Monday, October 16, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 16

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Frank Rich, John Ashcroft, Joe Posnanski

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

All we know is what we read in the papers. "New York Times," the Republicans are now punting in the Senate race for Ohio. "Washington Post," President Bush and Karl Rove are inexplicably upbeat about maintaining the Senate and the House. "U.S. News," Republican strategists think the president is overconfident.

Probably not about the Pennsylvania Seventh. The FBI there raided homes today of the daughter and a close friend of Congressman Curt Weldon in an influence-peddling investigation.

If the Republicans are giving the ultimate mixed message, the Democrats suddenly seem to be on the same page for the first time. Bill Clinton says of his successors, there's never been a more secretive, unaccountable administration. John Kerry calls the Bush administration claim of no civil war in Iraq, its repudiation of reports of extraordinary civilian casualties there, of North Korea being Mr. Clinton's fault, of the theory that the Democrats leaked the Foley instant messages, quote, "a lie, a lie, a lie, and a lie."

What got into the Democrats? And who's going to get into the House and Senate? Chris Cillizza of on the latest nuts and bolts, Frank Rich of "The New York Times" on the development of spine, and new author, former attorney general John Ashcroft, our special guest, on how the 9/11 Commission, he says, was unfair to the Bush administration. His new book, "Never Again."

And the late baseball legend Buck O'Neil, eight months after bypassing him for election, one week after his death, the game's Hall of Fame announces it is committing to a lasting tribute to honor him, only nobody's saying how they're going to honor him.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening. This is Monday, October 16, 22 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

You don't have to know football to have heard of the punt, pass, and kick competition, in which school kids have to excel in all three skills.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, with three weeks and one day until the election, it sure looks like Republican strategists have to excel in all three as well, reportedly punting one key Senate rate, passing the money intended to be spent there to three other states, and kicking over the timing of the FBI investigation of a Republican congressman, his daughter, and close his friend, "Washington Post" reporting that President Bush and Karl Rove are both, quote, "almost inexplicably upbeat," even as GOP pollsters, strategists, politicians warn that they may lose control of the House or Senate or both, and one of them describes the president to "U.S. News and World Report" as, quote, "overconfident."

"The Post" says the White House is so upbeat it is refusing to even consider how it would engage with an adversarial chamber, so confident that Rove reportedly is predicting Republicans will lose no more than 10 House seats, far short of the 15 Democrats would need to win to win control.

Unclear if he thinks Congressman Curt Weldon's district is one of those, Weldon complaining of the timing of an FBI raid on six locations in Pennsylvania and Florida, part of an investigation into whether Congressman Weldon improperly helped his daughter and a friend of his land a million dollars in lobbying contracts from foreign clients. He denies that. The locations were the homes of the daughter and the friend.

And there was today's Ohio purported punt, starring Republican Senator Mike DeWine as the football, national GOP bankrollers feverishly denying a "New York Times" report that they had given up on DeWine's reelection as unattainable, and moved his funding to Missouri, Tennessee, and probably Virginia, Virginia, where Senator George Allen is now locked in a veritable dead heat, 49 to 47, against the former Reagan administration secretary of the Navy, now Democrat, James Webb.

The money is apparently not going to Pennsylvania, where a "Washington Post" poll shows the third-most powerful Republican in the Senate, Rick Santorum, trailing challenger Bob Casey by 12 points.

Let me bring in Chris Cillizza, who writes "The Fix" political column for

Chris, thanks, as always, for your time.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Keith, thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN: Your paper and your Web site are positing two possible theories for the confidence of Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove. They're right, or they are in, as I think Dan Frumkin described it, petulant denial. Is there a third option? Is not confidence contagious? Could this just be more of that shoring up the base stuff?

CILLIZZA: Well, in the spirit of Bill Clinton, let me propose a, you know, a third way here. I think what you're seeing is that the president and Karl Rove recognize, they're smart politicians. Remember, these are two people who won two national presidential elections. They recognize that the generic numbers here spell - look like they spell disaster for Republicans at the moment.

But they also recognize that they're the two most recognizable, along with Vice President Cheney, figures in the Republican Party. And if they say, Oh, it's going to be bad, it's going to demoralize every activist who's, you know, volunteering to work a poll, or try and get out the vote, and that kind of thing. It's like the captain of the basketball team, with two minutes left in the game and you're down 5 or 10 points, saying, Hey, guys, we're going to lose this one.

You know, I mean, even if you think that, it's not something you say. So, I mean, I think this an act of sort of political pragmatism more than anything else. They know they can't say, even if they believe it, they can't say, Yes, it's going to be a doozey, we're in for a lot of trouble here. I mean, it would absolutely demoralize everyone who's out there working these last few weeks, working these long hours, trying to win these races.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of pragmatism, it's rather dramatic stuff about moving money out of Ohio and basically saying that Mike DeWine, we wish him well. But it's also been fervently denied by Ken Mehlman and company. What's the deal, do we know?

CILLIZZA: Well, right. Let me tell you what I know, and, you know, there's a plenty of reports out there. What I know is, I've been assured that the Republican National Committee will be in Ohio for at least one more week on television. Now, that doesn't mean they're in it for the whole time. It may mean that they're scaling back their ad buy. Remember, an ad buy that's a million dollars versus an ad buy that's $200,000 is a lot, there's a big impact there.

But the thing to remember, and you mentioned this at the top, this is a zero-sum game. If they think they need to spend money in Virginia to shore up George Allen, who our paper showed is basically in a dead heat right now against Jim Webb, it's got to come from somewhere. The money just doesn't grow on the old money tree. They don't pick it and hand it to a race.

It's a one pot of money, and they're sort of deciding where it goes. So if they believe that Mike DeWine can't win, and the reality is, is that polling has shown Sherrod Brown, the Democratic congressman from the Akron area, ahead, not by a lot, but ahead, then they will take that money out of there.

I mean, politics is, in the end, a cold-blooded game. It's about retaining the majority. As much as people might like Mike DeWine, if he doesn't - if he can't win, they're not going to throw good money after bad.

OLBERMANN: Last week, we had our three-part look at David Kuo's controversial book, "Tempting Faith," which, in essence, accuses the White House of manipulating a huge part of its base, the evangelical right, for the votes. Kuo got a long profile on "60 Minutes" last night. Now he's making the interview circuit.

How worried are the Republicans that between his story and the Foley page sex scandal, they're going to lose just enough of the evangelicals to make a difference at the polls?

CILLIZZA: I mean, I think they're worried about just about anything right now. I mean, the reality of the situation is that they are jumpy. This is not a political situation they've seen, where the polls look this bad. So anything that you have that could depress that base turnout, even by just a smidgen, I mean, I hate to say it, but not every evangelical voter is going to be influenced by this. Most of them are going to turn out and vote for Republicans. They still are supportive of the president.

But even if 15,000 in the state, or 10,000 in the state, or 5,000 in the state decide to stay home in a midterm election, turning out your base is the whole game. And so if 5,000 people stay home, you might be looking at a Senator Harold Ford in Tennessee as opposed to a Senator Bob Corker.

It's that thin a margin in a lot of these races. These races are decided by 1,000 or 2,000 votes a lot of the time. So any depression in your base is something to be worried about, and the Republicans are worried about any number of things at the moment.

OLBERMANN: Chris Cillizza, political reporter for

As always, Chris, great thanks for some of your time tonight.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And the other side of the political equation, three weeks till the midterms. Bill Clinton attacks the Bush administration in Iowa, John Kerry calls them liars in New Hampshire. Did the Democrats just wake up?

Frank Rich of "The New York Times" is next.

And the latest administration official to come out with a book defending his actions in office. Former attorney general John Ashcroft joins us tonight.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Perhaps it can be traced back, most recently, at least, to former president Clinton having pushed back hard to suggestions by Republicans and their media lackeys that his administration was responsible for failing to prevent the attacks on 9/11, and no other. It goes back further, of course, to how Hurricane Katrina unmasked the Bush administration in action, and the nation's gradually clarifying view of Iraq.

But in our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, more evidence that Democrats have found the guts and a more unified voice to fight Republicans head-on, and in plenty of time also for that other election, the one for the White House. It was President Clinton leading the charge at a Democratic fundraiser in Iowa, suggesting the message for the midterm elections that could easily be swapped out for the coming presidential race.

"The entire government of the United States," he said,, "The Congress, the White House, and increasingly the courts, for the last six years has been in the control not of the Republican Party but of the most ideological, the most extreme, the most right-wing sliver of the Republican Party." And later, "There's never been a more secretive, unaccountable administration."

That the former president was a Iowa also as a proxy for his wife, a distinct possibility. This year Senator Clinton has not been in Iowa, which, as ever, will hold the first presidential caucus as she runs for relocation in New York.

So no such constrains, though, on the last Democratic standard bearer, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. His speech to New Hampshire Democrats this weekend might as well have been titled, "War and Other Lies." "This war in Iraq is a disgrace," he said, in the second line of his speech. Senator Kerry also recited a battery of Republican claims on Iraq, that it's not a civil war, that reports on Iraqi casualties are not credible, on North Korea, that it was President Clinton's fault, on Mark Foley, the Democrats were behind the release of those X-rated messages.

Mr. Kerry called those claims, quote, "a lie, a lie, a lie, and a lie."

Joining me now, the "New York Times" columnist and author of "The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina," Frank Rich.

Thanks for your time tonight, Frank.


OLBERMANN: What happened here? Where did these Democrats come from?

You're never supposed to be able to (INAUDIBLE)...

RICH: Well, where were they when the country needed them? It's sort of they've gotten some political Viagra and have gotten with the program. But, yes, I guess they smell victory, and they're stepping up to the plate.

OLBERMANN: But are they still slow on the uptake here? Charlie Cook's political report over the weekend suggested that maybe it's not 15 House seats that the Democrats could swing, but more likely closer to 30. Is there enough message and enough campaign money being spread out, or are they undershooting?

RICH: I don't think they're undershooting. They do seem to have the money, and the Republicans, as we now know, are getting sufficiently desperate that they're moving the money around and abandoning people like Mike DeWine in Ohio.

In terms of message, their message still is that Bush sucks. Well, that's OK. And that may be enough to get through this election, perhaps not '08.

OLBERMANN: Some specifics. In Iowa over the weekend, did President Clinton just launch Senator Clinton's campaign for the White House? And if so, is that self-defeating because he is a greater energizer than she is?

RICH: Clearly he is a greater energizer. I take a sort of unorthodox view of the whole Clinton thing. I'm not 100 percent convinced that Hillary Clinton is running for president. I'm not convinced that they coordinate all their actions. And he may have just been saying what - he may just be mad as hell and not taking it anymore, and continuing in the vein of his not-unsuccessful appearance on Fox News.

OLBERMANN: Is that the theme for what we've seen in the last two months, or, at least, the last six weeks, that there are, you know, in, as you can't see the tipping point or you're not supposed to be table to see the pot, actually the watched pot actually boiling, can we now look back to a certain moment or a certain event that set President Clinton and others over the edge and led them to their mad-as-hell moment?

RICH: Well, my feeling is, and this is the premise of my book, "The Greatest Story Ever Sold," is that that moment came with Katrina. That's when, sort of, we pulled back the curtain and saw who the Wizard of Oz really was. And now the Democrats smell blood.

They should smell blood. You know, the poll ratings have remained bad since then, with a few little rises for the president. And the war in Iraq is going so badly, and it's really tragic what's going on there, that they are finally mustering the courage that one wishes that they had had when they were voting on a war resolution, particularly in the Senate, in the fall of 2002, the last midterms.

OLBERMANN: Or perhaps as the - this date in 2004 approached, and we mentioned Mr. Kerry, he was getting standing ovations in New Hampshire over the weekend. Can he, as we look ahead to '08, overcome a notion that he's already had his chance? Is there a sentiment for a comeback there? Or is there a sentiment for a comeback for former vice president Gore? Or where are we going in this, in this Democratic nominating process (INAUDIBLE)?

RICH: I think it's fascinating, because I think it's really wide open. I think basically, a comeback for either him or Al Gore will be very difficult. There can be the occasional comeback kid, and certainly that was true of Bill Clinton, but I think Al Gore, in spite of his recent boom because of his film, and John Kerry, they're very, very familiar, and I think that people want something new.

I think they're - and I don't mean this as a criticism of either man. I think people are fed up with the entire establishment, Democratic and Republican alike. And I think anything could happen, either party, for '08. I think the idea that we're definitely going to be in a McCain-Hillary Clinton race is not necessarily what's going to happen.

OLBERMANN: What it a surprise to you, thus, that Mark Warner withdrew, or he didn't withdraw, but said he would simply not be running, the former governor of Virginia?

RICH: I think it was a huge surprise. I think that he showed every sign of running. He obviously had money, he had a certain part of the blogosphere behind him. I will take him at face value. It's because he didn't want that kind of a life, and God knows, you can't blame him, and he wanted to be with his family.

But that alone has shaken up the geometry, because he was considered to be at least among the people who was supposed to be running, the real un-Hillary in the race so far.

OLBERMANN: Whoever runs, do they have to still sell their bona fides on, We won't be soft on terror?

RICH: That's a great question. I think, yes, but I think the current midterms could obscure that a bit, because if the Democrats actually do take one or both of the houses, it may inoculate them for awhile if they don't screw everything up once they're in power.

OLBERMANN: I think, I'm not sure, I believe everyone who's appearing live in this newshour has their own book out, including one of my later guests, the former attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft.

RICH: Our books are actually very similar.

OLBERMANN: Yes, it's all that's - yes, and so is Joe's - Joe Posnanski, the sports columnist for "The Kansas City Star," oddly enough, and mine. But if you could pose one question to the former attorney general, give me some help here. What would you ask?

RICH: I assume we're not going to ask him about his singing.

OLBERMANN: No, I'm not intending to do that.

RICH: OK. To me, the most interesting of many interesting Ashcroft moments was the moment when he interrupted a routine attorney general's trip to Moscow to command television time and announce that Jose Padilla was this terrorist who was - had the potential to basically unleash a nuclear bomb in a major American city.

There are two interesting things about this. One was, Padilla had been arrested almost a month earlier, so why did the attorney general of the United States decide to hold this press conference in Moscow? And two, Jose Padilla has never been charged with anything remotely that severe since. And that was one of the signature cases of his tenure. So it would be interesting to hear him on that, on the subject of Mr. Padilla.

OLBERMANN: I will put that at the - on the list. Frank Rich, many thanks for that, and many thanks for joining us. The "New York Times" columnist, author of "The Greatest Story Ever Sold." Again, a pleasure, sir.

RICH: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Much more politics in our interview tonight with the former attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft, author of "Never Again," accusing the bipartisan 9/11 Commission of partisanship.

But we need to make room for pointless world records and guys getting slapped and fellows doing stuff like this. Or else, this would not be Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1921, in the earliest days of what became the National Football League, the owner of the Rock Island Independents had had enough of his coach, Frank Coughlin (ph), so he went onto the field and fired Coughlin, then had one of his players call a timeout, and sent in a constitute to tell quarterback Jimmy Conselman (ph) that he was the Independents' new head coach. See, this was during a game. They fired the coach during the game.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

We begin in Cuba for the other football, and another highlight far more interesting than the sport itself. It's Eric Hernandes going for the world record for bouncing a soccer ball on his head. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Oh, forget it. Somebody is counting, though.

It's hypnotic. Bueno. Afterwards, judges watched the feat in superslow motion to confirm Hernandes's new world record, 164 bounces in 30 seconds. Yes, call me back when you can do it with a bowling ball.

Speaking of superslow motion video, we have found this strange video on the Internets. Why is this guy very slowly closing his eyes? Because he's about to get slapped silly.

It's the latest trend on the Interwebs, where videos of people getting hurt in regular motion are going the way of the dinosaur. It is now all in super-slomo these days. Dude, your nose is undulating.

Finally, have you had a hankering for a Coca-Cola lately, but it's just too darn healthy for you? Then I've got two words for you, no-load mutual funds. Sorry, fried Coke. It's the popular new vendor offering at the state fair of North Carolina, where, if you listen closely, you can actually hear the people getting fatter.

It's your standard funnel cake mix, only it's made with soda instead of water, and served in a little cup with whipped cream on top. Mmmm, angioplasty.

Also tonight, he describes himself as likely, quote, "the most controversial attorney general in U.S. history." John Ashcroft, author of the new book "Never Again," will join us next.

And whether through immigration or procreation, the 300 millionth American is apparently on his or her way, slated to join our roster here first thing tomorrow morning.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, an unnamed burglar in Omaha, Nebraska. A citizen reported that a suspicious vehicle driving through the intersection of 45th and Hamilton. It was suspicious, police say, because behind it, attached to the bumper by a chain, was a safe from a restaurant.

Number two, Kenneth Bilwin of West York, Pennsylvania. Employees at a supermarket there thought they saw him slip three bags of frozen shrimp into the baggy pants he was wearing inside their store. Two managers struggled with Mr. Bilwin him in the parking lot, and two of the bags of shrimp fell out. In addition to being arrested, he now has to answer questions about the shrimp in his pants.

And number one, Emily Davis of Bowling Green, Ohio. She appears to have been the cause of a rollover accident there that caused minor injuries to two guys riding in the car behind her. Miss Davis, 17 years old, was a passenger. She removed the red brassiere she was wearing. The two men in the car behind her said something to them, girl said something back. Miss Davis promptly hung the bra on the antenna of her car. It promptly flew off, and the two guys behind naturally swerved to avoid hitting the flying red brassiere.

Whereupon the car spun out of control and flipped, and the two guys sustained minor injuries.

But wait, there's actually a punchline to this. Why had Miss Davis taken the bra off? She claims it was because it had earlier become frayed when the family dog had chewed on it. Sounds like a movie of the week to me.


OLBERMANN: The title of former Attorney General John Ashcroft's book is "Never Again," perhaps not intended to be interpreted differently by his admirers and by his critics, but doubtless to be so, and no doubt to the good in terms of book sales. It is, not surprisingly, a staunch defense of the Bush administration and some of its most controversial actions by one of the pivotal figures of Mr. Bush's first term.

Our third story on the Countdown tonight, the new book by the man who ran the U.S. Justice Department from 2001 to 2005, former attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft.

Thank you for some of your time tonight, sir.

JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, thank you. Nice to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Let me start with your assessment in "Never Again" about the 9/11 Commission, that it was, quote, "obsessed," unquote, with finding fault with the Bush administration.

Two Republican members of that commission have responded. Former Senator Gorton of Washington, former Governor Thompson of Illinois, told "The St. Louis Post Dispatch" that your claims are not true, that President Bush ended up apologizing to the commission for your behavior.

Did that apology occur, and why would commission Republicans have gone after the Bush administration in the first place?

ASHCROFT: Well, I'm not in the business for answering for their behavior, their statements. I felt that the commission, frankly, was ignoring a number of very important things, and it could be that some would be disenchanted for what I did, because I took information to the commission that it seemed intent on ignoring or not otherwise providing, including the fact that the wall which separated intelligence and law enforcement had been crafted and developed in a memorandum authored by a member of the commission.

Now, for people to sit in judgment on conduct and not reveal the fact that they in fact were the sponsors of the conduct seemed to me to be something that people deserved to know, and it added, I think, to the way in which the commission should operate.

It wasn't something the commission, I suppose, was happy to hear, but I thought they needed that as well as some other things to be revealed.

So in my commission appearance, I basically told them things that I thought they didn't - weren't giving the right emphasis to, and which I thought were important for an objective and fair deliberation, which should have been the responsibility of the commission.

OLBERMANN: Governor Thompson said - and then I'll move on from this subject, if that's all right with you - that you "had tried to put us" - referring to the 9/11 commission - "on trial, and it backfired. The president of the United States apologized to us in the Oval Office for his conduct, which is kind of embarrassing."

Do you know if the president apologized for your actions to the commission?

ASHCROFT: I do not know. I wasn't in the Oval Office with the commission. And if I caused any embarrassment to the president, I regret that. But I felt that, as I explained earlier, my conduct in the commission was in line with I thought appropriate matters to be brought to the attention of both the commission and the American people, not just about the facts of the matter, but relating to the way in which the commission had been involved in specific policies that were major problems with our fight against terror.

OLBERMANN: On that subject, and the topic also of 9/11, I'm sure you're aware of the reaction to another new book, Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," specifically his claim that then NSA Adviser Rice had gotten a briefing on July 10th, 2001 about the growing threat of al Qaeda attacks. After some research, her office confirmed that, and as part of that confirmation from Dr. Rice's office, her spokesman says she had then asked that you be given the same briefing that she had received at that time.

Were you given that briefing, and if so, what measures did you take?

ASHCROFT: We were given briefings all through that period of time, which was a time when a great deal was spoken of elevated risk levels. I specifically queried the individuals providing me with the briefings - and I suspect she did the same - about whether these were domestic or whether these were threat levels that were in line with the kind of damage we had received in our embassies in Eastern Africa and to the USS Cole when it had been docked in Yemen and the boat bomb came and took the lives of a number of our sailors.

I was over and over again told upon my - in response to my inquiry that there was no evidence of domestic threat.

The real question, I guess, here is, what was the nature of the briefing? No one denies that we were getting briefings regularly through the summer, and there were indications about elevated threat levels. I just simply did not get indication, even upon specific inquiry, that there was an elevated or anticipated threat level based on any evidence that there would be attacks in the United States.

OLBERMANN: In your new book, you have defended some of the more imposing efforts to fight terror and terrorism, and this subject is particularly relevant right now, because the president is set to sign the Military Commissions Act tomorrow, which is going to codify some of those efforts into law.

I'd like to read one of the definitions in the act and ask you a hypothetical about it, if I may. "The term 'unlawful enemy combatant' means - (i), a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant."

What is there in this new law that would check the president - or any president, not in terms of tradition or in terms of common sense nor even in terms of fear of bad publicity - but in that measure itself, if a president claims that you or I materially supported hostilities against America and declares us unlawful enemy combatants and he wants to send you and I off to Guantanamo Bay, where in the law does it say the president can't do that?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me just first indicate that I have not read this new statute in its completeness.

I do believe that the president should have the authority to designate individuals who bear arms or take up hostility against the United States as enemy combatants. I think in doing so, the president has a responsibility to have a process that is consistent with the Constitution.

We have a president; we don't have a king. And he has to make a determination based on facts.

Holding anyone who is bearing arms against the United States pending the outcome of the conflict is - or against any country - is long recognized as something that is part of having war. And when you have a war, you've got to be able to take prisoners. If you don't, the alternative is to kill all the people that you encounter, and certainly that is not what we want done.

So the ability of a president to apprehend those fighting against the country and to take them out of the stream of conflict so that they're not fighting our own flesh and blood that is representing the country in defense of freedom is a humanitarian thing, to move them out of the stream rather than reinsert them with an ability to again assault our own people.

OLBERMANN: But to flip Archibald Cox's old bromide on its head from the Watergate days, is there not a risk in this of this country becoming a nation of men and not laws, rather than laws and not men?

ASHCROFT: Well, I really don't think so. It's a risk that we've endured now for well over 200 years. Presidents in all kinds of conflicts have supervised the executive branch defense the United States, and when they are having encountered an enemy and they have not killed the enemy and the enemy has surrendered, we have taken them as prisoners. Or when we have captured enemy, we have taken them as prisoners and we detain them pending the outcome of the conflict.

And I believe it would be morally wrong to release them to take another shot at our team, so to speak. And it is part and parcel of the responsibility of the - of responsible war making entities, let alone terrorists, but any war making that is done in defense of a culture or society involves taking prisoners and maintaining them until the outcome has been determined.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, sir, your book is coming out almost simultaneously

with that of a former staffer of yours, David Kuo. His is called "Tempting

Faith," and I don't believe I'm putting words into his mouth when I

summarize his conclusion there that he feels Mr. Bush's administration took

political advantage of conservative Christians, that the Office of Faith-

Based Initiatives was referred to in scatological terms by Karl Rove, that

not Mr. Rove but others in the administration - dismissed various religious leaders behind their backs as nuts and such.

The White House has called Mr. Kuo's credibility into question. Which would best describe the David Kuo that you worked with - Christian, conservative, credible, fibber? Which would you say?

ASHCROFT: Well, when I authored the charitable choice portions of the law, David Kuo was on my staff and he was very helpful in helping us put together this opportunity to level the playing field, so that faith-based organizations were not excluded from the opportunity of providing on a contract basis services to the government, just like other organizations frequently do when the government turns to private contractors.

In that setting, he performed his responsibilities in assisting me in the development of that law.

I must add, however, that the kinds of things that he's talked about in conjunction with this administration do not comport with my experience there, and as a matter of fact, I think what he - at least as it relates to the charitable choice provisions and faith-based organizations opportunities, when he left the office at the White House, it is my understanding that he commended the performance of the administration in achieving the objectives of the statute which we wrote.

OLBERMANN: The former attorney general of the United States, John Ashcroft, whose new book is called "Never Again." Great thanks for your time and being with us, sir.

ASHCROFT: My pleasure. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight a new milestone in the nation's population.

The U.S. on the brink of reaching 300 million members.

Speaking of new Americans, Madonna a step closer to adopting a young African boy, even though his father says he never originally planned on giving up his child permanently. That's next, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: America's population has tripled in the last century. Starting tomorrow, there will be 300 million of us. And the fastest growing state is.

And the Baseball Hall of Fame says it's committed to honoring the legacy and life of the late Buck O'Neil. So why doesn't it just elect him to the Hall of Fame? That's ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Count off! We're going to take the nation's attendance right now on the premise that even if we all go as fast as possible, we can still only get about 16 of those nine digit numbers out per minute. It's still going to take awhile, somewhere around 30 years. Especially since, as in our No. 2 story in the Countdown, we're about to welcome American 300 million sometime early tomorrow morning. As Mike Taibbi reports, we reached 100 million in 1915, 200 million just 39 years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I hereby declare, on oath.

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a different America then the 1967 version. Now, just over half the population is white when it was over three-quarters white then.

Now on any given day, 11,000 newborns and 3,000 immigrants add another soul on American soil every 11 seconds. Tomographer, Sam Preston, says there's room.

SAM PRESTON, TOMOGRAPHER: The Netherlands has 15 times the density, people per square mile that the United States has.

TAIBBI: But the Irish, Italians, and Germans who arrived to build and populate our big cities have been largely supplanted by blacks, Asians, and in huge numbers, Hispanics. And collectively, we're moving from those cities and our coastlines to the south and west.

(on camera): In a lot of parts of this country described as the fastest growing, this is Clark County, Nevada, you can look around you as far as you can see in any direction and not see any people, not yet.

(voice-over): But just as Warren Beatty, as the mobster "Bugsy

Siegel" first imagined Las Vegas,

WARREN BEATTY, AS MOBSTER "BUGSY SIEGEL": I got it! I got it, it came to me like a vision.

TAIBBI: Nevada developer, Harvey Whittamore, had his own "Bugsy Siegel" moment about a decade ago. His vision, 159,000 homes with golf courses, schools, shops and roads, a whole new city 60 miles from Las Vegas.

HARVEY WHITTEMORE, DEVELOPER: People said "you're crazy." Well, the next step is you're a visionary and then the next step after you're a visionary is you're lucky.

TAIBBI: And Nevada, like Arizona and other booming states, is betting it'll stay lucky by relocating the American dream.

Conservationists, like Scott Rutledge, do have their worries.

SCOTT RUTLEDGE, CONSERVATIONIST: Growth is not a bad thing. I mean, we have a vibrant economy. We just want to maintain a healthy environment.

TAIBBI: But young families, like Mark and Gale Hunt and their four kids, have decided uprooting is worth it. They moved from California to Nevada just last month for better jobs, shorter commutes and the lower costs all around.

GALE HUNT, NEVADA RESIDENT: We're telling our California family or friends they ought to consider moving here.

TAIBBI: And thousands are to more of the places are still growing America is ready to call home.

Mike Taibbi, NBC NEWS, Coyote Springs, Nevada.


OLBERMANN: It does not look like Madonna's adopted child will be No. 300 million, although what a story that would be. She and the youngster will probably have to settle for being the segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and tabloid news, "Keeping Tabs."

Little 13-month-old David Banda arrived in Johannesburg on Madonna's private jet today. Madonna, not onboard. This as a Malawi-based human rights group prepared to ask the high court there to reconsider granting Madonna and husband Guy Ritchie custody of the child. The boy's father, Yohame Banda, says he never originally intended to give up his child forever, but that he's fine with now, "What is there concern? Are they jealous or what?"

Banda also said he had no idea the woman seeking to adopt his son was a world-famous celebrity, saying all he knew was that she was a "nice Christian lady."

Well, close.

An equally cryptic message from the Baseball Hall of Fame on how to honor Buck O'Neil. It says it will recognize his amazing achievements, though it stops making clear of posthumously making him a hall of famer. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

Still chugging along on the "New York Times" political best seller's list for a second month, now at No. 22. And we here at Worst Person Industries couldn't have done it without you. No, go out buy another copy, Christmas is coming. (growling)

Our Bronze tonight, Michelle Bachmann, Republican congressional candidate in the Minnesota sixth speaking last night at Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota. She not only gave us a little bit of that "oogy" (ph) feeling, quoting her, "God then called me to run for the United States Congress." But because she said it in the church and the church's pastor personally endorsed her candidacy they may have cost the church its nonprofit tax breaks. Oops!

Our running up, Paramount Pictures, its owners Viacom and Oliver Stone, they have hired Cyrus Nowresteh who wrote that remarkable piece of propaganda called "The Path to 9/11" to write another script about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In Nowresteh's version, I understand, not only does President Bush catch bin Laden personal, but it turns out bin Laden was actually Monica Lewinsky.

But our winner, Bill-O. Decrying abortions, in particular abortions in the event the mother's life is in danger because that is "Never the case, because you can always have a c-section and do those kinds of things."

Yeah, except for ectopic pregnancies and eclampsia, and HELLP syndrome. For crying out loud, the moron already thinks he is a newscaster, now he thinks he is a freakin' doctor too.

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


OLBERMANN: In 1971 baseball shattered tradition to elect a pitcher to its Hall of Fame who had won just 28 games while losing 31 in Major League competition. His name was Leroy "Satchel" Paige and he was the first to be honored, principally because he had played in the era in which baseball was segregated. Unfortunately in announcing his special election, an executive said Paige would not be a real Hall of Farmer and the sportscaster and former Jim Boughton observed that, just as in his playing days, they were only admitting Satchel Paige via the back door.

Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, it's not that bad for the late Buck O'Neil and he would be the first to scold us for the analogy, but the imagery is oddly recalled by a strange announcement from the board of directors of the Hall of Fame. It says, Hall chairman, Jane Forbes Clark, in a statement issued last Thursday, ".has a very strong commitment to keeping Buck O'Neil's legacy alive forever.and at our last meeting in July we began to look at ways to recognize his lasting contributions to our game."

So, O'Neil who was bypassed for election in what was billed as the final vote on all of the greats of the old Negro Leagues, and who died on the sixth of this month, will be recognized by the hall. And whether that means the election or a different kind of plaque somewhere or a temporary exhibit - nobody knows.

We'll ask one of his chroniclers and friends in just a moment. Saturday, in a private ceremony, Buck O'Neil was laid to rest in his hometown, Kansas City, Missouri. Later at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 600 family and friends attended a public ceremony in which speakers, such as former big leaguers Joe Morgan, Lou Brocks and Ernie Banks eulogized the man who helped pave the way for them and so many others.

As promised I'm joined now by Joe Posnanski, sport columnist of the "Kansas City Star," author of the book, "The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O'Neil's America," which will be released in February - both of those titles probably should get second and third billing behind friend of Buck O'Neil.

Joe, thanks for your time tonight.

JOE POSNANSKI, "KANSAS CITY STAR": It's great to be here.

OLBERMANN: What's this all about? This press release reads like they're announcing they have something to announce but they haven't figured out quite what?

POSNANSKI: Yeah, you know, I thought it was - honestly, I though it was pretty tacky to release a press release light that right before the memorial. They have nothing to announce other than to say that they would have something to announce at some point. I think there's a lot of guilt running through Cooperstown right now. A lot of people who feel badly that Buck was not elected and inducted while he was still alive, but right now I don't think they know what they want to do. They just know that they need to do something.

OLBERMANN: I remember talking to baseball commissioner, Bud Selig after that disastrous vote by the Special Negro League's Committee last February, and he said he hoped something could be changed in terms of an actual election. Whatever has been in the works, whatever is in the works now, did Buck know about it?

POSNANSKI: I don't think so. You know, I think Buck, after he failed to get induction into the Hall of Fame in February, I think he put that behind him. You know, obviously he had to answer a lot of questions about it and certainly there was some disappointment lingering, but I think he put it behind him. There were a lot of people fighting, as I think people are now, to get a Buck O'Neil award, which I think would be the - really, the nicest way and best way to remember him. But I don't think Buck was involved at all, and the Hall of Fame certainly didn't keep him up on that.

OLBERMANN: Obviously, he cared about this, but is there any way to measure exactly how much? I mean, he seemed least disappointed, as if I needed to tell you this - the least disappointed person in the whole process last winter. But then at the end of my last conversation with him, he said something that kind of led me to believe maybe some of this was trying to make the rest of us feel better. Let me replay that part and then get your reaction to it.



BUCK O'NEIL, FORMER BASEBALL PLAYER: The pleasure's all mine and I thank you very much for having ol' Buck on here to talk a little. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: And by the way, I'm still going to push to get you into the Hall of Fame anyway.

O'NEIL: Hey, don't stop. Keep it up.

OLBERMANN: Thank you, sir.

O'NEIL: You're welcome.


OLBERMANN: Joe, how much did the issue of the Hall of Fame truly matter, do you think, to Buck?

POSNANSKI: You know, we talked about it a lot of times and there is no question it disappointed him, there's no question. He felt like he was going to go in, I think everybody had told him he was going it and I was there the moment he was told that they had - that he didn't get enough votes and there's no question there was disappointment, there. But I've heard a lot of people say it broke his heart and it really brought him down, and I never saw that.

Here was a guy that didn't get to go to high school because he was black, here's a guy who didn't get to play in the major leagues, manage in the major leagues, was ignored for so many years, and he never let any of those things - which were much bigger, obviously, to him then the Hall of Fame, he just was not a guy who let bitterness linger inside him and I know he was disappointed, but I really believe that his friends and people who love baseball were a lot more disappointed than he was.

OLBERMANN: Tell me about, as you so beautify wrote about, the positive that he drew from not getting elected, what he learned about himself and the people around him.

POSNANSKI: You know, he called me a couple of days after the election and said that in a way it was a blessing for him not to get in because he found out how much people loved him. And I said to him that he was the only guy in the world that could think that way and he admitted he probably was. He really was an amazing person and I don't think at all that the Hall of Fame linger with him.

OLBERMANN: Would he be more concerned, in fact, about what happens now to the entity for which he was, the living embodiment, the Negro Leagues museum?

POSNANSKI: Absolutely, there's no question about it. Here in Kansas City they're - we're trying to build the Buck O'Neil Research and Education Center which would bring the story of the Negro Leagues to children in schools. And that's all he was concerned about. It's a huge thing. It's going to cost $15 million of all privately raised and that was, without a doubt, he saw that as his legacy and not the Hall of Fame.

OLBERMANN: And Saturday's public ceremony for him. Give me one image to take out of that in about a minute.

POSNANSKI: You know, it was a beautiful ceremony and there was a lot of joy, just the way Buck would want it. And I don't like saying this, but the image that probably sticks with me was Joe Morgan up on the stage breaking down thinking about Buck not getting into the Hall of Fame and you know, it wasn't the way I wanted to remember it, but it definitely stood out.

OLBERMANN: Well, I think it's fair to say it was the Hall of Fame's loss and certainly not his and that, you know, I don't know how many people we can say this about that we were lucky to be on the planet as the same time as Buck O'Neil.

POSNANSKI: No doubt about it.

OLBERMANN: Joe Posnanski, who has a book coming up in February on Buck O'Neil and we're look forward greatly to that. And we'll do it in the right order on the way out.

Friend of the late Buck O'Neil first, sports columnist of the "Kansas City Star," also.

POSNANSKI: That's the way.

OLBERMANN: Joe, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

POSNANSKI: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: All right, thanks Countdown for this, the 1,262nd day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Joe, a little early. Good evening.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: Hey, thanks so much Keith for the extra 17 seconds.