Wednesday, September 20, 2006

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 20

Guests: Dana Milbank, Jack Rice, Jane Hamsher, Jay Gray, Jay Barbree, Chris Jansing

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

The president getting tortured anew over his push to legalize torture of terror suspects, the bill he wants just sneaking out of the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee 20 to 19, and only on the second vote of the day.

Perhaps more trouble in the offing. The Red Cross confirms it will talk to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other 13 ex-CIA terror detainees next week at Gitmo. What happens if they claim, or they prove, they've already been tortured? And why torture them, or aggressively interrogate them, or however you want to put it, if studies and the bitter experience of repeated false alarms from Homeland Security tell us, torture does not work.

Dana Milbank on the truths found in the politics of torture. Ex-CIA agent Jack Rice on the false-positives found in the testimony of the tortured.

The Clintons, the former president and the current first lady, at his Global Initiative Summit in New York.

And for the former first lady, a leak from or about her presidential campaign manager, even though she's yet to launch a presidential campaign.

Politically, what's the opposite of launch? Ask former Jersey governor Jim McGreevey after another odd interview with Matt Lauer.


JAMES MCGREEVEY (D), FORMER NEW JERSEY Governor: There's no shortage of stupidity in this book.


OLBERMANN: And never mind going into the tank with a killer whale.

Go into the tank with the attack of the killer ostrich.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These police officers are on their way to an ostrich on the loose. Could be a serious situation, I guess. (INAUDIBLE), you have a comment on this?


OLBERMANN: And here come the ostriches.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I don't know. Is that breaking news?


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York. This is Wednesday, September 20, 48 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

And even in the middle of an interparty squabble over the proposed rewriting of the Geneva Conventions, the reports coming out of Capitol Hill seemed a little suspect, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee voting against the president's detainee measure late this afternoon. But it turned out merely to have been a parliamentary ploy, the bill securing passage little more than an hour later on a second vote, far easier to comprehend.

The impasse itself, in our fifth story on the Countdown, proving far more difficult to sell.

Last week, the president traveled to Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers on the detainee measure. Today, the Republican leadership of the House and Senate came to see him, all involved sitting down at the White House in an attempt to get around the impasse on interrogation and a handful of other sticky legislative issues before next Friday, when Congress adjourns for a six-week campaign recess, by the end of the meeting, still no compromise, and the lawmakers avoiding all video cameras, coming and going.

Meantime, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a small and slim victory for the White House, the House Judiciary Committee voting to approve that detainee measure favored by the president, but it took a second vote to do it by 20 to 19, as we mentioned, Republicans on the committee reintroducing the legislation only after they had rounded up more yes votes from elsewhere in the capital.

It was last Friday when George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley tapped into expectations that the Red Cross would soon be interviewing the 14 top terrorism suspects the administration already has, the ones it just transferred from CIA secret prisons to Gitmo. Today, the Red Cross confirmed it expects to talk to them starting next week, talk to them about their treatment, senior al Qaeda operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, getting their first contact with the outside world since they were taken into custody, not to mention the first chance to contact their families through Red Cross messages, Bush administration officials choosing to follow the Red Cross announcement today by announcing that Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, is expected to face a hearing within three months.

Time to call in our own Dana Milbank, of course, the national political reporter of "The Washington Post."

Dana, good evening.


Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: House Republicans usually marching in lockstep behind the White House on virtually everything. Today, two votes to get a one-vote margin in the Judiciary Committee, over at the White House, party leadership avoiding cameras. What's going on here inside the Republican Party?

MILBANK: Well, you talked about the family squabble. It's really entering a domestic violence phase here now. It's even worse than you suggested in the House today. The Democrats actually had the votes to kill this proposal and get the McCain version through, but two of the Democrats were next door giving a press conference on Medicare. So that's sort of the luck the Democrats are having right now.

But it - as a policy matter, it's been quite a difficult thing for the administration congressional Republicans. They're tied up in both chambers. They're running out of time.

On the other hand, we have to remember that this is distracting everybody's attention from Iraq, where dozens are being killed every day, the prime minister there is in some trouble now, nearly 2,700 dead American soldiers.

So it does have some dividends, the very fact that we're all talking about terrorism.

OLBERMANN: But on the other hand, perhaps one of the reasons it's distracting is, it looks genuine. From the outside, it looks more than just a question of politicians distancing themselves from an unpopular leader or an unpopular measure. How much conscience are we actually seeing here, and how many people in Washington have never seen it before or don't recognize it?

MILBANK: Yes, right, whenever somebody starts saying words like "principle," everybody else on the committee reaches for a dictionary.

OLBERMANN: Or a wallet, make sure the wallet is still there.

MILBANK: This is true. There was - there were a couple of holdouts on the Judiciary Committee today among the Republicans, Jeff Flake from Arizona, Bob Inglis from South Carolina. These are sort of the dying breed of libertarians. And then you have people like Warner, McCain, and Graham in the Senate. There were - they have very little to gain from this personally, as a political matter, but are actually taking a stand there and also allowing the Democrats to sort of hide behind their skirts.

OLBERMANN: Dana, about the Red Cross visit, I mentioned that Professor Turley had essentially forecast the meeting with the 14 detainees. It also extrapolated about what the consequences could be if the detainees report they were tortured and the Red Cross supported that or found reason for it.

Listen to this, and then I have a question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, September 19, 2006)


UNIVERSITY: They are going to be or have been interviewed by the Red Cross. Most people believe that they will reveal that they were subject to waterboarding, they were (ph) you are held underwater until you think that you're going to drown. That is undeniably torture under the international standard.

If that occurs in the coming days, the United States, and specifically the president, will be accused of committing a very serious violation of international law.


OLBERMANN: Dana, what happens politically in this country if the Red Cross even just accuses and says there is strong evidence of this government violating the Geneva Conventions in terms of torture?

MILBANK: Well, it's sort of tricky, because you do expect these detainees to say just about anything. So, you know, unless you actually have the Red Cross workers being waterboarded while they're there, you don't have anything ironclad here.

What we've seen is, it's very hard for these particulars to break through. We have this case of this innocent Canadian man confessing while he's being tortured in Syria to training with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, when in fact he was never there.

So - but even that story doesn't necessarily break through in terms of shifting the debate. I think Americans are really paying attention to the fact that we're talking about the war or terror and not that we're having this sort of arcane dispute about the Geneva Conventions.

OLBERMANN: Yes, I think some might think of it as other than arcane. But (INAUDIBLE), whatever the practical political realities are, put everything together here for us. In the framework of November 7, politically, who is winning and who's losing this issue?

MILBANK: It's bouncing sort of up and down. There was suggestions and polls out last week, particularly from "USA Today" and Gallup, the president's numbers were increasing, doing much better on terrorism. This caused a big shift in Washington thinking. There's a "New York Times"- CBS poll out tonight saying, Wait a second, it hasn't had any affect whatsoever.

So the truth is, as we were talking about at the very beginning here, it's really a matter of who's controlling the debate, and whether the Democrats can get the debate off of this subject altogether, you know, leaving the morality of it aside, and getting onto the more comfortable terrain for them of Iraq.

OLBERMANN: We need to waterboard those people participating in the polls and get honest answers.

Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," and, of course, MSNBC. As always, sir, our great thanks.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Beneath all the debate over torture and all the willingness to sell out this country and what it has stood for, is the far simpler to understand and virtually unanimous conclusion, torture does not work. That evidenced again this week, as Dana just referred to, by the case of former terror suspect Maha Arar (ph).

In September of 2002, while returning to Canada from Tunisia, Mr. Arar was traveling on a Canadian passport when he was stopped on a layover at New York's JFK International Airport. He was detained, held in the U.S. for 12 days before being sent to Syria and the into the CIA's secret prison system on suspicion of being a member of al Qaeda.

Once in Syria, Mr. Arar was tortured for several weeks, including being beaten with an electrical cable. Eventually he broke down and confessed that he had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan. The only problem with that confession, as a Canadian investigation reported Monday, Mr. Arar was innocent. He had never even traveled to Afghanistan, let alone been a member of al Qaeda.

Nevertheless, Mr. Arar held in a Syrian dungeon for 10 months after his coerced confession before being released in 2003.

To that point, now, I'm joined now by Jack Rice, former special agent and field operations officer at the CIA, also a former state prosecutor in Minnesota, so he knows both ends of this process.

Jack, thanks for your time again tonight.


OLBERMANN: That - this is not that tough, is it? I mean, you torture somebody, and basically he will tell you whatever it is he thinks you want to know?

RICE: Absolutely. It's that simple. I mean, when you look at a story like this, any of these stories, you push hard enough, you hurt long enough, you're going to get what you want. I can use a waterboard on you, and I guarantee, you'll tell me you're Bill O'Reilly. That's a scary thought.

OLBERMANN: Yes, indeed, and I'll do it within a minute and a half, by the way. But (INAUDIBLE), its value, then, torture, or if we want to use any of the euphemisms for it, torture's value as a means of gaining information, as opposed to just as a tool for sadism, is what, exactly?

RICE: Well, it's useless. I mean, when you think about this, let's pull back to something in the States, admissibility of evidence. When we look at that, we realize that we don't allow torture or abuse because we want reliability. That's the reason we have that standard.

When you look at it from an overseas perspective, you're going to get the same thing. What we want in the end is reliability. And if we're doing something that we know doesn't give us the information that we need, not the information we want to hear, but the information that we need to hear, the truth, then what's the point?

And to make it worse, what you're going to see is, you're going to actually encourage those people who may be on the fence, whether they like us or hate us, we're going to encourage them even more.

OLBERMANN: The name Abu Zubaydah seems relevant here. Zubaydah broke under - I guess the technical term is aggressive interrogation, told the interrogators about plans to booby-trap banks and ATMs, and Homeland Security says, Watch out for banks. Then he said malls, Homeland Security said, Beware of the malls. Then he said apartments, we plan to lease apartments and fill them full of explosives, and Homeland Security said, Be alert in apartment buildings. Then he said the Brooklyn Bridge, and Homeland Security says, Be careful on the Brooklyn Bridge.

The only problem was, he was making all of it up. If we torture supposed terrorists, and they make stuff up, and the government tells people the things that they made up, are we not, in essence, doing the terrorists' work for them? Is there not an indirect cause and effect here? Starting point is, you torture suspects into lying, and at the end, you wind up spreading information that scares Americans.

RICE: Absolutely. And the worst part, in the end, is that when there are real threats out there, there's something called dread fatigue. We all heard about this. Oh, my gosh, it's level yellow. Oh, my gosh, it's level orange no. And in the end, the real threats that are out there, we ignore.

I mean, how many steps can this guy go? It's, Oh, it's going to be the White House. It's going to be an outhouse. It's going to be a doghouse. So we got to not go near any of those either?

At some point, we have to realize that there is truth out there, and then there is this. We need to be able to make the distinction. Until we do, we're wasting a lot of time, and we're scaring a lot of people. It's useless.

OLBERMANN: So what works instead of torture, or aggressive interrogation, or whatever they're calling it today?

RICE: In many cases, we're looking at a lot of things. And we've used these in the States in the past, because it provides reliable information. Sometimes it's about personal understanding. Sometimes it's allowing people to talk. Sometimes it's trying to understand.

I would sit in front of somebody and say, I don't understand what motivates you. Explain to me so I understand. Teach me. Sometimes it's about vanity. You allow them that, if it's useful. But what you're looking for is truth in the end.

I'm not a priest. I'm not trying to be. But what I am trying to do is get something reliable, so our policy makers, so our police, so our military can do the right thing, not the wrong thing.

OLBERMANN: So fact-check me on this, on my simplified version of this whole picture. If it's wrong, tell me so. The president wants torture, or a nice euphemism for torture, and all he'll get out of it is made-up information, revenge later against American prisoners, perhaps, and destroying any moral high ground we might still have in the world.

RICE: Yes, one other thing besides that. He gets to wrap himself in the flag and say he hates the bad people.

OLBERMANN: Jack Rice, former special agent with the CIA. Great thanks for your time and your insight tonight, sir.

RICE: My pleasure.

OLBERMANN: New York City. As the former president Clinton crossed party lines in introducing the first speaker at his Global Initiatives Summit, somebody spoke when they probably shouldn't have about the prospects of another President Clinton.

And is there any political future for former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey on the heels of his controversial interview with Oprah Winfrey? We'll have his controversial interview with Matt Lauer.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If you were to walk into former president Clinton's Global Initiatives Summit in New York thinking you were personally doing enough to save and improve the lives of others, you would be quickly disabused of that notion, as I was this morning, perhaps by the sight of Mr. Clinton introducing the opening speaker, first lady Laura Bush.

Perhaps by the story told of an African community so devoid of electricity and fresh water that the pump for the only source of clean water is powered by the village's kids. As they push themselves around on a playground merry-go-around, that generates the energy required to get the water pump working.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, politics utterly transcended at the Clinton Global Initiative, yet at the same time, overshadowed in places today not by the current first lady but by her predecessor, the Washington insider publication "The Hill" reporting that Senator Hillary Clinton has hired a chairman for the run at the presidency, which she has not even yet announced. It is supposedly, from his own words to business associates, former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe denies that, telling the publication that Senator Clinton will make no decision before this year's election, in which she is standing as the incumbent senator, of course, from this great state of New York, but adding, quote, "Would I have a huge role on the campaign? Of course. That's not real news. People know that I have been around lining up people if she decides to run."

Then there were the thousand or more who sat in a New York hotel ballroom this morning, listening to, in turn, Mr. Clinton, Mrs. Bush, President Musharraf of Pakistan, Secretary General Solana of the European Union, the president of Liberia and Colombia. Other speakers and working session participants were to range from Al Gore, to Desmond Tutu, to Lance Armstrong, to, in the surest signs that politics can be transcended, Rupert Murdoch.

A gathering of an entirely different nature created buzz on the so-called blogosphere last week when about 20 people from political oriented progressive blogs met at the Harlem office of former president Clinton.

One of those attendees joins us now, the founder of, Jane Hamsher.

Thanks for your time tonight, Jane.

JANE HAMSHER, FIREDOGLAKE.COM: Thanks so much for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Why President Clinton? Why now? How did the meeting come about? What did you think most motivated him in participating in it?

HAMSHER: Well, Hillary Clinton is one of the only 2008 candidates so far to have hired a senior blogger, a veteran blogger named Peter Daou, onto her staff. And I think Peter's been very key in educating President Clinton and Mrs. Clinton, Senator Clinton, about how they can interface with the blogosphere to get their message out, that wouldn't really be possible any other way.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Daou was at that initiative this morning, curiously enough.

Obviously each week, the blogosphere exerts a little more influence on politics than it did the week before. Any doubts about that can be directed to Senator Lieberman.

Was there any sense in this meeting that President Clinton was strategizing by meeting with you? Could it have been tactical? Could it have related to Senator Clinton's possible White House run?

HAMSHER: Well, I think that anybody who doesn't think that Hillary Clinton is anticipating a 2008 White House run has been living under a rock. And I think that the Clintons, both President Clinton and Senator Clinton, are obviously very practical people.

But I think it was also just genuine curiosity. President Clinton says that he reads blogs. We worked with him very effectively over the course of the past couple of weeks in order to get the message out about something you've been concerned about as well, "The Path to 9/11" and the misinformation that was contained in that ABC drama.

And, you know, we'd worked together to get the message out that the information was just not factual. And that really hadn't happened before. And I think he was very excited about that, because a lot of the information that the media runs about him is just not fair, and he really has been at the mercy of that ever since he took office. So the ability to kind of end-run that through the blogosphere, I think, is very exciting.

OLBERMANN: Was he listening at this? Was he quizzing? Was he revealing secret screen names under which he's blogging? What was he doing, in fact?

HAMSHER: Well, he wasn't revealing anything secret. But he was just asking questions and telling, you know, Bill Clinton stories. And it was a really interesting experience to be able to sit there and listen to someone who, no matter what you think of his politics, is one of the greatest political minds of our generation, talking to people who, you know, just sit there and blog all day long without a lot of exposure to people like this. I mean, that's one of our strengths is that people in the blogosphere really represent kind of grassroots concerns and aren't, you know, members of the power elite in Washington, D.C.

So it was kind of a meeting of both sides. It was very exciting.

OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton's camp saying now that Terry McAuliffe can't be chairman of the campaign that does not yet exist. But does not the new front-loading of the 2008 Democratic primary season, or essentially now the '07-'08 primary season, make these kinds of early decisions essential? And would you evaluate this? Are the blogs evaluating this story as likely?

HAMSHER: I can't imagine that those kind of overtures aren't being made, and that those kind of arrangements aren't being set up at this point. Two thousand eight is around the corner in political terms.

From the blogospheric perspective, we're very focused on what's going on in the 2006 election. On my blog, FireDogLake, we have an Act Blue page, where we support progressive candidates. We recently produced a commercial through our PAC with Ricky Lee Jones and the (INAUDIBLE) zippers (ph) that progressive candidates around the country have been using. And we're very much focused on getting, you know, progressive Democratic candidates elected to the Congress this year.

So, you know, from our perspective, we'll think about 2008 a little further down the line. But if, I guess, if you're considering running at this point, you know, that it's time to get your act in gear.

OLBERMANN: Yes, but 49 days from now, you're going to need some new material as well, so (INAUDIBLE) -



HAMSHER: There's a never-ending source of material, yes.

OLBERMANN: All right, but (INAUDIBLE), last point here, are you at the cusp here, where it's just sort of ideal for the blogs? You are now just influential enough, just inside enough, that you would have a group meeting with the previous president of the United States, and yet you haven't gotten to the point where you're so inside that the grassroots nature of the blogs has not yet been compromised?

HAMSHER: I don't know that the grassroots nature of the blogs can ever be totally co-opted. I mean, one of our strengths is that we have thousands and thousands of readers showing up every day, and commenting in our comments sections and holding us accountable for what we write.

So, you know, it's hard for us to get insider without taking a lot of guff for it.

But there - that is a danger, and I think one of our strengths is, you know, people who live outside of Washington, D.C., and bring that perspective to it.

But there's a whole list of people trying to keep us honest, and in terms of having, you know, just sort of being right on the cusp right now, I think we had a real victory with the Lamont-Lieberman campaign. And I think, as you mentioned earlier, Senator Lieberman has been made very aware of our presence, and sort of keeping him honest in his campaign. So it's a good time for us right now.

OLBERMANN: And if the blogs get too inside, there'll just be another set of blogs commenting on your blog.

Jane Hamsher...


OLBERMANN:... from the blog Great thanks for your time tonight, Jane.

HAMSHER: Thanks so much, Keith.

OLBERMANN: First, it was the falling horse at the fashion show. Now, we have a new accident to add to the Catwalk Horrors Hall of Fame. Think clogs.

And history inside the whale tank. Our own Peter Alexander says hello to Corky, the killer whale, an event so rare it hasn't happened in over 20 years, and probably won't happen again for another 20 years.

That and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: September 20, the birthday of two of the 20th century's most beautiful women, Sofia Loren and Ingrid Bergman's daughter, former New York television reporter Pia Lindstrom. And the 30th anniversary of the day "Playboy" told the world of its interview with then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter, in which he admitted to having experienced lust in his heart for women other than his wife.

Fittingly, our nightly curious video adventures start amid the runway models.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in London on the catwalk, where apparently the latest trend on the fashion scene is unwieldy six-inch-high platform clogs. Well, what could possibly go wrong with these?

Well yes, that'll happen. Be all right folks, she's a trained professional. The key is to get off the stage as quickly and quietly as possible so as to not spook the other models.

Again it's just another reason to support the Spanish initiative to ban skinny supermodels, that never would have happened to a model how had ankles.

In Texas, for an amazing story from the town of Conroe. A woman there has discovered that when she leaves the porch light on at night, onto to the floor of her forier her forier is projected the exact image of 1980's WWF wrestler Hillbilly Jim Morris, it's uncanny. Of course Anna Glover thinks is looks like Jesus, but they're both good.

The projection is caused by the light shining through the beveled glass on the front door. Ms. Glover hopes this will help drive up the price of the house, as she puts it on the market this Fall. And to anyone who thinks it's crass to try to make a buck off a miracle like this, rember the teachings of Hillbilly Jim. "Don't go messin' with a country boy!"

Meanwhile, do you see an ostrich in this picture? The chopper is in the air, police are on their way and our own Chris Jansing gets handed an anchor's worst nightmare, invisible ostrich.

And his political bombshell two years ago was a landmark moment.

His interviews with first Oprah Winfrey and now Matt Lauer - I don't know. Details ahead but first, time now for Countdown's "Top 3 Newsmakers of this Day," kind of a theme tonight.

No. 3, Maria Gicana, who along with her boyfriend stopped off at a McDonald's at a rest stop on Hightway I-95 in Branford, Connecticut. She felt something nibbling on the back of her knee as she stood outside the place, she just assumed it was her boyfriend. It wasn't. It was a coyote.

Exactly how long have you known this gentleman, miss?

No. 2, Zhang Xinyan, a migrant worker visiting the panda area at the zoo in Beijing, he decided he wanted to pet the panda. The panda was asleep and surprised, it bit Mr. Zinyan, so he bit it back. Then he kicked it, so he bit it again. "No one ever said they would bite people," Mr. Xinyan said. "I just wanted to touch it. I was so dizzy from the beer, I don't remember much."

No. 1, an unidentified suspect in Perry, Georgia, sitting on the floor of the curtains aisle at Wal-Mart. A 80-year-old woman stumbled over him there, the man promptly explained he was performing a religious ritual and asked her to help by standing on his hands and spitting. She did so, where upon he began to lick her feet. Police say the same thing happened at another Wal-Mart in Americas, Georgia. They "suspect" it was the same guy. Ya think?


OLBERMANN: After it was revealed he used to let a prostitute in his employ listen in to his conversations with a presidential candidate whose campaign he had managed, Bill Clinton, it became, in retrospect, hard to believe that Dick Morris was taken seriously in American politics.

In our third story in the Countdown, after a couple of interviews first with Oprah Winfrey and now with Matt Lauer, it may soon be just as hard to believe that Jim McGreevey was ever taken seriously as the Governor of New Jersey.

His coming out news conference might have been one of the most astonishing, blunt and singular (ph) moments in TV history. These TV appearances, probably not so much.


MATT LAUER, NBC DATELINE: You new there was something that said you apart from other kids and you talk about the fact that at some point, not only as an elected official, but as a state employee, you were living a very risky lifestyle, you know.


LAUER: Anonymous sex with random men at places like highway rest stops. You write, "I was promiscuous and sexually active in ways I consider immoral and ugly, and I justified this by telling myself that I had no other choice. That my sexual urges were irrepressible."

How hard was it to try to control them?

MCGREEVEY: Well, you know, from the time I was six, I just - I knew I was different. I new somehow I was different from the other children. And, you know, in developing a gay identity, typically your parent aren't gay, so unlike other cultural minorities there's no one there to tell you the stories. There's no one to give you a sense of your own identity. And then you're in seventh and eight grade, you figure, uh-oh, something's different here. I am not attracted to girls the way the other boys are or the way the images on television tell you should be.

LAUER: And on top of that, as you get older and you enter a world of politics, these two secrets, these two life styles do not - they do not go to together very well.


LAUER: In many occasions, especially if you start off not telling the truth to people.

MCGREEVEY: Exactly. And that perpetuates itself and then there's a sense of shame. And for me what happened - what was public was inauthentic, in terms of the appearance and what was authentic was the fact I was gay, I felt because of the images that I received growing up, my church, what my church taught me about mortal sin and abomination, and the academic thinking of the time being a psychiatric illnesses, said I'm not going to own this thing. And so you act it out in dark places, in unhealthy places.

LAUER: And by the way, you always knew at some point, when you got into politics and public life that this could explode. As a matter of fact, you tell a fascinating story in the book about you're driving in a car with then Governor Kristy Todd-Whitman, in the backseat, you're going down a highway, and there is one of those highway signs that mentions her name as governor. And what do you say?

MCGREEVEY: I was doing a race with Governor Whitman and I perceive I - I see in my own mind's eye that the word fag had been written across the sign of New Jersey state turnpike.

LAUER: So you're picturing your name up there as governor of New Jersey and then all of a sudden in dawns on you, what if someone spray paints - if you're found out - "fag?"

MCGREEVEY: Fag. Because in your heart you're always afraid of that potential fear of that becoming a reality.

LAUER: The man you said you had a consensual relationship with, he tells a different story.

He says, "McGreevey's new book is not a real confession, but rather a carefully penned pack of lies intended to rehabilitate his name and restore him to public life."

He went on to tell our producer, "At no time was I his lover. He harassed and assaulted me. There was unwanted sexual advances and harassment in general, not just sexual and he assaulted me."

Why do two people have such different versions of this story?

MCGREEVEY: Oh, one's telling the truth and one's lying. And I have no advantage.

LAUER: You know the expression there's one story, the other story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.

MCGREEVEY: Yeah, I know that expression. But there's no advantage in embracing a book with this much pain, but to tell the truth.

LAUER: And you life today with Mark O'Donnell, who's your partner. I mean, is this perfect happiness, or is there still some tinge of things not being right in your life?

MCGREEVEY: No, this is happiness. This is the most happiness I've ever known. I know I'm on this spiritual journey for the rest of my life, and God willing, I get closer and closer. But, from the "Confession," people get an understanding of the struggle, asks for a little more compassion, but the importance, I believe, of truth in their lives and godliness.


OLBERMANN: Matt Lauer with Jim McGreevey. You can read an excerpt of McGreevey's book, the "Confession" on our website,

Also tonight, a nervous day in space as NASA works to figure out if another piece of debris is a missing part of "Atlantis." When will this shuttle return to earth?

And Australia bids goodbye to Steve Irwin today.

Details on those stories and more when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: Having spent a day trying to figure out what came off the space shuttle "Atlantis," NASA deciding whether it's safe to bring the astronauts home, and what could be more important than news about the space shuttle's safety? Apparently news of a large bird who lives near a school. No, I am not joking. That is ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: One single unidentified flying object spotted outside the space shuttle was enough to delay the planned landing today. What happens now that there are five pieces of unexplained debris floating around that same spacecraft? It is business as usual.

Our No. 2 story in the Countdown, NASA says "Atlantis" is good to go. So now, as our correspondent Jay Gray reports, they plan to bring the astronauts back to earth first thing tomorrow morning.


WAYNE HALE, SHUTTLE MISSION MANAGER: Um, this is, um, most likely the culprit.

JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mission managers believe a plastic shim like this one was they debris they spotted floating near the shuttle "Atlantis" and the reason they kept the crew in space for an extra day.

The piece of plastic, about six inches long, was likely jettisoned from the shuttle as the main engines were fired up.

HALE: We will probably never know for sure, but suspect that this piece of plastic shim is most likely what we saw in that camera view floating away.

GRAY: The astronauts, along with teams on the ground, spent more than eight hours today annualizing data and taking a closer look at the spacecraft to make absolutely certain "Atlantis" is safe to land. They used laser on the end of this 50-foot boom to get a detailed look on the leading edge on the right wing of the shuttle, an area sensor indicated may have been struck by that floating debris.

HALE: Nothing was found to be missing or damaged on the thermal protection system, so we feel very confident that we're in for a good landing opportunity tomorrow morning.

GRAY: So now, this crew, which has grown used to waiting, will turn "Atlantis" toward home with the only remaining concern at this point, the weather.

Jay Gray, NBC NEWS, Kennedy Space Center.


OLBERMANN: Continuing with our theme of exploring strange new worlds, we come to our nightly round-up of tabloid and celebrity news, "Keeping Tabs."

And fans said goodbye today to the "Crocodile Hunter," Steve Irwin.

The public memorial drew 5,000 mourners to the Australian Crocoseum created

by the world-famous TV performer.

Irwin was killed with an extraordinarily unlikely incident with a stingray two weeks ago. His 8-year-old daughter, Bindi, carried on his tradition of supporting conservation and of winning over the crowds.


BINDI IRWIN, DAUGHTER OF STEVE IRWIN: My daddy was my hero. He was also there for me when I needed him. He listened to me and taught me so many things. I have the best daddy in the whole world, and I will miss him every day.

When I see a crocodile I will always think of him.


OLBERMANN: A service attended by the Australian prime minister, video attributes sent in by celebrities ranging from Russell Crow to Kevin Costner to Justin Timberlake. In accordance to Mr. Irwin's beliefs the choir wore khaki, while staff from the Australia Zoo used yellow flowers to spell out Irwin's signature phrase: "Crikey."

And unexpected joy from my radio partner, Dan Patrick and me, this afternoon. Our ESPN colleague and friend, Peter Gammons, the nation's top sport reporter, today returned to the air, less than three months after a terrifying brain aneurism. Not on a baseball broadcast, though he did that a few hours later, but with us, complete with a couple of affectionate shout-outs from a loyal Countdown viewer.


PETER GAMMONS, ESPN SPORTS REPORTER: I'm very fortunate to be here as quickly as I am, but it's - there's not a bad thing spending about six or seven weeks watching Keith every night.


OLBERMANN: Peter, I think I talked more about you than about George Bush in those six,seven weeks.

GAMMONS: It was sort of ironic that in the same mail, within about five letters, I opened up notes from President Bush and John Kerry.

DAN PATRICK, ESPN RADIO: From all of us here, you know, the bigger picture is, I'm just glad to here your voice, Pete.

GAMMONS: Well, thank you very much, I really appreciate it. And I appreciate that I've heard Keith's voice so much in the last couple of months.


OLBERMANN: The complete interview with Peter is on ESPN's website.

And the complete Peter Gammons, is by all evidence, back. Amen.

Also tonight, never mind cavorting with killer whales, today saw the search for an animal so dangerous, it trumped the space shuttle, in breaking news.

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

The count and amount from Amazon, this one has already been out for like two weeks and it's pretty much old news, No. 70 on the sales list. Bill-O's book just out, No. 119.


OLBERMANN: The Bronze tonight to President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Addresses the U.N. today, refers to President Bush as the devil, says, "It still smells of sulfur today."

Mr. Chavez, you're only making Pat Robertson look good.

Our runner up, Jon H. Eipp of Novato, California, during his trial at the local courthouse, accused of stealing computers, he stole the computers at the local courthouse. He has now been convicted twice.

But the winner, Bill Orally. In an interview with Barbara Walters he tells her, "The FBI came in and warned me and a few other people at FOX News that al Qaeda had us on a death list."

Hey, fella! Were they targeting you or where the just expecting you to help?


STEWIE GRIFFIN, FAMILY GUY'S BABY: Bill O'Reilly, today's "Worst Person in the World."



OLBERMANN: Lastly, we have the world's most dangerous animal. Killer whale? Killer whale's a guppy compared to the animal we're talking about.

Our No. 1 story, Ozzie, the killer ostrich. Ozzie, the invisible killer ostrich - who may or may not have run wild across a North Carolina schoolyard this afternoon. First for contrast, into the killer whale tank, in which Seaworld is permitted a novice for the first time in two decades, and that daring rookie is our correspondent, Peter Alexander. Remember, Pete, as you and he will see presently, could have been worse, could have been an ostrich.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even you never get any closer than a seat at Shamu Stadium; killer whales are a spectacular sight.

The ocean's top predators, their agility and intelligence make them natural born stars. Seven of them live here at Seaworld San Diego where they all share the Shamu stage name. Even from back stage, the choreographed routine is always a rush of adrenalin.

So, how to you work with a killer whale? It's usually two months before any trainer is even allowed into the pool. I get just two days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is he OK? Is he going to work out? Think he's going to be OK? All right.

That's a yes.

ALEXANDER (on camera): What's most amazing is making eye contact with this guy. Hi Kasatka (ph). Hi.

(voice-over): If they make up a pod, these trainers form their own unique family and here is how you join.

(on camera): Oh, that's some cold water.

(voice-over): This hasn't happened in 21 years. That's the last time Seaworld invited an amateur to enter the pool.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just start rubbing her down and.

ALEXANDER: My traing partner is 20 feet long and more than 8,000 pounds. Fortunately, Corky is the sweetest of the bunch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Big old squeeze. That's a big whale.

ALEXANDER: We start slowly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't you go a head and do that double peck wave.

ALEXANDER: I'm trying to get her wave back, but not working.


ALEXANDER: It takes time, but eventually I get the signals right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She got that one, that was a very good signal.

ALEXANDER: After awhile, we were rolling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me feed you a lot.

ALEXANDER: Then next day, it's finally time to jump in.

(on camera): Oh my gosh, that is the most unreal feeling.

(voice-over): It's like a game of follow the leader. They call this one the "Hula." Talk about synchronized swimming. I lead, she follows.

(on camera): What's so impressive is the size of this animal right next to you and you hear her breathing. And almost concentrating on everything that you're doing, like she senses you.

(voice-over): It is one of the most peaceful feelings I have ever had. Throughout our time together, I really wasn't afraid, I was having too much fun.

(on camera): Hold on. Hold on.

(voice-over): Even if I was officially leading, Corky was clearly the one in control.

(on camera): And, we're back.

(voice-over): Our finale together was one heck of a ride. After just two days, Corky didn't seem to want to let me leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, she picked him up.

ALEXANDER: I'll be holding on to the memories, forever.


OLBERMANN: And then there was the ostrich.

Sheriff's officers in Catawba County, North Carolina got the call, One-Adam-12, One-Adam-12, ostrich on loose in the school playground, pursue with caution. And you saw live right here live on MSNBC. Well, all but one small part of it.


CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC NEWS ANCHOR: All right Jay, I have to interrupt you for a second, I don't know if you've play back and that you can see what we have on rem 30, but this is basically is a picture of a chopper. But the reason this chopper is up, and I'm not making this up, is that there's an ostrich on the loose on a playground at a school in Maiden, North Carolina. It's at the Providence Road Baptist Church - I'm sorry, what are you saying to me Angie? Angie?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're trying to get the video playback when the cop cars are coming over there...

JANSING: Oh, we're trying to get the video playback, which means that there's some video that's come in. There are police cars on the way. Now, I also got handed something about ostriches.


JANSING: Could they be - could this be a dangerous situation? I went to college. I did.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't quite know yet, all we see is the police cars.

JANSING: I just want to make that clear.

All right, so.


These police officers are on their way to an ostrich on the loose?

It could be a serious situation, I guess.

Jay Barbree, do you have a comment on this?


JAY BARBREE, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, you're doing great Chris, you are doing great. I though you were saying an (INAUDIBLE) there at first, I was going to send you up a dozen (INAUDIBLE), we got plenty of them around here, but not an ostrich. Oh, my goodness. You got that one, Chris. Go ahead.

JANSING: OK, guys. No, an adult male can stand nine feet in height and weigh between 350 to 400 pounds, so if it's at a school, that's a pretty intimidating situation. We're making light of it, but, you know, that's bigger than you or me put together.

BARBREE: Oh sure. And they kick real hard.

JANSING: Yeah, they kick?

BARBREE: They kick real hard. They do. They could be a dangerous danger to the children. You know, anyway, I don't know, is that breaking news?

JANSING I don't know either, Jay.

BARBREE: I don't know, I got a bicycle crash down here, do you want to cover that one - Chris.

JANSING: We're seeing some of the pictures now coming down on this schoolyard. So, anyway, we are laughing about it and it sounds funny that we're following an ostrich on the loose, but there is the playground, it's a very large and apparently intimidating, threatening bird and so police are on the way, I'm sure you are dying to know what happens and we will keep you posted...


OLBERMANN: No ostriches were hurt in the filming of that segment because no ostriches were seen. By the time the chopper got airborne, Ozzie had been caught and tied to a tree and with a dog laureate. The ostrich will reportedly be charged with a felony not having his head in the sand.

That's Countdown, for this the 1,236th day since the declaration of "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

From New York, I'm Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now - head out of the sand -


Good evening, Joe.


OLBERMANN: Yes it was. It'll happen to you just as it's happened to me.

SCARBOROUGH: Thanks. OK, let's go home.