'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 4
Guests: Dana Milbank, Margaret Carlson, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Rumsfeld's gone, but his wit and wisdom linger on. The memo proposing a major adjustment, since what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough. The ex-secretary submitted it two days before he became the ex-secretary, the president now reportedly considering the major adjustment. What kind of political adjustment would that take if the day the memo was written, the president had said this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Harsh criticism is not a plan for victory. Second guessing is not a strategy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And what, asked our own David Gregory, kind of historical revisionism would all this require? They did not like that question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Isn't it striking that this administration was accusing the likes of John Murtha and other Democrats who suggested force correction, including phased withdrawal, of cutting and running at the same time that the defense secretary was suggesting just the same option?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No.
GREGORY: You don't see hypocrisy there?
SNOW: No. Because you're talking about apples and oranges.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: More of that serene political discourse.
And an update tonight on who wants to run the fruit stand for the Democrats two years from now. Senator Clinton powwows with New York colleagues. They expect it's about her potential candidacy. Senator Kerry reportedly on hold. Senator Bayh's a yes. Bayh, B-A-Y-H, Bayh.
Never mind who's running for president. Who's running the FBI? A report the bureau still so messed up, officials there didn't know the difference between the Sunnis and the Shi'as.
How about the difference between Ashlee Simpson and Jessica Simpson? Jessica stumbles out of a Dolly Parton tribute. But was it really as bad as people are making it seem?
All that and more, now on Countdown.
To paraphrase the 19th sentence of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, there is no doubt that Rumsfeld was gone. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.
It is our fifth story on the Countdown, and it is a memo from a departed secretary of defense, written two days before he departed, departing as certainly as did Dickens' character, Jacob Marley. And, in essence, it cries and screams and clanks its chains nearly just as Marley's ghost did to Scrooge postmortem, Rumsfeld's ghost, in favor of everything to which Rumsfeld himself had been opposed, the Rumsfeld classified memo somehow leaked to "The New York Times," presenting a wide of options for Iraq, because, Rumsfeld's ghost concludes, the current course is not working, the timing of the leak both auspicious and suspicious on the eve of a week that would bring both the confirmation hearings of Mr. Rumsfeld's successor and the Iraqi Study Group's final report to President Bush, in his memo, dated November 6, Mr. Rumsfeld admitting that the administration's current strategy in Iraq is not working.
Quote, "In my view, it is time for a major adjustment. Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough," the defense secretary also offering ways to limit the political fallout that would no doubt come with a change of course. Quoting again, "Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals - how we talk about them - go minimalist."
Perhaps the most striking suggestion among the laundry list of potential options floated by the defense secretary, either withdrawing troops or repositioning them to border areas of nearby Kuwait. When Democrats like Jack Murtha have suggested similar options, the White House has accused them of, quote, "cutting and running." It should come as no surprise, then, that on the very day Mr. Rumsfeld submitted the memo, the president himself, on the eve of the election, was lashing out at the Democrats for cutting and running in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We've got a plan for victory. But if you listen to the debate about Iraq from the Democrats, I don't hear their plan for victory. Oh, they've got some ideas. Some of them say, Get out right now. Some of them say, Get out at a fixed date, even though the job hasn't been done. One of them said, Let's move our troops to an island some 5,000 miles away.
Harsh criticism is not a plan for victory. Second guessing is not a strategy.
We have a plan for victory. And part of that plan is to make sure Republicans control the House and the Senate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, that part of plan has clearly, in the choice words of Mr. Rumsfeld's ghost, gone minimalist.
Dana Milbank's analysis of all this in a moment.
First, the "island some 5,000 miles away" to which Mr. Bush was referring, of course, being Okinawa. That had been floated by Congressman Murtha a last-ditch destination for the redeployed U.S. troops, only if they would not be welcomed in Kuwait, Qatar, or Bahrain first.
This afternoon at the White House, press secretary Tony Snow playing the Okinawa card as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: So why wasn't the president leveling with the American people? Why wasn't he saying publicly what top members of this administration who were running the war were saying privately?
SNOW: Well, a couple of things. First, at that very time, he was actually saying things are not getting well fast enough. That was the formulation he was using at the time.
If you take a look at the Rumsfeld memo that was printed in "The New York Times," what you end up having is what the president, I think, has made it clear that he wants, which are people thinking creatively and exhaustively about ways of getting better results in Iraq.
So I don't think you've got a case where the president was saying one thing and advisers were saying another. The president was saying is that you've got a sovereign government with the government of Prime Minister Maliki that is pursuing what it needs to pursue, but obviously needs to be doing so more effectively and more rapidly.
So certainly we weren't trying to wrap it up into a neat little bundle, because it's a very complex situation.
GREGORY: Doesn't it strike you that at the same time that you and others in this administration were accusing the likes of John Murtha of cutting and running by suggesting redeployment of forces to the periphery of Iraq, to the nearby Kuwait, that the secretary of defense is suggesting similar options?
SNOW: Well, no, what it - what - Mr. Murtha had suggested was, he was never quite that specific. And I think I'd let him speak for himself. But I believe when we came on "MEET THE PRESS," he was talking about redeploying to Okinawa. What you have in here is a description of possibly having forces...
SNOW: Well, that's what he talked about.
GREGORY: Wait, you say you don't want to talk (INAUDIBLE)...
SNOW: No, here's, here's...
SNOW:... what he says is, You can withdraw forces from vulnerable positions, cities, patrolling, et cetera, and move (INAUDIBLE) to a quick reaction force status operating from within Iraq and Kuwait. Now, it is one of many options that are described here. What it means is, the administration is trying to take a look at every suggestion, as I think would be incumbent.
GREGORY: You're not answering the question. You're trying to parse (INAUDIBLE)...
SNOW: No, I didn't, no, I'm not...
GREGORY:... (INAUDIBLE) - Wait a second, let me just finish. Isn't it striking that this administration was accusing the likes of John Murtha and other Democrats who suggested course correction, including phased withdrawal, of cutting and running, at the same time that the defense secretary was suggesting just the same option?
GREGORY: You don't see hypocrisy there?
SNOW: No, because you're talking about apples and oranges. If you take a look at what - Yes, really. Because what there is no suggestion in here that things be done without regard to developments on the ground. What the president has always said is, what you try to do is, obviously we want U.S. forces to be withdrawing based on what is going on on the ground in Iraq. And there is still a significant difference.
GREGORY: So you (INAUDIBLE) this White House is playing it straight with the American people?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Time to call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."
Dana, good evening.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I have to say, I've fallen in love with the Dickens analogy. Forgive me for going to it again. This reads like Jacob Marley's ghost warning Scrooge. How do you explain the discrepancy between what the defense secretary wrote in the memo, and what the president himself was saying on the eve of the midterms?
MILBANK: Oh, I don't think we're giving Don Rumsfeld enough credit for this. This is a classic. This is headed for the hall of fame of cover-your-ass memo writing in Washington. And we've already had a lot of those.
Of course there's a discrepancy between what the secretary of defense was saying and what the president was saying. But, now, look at what he's done here is, he's listed every conceivable option, so that he can now, and for future historians, say, whatever the outcome in Iraq, Well, I recommended we go in that direction, because he has recommended increasing troops, decreasing troops, staying the same, adding trainers, just about every possible permutation.
OLBERMANN: Well, would that have been written with an expectation that he was not going to be retained? Or would did it - what would have happened if the Republicans had retained both the House and the Senate, and there had been no need to show Mr. Rumsfeld the door? Would this memo have not been a noose (INAUDIBLE) in which Mr. Rumsfeld would have found his neck?
MILBANK: Well, then his loyalists wouldn't have leaked the memo. I mean, it seems pretty clear right now that this was something of an authorized leak by Rumsfeld's people, in order to protect his legacy here.
OLBERMANN: Having accused Jack Murtha and the other Democrats of cutting and running, today, as we heard, the White House continued to mischaracterize Murtha, particularly, on this business of Okinawa. At - even at this stage, is this really the best they can do? How can we expect any new solutions from the administration when even in front of the podium, in front of the press corps, all we're getting is reused stuff from before the elections?
MILBANK: Well, we have to have a little bit of pity, as you can imagine, for your old friend in cable news, Tony Snow. In an absolutely awful position here, you know, with a series of memos coming out undermining the position, having entered the administration at the absolute worst possible time.
Yes, on "MEET THE PRESS," where this Okinawa thing come from, first Murtha did say Bahrain, Qatar, other countries in the region. And Okinawa could be used as a more rapid way if you needed to get people out very quickly.
They're left with little to deal with right now, and they're going to be forced to make some decisions that they didn't want to make when the Iraq Study Group comes out on Wednesday.
OLBERMANN: And the - relative to that, the phrase, "stay the course," has been rendered inoperative, but in the tough talk about Iraq is certainly not as a whole, Mr. Bush saying only a few days ago that this talk of a graceful exit from Iraq has no realism to it at all. In that context, when this Iraq Study Group makes its recommendations formally, if there are any that we don't already know about from the leaks, is he going to listen to them?
MILBANK: Well, sure, he's going to listen to them. And if they're saying, Withdraw the troops, the president doesn't say, Right, we're withdrawing the troops. He does it under different language. In that Rumsfeld memo, he's saying, Well, whatever option we take, let's just call it a trial, because then if it doesn't work, we don't need to say we lost. We can merely say, well, that particular trial didn't work, and we'll go in another direction.
Just look at the very - it's going to be a semantic game now. We know which way the policy is heading. It's a matter of how the president labels it and avoids calling it a defeat and somehow tries to label it a victory.
OLBERMANN: Just use that word (INAUDIBLE) phrase, Go minimalist, whenever possible. I - the other news of the day, the White House suffering a rather curious setback, considering that it seemed to be obvious that it was going to happen. But why did it happen now? Why did the U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, resigned, even though the White House seemed to be ready to fight to make that recess appointment permanent, even though they weren't going to get it done, just for the sake of fighting it? Would the White House have been surprised by this, or was Bolton getting out of the way of the punching bag, out of the grudge match? What happened here?
MILBANK: Right, this is really a mercy killing here. And we talked about this when it came out the first night they announced it. Everybody knew it was going nowhere. Surely Bolton knew it was going nowhere. And when even Lincoln Chafee, soon to be forcibly retired from the Senate, said he wasn't going along with it, the thing was dead. And Bolton, to his credit, now, figures he does not want another round of abuse, only to be voted down again.
OLBERMANN: So who does he put up in Bolton's place? Not that (INAUDIBLE) didn't have to face this, but are there any early candidates to be the U.N. ambassador?
MILBANK: I'm - the early money's on Don Rumsfeld.
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE). I thought you were going to say Lincoln Chafee. Or Marley's ghost.
Dana Milbank, national political reporter of "The Washington Post." As always, great thanks for suffering the Dickensian references, and great thanks for your time tonight.
MILBANK: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Bolton now getting support from John McCain, the latter reaching out to the president's conservative base by blaming the Democrats for the failed nomination. Another moment of Decision 2008, and too early.
And failure in the FBI. One of just six agents in the entire bureau with advanced Arabic skills says tonight there are very few agents with any advanced terrorism knowledge. And there are tapes that would seem to prove him correct. You will see them.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: As if we needed one more thing about the government to keep us all awake at night, the report from Colorado Springs is that an Air Force facility shrouded in secrecy there, the 21st Space Wing, has now conducted a test of the system it would use to contact first responders in the event of a homeland security threat. The test promptly disabled hundreds of garage door openers in the immediate area. Their emergency system is on the same radio frequency as 50 million garage door openers in the country. Kind of a bizarre way to tell people to stay in their homes.
And in our fourth story on the Countdown, if that makes you worry about the tone-deafness of the Air Force, wait till you hear the picture painted to our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, about the cluelessness of the FBI by its highest-ranking Arab-American agent in this exclusive interview.
LISA MYERS, NBC SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Bassem Youssef is the FBI's highest-ranking Arab-American agent, a terrorism expert, and one of only six agents with advanced Arabic skills.
His undercover work infiltrating this blind sheik's terror organization earned the intelligence community's most prestigious award.
Yet now, for the first time, Youssef is speaking out against the agency he loves.
BASSEM YOUSSEF: FBI SPECIAL AGENT: I don't believe that the FBI's doing everything it can to combat terrorism.
MYERS: Despite his proven expertise, since 9/11, Youssef believes the FBI has sidelined him, denying him a significant role in the war on terror. He claims discrimination, and is now suing the bureau.
(on camera): Taped depositions by senior FBI officials in this case have exposed what critics say are stunning shortcomings in the FBI's approach to counterterrorism, and a stunning lack of knowledge about the most basic facts of terror.
(voice-over): Dale Watson was the FBI's top counterterrorism official before and after 9/11.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, December 2004)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know who Osama bin Laden's spiritual leader was?
DALE WATSON, FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: Can't recall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know the differences in the religion between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims?
WATSON: Not technically, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MYERS: John Lewis also was a top counterterror official. Does he know the difference between Shi'as and Sunnis?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, May 2005)
JOHN LEWIS, FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: You know, generally -
Not very well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MYERS: Was there any relationship between the first World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, May 2005)
LEWIS: I'm aware of no immediate relationship, other than it all emanates, you know, out of the Middle East, al Qaeda linkage, I believe. Not something I've studied recently that I'm conversant with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MYERS: Counterterror experts say such apparent ignorance of the enemy is alarming.
MICHAEL SHEEHAN, NBC TERRORISM EXPERT: Not knowing these basic tenets is symptomatic of a lack of deep knowledge about your principal adversary, and that is unacceptable.
MYERS: Five years after 9/11, only 33 of 12,000 FBI agents have even limited proficiency in Arabic, and until very recently, new agents got only two hours of Arabic culture during training.
(on camera): So you're saying the biggest problem is that the FBI still doesn't have the expertise to effectively fight the war on terror?
YOUSSEF: Yes, I believe that is the case. If you can't get inside the mind of the enemy, you will never succeed.
MYERS (voice-over): But a senior FBI official claimed it's not necessary to have expertise in Arab culture, or even in terrorism, to lead the war on terror. It's leadership that matters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 2005)
GARY BALD, TOP FBI COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: The subject matter expertise is helpful, but it is not a prerequisite. It is certainly not what I look for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MYERS: An FBI spokesman now concedes that expertise does matter, and says today's leaders have it.
JOHN MILLER, FBI: To have that depth of subject matter expertise and the executive and leadership skills is certainly a plus, and I think over time we've developed that at the top.
MYERS: As for Youssef, the FBI denies any discrimination. Some agents privately grumble that Youssef has an inflated sense of his own talents.
Recently, a Justice Department watchdog ruled that the FBI had improperly blocked Youssef from getting a counterterror job. Youssef says he will not give up his fight.
YOUSSEF: I think every American would do whatever they can to fight terrorism, because we will never forget 9/11. And having worked counterterrorism for so many years, and not to do it? That devastates me.
MYERS: For now, Youssef has a desk job, a far cry from terrorism's front lines.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of spies, the investigation into who poisoned a former Russian operative with a rare radioactive isotope now goes international, British police looking to Moscow for answers.
Meanwhile, the stunts in the new James Bond film may not be living up to their billing. Nah, just kidding. Not Bond, just real-time entertainment in China.
That's all ahead, here on Countdown. Whee.
OLBERMANN: The details are sketchy, but apparently it was on this date, December 4, 163 years ago, that manila paper was patented. Originally made of the same hemp used in the making of sails, canvas, and rope, (INAUDIBLE) manila envelopes, and especially manila folders. And, of course, all this took place in Massachusetts. Other than the origin of the hemp, it's got zippo to do with the city in the Philippines.
And on that note, let's play Oddball.
And we'll start in Chung-di (ph), China, with a special treat for all the folks. It's a traveling Czechoslovakian stunt man show. Whoo-hoo. And this is serious stuff, folks, billed as, quote, "Hollywood-level stunts," circa 1981. But hey, when there are men riding around on speeding cars jumping through rings of fire in your town's stadium, you don't complain that it's not good enough. You get your butt down there and hope you don't miss anybody getting hurt.
Speaking of which, to the Internets, where we're getting our first disturbing video images from our embeds on the front lines in the war on Christmas. Apparently there's been a mishap concerning the Big Man himself, Santy. Let's take a look at the videotape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want Santa! We want Santa! We want Santa!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want Santa! We want Santa! We want Santa!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want Santa! We want Santa! We want Santa!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Looks like somebody slipped Santy a mickey. Is there no low to which these secular progressives won't stoop? Don't worry, he did not appear to be seriously hurt. In fact, not only did he upload that video to the Internets, but said he was healthy enough to edit together the tapes from all the other cameras in the garage, so we could watch it again from multiple angles.
Oh, thank you, Santa. This is the best Christmas ever.
Nothing odd or unexpected about this, the former first lady taking her first steps towards a presidential race in an increasingly crowded field.
But back to the falling-off-the-roof stuff, Jessica Simpson catching flak for her botched tribute last night to Dolly Parton. But was this really as bad as when her sister got caught lip-synching?
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Pat Dori, of Hackensack, New Jersey, fed up, he says, after he shipped his Dell computer back to the company for repairs, fed up, he says, after Dell told him it lost his laptop, fed up, he says, after he couldn't get anybody on the phone. So he sued. But he didn't sue Dell, the big company Dell, he sued Dell the guys in the kiosk in the mall where they actually sell the laptops Dell. Won a $3,000 judgment by default. But now, dude, you're getting an appeals hearing.
Number two, Britain's ministry of defense trying to explain why the crew of a new aircraft had to deal with a gap or hole in the hatch seal in midflight by sticking into said hole a teapot. The new aircraft is called the Nimrod, which you would think would explain everything.
And number one, Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, addressing a convention, saying that his company estimates that a new blog is created every second of every day, and that the average readership of the average blog, according to Google, is now one. One guy is reading your blog.
OLBERMANN: In 1998 just about no one outside of Texas or outside of major league baseball had heard of George W. Bush, other than as a president's son. In 1990 just about no one outside of Arkansas had heard of Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter too rose from obscurity to take the White House. Nevertheless, with the news that Hillary Clinton has taken another step towards running, our third story of the Countdown tonight finds the spotlight still firmly on the front runners.
If the senator's status as front runner was in any doubt, she, or somebody close to her, made sure the "New York Times" reaffirmed it yesterday with a story chronicling her first direct meetings with New York Democrats to gauge their support for a 2008 campaign. Her meetings with state politicians, said to be the first time they have asked her directly to support her, if she ends up running. Although the "Times'" sources say she Senator Clinton has not yet made her decision, they are also describing her as inclined to run and eager to do so.
And with her meetings continuing this week, it's hard to imagine the Clinton camp is not hoping this will blunt the impact of Senator Barack Obama's coming visit, what do you know, New Hampshire. Obama's announcement that he's considering a run still lingering out there and having largely eclipsed announcements by other Democrats.
Right now the field of potential Democratic candidates includes Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Al Gore, John Kerry, Obama, Bill Richardson and Tom Vilsack. The potential Republicans include Sam Brownback, Rudolph Giuliani, Duncan Hunter, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
Joining us with her insights on the heavy weights, I'll get the word out yet, and the dark horses, "Bloomberg News" political columnist Margaret Carlson. Margaret, great thanks for your time tonight.
MARGARET CARLSON, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": Delighted.
OLBERMANN: Two first term senators are the Democratic front runners. If I were a Democratic veteran or one of the governors, is there a way I have to out flank these two now?
CARLSON: Well, at this moment it's hard because they are the 800 pound gorillas in the race. It's amazing what Senator Obama has done, in that could you imagine anyone taking the spotlight off of Mrs. Clinton with all her money, her doing a surprisingly good job as senator. At least she surprised some people. And having all the money and all the name recognition in the field. And this guy comes in and steals a lot of her thunder, but there's only so much thunder, and these other people that you named are going to have a hard time getting attention in the short run.
OLBERMANN: And to one of the names that is most familiar, if not necessarily a front runner at this point, Senator John Kerry reportedly going to hold off for a while on his decision whether or not to try it again, possibly until late Spring. We've had two presidential elections in which both the public and much of the media assessed candidates on such important criteria as who you would want to have a beer with. Is it possible now that the reason that was offered in the "Boston Globe" for his tabling of his decision here, the inflated dustup about the remarks about the president's intelligence and Iraq? Is that really going to matter in this or have voters gotten a little more serious than maybe the pundits and politicians are giving them credit for?
CARLSON: Well, you're right the botched joke was over blown. And what's a botched joke compared to a botched war. However, I think Democrats would hope that John Kerry might put off his decision forever, in that Democrats, unlike Republicans, don't like their losers. They want them to leave. Richard Nixon came back, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, but Democrats don't have the same feeling. And look, Al Gore had the decency to go off and either sulk for a while, teach for a while and then make a movie and stay out of the spotlight. John Kerry really hasn't retreated. His big foray was an unsuccessful one. I think Karl Rove and Republicans going after him so vociferously probably cleared him out of the race for a while. It may be why he's hiding out a little bit now, but may have done Democrats a favor in clearing out some of the underbrush.
OLBERMANN: Margaret, on the other side of the ball, Senator McCain today blamed the departure of John Bolton, his resignation as U.N. ambassador, pending this vote that the Republicans have no chance of winning, on the Senate Democrats, rather than on say John Bolton. Is McCain really going overboard in this seeming kowtow to the right wing base and does that necessarily work, given the David Kuo book and everything that the right wing base found out in the last couple of months, is the right wing base not a little bit more sophisticated than it was a year ago?
CARLSON: Well, remember, John Bolton couldn't get confirmed before the Senate was held by the Democrats. John Bolton was his own worst enemy in that regard. I mean, Senator McCain had a very hard job, which is he has to keep, or find, or excite the conservative base and not alienate independents and moderates. And that's a tricky - that's a very tricky thing to do, to get one and not lose the other. And, you know, he plays it pretty well, but we'll see how that works out.
OLBERMANN: Give me a name, in conclusion, unless Mr. Cheney pulls an about face, as we know, this will be the first incumbent-free election since Eisenhower/Stevenson. Who is the most intriguing of the dark horses on either side? Which of these names should we be paying more attention to than we currently are?
CARLSON: Well, you know, what's interesting with Senator Sam Brownback announcing today is that the first conservative has entered the Republican race. Senator Allen is gone. Senator Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts Republican, which is not really that conservative. And Giuliani and McCain are hated by large segments of the Republican party, and they're leading in most polls. So, I would say, you know, Senator Brownback is not going to prevail, but he's going to be an interesting place holder for now.
OLBERMANN: We'll see. Margaret Carlson, political columnist of "Bloomberg News." As always Margaret, great thanks for your time.
CARLSON: Thanks Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, as investigators arrive in Russia to try and figure out who poisoned a KGB defector with a rare and deadly element, Polonium 210. The Russian government says the whole thing is getting blown out of proportion.
Speaking of proportions, how is Britney Spears working off the baby fat? Apparently by adopting her new best friend forever's favorite exercise, here's a hint, it involves a pole, and I ain't talking Lech Walesa. Those stories ahead, but now here are Countdown's top three sound bytes of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC BURNS, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Last week we presented our second annual Fox News Watch turkey awards. One of them went to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, who responded by giving us, the entire show, a bronze medal in the category worst person in the world. Here is your turkey award with the name spelled correctly, Olbermann with two N's. Actually Keith, I don't think you're a turkey, and I will continue not to think of you as a turkey, unless you're kidding about the bronze medal. So far it hasn't gotten here. And we get so few awards on this program.
BOB SAGET, ACTOR: In the nursery rhyme Hey Diddle, Diddle, who did the dish run away with, the china, the flatware, the glassware? The correct answer is, flatware. K-Fed, do you know a lot about settings, place settings?
KEVIN FEDERLINE, RAPPER: Only if it's set up for me.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Today we have a very fun performance for you and can you guess what it is by looking at that? Willy Wonka.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charlie, do you love my chocolate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the best chocolate in the whole world.
OLBERMANN: Scotland Yard came to Moscow today. British Investigators following the trail of deadly Polonium 210 back to former associates of a poisoned former KGB agent.
Our number two story on the Countdown, although Russia is officially cooperating with the British, some there are growing irritated at the implication that the Russians were somehow involved in this. As our correspondent Michelle Kosinski reports, these developments come as the Polonium footprint grows in London.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Already a dozen locations have tested positive, and even last week the British home secretary was telling the public that he felt sure investigators would find more radiation around London.
JOHN REID, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: The levels of contamination that we're finding are not such that it would them concern, or should cause the public concern.
KOSINSKI: Also today, British investigators with the anti-terrorism unit landed in Moscow with the aim to interview several people that may have information in this case. One of them that's being reported will likely be a businessman and former spy name Andrei Lugovoy. This is a friend of Litvinenko's that met with him on November 1st, the day Litvinenko thought he had been poisoned. Now this man is telling the London press that he has also been contaminated with Polonium.
(on camera): Here's the interesting aspect of this though, he stayed in a hotel that later tested positive for radioactivity, but he says he checked out of that hotel days before Litvinenko believed that he had been poisoned. The question then is, was Lugovoy contaminated somehow before Litvinenko was.
In the meantime the Russian foreign minister is quoted today as saying that he thinks the British are really blowing this way out of proportion. And this has strained relations between Britain and Russia.
Michelle Kosinski, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: When you think international intrigue, your mind naturally turns to Paris, which used to be a city, but these days is better known as a recurring feature in our nightly roundup of celebrity news, Keeping Tabs. The education of Ms. Britney continues as Paris Hilton is reportedly upping the ante in her Shovian, that's Shovian as in Shaw, effort to mold the unformed, occasionally undressed clay that is Britney Spears. Hilton's latest attempt to cultivate the pop (INAUDIBLE) said to involve introducing Spears to the world of dance, specifically the genre of dance that centers on poles. That's right, the U.K. tabloids say Spears is getting pole dancing lessons from Paris Hilton on her in-house pole, apparently. It's not known how long Spears will stay with her new found art form, our (INAUDIBLE), after all the last time her life revolved around an inanimate object, she filed for divorce.
When it comes to the Leno/Letterman rivalry, David Letterman has just signed a deal guaranteeing him the last laugh. While Jay Leno is turning over his NBC show Conan O'Brien, scheduled to be in 2009, Letterman has just renewed his CBS contract all the way through fall of 2010. The 59-year-old host reportedly making 31.5 million dollars a year already, pulling in an audience every night that's usually more than four million, but less than Leno gets.
And move over Nick Nolte, there's a new mug shot in town and this pains me. This man could be my all time favorite actor. Say hello to Rip Torn everybody. Not the ideal mug shot you want when you are arrested on the charge of driving while intoxicated, which the great Mr. Torn was today in North Salem, New York, about 60 miles north of New York City. Three years ago Mr. Torn was arrested in the city on D.W.I. charges, but given his calm and sober demeanor at the time of the his arrest, he was not found guilty of that. As with this incident, today's arrest involved a collision and police say Torn declined to take a sobriety test. And for you Larry Sanders fans, Mr. Torn did not make any references to just drinking the damn salty dog already.
And Gwenyth Paltrow is now denying making remarks attributed to her about Americans and American culture. A Portuguese magazine said Paltrow had compared Americans unfavorably to the British, for one reason because the British, "talk about interesting things at dinner," which might actually be true. Possibly because the British would need to have something to distract them from their food. She told "People Magazine," I definitely did not say that I think the British are much more intelligent and civilized than Americans. Critics here in the U.S. had already rebutted that claim by questioning her patriotism, the way intelligent and civilized people often do. Paltrow, who lives in England, and married the British Coldplay singer Chris Martin, said today that the Portuguese magazine may have misinterpreted her attempts to speak Spanish at a recent news conference. Wait a minute, she was talking about the English in Spanish to people who speak Portuguese. Well there's your problem right there.
Maybe that's what happened last night to Jessica Simpson, as well. The performer who once said that Buffalo Wings were literally made out of Buffalo comes to an abrupt end at the Kennedy Center's honors in Washington. Did she screw up or is the Simpson sister for once getting a raw deal. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for worst person in the world.
The bronze tonight to Ron, a researcher who works for Bill O'Reilly. Eric Deggans, media critic of the "St. Pete Times" writes that he got a phone call from Ron. Deggans says Ron asked him if he was registered with any political party and if he had ever contributed to one of them. Deggans concludes Bill-O is hard at work at some project proving critics how don't like him are all Democrats, or they are all conscious or something. Ron, save yourself, quit. It is the only hope of salvation for you now.
Runner up, Michael "Wiener" Savage, accepting the award on behalf of all the freaks who freaked out because Congressman elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota wants to take his oath of office using the Koran, instead of the Bible. "Wiener" Savage asked, what's next? A witch gets elected, and she says she's only going to be sworn in with a handle or a pentagram. Actually, Mike, as you would have realized if you had ever read the constitution or any of the helpful guides to Congress, members of Congress are not officially sworn in on a Bible, a Koran or even a copy of the worst person in the book. When you see a picture of one of them holding a Bible, or whatever, it's just a photo op.
But our winner tonight, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who admitted to Al Arabiya TV, that, "I'm sure there are things that we could have don't differently in Iraq," but that right now is not the time to talk about it. When I'm back at Stanford University, she says, quoting again, I can look back and write books about what we might have done differently.
Oh, here we go. And the pre-order date is what. Secretary State Rice, soon to be appearing in a book tour near you, but in the interim today's worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: When a pop singer is better known for her reality show than for the reality of her singing, perhaps a performance at the Kennedy Center honors was not the best idea. In our number one story on the Countdown, Jessica Simpson, the song was "Nine to Five." And it was apparently work for both performer and audience. But it's all relative. Compared to her sister Ashley Simpson, she came off reasonably well, and she may be getting something of a bum wrap.
First a brief history of Simpson time. Jessica Simpson truly landed on the pop culture radar a few years ago during her reality show Newly Weds, when she wondered out loud whether tuna fish, under the brand name chicken of the sea, might actually be chicken. It was her sister Ashley Simpson who in October 2004 was caught lip sinking on Saturday Night Live when the pre-recorded vocals of a song she had already performed started up for her second number.
Cut now to last night's taping at the Kennedy Center Honors, paying tribute to five lifetime contributions to American arts and culture. Jessica Simpson's take on "Nine to Five" was her homage to honoree Dolly Parton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESSICA SIMPSON, POP SINGER: Dolly that made me so nervous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Let's turn to "Village Voice" columnist Michael Musto, now also author of "La Dolce Musto, Writings by The World's Most Outrageous Columnist." Well, well, well, good evening Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, "THE VILLAGE VOICE": Hi Keith, I'm really outrageous.
OLBERMANN: Yes, apparently so. Now is this whole story amazing or what? I mean this got so much coverage. I heard the audio track on the all-news radio stations in New York today like a man hole cover had just blown up under the mayor or something. Am I missing the point of this? This looked like she did a, eh, job on a song and she finished and they cued the crowd to applaud and then she said something the director didn't expect and the director screwed it up and she walked off the stage and it was silent. Is there more to it than that?
MUSTO: That's pretty much it, and the only shock here is that it was silence and not deafening boos. This story is so lame and inconsequential, it makes that Danny Devito had a cocktail story look like D Day, but let's keep going with it, what the heck.
OLBERMANN: Sure, but just bottom line, before we go off on this, she did not walk off in the middle of the song, right?
MUSTO: I don't know, because I left before the middle of the song, but yes, I think she got from nine to 4:30, at least.
OLBERMANN: Admittedly, you do not see on this or any other occasion, a lot of singers who are holding their stomachs during a live performance. Is that an indication of a wardrobe malfunction, or bad tuna, or bad chicken, or had she maybe just seen the movie "Nine to Five?"
MUSTO: No, she didn't see any movies. It was indigestion. She had just had some Buffalo tuna wings, basically, some Kentucky Fried Tuna. And also, yes, it was a wardrobe malfunction. By the time she got backstage afterwards, it was all gone. When she stood next to Dolly they looked like Mt. Rushmore with nipples. I'm outrageous.
OLBERMANN: Do you have a copy of the book? Are you holding a copy of the book up.
MUSTO: It's in here somewhere.
OLBERMANN: Cut to me, you dig it out there. Ms. Simpson is also looking down throughout much of this. Is she reading the words to the song from a prompter? Is she admiring the front row? Is she reading a copy of your book perhaps?
MUSTO: Jessica Simpson reading is not something you hear about very often. No, she's actually trying to look through her cleavage to see Dolly in the audience, who is acting out the words for her, nine to five, pour myself a cup of ambition. Jessica, next time just look at the prompter straight ahead, chins up honey.
OLBERMANN: And regardless of what this was, or what kind of bad rap, it's nothing compared to the thing her sister went through on Saturday Night Live, right?
MUSTO: Oh no, I mean, Jessica was singing the same song as the band and she didn't blame the band, and she didn't blame acid reflux. She blamed herself. She took the blame. She learned from Michael Richards, though she strangely afterwards kept saying, but I'm not a racist. It's really weird.
OLBERMANN: No, she said I'm not a singer, is what she said. Now, at the end of this, she's basically, though, she is recognizing, or at least saying that Dolly Parton's presence has made her nervous. Is there an element of the very clever non-apology in there as well?
MUSTO: It is bizarre. It's like saying you're so great, that's why I screwed up. And it's sweet and it's flattering but when she pulled the same thing at an Eddy Money tribute is strained credulity.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of an Eddie Money tribute, did this - are they running out of people to honor at the Kennedy Center? Because the tradition are that the honorees are not told beforehand who is going to perform during their tribute. So Dolly Parton evidently was thrilled to see Kenny Rogers perform. She was smiling, at least, through Jessica Simpson. Shouldn't they be giving people heads up? By the way, we're going to have Jessica Simpson come out and ruin your greatest hit.
MUSTO: Yes, what are you going to tell Dolly? Look, we're getting basically the new you, but without charm and talent? They can not tell these people because they would cancel the whole event. And a few years ago when Menudo was performing for Beverly Stills tribute, I mean, things almost got violent, but if they had told Bubbles, it wouldn't have happened at all. You can't tell these people.
OLBERMANN: Menudo! The "Reuters" report here, the president and the first lady were watching the whole gala stoically. Do we know, were they bored, were they offended, were they thinking of how to decorate the presidential library?
MUSTO: You're thinking of one book in there, "My Pet Goat," but yes, Bush was basically sitting in there thinking, you're nervous Bitch? I just lost an election. And Laura was thinking, I like this Jessica, I'm going to dump this bozo when my reality show is canceled.
OLBERMANN: You may have seen the Willie Wonka performance earlier.
Maybe he was drifting back to that.
MUSTO: Pure imagination, pure vomit.
OLBERMANN: Any of this ultimately falls on the part of the manager-father Joe Simpson?
MUSTO: I think he's a genius. He has two daughters who he needed surgery, who basically can't get through a song without running off or shaking and they're huge stars. I think we need to appoint him the man to deal with getting out of Iraq, or rehabilitating Naomi Campbell, all the important things.
OLBERMANN: Or at least he becomes one of the honorees at the Kennedy Center next year.
MUSTO: With me reading from my book.
OLBERMANN: The irrepressible and irreplaceable Michael Musto of the "Village Voice," now between hard covers. As always sir, great thanks for your time.
MUSTO: It's paper back.
OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,311th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END