author of "Piety and Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom."

Reverend Lynn, thank you for your time tonight, sir.

REV. BARRY LYNN, WWW.AU.ORG [link]: Nice to be here.

OLBERMANN: It's one thing if people outside their circle say to those of the religious right, "You're being played. They want only your vote." Presumably, it's quite another thing if someone perceived to be inside that circle, like David Kuo, says it. But is that presumption correct, or can even this book be rationalized?

LYNN: I don't think that most of the people who would consider themselves religious right members or conservative evangelicals have any idea that, within Karl Rove's office, they are being referred to as "nuts" or "ridiculous" or any of the other language.

You know, a lot of religious right leaders say to me that I'm either the biggest thorn in their side and the biggest enemy in their midst, and sometimes things even more impolite. But all I do is argue with them on the merits of issues. But to have the top leaders of the White House refer to them with this kind of language becomes a Judas moment, a moment where they feel betrayed. And they're going to feel betrayed as this story gets out more and more.

OLBERMANN: Apart from being an issue of faith and of breaking faith, this is such a vital issue politically. What happens if even a small percentage of the religious right reads Kuo's book or hears about it and says, "I don't want to vote for these guys anymore." Do they feel like they have an option to vote for a Democrat or not vote at all? Or is the pollution - I don't want to say corruption - but pollution of their religion so pervasive in this case that they're vote anyway for the proverbial devil they know?

LYNN: I don't know that any of us know the answer to that. James Dobson recently - just about two weeks ago at a big event here in Washington - said that it was unthinkable to work for or to vote for the other party. But, again, that's before this book came out and its revelations came out. And I think there will be a lot of people who have done what they did in past election, including when Senator Dole was running for the presidency, and just vote for third parties or not vote at all. That's certainly the thing the White House needs to be concerned about, as this book gets bigger and longer legs.

OLBERMANN: Yesterday, we reported Mr. Kuo's claim that his office had helped Republican candidates in 2002 by holding these thinly disguised get out the vote events in targeted districts. Did you know about that?

LYNN: Yes. In 2002, we actually issued a report and floated it around, got some media attention for it. We found that these meetings seemed to be occurring in the very legislative districts, congressional districts and states with very tight governor's races, where it made all the difference in the world to be able to go in, lure churches, even some African-American churches, into believing they might get some of this faith-based money and then hope that they would be welcoming it by returning a vote for the Republican Party. It worked in some states; it did not work in all states.

But I remember having arguments with Jim Towey on television, in private, and at college and university debates, and I would tell him that that's exactly what his office was doing, and he would deny it categorically. I've known Jim Towey, David Kuo's long-time boss, for a long time. He's had dinner at my house.

But when he started to work for the faith-based initiative office, he made a deal with the devil. He thought that he could somehow do the political stuff, the partisan stuff, and still help the poor. It turned out all that he was doing was being a cog in this political machine. And, frankly, the faith-based initiative has caused fights among religion groups and between religious groups and secular groups for the crumbs from the king's table, when it comes to social spending, and that's, by any standard, an obscenity in the wealthiest nation ever to have existed on this planet.

OLBERMANN: Are we who view this from a political point of view, or an administration point of view, or government point of view missing the key crux here? Because it seems to me, in reading what Kuo has written, that his major concern, that those who went into this in good faith were hoping in some way to help the poor, and that the main betrayal here is of that principal, why has it been so easy to win conservative Christian votes with issues that Jesus Christ was never supposed to have mentioned, like gay marriage, while turning a blind eye to his big issue, if you will, helping the poor?

LYNN: No, it was Jesus' big issue. Jesus never talked about same-sex marriage or gay and lesbian rights. In fact, the whole Bible, there's not a word that condemns abortion.

What the religious right has convinced people all over this country and their churches to believe is something that is an encrusting of their political ideas, the religious right's own political and partisan ideas on the words of Jesus, so their distortion of the gospel makes it possible for them to say, "The only thing that matters is abortion and gay marriage, but we'll get to the poor some other time." But they never do, and neither does this president.

OLBERMANN: Reverend Barry Lynn, great thanks for your time, Barry.

LYNN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: A quick note about "Tempting Faith" and our coverage. The book is not scheduled to go on sale until next week, but Countdown managed to obtain a copy exclusively by walking into a local book store and asking for it. We got a receipt and everything.

Today, we contacted the White House for comment but have as yet received no reply. We also have a standing invitation to author David Kuo to appear on the program. Our coverage of "Tempting Faith" will continue tomorrow.

While much of the response so far is focusing on the ridicule of evangelical leaders behind their back, another more serious issue deserving further scrutiny. As we reported yesterday, Mr. Kuo claims that, in a bid to prove its political value, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives turned itself into a veritable arm of the Republican campaign machinery using taxpayer money to organize events planned specifically to help Republicans in tight races. We'll be sharing some of the details on that here on Countdown tomorrow night.

The political fallout of "Tempting Faith" ahead, with Howard Fineman. This is not how to fire up the base during a time of crisis within the Republican Party.

Crises, like the questions about what the speaker of the House knew and when he knew it. The House Ethics Committee zeroing in today on the people surrounding Dennis Hastert. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The same day that the Ethics Committee was hearing testimony challenging the speaker's account of what he knew and when he knew it in the Republican page sex scandal, the White House chose to send the president out to stump for embattled Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, still the sizzle, not the steak. The president and the speaker appearing side by side at a Republican rally in Chicago tonight. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the House Ethics Committee was questioning the one-time chief of staff to then-Congressman Mark Foley about when he first told Mr. Hastert's office about Mr. Foley's conduct toward male pages.

Still ahead, we'll address the political fallout of today's testimony with "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman. But first, for more on the investigation itself, let's go to our own political correspondent David Shuster in Washington.

David, good evening.


OLBERMANN: What do we know about Kyle Fordham's testimony today?

SHUSTER: Well, Kirk Fordham spent five hours in front of the committee, Keith. And according to sources familiar with his testimony, Fordham testified that he started having conversations with the House page clerk about Foley's behavior six years ago, back in 2000, and that these conversations prompted Kirk Fordham to try to confront his boss, Congressman Foley, to get his boss to change his behavior. But those conversations did not have an impact.

But the key testimony, we are told today, came when Fordham talked about an incident back in 2003. Kirk Fordham said that, three years ago, it was brought to his attention that his boss, Congressman Foley, had showed up the night before drunk at the page dormitory on Capitol Hill.

Kirk Fordham testified that this prompted him to go to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office to try to get that office to intercede with Foley. Fordham testified today that he had a direct conversation with Scott Palmer, Denny Hastert's chief of staff, and that, during this conversation, Palmer told Fordham that he, Palmer, would take up the matter with Congressman Foley.

Fordham also testified today that there was a subsequent conversation with Palmer two days later, in which Palmer confirmed to Fordham that he had spoken to Foley and that Palmer had also said he had brought the entire Foley matter to his boss, House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

Again, the significance of all this is that this was allegedly happening three years ago. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has said he didn't know anything about this until two weeks ago. For his part, Scott Palmer has issued a statement saying that what Kirk Fordham said did not happen. However, Keith, we've got sources who are confirming that at least Kirk Fordham was talking about all of this at the time three years ago.

OLBERMANN: Beyond Mr. Fordham - and I called him Kyle, not Kirk, my apologies - it appears that the Ethics Committee is zeroing in on three members of the speaker's staff. Is that correct?

SHUSTER: Yes, that's right. In addition to Scott Palmer, the chief of staff involved in this alleged incident, or supposedly involved in this incident three years ago, there are two others. Mike Stokke, who is the deputy chief of staff to the speaker, and Ted Van Der Meid, who was the counsel, those two, the last two, were apparently involved in Foley's request a year ago, a request in which he sent an e-mail to a page from Louisiana asking the page for a photograph and, in that contact, expressing some comments about the body of another page.

Again, the significance is there you have, at least a year ago, two top deputies to Denny Hastert having meetings, having conversations about Foley, and, again, Hastert maintaining that he didn't know about anything of this until just two weeks ago.

OLBERMANN: And who goes in from of this committee tomorrow?

SHUSTER: The testimony tomorrow is expected from John Shimkus. He's the congressman from Illinois. He is the chairman of the board that oversees the page program. What's so interesting about Congressman Shimkus is that he also had a conversation with Foley a year ago about an e-mail that he sent. Shimkus has said that he did not ask Congressman Foley if there were other contacts or other e-mails, but Denny Hastert has said repeatedly that, no, Shimkus did have conversations with Foley in which he asked about other conversations, other e-mails, and that Foley lied to Shimkus, and therefore nobody could have understood or nobody could have believed that Foley was involved in these other activities.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's David Shuster. As always, David, great thanks for your information.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Just three and a half weeks to Election Day. What the speaker knew, when he knew it, just one of many serious problems facing the Republicans. Could we be witnessing the breakdown of the hitherto unstoppable Rove re-election machine?

And now - just coincidence, no segue here, none at all, I swear - just a pig race, next on Countdown. That's all it is.


OLBERMANN: Eighty three years ago today, on October 12, 1923, in the third World Series game ever played at Yankee Stadium, the New York Giants beat the Yankees 1-0 on a home run by Casey Stengel. Twenty five years later to the day, Stengel was named manager of the Yankees. And in his first five years on that job, he won the World Series five times.

OK, top that. Let's play "Oddball."

And in sports, we begin in Dallas with the pig races at the Texas State Fair. How long is this fair anyway, three months? And look at them go. Each piggy had its very own cheerleader, as hundreds of fans and gambling degenerates packed the grandstands. And it's the Other White Meat leading through the hairpin turn, followed closely by Snausages and Future Pork Chop third. Snausages, Future Pork Chip third, and bringing up the rear, oh, that's sad. The number-four pig barely able to support his own weight, but he's going to make it to the finish line. Number-four pig, ah.

To India and roller-skating stunts performed by a 5-year-old. Look out: there's a car there. Look out: there's a car there. Oh, I get it. Her name is Muskaan, and she's the hero of Gwalior. She's got just under eight inches of clearance under that vehicle, but she makes it out the other side without a scratch. She actually failed in her first attempt, which sounds painful, but her father convinced her that she should give it another go. He says a couple more like this and she'll be ready to try it in live highway traffic.

Speaking of playing in the freeway, is the GOP in full desperation mode? If a moderate like Chris Shays is throwing out comments about Chappaquiddick to defend the Mark Foley scandal, well, yes, that probably would be desperation in any league.

And the crash that killed New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, it was an accident. But it is sparking concerns about whether the airspace above our cities is too loosely regulated. Details ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

To Alberton High School in Montana. It has canceled the varsity football season after the team returned from a road trip missing a player. Well, not exactly "missing." Even though there were adults on the bus, it appears that the rest of the players hazed one of the kids by taping him to the inside roof of the bus. "Say, coach, where'd that big wasp's nest come from?"

Number two, an unnamed wire service reporter interviewing members of Cory Lidle's old team, the Oakland A's, about their late teammate. After one interview, according to the "San Francisco Chronicle," the reporter asked his interviewee, "What is your name, and what do you do?" The interviewee replied, "I'm Ken Macha. I manage the team." That's journalistic preparation!

Number one, Anthony Mesa of Deland, Florida. A former clerk at a convenience store, he was convicted of urinating in a plastic container of soda that he then sold to a customer who became violently ill. Mesa was sentenced to, among other things, periodic drug tests, where he has to urinate into a plastic container. He failed to accomplish this, though. Why? He claims he has a condition known as shy bladder. He can't go if anybody's watching. "Nurse, can you bring a soda bottle in here?"


KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: For someone known as the architect or boy genius for his management of President Bush's campaign, Karl Rove's handing of the 2006 mid-term elections could prove to be his own and his parties undoing.

Our third story in the Countdown, a new report that earlier this year, Mr. Rove actually strong armed Congressman Mark Foley into running for reelection when the Florida Republican had been prepared to just walk away.

The "New Republic" quoting a friend of Foley's who says that as early this year, Foley had all but decided to retire from the House to work as a lobbyist in Washington before Mr. Rove intervened. The White House and Rove gang apparently telling Mr. Foley that if he did not run for reelection it might impact his career as a lobbyist.

Well, that worked out well for the Republican Party.

The White House standing by the beleaguered House speaker, not just President Bush, but also his press secretary, Tony Snow, scheduled to stump for Dennis Hastert at a fundraiser on Saturday. Mr. Snow's campaign calendar, in fact, chocked full of speeches, fundraisers, other political events in the final weeks before the election. Your tax dollars in action.

The GOP's fortunes and those of Mr. Rove likely to sink even further next week with the release of "Tempting Faith" to bookstores besides the one we bought it at.

All-in-all the kind of political climate that might cause even a GOP moderate to become desperate and say "Drag Chappaquiddick into the Republican sex scandal." Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, lashing out after Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy made a campaign appearance for Mr. Shays' opponent last week. Quoting the congressman from the "Hartford Current" newspaper, "I know the speaker didn't go over a bridge and leave a young person in the water, and then have a press conference the next day. Dennis Hastert didn't kill anybody."

Did we mention the election's only 26 days from now?

For more on the mindset of the Republican Party as well as the measures it's taken recently, time now to call upon our own Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Good evening, Howard.


OLBERMANN: We'll start with the Republican sex scandal and this is comparatively trivial in it, but Chris Shays invokes Chappaquiddick, the token reasonable Republican? I mean, what do we look for next from him? Spontaneous human combustion?

FINEMAN: Well, I think it's a great campaign slogan. "Our guy didn't kill anybody." You know, talk about lowering expectations, you know?


FINEMAN: I think it's fascinating because Chris Shays has always prospered in Connecticut by being a moderate, by being a guy who got a lot of democratic votes. By being a guy who is hard to pigeonhole, by being a guy who never ran from the Republican talking points, especially not from the conservative talk radio talking points. And that's what he was doing here, this has been all other talk radio the last couple of days. You know, what about Teddy Kennedy? What about Gary (SIC) Studds? You know, what about you name it? And they've been using the Kennedy name and you've been hearing lots of sort of water and gurgling on conservative talk radio. I was astonished that Shays felt himself embattled enough in Connecticut to do that.

OLBERMANN: Yeah, the shelf life on that, it's - the story's age now is 37-years-old. It's beginning to wane, I think. But all right, to the pertinent part of this. Let's bring up something from the Civil War. To the revelations about Karl Rove and the arm-twisting.

Does this provide a possible motive for why the GOP congressional leadership appears to have been so willing to look the other way when it came to Mark Foley and the conduct with the pages even as the evidence was piling up? Did the White House really want him to stay in the House?

FINEMAN: Yeah, I think that's part of the myopia here - maybe the deliberate myopia. They didn't want know because Foley was popular in Florida, popular in that district. An excellent fundraiser, as he proved by turning over hundreds of thousands of dollar from his pack to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee to sort of, you know, buy his continued membership in the insider's club of the Republicans on the Hill.

You know, as a matter of fact, Foley told me a number of months back that there was a point at which the White House, meaning Rove, was trying to entice him into the Senate race down there, to take on Bill Nelson in the Senate race. So Karl Rove and the Republicans, you know, weren't as interested in whatever possible downside he might have and the fact that they viewed him as a member of the club and a good fundraiser.

OLBERMANN: All right, besides the Foley scandal, what's on deck, obviously, the David Kuo book and the charges made in "Tempting Faith" that Mr. Rove was using the Christian right. With a quote like you know, "Just get me a 'f-ing" faith-based thing" attributed to Karl Rove, is that going to resonate either within the political end of the religious right movement or within Washington, generally?

FINEMAN: Well, I think among Evangelical Bible-believing Christian political activists, the kind of people I was talking to the other week at this Washington meeting of the Focus on the Family political group, that's Dr. James Dobson's group. A lot of those people at the grassroots who came here, and that I talked to, were very, very skeptical about this White House, now. Yes, they were happy about the Supreme Court nominations of Alito and Roberts, but beyond that they felt they'd been led along by the nose, that they hadn't been given all of the programs that they had wanted, that they were beginning to feel like they had been used. That was before this book come out.

And I can tell you that a lot of those people that I talked to, the other week, are going look at this new book and say, "aha, this is what we thought all along." They're not all going to suddenly start voting Democrat, Keith, but they may stay home, they may not volunteer as much, they might not drive the vans, they might not work the phone, because now they look at what looks, in this book, to be a very, very cynical Republican White House.

OLBERMANN: And there's one more thing on deck and maybe this is going to be the biggest of them all. The head of the British army has tonight called for British troops to be withdrawn from Iraq almost immediately, quoting him in the newspapers there in the morning, "We must quit Iraq soon."

Are the wheels off for good, of the Republican and presidential bus if the British military actually announces plans or even talks about withdrawing from Iraq?

FINEMAN: Well actually, I thought the key was when Kazakhstan left the coalition on the willing. But no, if Britain goes and if they're no longer willing, you know, that's the canary in the coalmine - that's the signal that we have - the United States has no support whatsoever in the world. The British were our last mainstay there and I think that's very important because British politics and American politics have sort of become one. And that's a bad vote from the British army.

OLBERMANN: We're going to go into depth on that one tomorrow. "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman, as always sir, our great thanks.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The political climate changing enough that Mr. Climate Change himself could be reconsidering a return to politics. Al Gore either deviating slightly from his script or changing it. In an interview this week on television in France, when asked whether he's entertaining thoughts of another run for the White House in 2008, Mr. Gore with an answer subtly different from what he said here in June about having moved on in his life.

"I don't plan to be a candidate for president again. I haven't completely ruled out the possibility, but don't expect to do it again. I am involved in a campaign; it's not for myself or for a candidacy, it's a campaign for this cause, to change people's minds on the climate crisis."

Possibly changing his mind, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner announcing now that he will not be running for the democratic nomination in 2008.

Also tonight, the early findings of the investigation into the New York high-rise plane crash and security issues raised.

And one of the lawyers for Anna Nicole Smith has just quit. Not the one who claims he really knows the answer when you ask Miss Smith's new daughter, "Who's your daddy?" That and more ahead on Countdown.


The latest on the investigation into the Cory Lidle small plane crash in New York City. Anna Nicole Smith loses one of her many lawyers. Kevin Federline jealous of his competition. And Screech bragging about his sex, that's next (INAUDIBLE).


OLBERMANN: And the ironies tinged with tragedy continue to be discovered a day after New York Yankees' pitcher, Cory Lidle and his small aircraft crashed into a New York City high-rise apartment building.

Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, not only did that building house the office of the medical director of the New York Mets, the team with which Lidle had begun his major league career, but it also turns out to be the home of Manny Acta, the Met's third base coach.

And the National Transportation Safety Board has made its first statement about the fatal accident. It has confirmed yesterday's reported flight route. Lidle and his flight instructor took off from Teterborough Airport in New Jersey. Radar shows them flying around the Statue of Liberty before heading up the East River corridor, close to the airspace of LaGuardia Airport. The plane started to turn left there, radar lost contact with it when it was about a quarter mile away from the Bellaire building, flying just 500 feet above ground. A Coast Guard surveillance camera actually caught the moment of the impact on tape. Well, it's still unclear whether it was Lidle or his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, actually flying the plane.

As our aviation correspondent emeritus Bob Hager reports tonight, the fact that they were allowed to fly around New York City at all sparks renewed questions about safety post-9/11.

Bob, good evening.


BOB HAGER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith. Well clearly this crash had nothing to do with terrorism, but it does raise issues along the line of what if. I mean, it raises the question of what is this corridor doing where private planes can fly so close to this densely populated area of Manhattan? And right by very sensitive buildings like the United Nations is just a couple of blocks down the river. So, this is certain to rekindle the debate about whether we have enough restrictions against general aviation.

(voice-over): After 9/11, private planes were simply kept out of many major cities and they're still mostly kept away from Washington, D.C. But elsewhere, restrictions have been relaxed and only a few airports go as far as those in Westchester County, New York where Gene Condreras of Panorama Flight School took us on a tour today.

(on camera): A small plane like this, how can you make sure somebody just doesn't wander in and get inside.

GENE CONDRERAS, PANORAMA FLIGHT SCHOOL: At Westchester County Airport, here, we - we are mandated by the County to do a double lock system. We chain and padlock each tail of the aircraft that's not attended and the doors are locked. Larger unattended aircraft get a wheel boot lock that the county has supplied us. And it is locked up and the airplane's not going anywhere with one of these on.

HAGER (voice-over): But the association that represents private pilots argues that small planes don't pose anything close to a 9/11-type threat because they weigh so little and carry less fuel.

For instance, look at how confined the damage was in yesterday's crash. Or this one four years ago, when a 15-year-old intentionally flu into a building in Tampa. But others warn if a small plane were loaded with explosives or biochemical agents or a dirty bomb, it could be catastrophic.

Researcher David Hayman (ph).

DAVID HAYMAN (ph), RESEARCHER: We need to think about aircraft as delivery vehicles for larger weapons.

HAGER: Or what if he aimed, for instance, at a stadium?

(on camera): And tonight, the FAA has said it's going to review the rules under which private planes are allowed to fly around Manhattan, particularly these corridors as a result of this incident. So the FAA is serving notice that it'll at least consider the question of whether to make corridors like this more restrictive in the future - Keith.


OLBERMANN: Bob Hager, our aviation correspondent emeritus. Greatest thanks, Bob.

No segue possible then into our nightly roundup of entertainment and tabloid news. It's Anna Nicole Smith again, this time one of her lawyer's quitting and no, it was not the one with which she has exchanged informal wedding vows.

Attorney Michael Scott has withdrawn as legal counsel for Miss Smith, he said he was disturbed with her decision to exchange those vows when she had not yet made funeral arrangements for her son, Daniel. Miss Smith had a ceremony on a catamaran with her other lawyer and long-time spokesman, and now apparent boyfriend, Howard K. Stern, in September.

Hey, you think Anna Nicole Smith realizes that's not "the" Howard Stern?

How about Mel Gibson? Does he realize he's conscious? In his interview with ABC, he admits that after he explained his drunk driving arrest to his children "I chased it down with a few cold ones." As for the anti-semantic comments he made to the police?


MEL GIBSON, ACTOR: I've apologized more than anyone I know, so it's getting old.

The other thing is sometime us need a cold bucket of water in the face to sort of snap to. In my case, public humiliation on a global scale seems to be what was required.


OLBERMANN: That sounds sincere.

The creepiness continues. Screech bragging about his prowess in his new sex tape. Mr. Britney Spears telling the misses to drop the male dancers, but first time for Countdown latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

Tonight, instead of the usual pitch for the book, in which I mention how Amazon has just reordered from the publisher and stuff - I come to you with unprecedented news. We have a five-way tie tonight for the "Worst Person in the World." See, it's because my old boss, Ted Turner was asked a question at the National Press Club.


TED TURNER, CNN FOUNDER: Either you're with us or you're against us. And I had a problem with that because I really hadn't made my mind up yet. You know, what if you haven't made your mind up? You know? What if you're thinking about it, doing so studying, doing some reading because it's an important decision to go to war or whether not to go to war. I mean, you're either with us or you're against us. That's pretty black and white.


OLBERMANN: The reaction on FOX from our five schmucks night? Sean Hannity says Turner was "Admitting that he had a hard time choosing sides" in the war on terror.

Brent Bozell, "I think it's time for Democrats to speak up. Either they support this man or they should condemn him."

Bill-O says, "Why do you hate America, Ted?"

Bill-O's mailing it in, huh?

Laura Ingraham said, "If you say as an American citizen that you haven't been able - you weren't able to choose sides."

Former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick, "I find it hard to believe that even a delusional American would say something as crass as not being able to chose between the terrorists and his own country."

Well, Bob Zelnick's reportorial instincts are not completely dead. Turner never said a thing about not being able to choose between terrorists and his own country. He wasn't asked about terrorists, though FOX manicured the sound bite of Ted Turner to make it sound that way. In fact, the question he was asked was what he thought about people's patriotism being questioned when they criticize the Iraq war.


QUESTION: What do you think of the fact that - well, not you, but other people have been - when they've criticized the Iraq war or criticized the U.S. government (INAUDIBLE) patriotism has been questioned.


OLBERMANN: Turner wasn't talking about the war against terror, he wasn't talking about the war in Iraq, he was talking about the selling of the war in Iraq as either you're with us or you're against us.

When that tiny little detail, that belief flash of intellectual honesty was raised to Brent Bozell - Bozo replied "It doesn't matter what the question was."

Well, there is an honest man.

Brent Bozell, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Bob Zelnick and whatever's left of Bill O'Reilly, today's "Worst Persons in the World."


OLBERMANN: The actor formerly known as "Screech" has finally explained why he did a sex tape. Dustin Diamond says it was all part of a game called "Poke 'em."

Meanwhile, also in our No. 1 story on the Countdown, Kevin Federline is reportedly jealous because his wife, Britney Spears is making a video again with sexy male dancers. Apparently Mr. Federline does not want her to get any crazy ideas in her head. You know, like a game called "Poke 'em."

Miss Spears has hired Matt Felker (ph), a dancer she worked with in the past to be in her new video. But according to "In Touch Weekly" Mr. Federline wants her to fire Mr. Felker and all the male dancers and replace them with females. So-called insiders saying "Kevin doesn't Britney to be making sexy moves again. He's even telling her she doesn't need to lose all her pregnancy weight."

One video we know is in the can, the Screech sex tape. Mr. Diamond downplaying it as part of a silly game, but also giving himself points for prowess.

Diamond, who played screech on "Saved by the Bell" in better days, now telling NBC's Rita Cosby that the sex tape is four years old. He says he was part of a club of high profile people that thought it was fun to videotape their sexual exploits. They all put money into a pot and scored points based on different things they could accomplish on tape. They likened it to a poker game and called it "Poke 'em."


DUSTIN DIAMOND, "SCREECH": If I have to look at a positive aspect of having made a video and having it - had been released to the public, I think that, you know, I mean, I'm proud of myself, prowess speaking, I mean, so it's nothing to be embarrassed about, I guess. I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar, but it was a four-year-old cookie so luckily it was nothing that I was current.


OLBERMANN: What did he say about a 4-year-old? Is he in Congress? Joining me now, the man who never gets caught in any way, shape, or form, "Village Voice" columnists, Michael Musto.

Good evening, Michael.


OLBERMANN: Well, let's start with Screech. It's as bad a place an anywhere else. He plays "Poke 'em." Does this mark the peak of his career?

MUSTO: What career?

No, no, the peak was really back when Screech and Zack invented a cream that cured acne, though it made your face purple. You remember that episode.

OLBERMANN: Of course I do.

MUSTO: This is pretty major, though, and I'm happy to see that he has a poke 'em face. Not to mention equipment that could really bang that school bell without leaving his seat. Top that Jaleel White.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Screech claims that he never intended for the video to get out, but that once it did, he decided he might as well make some money off of it so he sold it to this outfit called Red Light District. Do you buy the idea that he jumped on the bandwagon after the fact?

MUSTO: No I don't, nobody does one of these videos without really wanting it to get out somehow from the get-go. The only thing Dustin ever filmed that he didn't want to get out was "Saved by the Bell." But somebody leaked it and it ruined his career.

OLBERMANN: Week after horrifying week. He also says this was a bunch of celebrities and, so I have two questions here. If so why was he among a bunch of celebrities? And secondly, where are their tapes?

MUSTO: Well, if he was with celebrities it must have been at one of has-been autograph conventions with Ann B. Davis, the guy who played Chewbacca, and Webster. That's a really hot scene, no? But if he meant his "Save by the Bell" co-stars, well, Mario Lopez has a porn tape, actually. He was on "Nip and Tuck" recently and he was naked. And also, Elizabeth Berkley, of course, had a porn tape called "Show Girls" and that ruined her career. Well, I think it's a fine piece of work.

OLBERMANN: Ann B. Davis played Chewbacca? I didn't know that.

MUSTO: No, I'm just throwing it all together there. That was a list.

OLBERMANN: Oh, I get it was a list. Let's move on to Britney Spears. Mr. Federline is upset about her bringing the sexy back. He's told her she doesn't need to lose all the weight from her pregnancy. Is this actually some diabolically brilliant plot by Miss Spears to avoid going on a diet?

MUSTO: It is, because I hear she's up to 600 pounds now, and they're going to have to call it the "Moby Dick Tour" and Dustin Diamond already has that name trademarked. Let's keep going.

The irony of this, if the story is correct, is that Ferdline met Spears when she was a backup dancer for her. So, Miss Spears getting back on the saddle, so to speak, that would really push his buttons?

MUSTO: Yeah, it's threatening him. He thinks he's a star now because he's stinking up "CSI" tonight or something. He's basically the new bagel boy. You remember Cher's bagel boy? At least that guy could bake. But now Kevin is apparently saying - he said to Britney like, "Don't even have the baby, hold it in, you'll be fatter." And she tried but it popped out. And then he said to the baby, "Don't lose weight and don't go into show biz." He's threatened by everything.

OLBERMANN: You talk about a leak - the baby...

MUSTO: Oh, talk about Chewbacca.

OLBERMANN: All right, to continue with divas or diva wannabes, there's this news that the actress, so to speak, Tara Reid, underwent surgery to fix some botched plastic surgery again. She said, "I was on the websites as having the ugliest boob job in the world." So then, this corrective surgery will help her profile on those websites. Am I missing something as a career goal?

MUSTO: You know what? She never heard of Photoshopping? Look, this is the girl who's a walking contradiction. She says "Why does everyone call me a party girl?" Then she signed on to host a show called "Wild On: Parties Around the World." She's not a full glass of martini, though she carries one at all times. And now her breasts have scars that have scars and stretch marks that have stretch marks. She looks like a road mack - let's start that one again...

OLBERMANN: In English.

MUSTO: Roadmap of Afghanistan. Wasn't even worth saying.

OLBERMANN: All right, well speaking of foreign countries, Madonna and this adoption. She had a choice of a dozen babies and she took one. What do you think of that?

MUSTO: Oh well, she chose it the same way she chose her chihuahua and her husband. I mean, people submitted headshot and she auditoned them basically by making them talk in a fake British accent and "Vogue" on a lame cross and for the final audition they had to get through "Shanghai Surprise" without crying.

OLBERMANN: Congratulations to the lucky winner. The one and only Michael Musto who has not been adopted by Madonna. Many thanks for your time as always, sir.

MUSTO: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That is Countdown, for this the 1,258th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Joe, I understand we finally have some reaction from his former employers at the White House to David Kuo's new book.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: We certainly do, and thanks so much, Keith. And amazing investigative work by your staff - actually buying a book at a bookstore. I wish we had thought of that.