Monday, October 30, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 30

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Wayne Slater, Tom O'Neil, Paul Rieckhoff

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

The election is tight enough that the president is once again doing freebies, not fundraisers, but no-charge stump speeches.

But do many Republicans want that?



TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Well, are you running as a proud Bush Republican?



STEELE: I'm a proud Republican.


OLBERMANN: So was Alan Raymond so proud he agreed to break the law and jam the phone lines at the Democratic headquarters in New Hampshire on election day 2002?


ALAN RAYMOND: We were trying to create chaos and prevent the Democratic Party from operating officially.


OLBERMANN: Mr. Raymond went to jail for that. Now he tells his story exclusively to Lisa Myers and insists the idea came from the Republican National Committee.

What will the RNC ideas about Karl Rove be like if the party loses either house? And his legacy?

The so-called secret letter from Iraq. The emails of the late Captain

Sayshik (ph), the servicemen talking to Congress, the military now responds

by censoring some of it. Maybe no more blogs from Iraq.

Heather Mills McCartney intimating she has some of Sir Paul's alleged abuse of her on tape. And things weren't so hot for Linda either, she says. And what else? She always really liked the Stones better?

And speaking of stones, comedian Rush Limbaugh. His defense for doubting and making fun of Michael J. Fox, we speeded up his tape of him.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is moving all around and shaking.


OLBERMANN: Funny how the audio is still at the right speed.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


LIMBAUGH: This is really shameless.


OLBERMANN: Good evening. This is Monday, October 30, eight days until the 2006 midterm elections.

And the state of play for the Republicans is such that the president is no longer charging admission for each of his campaign appearances. That's right, he's now lying for free.

At this point in the 2002 midterms, Mr. Bush had done at least eight rallies for other candidates, not fundraiser, but free public events. This past Saturday, he did his first for the 2006 midterms, and it's not just about the money. There just have not been a lot of Republican candidates who've wanted to be seen with him, with or without a cover charge.

His Southern accent a little bit thicker, his rhetoric, a lot more divisive, the president hitting the campaign in his home state of Texas in what was majority leader Tom DeLay's district, the Republicans now faced with getting a write-in candidate to hold onto that seat, and earlier, that in Statesboro, Georgia, billed as a victory rally, and yet Mr. Bush somehow making the claim not only that the Democrats are the ones jumping the gun, but that the minority party is somehow responsible for the mess that is the war in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don't have one. Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, yet they don't have a plan for victory.

This election is far from over, although there are some people in Washington who already think they know the outcome of the election. Some of them are already picking out their new offices at the Capitol. You might remember, you might remember that around this time in 2004, some of them were picking out their new offices in the West Wing.

The movers never got the call.


OLBERMANN: Eventually, the movers always win.

Democrat-bashing or no, there is still the very real problem of how few Republicans actually want the president's help. Take the Maryland Senate candidate, Michael Steele, now trailing his Democratic opponent by as many as 11 percentage points in the polls, having gone so far as to print up misleading bumper stickers that read, "Steele Democrat." Mr. Steele wants to avoid not just being on the same stage as the president, but also, as evidenced on "MEET THE PRESS WITH TIM RUSSERT" yesterday, being in the same sentence.


STEELE: I'm not running away from my party. And you know what? It has not been the easiest thing in the world to run this cycle...

RUSSERT: Are you running as a proud Bush Republican?

STEELE: I'm a proud Republican.


STEELE: I'm a proud Republican. I mean, because I - my orientation is the Republican Party, it's not just one individual in the party. And so, you know, President Bush is the president of our party - of the United States. He's the leader of our party. Ronald Reagan, I'm a Lincoln, I, if anything, I consider myself a Lincoln Republican.


OLBERMANN: Unfortunately for Mr. Steele, by means way behind his control, Mr. Lincoln left the presidency in 1865.

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

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Depending on the spin, the president, in making this campaign appearances, is either bucking the conventional wisdom that he has become a pariah to Republican candidates, or he's bearing it out by stumping in the districts that were once considered safe for Republicans but aren't anymore. Is one of those more accurate than the other?

WOLFFE: Well, look at where he's campaigning. He's in Tom DeLay's old district, Sugar Land, Texas. Nobody predicted starting out this year and certainly starting out this campaign that he would have to be out there defending that.

Of course, he's in areas which are still conservative, where the base still likes him. And the base is big enough to actually carry the party to victory. The problem for other candidates in other districts and other states is that the base isn't big enough to get them over the top.

And it's interesting listening to Steele there, because when I was in Tennessee, I asked Bob Corker a similar question about his relationship to Bush, whether he liked Bush. His answer was, well, he liked President Bush, but remember, his was a six-year term, and President Bush was only going to be there for another two years. So it really wasn't about Bush.

You know, this is the sound of candidates across the country who thought President Bush would be a big strength and have found him to be a stone around their neck.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of sounds, there's the tap-dancing we heard Mr. Steele there on the question of whether he is a Bush Republican. Does that encapsulate the GOP problem in this election, not to mention why it is the president did not do any public free event political rallies before this past weekend? Is that a sort of explanation of both of those points?

WOLFFE: Well, the rally question's interesting. It is very late in the game for him to be doing this kind of event. Yes, they think they can still get the turnout numbers up there. Remember, the base still really loves him. The base just isn't big enough.

But they've been also raising money late in the game. Why are they raising money late in he game? Because in spite of the talking points that they knew that this was going to be a tough election, that they'd prepared for it, they've basically been burning up much more money than they thought they would have to.

So he's been fundraising later, he's rallying later. And, of course, the numbers of people he's getting involved are not that great either. Independents, according to most polls, including the most recent "Newsweek" poll, think very much like Democrats now. And he needs independents to push him over the top.

OLBERMANN: The Iraq parts of the president's stump speech, it seems it's attempting to put the Democrats on the defensive for not having a solution in Iraq. But would that not get at least the occasional voter, maybe those independents you just mentioned, to ask, Hey, hasn't that Republican plan that's been in use for three years over there gone pretty poorly, all things considered?

WOLFFE: Right. This is not a question of the 2004 campaign anymore. Who's the commander in chief, what's the plan in Iraq? This is a classic opportunity for a protest vote. You're not looking at a change the head of military operation. So people can vent their disagreement with this, the current plan, without having to choose someone who will enact another one. That's the problem.

The other problem is, of course, President Bush is still the best campaigner in the party. And other candidates out there are struggling to find as crisp a way to frame their opponents as President Bush is. They don't want to follow him, because it sounds like they're aligning themselves with an unpopular president. But they don't have their own life that they feel comfortable about.

OLBERMANN: The New Jersey Supreme Court decision last week about gay marriage that you - gay marriage popped up in the president's speech today and got the loudest, the most sustained applause. Is it too late to trot that one back out? Or might that energize the base?

WOLFFE: You know, I've spoken a lot to President Bush's advisors and his pollsters about this question. They are absolutely convinced that it had no effect whatsoever on turnout, gay marriage, on, with marriage on the ballots in 2004 had no effect on turnout in 2004. They saw the same turnout in states where it was and wasn't on the ballot.

So I don't know who he's trying to get together in terms of raising it now. It sounds good on talk radio, but if the impact was minimal in 2004, it's not going to have an impact now.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek." As always, sir, our great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Beyond being a national referendum on the Bush presidency, next week's election also likely to define the legacy of the man who won Mr. Bush the White House in the first place, Karl Rove most likely getting to keep his genius status permanently should the Republicans retain Congress, or even at this point, just come close in the House.

Should they lose both, well, let's just say that part about being known as Bush's Brain probably will not be considered a compliment anywhere anymore, assuming that it was widely.

Joining me now, the senior political writer of "The Dallas Morning News," Wayne Slater, also co-author of the new book, "The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power."

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

WAYNE SLATER, CO-AUTHOR, "THE ARCHITECT": Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's take a look at the premise, Washington is a very much What have you done for me lately kind of town, but also knowing there is some difference of opinion on this particular point, but if the Republicans lose the House, say, and retain the Senate, would it call Mr. Rove's legacy into question?

SLATER: Well, you know, isn't this the party of personal responsibility? So you've got to think that if for 2002 Karl Rove was the guru in chief for defying history when Republicans gained seats in an off-year election, 2004 he's the architect. In 2006, if things go south, it has to diminish his star in some way.

And yet I think there are - there is an argument to be made that anybody, even a god, a political god like Karl Rove, is going to lose in a year like this.

OLBERMANN: To quote the great David Frye, those who, those who are to blame lose their jobs, those who are not, are those who are responsible do not. But beyond the question of what happens if the Republicans lose, Rove's supreme confidence that his party is not going to look, is that an act, or does he really believe that they're going to win? Do you have a sense, from what you've heard from him in the last few weeks?

SLATER: Yes, you know, I've talked to Karl and I've talked to some other people. And the odd thing about Karl is that there's no question part of this is an act. What you do is, you try to - you know, the last thing you want to do is suggest, suggest the idea that you're going to lose, that it's going to be a tidal wave against you. And that's nothing that will just make the base sort of turn out.

But on the other hand, there is something about Karl, I remember him in the year 2000 when he thought the president was going to win the New Hampshire primary, he lost. He thought the president was going to win in California, he didn't. And so there's something almost delusional about Karl. Sometimes he looks at the numbers and sees what he wants to do and what he wants to see, even if, in looking at those numbers, he's seeing deeper than most of us.

OLBERMANN: The NPR interview speaks to that, almost, last week, where he talked about your math versus the math, implying he had the math. Is that, is that strength, confidence? Is it something sort of scary that he knows more than somebody else might know about how this is going to turn out before it's actually taken place? Or is this whistling past graveyards?

SLATER: Well, you know, I've known Karl for 15 years, and I never underestimate him in any case. I have to say that I was at a book deal the other day, and a prominent Democrat walked up to me and said, Why is Karl so confident?

There is another explanation here, besides his supreme confidence. (INAUDIBLE) he's in their heads and he knows it. Karl has the ability to get into the minds of Democrats and scare them to death.

OLBERMANN: Like a pitcher who may or may not be throwing a spitball. If the Republicans lose or the parties split Congress, which would be the bet most people would put the money on right now, the latter of those, what happens to all the systems, the procedures, the rituals, the funneling of power, the funneling of other things that Mr. Rove has established since January of 2001? Do they get dismantled? Do they get interrupted? What happens (INAUDIBLE) in the position of a Democratic Senate, a - or a Democratic House, or either one of them, or both, and this mighty administration that has been chugging along by itself the last five years?

SLATER: All these Democrats who think that everything's going to be great in November, they're going to take the House, maybe the Senate, and the end of Karl Rove's effort to establish an enduring Republican majority is at hand, might want to think about this, because the apparatus that he's put together, (INAUDIBLE) Ken Mehlman, Matthew Dowd, and other Republican geniuses in this part, this apparatus, with the Christians, with the business interests, with the voter vault, with everything that's part of this constituency and this method of winning elections again and again, even if they lose in November, because this has been a catastrophic year for Republicans, even if they lose, that mechanism's still in place.

And if I were a Democrat, I wouldn't be thinking that we've won completely until 2008. This machine will be back. Here in Texas, 15 years ago, somebody told me, Never bet against Karl, and I'm not betting against him today.

OLBERMANN: Wayne Slater, the author of "The Architect." Great thanks, as always, for joining us, Wayne.

Speaking of election tactics, a rare admission of GOP dirty tricks from a Republican operative who went to jail after trying to stop Democrats from voting. His story.

And behind the posturing and the politics, some troops sharing their feelings on the war from the front lines in Iraq, while other soldiers get their blogs shut down.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just in, politics are foul. Actually, Winston CHURCHILL said that about 1930. The only question, the tense agreement. Should it be "are foul" or "is foul"?

Our fourth story on the Countdown, we generally only learn how foul long after the fact. Have laws been broken during the campaign of 2006? Good luck. Two thousand and four, keep guessing. Two thousand and two, yes. And a senior Republican operative is admitting it, and insisting it was the idea of those well above him.

And he's talking about it, all of it, exclusively with our senior investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers.



LISA MYERS, NBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Keith, as you well know, both Republicans and Democrats have engaged in dirty tricks over the years. Alan Raymond is among the few who got caught and paid a heavy price.

(voice-over): For years, Alan Raymond was a prominent Republican operative with a reputation for bare-knuckle tactics.

ALAN RAYMOND: Political campaigns are very aggressive. The aggressor wins. When you are aggressive, you are pushing the envelope.

MYERS (on camera): In an exclusive interview, Raymond admits that four years ago, he went beyond pushing the envelope and actually crossed the line. He spent three months in prison. Now, in a civil suit, Democrats are trying to tie his misdeeds to the White House.

(voice-over): It all happened during a hard-fought battle for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire between then-Democratic Governor Jean Shaheen and Republican John Sununu. Raymond was running a telemarketing firm. He says an old friend from the Republican National Committee, James Tobin (ph), came to him with an idea, use nonstop hangup calls to tie up Democratic phone lines on election day.

RAYMOND: He gave he a call and outlined the program and asked me if it was something that was, that could be done.

MYERS (on camera): So you were trying to create chaos and keep Democrats from getting out their vote.

RAYMOND: That's right. We were trying to create chaos and prevent the Democratic Party from operating efficiently.

MYERS (voice-over): On election day, the plan worked, until nervous state Republicans pulled the plug.

BILL CLAYTON: That day, because our phone lines ended up being jammed, the people that counted on us to get rides to the polls, weren't able to get the rides they needed.

MYERS: And the Republican candidate won, though there's no evidence that phone jamming made the difference.

(on camera): Do you believe that only Republicans engage in dirty tricks?

RAYMOND: No, I believe that both parties engage in dirty tricks. I think it happens all the time, in one way or another. You know, dirty tricks in politics are like UFO sightings. Now, you see them every once in a while, you know they exist, but you can't necessarily point to what it really is.

So, yes, they occur. But let's be clear on something. The New Hampshire phone jamming was not a dirty trick, it was criminal.

MYERS (voice-over): Raymond cooperated with authorities, and pleaded guilty to conspiring to make harassing phone calls.

RAYMOND: The difference between myself and my co-conspirators in this case is that I didn't hesitate to take responsibility and tell the truth.

MYERS: RNC operative James Tobin denied any involvement. In this FBI report obtained by NBC News, he told agents that he informed a state party leader at the time that he would not support or endorse the idea.

The Republican National Committee spent an estimated $3 million to defend Tobin, who, nevertheless, was convicted of telephone harassment.

Others charged in the scheme, including Raymond, did not get the RNC's financial support.

(on camera): A lot of folks think that because the Republican National Committee paid $3 million to defend this guy, that they have something to hide.

RAYMOND: Well, that's a very fair assumption to make, and they need to answer for that.

MYERS (voice-over): The RNC declined to comment.

Raymond said he initially assumed the RNC had approved the phone-jamming operation.

(on camera): On election day, you thought this had been endorsed by the Republican National Committee.

RAYMOND: Well, I certainly knew that it had been endorsed by an agent of the Republican National Committee.

MYERS (voice-over): But now, he says he's seen no evidence that others at the RNC or the White House signed off.

In New Hampshire, a lawyer for the state Republican Party denies others were involved.

OVIDE LA MONTAGNE, NEW HAMPSHIRE STATE COMMITTEE: For the best of my knowledge, there was no discussion at the White House, no one at the Republican National Committee, or New Hampshire Republican state committee about this phone jamming.

MYERS: Both the RNC and the White House also deny authorizing the operation.

Still, New Hampshire Democrats have filed a civil suit. And the judge is allowing them to question Republicans all the way up to the White House about what they knew and when. This month, former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie was deposed in the case.

Alan Raymond says his once-bright political career is over. He is now shunned by his party and, as a felon, unable to vote.

RAYMOND: In the end, it accomplished four years of scandal, lots of legal bills, people going to jail. Was it worth it? Absolutely not.

MYERS: A cautionary tale, he says, for Republicans and Democrats.

(on camera): And this may not be the end of this story. Sources tell NBC News that Justice Department lawyers and FBI agents have attended hearings and depositions in the Democrats' civil suit, which would seem to indicate an interest in this case.

For Countdown, I'm Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Thanks, Lisa.

Also here tonight, reality in Iraq from the soldiers' perspective. Their blogs, their e-mails, so more insightful than the observations of outsiders, so much so that the military may be clamping down on them.

And what better way to celebrate the upcoming Halloween holiday than getting drunk, smashing pumpkins, and using the resultant goo for a slip-and-slide? Or is that a political debate of some sort?

Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Ultimately, she may not have had the worldwide influence of the patenting of the first ballpoint pen on this date in 1888, nor maybe not even of Orson Welles' infamous "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast exactly 50 years later, but most importantly around here, this is the birthday of our own chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, even if she is from WXPN Radio at Penn, and I'm from WVBR at Cornell. Happy birthday, Andrea.

And in no segue whatsoever, let's play Oddball.

We begin in Ohio for the traditional and slightly illegal Chagrin Falls pumpkin roll, an annual event in which dozens of local teens smash pumpkins all over the road in order to get it slimy enough to go sledding. Wheee. Three kids were arrested for drinking. One went to the hospital with a broken nose. Not everyone, though, thinks this is just good clean fun. Some have expressed concerns over just how these pumpkins are collected. Excuse me, but are you implying that some of the teenagers may have stolen the pumpkins?

Outrageous. Anyway, you might also want to be concerned with the multiple fatalities that could occur when the morning rush hour hits the street in (INAUDIBLE) morning.

In the Florida keys, they're celebrating Halloween under the sea. Several scuba divers taking the chance to carve Jack-o-lanterns on the ocean floor eight miles off Key Largo. None of them could get the candles to work, of course, but a good time was had by all, including the local fish life, which so rarely gets the chance to eat pumpkin in the wild.

And to Monroeville, Pennsylvania, which has been overrun by zombies today, and boy, are they scary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoever has the professor's megaphone, please bring it back.


OLBERMANN: Aaggghhh, the professor's megaphone, they ate the professor's megaphone!

It's the Monroeville Mall actual sight of the classic horror film "Dawn of the Dead." And once again, the place is lousy with zombies. You know, if I didn't know better, I'd just swear these were all Fox News viewers.

This time, the undead, though, are not here to seek out a small band of survivors and eat their brains, they're here to break the Guinness world record for most walking dead in one place. Well, that is Fox News. And for the best Orange Julius this side of Wilkinsburg (ph). They think they got the record, and each zombie brought a nonperishable food item for charity, so it was a good day of the dead in Monroesville, except for the professor and his poor, poor megaphone.

Speaking of brain-dead creatures who have seized megaphones, Bill O., reamed for his coverage of the war in Iraq, not by Democrats, not by liberals, but by soldiers on the ground, and suddenly, the soldiers' blogs have gone blank.

And a new low in what's shaping up to be one of the ugliest divorces in celebrity history, the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. McCartney bringing the deceased Mrs. McCartney into the mix.

Those stories ahead.

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

No. 3, Doug Ferraro of Bucks Count, Pennsylvania got his baseball card back last week autographed from a big leaguer he's sent it to in the mail for an autograph. Player was Don Carman of the Philadelphia Phillies. Ferrarro sent Carman the card in 1990 when Ferrarro was 7 years old. The now 23-year-old Ferrarro says Carman included a note "Sorry about the delay, I lost a box of mail. Just found it." Way to go, Don.

No. 2, Mick Jagger opening for the Rolling Stones' amazing 18 song, hour and 40 minute performance for the Clinton Foundation in New York last week, had the line of the week, "President Clinton is here tonight. Happy birthday, President Clinton. And she's brought her husband." Thank you, Mick.

No. 1, the unidentified 20-year-old who tried to hold up a shop in Wisconsin. He thought he'd show everybody he meant business by firing his shotgun inside the place. Unfortunately the place was a fireworks factory and the shotgun blast promptly detonated every Roman candle in the place, burning the factory to the ground. Nobody was hurt, but the place is a total loss and the place is in the town of Loch de Flambeau which translates from the French as "Torch Lake."


OLBERMANN: American voters consistently ranking the war in Iraq as their top issue towards the election. But we rarely hear from the Americans fighting that war. In our third story in the Countdown tonight, voices from the front hit the front pages and the military hits back with a hint of censorship.

This month with the U.S. death toll now at 101, our deadliest month there in almost two years, both "Time" and "Newsweek" are spotlighting the private messages, proud, anguished, frustrated, of two Marines. "Time" published one letter anonymously that reportedly is making the rounds among top Pentagon brass.

Among its observations, "I rarely see Ramadi in the news. We have as many attacks out here in the west as Baghdad. Yet, Baghdad has seven million people, we have just 1.2 million. Per capita, al-Anbar province is the most violent place in Iraq by several orders of magnitude."

And, "Biggest outrage - practically anything said by talking heads on TV about the war in Iraq.there thoughts are consistently both grossly simplistic and politically slanted." Guess what, his biggest offender in that category was Bill O'Reilly.

Meantime, today's issue of "Newsweek," quoting from private e-mails of another Marine, Captain Robert Secher, one of the 101 Americans who died in Iraq this month. Among his observations about Anbar province, "Whatever 'good' is happening in Iraq, isn't happening here.Even the Iraq soldiers tell us that when America leaves, they'll quit. They trust us because they know Americans can take care of them, but they don't trust their government, or the minister of defense, and they especially don't trust their officers.funny," he wrote, "I feel the same way sometimes."

Let me bring in one of the few Americans in regular contact with dozens of U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq, Paul Rieckhoff, who wrote about his own service in Iraq in "Chasing Ghosts" and is also founder and executive director or Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Paul, thanks again for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: The Army now has a formal unit in place monitoring what the soldiers are saying in private blogs. What are they doing and what do we risk losing if military bloggers stop blogging or feel restrained in anyway?

RIECKHOFF: Well, what they're intending to do is to try to maintain operational security. They want to make sure that soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan aren't releasing confidential troop movements or vulnerabilities of weapon systems or other things that could compromise the safety of individual soldiers. You don't want Sergeant Smith accidentally telling his wife when his patrol is going to be leaving and where they're going to be going.

What they're also going to is clamp down on, arguably, the best information coming out of Iraq. The mainstream media, the politicians, they haven't been getting the American people the real deal what's happening on the ground. These blogs, in my opinion, are the most raw, the most accurate, and the most candid way you can understand what's really happening on the ground in Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Turning to the emails focused - or that the magazines focused on. And neither of these Marines offered an overall solution to Iraq. Is there a sense that even the men and the women who are serving there have trouble not merely coming up with a solution, but believing that there is a solution?

RIECKHOFF: Well, I know that they're frustrated and they're not seeing progress, just like the rest of the American population. But they also know that there's no silver bullet solution. If we stay, it's going to be bad. If we leave, it's going to be bad. The only people who seem to have a silver bullet solution or an answer to everything are politicians. And we know that that's just not the case.

We're in a very tough situation. We're frustrated, the insurgency continues to evolve and develop. And politicians are more interested in attacking each other, than attacking our nation's enemies. So, I think a lot of people within the military are frustrated and they want to see their own views represented. They want to see other soldiers speaking up and speaking out and educating the American people about what's really happening on the ground.

OLBERMANN: Discussing Marines who have been charged with murder, the late Captain Sechr wrote: "Bush should be ashamed of the predicament that this nation has been put in.war puts perfectly ordinary young men in situations that can't be judged by laws. This is what war does to Norman young men."

Is there, Paul, a catch-22 in trying to honor and support our troops without somehow acknowledging the worst things we've asked them to do in the name of our country?

RIECKHOFF: I hope that we can do both. You know, I was trained as an infantry soldier. My job to do is to kill people and break their stuff. The American people have to understand that that's what soldiers do and that's what we're trained to do, and that's what we're supposed to do. So you have to, at the same time, understand the magnitude of that.

When you're asking a 19-year-old who's never left his state to operate in a combat environment where he doesn't speak the language, that has tremendous gravity and the magnitude of it is something that I don't think most civilians can really understand. So, I think we owe them the obligation of trying to put ourselves in their shoes, trying to understand the complexity and the dynamic nature of that environment before we pass judgment in either direction.

OLBERMANN: Your group has ranked members of Congress based on whether their votes actually support the troops. Do the rankings match the public perception? Are the troops in the field aware of these rankings?

RIECKHOFF: They are aware of them and the bottom line is no, there are a lot of people in Congress who are saying they support the troops and their votes aren't matching up. Eighty-six members of Congress got a "D" or "F" grade after our opportunity to try to rank them all.

And this is an issues like V.A. funding. Funding for health care for National Guardsmen and Reservists, a military death gratuity. People in the Senate actually voted against increasing the military death gratuity. This is something most Americans don't know about. It's in the details and we wanted to provide a way for most Americans to find out who really supports the troops and who's just spouting empty rhetoric.

OLBERMANN: I mentioned earlier the anonymous letter writer's claim that TV talking heads are grossly simplistic, politically slanted in discussing this war. What exactly is getting lost in the simplifications and in the political slanting?

RIECKHOFF: Just the breadth of it and the complexity. I mean, imaging trying to describe the death of your team leader in a two minute segment for CNN or for FOX or MSNBC. It's just really tough to condense it all into a quick sound bite or into a segment for television. I think what we really need to do is dig deeper and understand that it is a complex environment. And even the embedded reporters aren't giving you the full scope of what's happening on the ground.

That's why we've been so vocal about trying to involve veterans in the discussion. We've heard enough from the policy wonks, we've heard enough from Rumsfeld and enough from the president, it's time to listen to the people who've been on the ground, because they are the subject matter experts, they're not necessarily affiliated with either political party and they want to continue to serve this country by trying to help them understand the most important issue facing it.

OLBERMANN: Well, Paul, we may not know, but we always have a little better sense of what we don't know and need to when we sit and chat. Paul Rieckhoff, author of "Chasing Goats - Ghosts," executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Paul, thanks again.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Keith, appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, he spent more than 50 years in the National Basketball Association, helped to break the race barrier, create the Celtics mystique. Tonight, remembering the late Arnold "Red" Auerbach.

And some people we'd like to forget. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes not only getting wedding clothes from Armani, but apparently they're getting his house too.

Those stories ahead, but first here are Countdown's "Top 3 Sound Bites" of this day.


BILL O'REILLY, "O'REILLY FACTOR": Do you want the United States to win in Iraq?

DAVID LETTERMAN, "LATE SHOW": First of all, I don't.

O'REILLY: It's an easy question, if you don't want the United States to win in Iraq...

LETTERMAN: It's not easy for me because I'm thoughtful.


O'REILLY: It isn't so black and white, Dave. It isn't we're a bad country, Bush is an evil liar...

LETTERMAN: I didn't say we're a bad country.

O'REILLY: It's not true.

LETTERMAN: I didn't say he as an evil liar. You're putting words in my mouth. Just the way you put artificial facts in your head.


O'REILLY: All right.


BRIAN KINCHEN, ANNOUNCER: Well, it looks like a pass that needs to be caught. Yeah, you can't use your shoulder to catch a football. Your hands are what makes it possible. Your shoulder pads are hard and stiff. Your hands are tender and they can move and caress the ball.


That's kind of gay, but hey...

Four at down and nine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had some of the best seeds in the world last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because that's a pretty good size pumpkin, don't you think?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's become our new best friend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pat Pripe (ph) has been displaying the biggest pumpkin in Minnesota and Teski's (ph) Farm and Country Store for the past 10 days.


(SONG): Hey, won't somebody tell me what the heck you call this thing? Oh, the pumpkin man with the big round head, smile so bright and eyes so red.



OLBERMANN: Basketball legend mourned in his beloved Boston and throughout the sports world. A look back at the life and legacy of "Red" Auerbach, next.

And from heroes to zeros, the Mills-McCartney divorce sliding towards the Mills-McCartney debacle. That's ahead, this is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Professional basketball had been integrated for only six years when he traded two of his top white stars for a man named Bill Russell, 10 years later, having won eight championships in a row with Russell as his star, he retried as coach and made Russell as successor at a time when there had not been any African-American coaching any major sports franchise in this country in 40 years.

He invented the concept of the sixth man, he drafted Larry Bird even though he had to wait a year for him to turn pro. He once traded away the No. 1 pick in the draft and got Robert Parish and Kevin McHale in the deal. And not only did he coach 13 future Hall of Famers, but five of them also became coaches.

Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, one of the legends not just of basketball but of American sport is dead tonight, Arnold "Red" Auerbach of the Boston Celtics.

He as not very good guard in the early haphazard years of pro hoops in this country, but after the Second World War, at age 29, he became coach of the Washington Capitals, of the Basketball Association of America, precursor to the National Basketball Association. The team won 49 of 60 games and Auerbach never looked behind him.

Switching to the struggling Boston franchise in 51 as coach and GM, he rebuilt the Celtics with the fulcrum being the 1956 trade of the popular center "Easy" Ed MacAuley and top draft choice Cliff Hagan for the difficult genius-in-the-making, Bill Russell. Boston won an incredible nine out of 10 NBA championships between 1957 and 1966, 11 out of 13 between '57 and '69.

"We never had the league's top score," Auerbach noted with pride, "in fact, we won seven league championships without placing even one among the league's top 10 scorers."

"Red" Auerbach, who kept his victory cigar lit no matter the rules said, died Saturday of a heart attack at the age of 89. His team, he Celtics, will wear a black clover leaf on their uniforms for the length of the upcoming season in his memory.

In a happy development, a wholesome story of true love topping our nightly roundup of celebrity and tabloid news which we call "Keeping Tabs."

Plans moving ahead for the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Sources telling that not only will the blessed event take place in Italy, but it just might be held at the Italian villa of Giorgio Armani.

Earlier reports that George Clooney's villa would host the event have been shot down. Unlike Clooney, however, Armani is already involved in this wedding. He is designing both the bride and groom's wedding clothes. No, they're not interchangeable.

The Armani story, we're warned, might be a rumor, though, to draw media attention away from Cruise. Something he has almost accomplished himself with his recent movies.

Don't expect Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe to star in the home or movie version - the home version of the Cruise/Holmes story. After seven years of marriage, the two are formally separating, according to, well of course, who else would announce this? A publicist. The couple has two children and one Oscar.

While custody issues remain to be worked out, Legal experts belief that according to California law Witherspoon will entitled to retain custody of an actual movie career, while Phillippe is expected to take up residence in a depressing complex for divorced dads.

We have a "Keeping Tabs" update tonight from our Nicole Richie bureau.

Of course she has her own bureau. Duh. reporting that Nicole Richie passed out late Saturday night, that would be early Sunday morning to you and me, at the Hyde Nightclub, which is apparently Hollywood's only nightclub. A spokesperson for Richie confirms she was at Hyde, but denies that she collapsed. On the other hand, we're also told that Richie had checked herself into a treatment facility in order to determine why she hasn't been gaining weight. This latest development now suggests an obvious answer to all of these Nicole Richie-related mysteries - evil twins. Mark my words, evil twins.

There's ugly and then there's ugly, like citing your husband's late wife in your divorce case, that's ahead, but first time for Countdown latest of nominees for "Worst Person in the World."

The Bronze to someone named Steven (INAUDIBLE) of "National Review." Complain that I too often refer to President Bush as "Mr. Bush," that it's my, quoting him, "Way of saying that Bush holds office illegitimately." In fact, Mr. (INAUDIBLE), it's my way as not referring to him as, quote, "Bush." I call him, quote, "Mr. Bush." And it turns, and we thank the Media Matters website for this, so does Mr. (INAUDIBLE) boss. Writing in "National Review" since 2001, William F. Buckley, himself, has referred to the president as "Mr. Bush" more than 150 times.

Our runner up, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt of Ohio. She says she's not advocating it, but she believes, "It's something we need to look at." What is it? Storing nuclear waste shipments from around the world inside her own congressional district. She says this a week-and-a-half before the people in the district will decided whether or not to send her back to Congress. She thinks it could create hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs. To say nothing of a nice healthy green glow in the community 24 hours a day.

But our winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh, who is now claiming that TV networks speeded up the video from the day he first called Michael J. Fox a faker. He also denies that he was mocking or making fun of Fox's symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Well, just look at this again. And by the way, nut job, it is regular speed.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, COMEDIAN: He is exaggerating the effects of the disease. He is moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act.


OLBERMANN: We didn't alter it, maybe we should have. Limbaugh actually says, quote, "It is absurd and ridiculous for them to make this charge that I would make fun of somebody in this circumstance."

I'm going to make a controversial suggestion here on behalf of mankind, I think. Rush, your lies used to be slightly entertaining, but no more. Please go back on the drugs.

Comedian Rush Limbaugh, today's "Worst Person in the World."


OLBERMANN: The "Long and Winding Road" since Paul McCartney and Heather Mills-McCartney announced their separation last May, has taken Sir Paul from "Strawberry Fields Forever" to a "Hard Day's Night." The motto for high-profile separations is almost never "We can Work it Out," and in the increasingly nasty battle accusations have been hurled at scenes eight days a - oh, screw this.

Our No. 1 story in the Countdown, Mills and McCartney with a brief cease-fire for their daughter's birthday, but when the last candle went out, the bombardment resumed. little Beatrice McCartney celebrated the big three on Saturday in East Sussex, England and her parents, face-to-face for the first time in two months, the 90 minutes gathering described as "amiable" by Britain's "Hello" magazine, though it's uncertain whether Mills and McCartney shared much more than a "hello," if even that.

Sir Paul left with daughter Beatrice. Ms. Mills departed 10 minutes later with leftover cake.

Joining me now, the senior editor of "In Touch Weekly," Tom O'Neil, who's also columnist for the "L.A. Time's" award's website, The Envelope.

Thanks for your time tonight, Tom.

TOM O'NEIL, "IN TOUCH WEEKLY": Good to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: There have also been reports that Ms. Mills and her entourage have been videotaping everything for a year with the implication that some of Sir Paul's allegedly abusive behavior is on tape. Is that supposed to be evidence in court or it is going to be a reality show?

O'NEIL: Oh, I certainly hope it's for evidence in court, but evidence of what, that she's a loving, trusting wife, so much so that she, you know, dogged her husband with a video camera? This is - this is, you know, an outrage. Imagine - I think she caught every scene except the one of her down in the family vault counting up Paul's money.

OLBERMANN: By the way, on the off chance that it's a reality show we wanted to drop in a little guidance that Bobby Brown, Whitney Houston travesty. Let me play this for a second.

O'NEIL: Sure.




OLBERMANN: All right, moving on, other details, this tidbit from the London "Sunday Mirror" is that the couple actually split on Mother's Day because Ms. Mills was outraged that Mr. McCartney sent staff to buy the gifts for the her. That was the deal breaker?

O'NEIL: It actually was. She was so angry that she then went on a shopping spree that so ticked off Paul he finally just said, "Look, I've had enough of this." Look, what did she expect from a guy who sang a song called "All You Need is Love?" You know, he could have taken out that other song, "Live or Let Die" and that broken wine glass and let her have it, I think.

OLBERMANN: Remember the parody version of the Beatles, the "Rutles" their version was "All you Need is Cash." He might have listened to that record before he got hitched.

This same story describes Sir Paul as describing Ms. Mills as a "spoiled brat." But, do we get a sense here that, you know, when all the evidence is on the table neither of these folks are going to look good?

O'NEIL: Well, I think that Paul, except for the "spoiled brat" comment, which he did not make publicly, has come across pretty well. Remember the comments he has said publicly, which have been terrific, he's talked about her generosity, how much she's helped about other people. Meanwhile, all she talks about is what a monster he is.

OLBERMANN: And there has been a new level reportedly reached here, either a new high or a new low, evidence that she claims that she has that Linda McCartney,of course the first wife, the beloved first wife of Paul McCartney, was not always happy, may have been in her own way victimized, in some way. But is there no - is there no code to this? I mean, do you go after your estranged husband's deceased wife? Even in these sort of circumstances?

O'NEIL: This really is the lowest that this fight has gotten yet. What you're referring to, of course, are 20 hours of audiotapes that she made with a book collaborator, from Linda here, in which she did profess a few times in the conversation that she felt trapped by her marriage to a celebrity. But nowhere in these conversations, apparently, does she say she didn't love Paul or that she, you know, that this marriage was anything but a terrific thing. And there is also, by the way, no evidence in this discussion at all of physical violence or abuse. So this is going to backfire on Heather.

OLBERMANN: Sounds like most of it's going to backfire on Heather, correct?

O'NEIL: Yeah, I think almost all of it will, is the way it's looking.

OLBERMANN: Now, unfortunately, to provide entertainment for everybody else. Tom O'Neil, senior editor of "In Touch Weekly." As always Tom, great thanks for your time tonight.

O'NEIL: Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And that is Countdown for this the 1,276th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Goodnight and good luck.