Monday, December 31, 2007

No show. New Year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

video 'podcast'

Transcript missing. A clip show, 'Best of Special Comments'. Re-run from the 21st.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 27

Guests: Hillary Mann Leverett, Richard Wolffe, Dana Milbank, Senator Chris Dodd, Evan Kohlmann

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST (voice-over): Pakistan, 6 a.m. Friday, December 28. After a day of chaos and rage, extraordinary, even for a nation founded in chaos and rage, its government and ours shout terrorism.

But did not a president who gained office by military coup have the most to gain from the death of Benazir Bhutto?

Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PAKISTANI PRIME MINISTER: I don't believe that any true Muslim will make an attack on me, because Islam forbids attacks on women.

OLBERMANN: Seventy days after Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan, made that statement, she has been assassinated at Rawalpindi. The murderer shooting her, then blowing himself up, killing at least 20 others.

Pakistan's army and its nuclear weapons on red alert. Pakistan's parliamentary elections due, in 12 days, now in doubt.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy.

OLBERMANN: But those who undermine Pakistan's, quote, democracy: extremists or loyalists to President Musharraf?

The murders were terrorists. What kind with Evan Coleman. What now of President Bush's $5-billion investment in that alleged democracy with Richard Wolffe. The immediate impact on Pakistan with former National Security Council member Hillary Manlever.

What happens next there and here with Senator Chris Dodd of the foreign relations committee. And why the first place this all could be felt might be the Iowa caucuses, with Dana Milbank.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This reminds us how we have to redouble our efforts in that area of the world.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I hate for anything like this to be the cause of any political gain for anybody.

OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.

BECK: Good evening. This is Thursday, December 27, 313 days until the 2008 presidential election. And this is a special edition of Countdown.

Sixty years after her nation was founded in bloodshed chaos, 30 years after her father's government, the first two civilian administration of her country, ended in bloodshed and chaos.

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's last popularly elected leader, and since her return from exile in October, leader of the opposition to General Pervez Musharraf, was assassinated in the city of Rawalpindi Thursday afternoon, local time.

Her death has thrown Pakistan, fragile and critical and armed with nuclear weapons, into even more chaos than usual. Her murderers could be. Anyone from Islamic extremists to Musharraf extremists.

Her assassination could affect everything from the hunt for Osama bin Laden to the Iowa caucuses. Our fifth story on the Countdown will benefit tonight from the analysis of Richard Wolffe, Dana Milbank and, from the foreign relations committee, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut.

First, what has happened in Pakistan. The 54-year-old former prime minister returned from exile and turned leader of the opposition. Speaking at an afternoon campaign rally.

When it was over, Ms. Bhutto walking off the stage to get into a bullet-proof SUV, after which point, all might still have been well, had she not emerged through the vehicle's sunroof to acknowledge cheering supporters one last time. It was at that moment that her attacker shot her in the neck and chest before blowing himself up. Mrs. Bhutto was also hit by shrapnel from that bomb.

She never regained consciousness. She was rushed to hospital, taken into emergency surgery and there she died, about an hour after the attack.

At least 20 others were also killed in the bombing. And nine more dead in the rioting that broke out across the country in the aftermath of the news of the assassination.

Pakistan's President Musharraf blaming Islamic extremists for her death. He mentioned al Qaeda, even though it appears Ms. Bhutto herself feared General Musharraf would have her killed. A letter she wrote before her return from exile, suggesting that if she was indeed assassinated, Musharraf should investigate his own security services.

It was followed up with an e-mail, held for several months by CNN, to be read only in the event that she were, indeed, assassinated. In it, she wrote, "I would hold Musharraf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions and there is no way what is happening in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides could happen without him."

Here in the U.S., President Bush telling General Musharraf in a 10-minute phone call that he does not want Pakistan to cancel its January 8 elections, Musharraf having postponed the essence of democracy once already.

Before the cameras, Mr. Bush condemning the attack on Bhutto, specifically, and any attack on democracy, general.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are trying to undermine Pakistan's democracy.

Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice.

Mrs. Bhutto served her nation twice as prime minister, and she knew that her return to Pakistan earlier this year put her life at risk. That she refused to allow assassins to dictate the course of her country.

We stand with the people of Pakistan in their struggle against the forces of terror and extremism. We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutto's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.


OLBERMANN: Mrs. Bhutto, educated at Radcliffe and at Harvard, having returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile, on October 18. And on that very day, narrowly escaping another assassination attempt when her homecoming parade in Karachi was targeted.

In an interview after that attempt, Mrs. Bhutto telling NBC News why she was willing to die for her country.


BHUTTO: I can only say that I feel saving Pakistan by saving democracy is worth putting my life on the line. This is my country. I've seen what happened to Afghanistan, where the Taliban took over. I saw what happened in Iran, when there was a revolution. There were millions of refugees. Homes are destroyed. Dictatorship came. And it's decades, decades since that happened.

Both events happened in the '70s. I don't want the people of Pakistan made into refugees. I don't want people of Pakistan to live in fear that some terrorist is going to come knocking on the door and kill them inside.


OLBERMANN: Benazir Bhutto's coffin carried from the hospital. The facility was then attacked by her furious supporters. Her body taken to the airport in Islamabad. And the funeral will be tomorrow at Larkana, at sundown local time, roughly 9 a.m. Eastern Time.

Let's turn first to Hillary Mann Leverett, the former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf affairs, who left the Bush administration last year.

Great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Chaos already evident in the wake of the assassination? One would hope that - not really believe that it's likely - that this is going to be the extent of the unrest. What is - what's the worst-case scenario? Is it civil war? And what's the best-case scenario.

LEVERETT: I think a very bad case scenario, of course, is civil war. But the critical problem for the United States is the opening this provides to al Qaeda to deepen and broaden its support in Pakistan. As you said, a country with nuclear weapons but also a critical Muslim country at the heart of the Muslim world.

You will have - Al Qaeda will have the opportunity of a lifetime to entrench itself in the Pakistani state.

COOPER: But if there is any connection to al Qaeda or even if there's just a perceived one, this was just a traditional Pakistan political hit job, would there not be a significant backlash of the kind that Ms. Bhutto spoke about in that interview with Ann Curry even after her passing?

LEVERETT: Well, it's a backlash in a way, because it's provoked this kind of chaos, this specter of chaos, which al Qaeda feeds on. It feeds on the chaos and the growing - the growing sense of anti-Americanism within Pakistan.

You're now going to have all of the Pakistani military and intelligence services focused internally, rather than in dealing with the threat from al Qaeda. And that's what I see as the most significant problem for the United States right now, is that al Qaeda will be left unchecked in the western province of Waziristan, unable to really gain ground, really deepen and infiltrate its - its whole presence at networks throughout Pakistan.

OLBERMANN: President - General Musharraf already had declared a state of emergency ahead of the elections because of a perceived general threat to his power. It would seem whoever caused this today. Musharraf certainly can claim it's terrorism, claim that it needs more clamping down on democracy and any deficiencies in his democracy. He can, and others who defend him, can dismiss them as temporary events, temporary setbacks.

How likely is it now that the January 8 parliamentary elections are going to proceeds as scheduled?

LEVERETT: I think it's likely. You have President Bush coming out today. His response was that Pakistan needed to proceed with these elections.

It was quite a remarkable response, because the leading contender - the leading party for those elections, their - their head has just been killed. So that's - they're not really contending the elections anymore. And the other party has vowed to boycott.

So we know what the result of these elections are going to be. They're going be resounding support for Musharraf, even if it's not a popular election in our sense of the word.

And the president has seen and done this before. He called on the Palestinians, similarly, to call elections and then Hamas was elected. There's no secret. There's no doubt he's going to benefit from these elections.

Even if Musharraf does tighten the state of emergency, I think that it's in his interest to have the elections and for President Bush to push him in that regard, knowing what the result is going to be. We've seen this bad movie before.

OLBERMANN: Her letter before he returned from the exile in Dubai and this e-mail revealed today, in which she said, basically, that she would hold - almost from the grave, she's holding Musharraf responsible. How does that resonate in that country?

LEVERETT: I think a little further, it will intensify the sectarian divisions. Benazir Bhutto had a base of support. But she also was very unpopular. She was twice prime minister and literally twice chased out of office on corruption sponsors. She was one of the key sponsors of the Taliban on the eve of their hosting of al Qaeda.

She certainly had opposition. And this may - this may bolster her constituency. But I think what it will do, it will bolster other constituencies, as well and further the divide, further the chaos.

And coming back to your first scenario, civil war, I think that's what we're pushed toward.

OLBERMANN: And what's our best-case scenario? The former U.N. ambassador, Bill Richardson, who even though a Democrat was entrusted by President Bush, at least the unofficial diplomatic talks with North Korea, said on his campaign trail today - let me quote it exactly - "President Bush should press Musharraf to step aside, and a broad-based coalition government, consisting of all the democratic parties, should be formed immediately."

Leaving aside the possibility of that actually happening on the ground in Pakistan, is that the best course of action for this country right now, to press for that to occur?

LEVERETT: I think that's to take Bush's flawed policy of relying on Benazir Bhutto to save Pakistan and to solve the al Qaeda problem, I think it takes that flawed policy to another level.

It's tantamount to if we sent a high-level envoy to Iraq and we told the Iraqis just to form a coalition of like-minded good citizens across various sectarian divides and solve the problem. Otherwise, we're going to cut off military aid and take our troops and go home.

As ineffective as that would be for Iraq, it would be similarly ineffective to do for Pakistan.

This administration, I think, has so mishandled the bilateral relation with Pakistan that we don't have a good option. But we certainly - we don't have an option to force the coalition together. We need to be looking regionally and to look for a cooperative regional security approach that deals with the Pashtun problem. It's not just a Pakistani problem. It goes into Afghanistan, and that's the heart of the jihadists. The jihadist problem can only be solved regionally. A continued focus on either Musharraf, all or nothing, or a coalition that undermines Musharraf is going to continue to spiral the mess in Pakistan out of control.

OLBERMANN: If we can solve Pashtun in six months instead of six - the last 60 years, and we haven't, that would be quite an accomplishment.

Hillary Mann Leverett, the former National Security Council director for Iran and the Persian Gulf, we thank you greatly for your analysis tonight.

WOLF: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: The Bush administration, which has given General Musharraf about $5 billion to fight terrorists and to buttress democracy, what does Mr. Bush do now that Musharraf has failed his two biggest tests to date?

While John McCain says it would be unfortunate if anyone tried to gain political advantage from Mrs. Bhutto's death. Rudy Giuliani does just that.

Senator Chris Dodd will join us, and we'll also get Dana Milbank's analysis of the political events.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The victim herself called for protection against her. This was being reduced by the government of Pakistan. President Bush immediately declared her assassination aw an act by murderous extremists and forces of terror. As the president used the assumption of terror for his own political advantage.

Countdown's special coverage of the murder of former Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto continues.


OLBERMANN: If President Bush's version of the war on terror and his alliance with Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf was already wrought with fault lines, today we have all felt the earthquake.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and the other consequences of where the Bush administration has placed its faith, along with its investment of at least $5 billion of our money.

No specific word from the president on whether Pakistan's elections should go ahead as scheduled 12 days from now. But the president said the people of Pakistan should continue with, quote, "The democratic process, for which Bhutto so bravely fought."

As we've shown you previously in this news hour, the president punctuated comments with references to, quote, "murderous extremists and the, quote, "struggle against the forces of terror and extremism, as if the source of Bhutto's assassination absolutely clear and proved.

Mr. Bush has cited Pakistan's democracy, as if that had truly existed, even before the assassination.

Thee president did speak with General Musharraf for about 10 minutes today. A senior administration official telling NBC News that Musharraf appears to be making the right moves. He is not talking about canceling or postponing elections or reimposing a state of emergency. A reality check on that presently.

And when a White House spokesman in Texas, Scott Stanzel, was asked if President Bush still has confidence in Musharraf, that spokesman offered a rather underwhelming response: quote, "We're willing to work with him."

Let's turn now to "Newsweek" magazine's senior White House, MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, "NEWSWEEK": Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Underlying the administration's alliance with Musharraf is that assumption that, on balance, he is on the good side of the war on terror.

But Musharraf just failed three huge tests at once. Basically, first he suspended the democracy. Even with that kind of control, power, at best he couldn't protect a leading politician, a leading statesperson of his society from assassination.

And thirdly, now, unless he makes some unexpected and very statesman-like decisions, he is going to benefit politically from that assassination. How can President Bush possibly continue to support this man in the name of this country?

WOLFFE: Well, Musharraf has clearly tested Bush's patience to its limits. But the president still is uncomfortable in saying that.

If you look at the boilerplate language that he used today in his statement, President Bush didn't talk about terrorists; he talked about extremists. That itself within the crenology (ph) confines of the White House is a significant thing.

And he also talked about people undermining democracy in Pakistan. And that could also easily refer to Musharraf just as much as it could to al Qaeda.

Musharraf has tested the two premises of the two Bush terms. If the first term was about terrorism and the second term was really all about democracy, at least according to the high-faluting language of that second inaugural, Musharraf has failed both of those tests.

So really, the time has come for the straight-talking president to speak clearly.

THE SOURCE: As we mentioned, $5 billion in aid to that government from this country. Fight the Taliban; fight al Qaeda. And yet Bush administration officials were telling "The New York Times" on Monday, flying under the radar with the Christmas break, much of the American money was not making its way to front line Pakistani units.

Is this - you know, "He's still the only option there" argument beginning to wear thin, even in the White House? Do they have a plan B?

WOLFFE: Well, Bhutto was the plan B. And actually, she told me shortly before she went to - went back to Pakistan that she felt that Musharraf had really pulled the wool over the administration's eyes in many ways. And most importantly, still hear the White House saying this, that Musharraf was targeted by terrorists and therefore, he was the only thing that stood between Pakistan's nukes and al Qaeda.

And in fact, Bhutto said there was only a single digit support for Islamists in Pakistan. There was this mainstream, broad-based support for non-theocratic parties, such as her own, and that they needed to be given a chance.

Now when it comes to the money side of things, look, beyond Musharraf, there was a bigger issue that this administration really hasn't put effort into dealing with, and that's the relationship between India and Pakistan, two American allies that are no closer now than they were before 9/11.

OLBERMANN: What flexibility does President Bush have, depending on what Musharraf does next? Can he influence the decision on the parliamentary elections on the 8th? What does he - what does he do to stop the postponement?

WOLFFE: Well, he can influence them and he has. There was a lot of behind-the-scenes effort to get Musharraf to restore the constitution. Obviously, once he got his own political stratagem in order. But they can.

I mean, the money is the biggest leverage of all. And Musharraf needs the president's support even though he is, unfortunately, playing both sides in the war on terror.

OLBERMANN: Does this complete a kind of awful trifecta, Richard, of how this administration will be judged historically, when it comes to a country's relationship on the war on terror? We had the right idea in Afghanistan, and we left the field early. We got it completely wrong in Iraq. And now we have obviously sided with the wrong people under the wrong circumstances with the wrong results in Pakistan?

WOLFFE: You know, I'd pull Afghanistan out of those three, in the sense that there has been some progress made. The Iraqi - the Afghan national army is a good institution.

But what this shows, especially with regard to Afghanistan, is that one assassination attempt on Karzai, one successful attempt, and the country that has made progress can be easily destabilized. But look, Pakistan is a case of instability that the administration hasn't come to terms with.

OLBERMANN: Our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent with "Newsweek" magazine. As always, great thanks for your time tonight, Richard.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Within hours of the assassination, it was linked to al Qaeda. Did not the interests of terrorists and those running Pakistan coincide?

And perspective from Senator Chris Dodd, in a time of the publics of terror.


OLBERMANN: As morning breaks in Pakistan, a member of the Bhutto family, critical to the history of the nation, itself critical of the hopes of stability in the Muslim world, has been killed. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto assassinated after a rally in Rawalpindi, just 12 days before parliamentary elections in that nation, just 70 days after she ended her exile to lead the opposition there.

The assassination has been blamed on extremists, though it is evident that President Pervez Musharraf, who himself came to power at the barrel of a gun, had much to gain from her death. Is it is terrorism, what kind of terrorism are we dealing with. And did the actual fight against al Qaeda just take a huge hit with her death?

Counterterrorism analyst Evan Coleman joins us, as does Senator Chris Dodd of the foreign relations committee. And in the Iowa caucuses just a week off, which could be seriously impacted by the events in Pakistan.

You are watching Countdown, special continuing coverage of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Senator Dodd is next.


OLBERMANN: The president of Pakistan has tonight already blamed al Qaeda. Another prominent political figure of that nation had already twice blamed in advance the president of Pakistan.

Benazir Bhutto, weeks after her return from exile in Dubai, had written in a well-circulated letter that President Pervez Musharraf had reduced security measures for her, not increased them, and that, were she to be killed, she would consider Musharraf to be responsible.

The third story on the Countdown, from Pakistan's critical position to fight international terrorism, to the injection of the assassination into the American presidential campaign.

Few are as qualified to assess the varied ramifications as is Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, who will join us in a moment.

First, the fact as we know them. The sunrise looms in Pakistan. The former prime minister turned democratic opposition leader, Mrs. Bhutto, assassinated in the city of Rawalpindi after this political rally, the second attempt on her life since she left exile this fall and returned to challenge the government of Pakistani President Musharraf.

Bhutto apparently shot by a suicide bomber as she stood in her SUV to wave to the crowd. The assassin then blowing up himself along with dozens of others.

The precise cause of the former prime minister's death not immediately confirmed. Her death pushing Pakistani cities into chaos, as well as the nation's parliamentary elections, scheduled 12 days hence. Not to mention Bush administration policy in the region. And of course, most ominously, Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

As promised, Senator Chris Dodd joins us from Des Moines a week out from the Iowa caucuses, which he of course, is standing as a candidate for the Democratic nomination.

Senator, great thanks for your time tonight.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Keith, very much. Welcome back.

OLBERMANN: Thank you.

First off, from your vantage point as a senior member on Senate Foreign Relations, what does this country do about what has happened in Pakistan today?

DODD: Well, first of all, they've lost a great leader. I've known Benazir Bhutto for 20 years. In fact, I spoke with her just two or three weeks ago. And we had talked with each other, e-mailed back and forth. We had issued some strong statements, urging Musharraf to lift martial law and set the elections, as you pointed out, on January 8.

And so I've lost a good friend, but Pakistan has lost, remarkable. The United Stats has lost a very good fight. And the region now is - and a more precarious than any time in recent memory here this evening. It's very important, I think, that the Bush administration and others are doing everything that can to put as much stability in the midst of the chaos, which is very properly destroyed here.

But the nuclear weapons are the big issue. And I think you've referenced this already. This is more important than anything else.

I noticed today that Governor Bill Richardson suggested Musharraf ought to step down and we ought to cut off aid to Pakistan. I can't think of a worse scenario at this particular point. General Musharraf is no Thomas Jefferson. We all know that. But the idea of getting rid of him without knowing what would replace him, putting somebody in charge of that nuclear arsenal in the middle of this sort of chaos, I think it would be a very, very dangerous step for Pakistan and for us at this juncture.

So stability is key, and postponing the elections are going be absolutely critical at this point. The PPP party, Ms. Bhutto's party here, really has no apparent heir to her that could run as a candidate. So providing some period of time here before the those elections should actually occur is the wise thing to be doing. And then lastly, I did here obviously we need to offer whatever help can to determine who was responsible for the assassination today.

OLBERMANN: It's an extraordinary position to be in, how complicated things are in Pakistan when you hear an extraordinary advocate of democracy such as yourself say we need breathing room and that these elections should not occur as scheduled.

DODD: I do, and I say that regretfully. But if they were to go forward on January 8 here, there is no clear candidate. And Mrs. Bhutto was the most popular political figure in the country. Arguably, General Musharraf is the least popular figure in the country here and therefore, you have a boycott already been suggested by the former prime minister, Shamir.

So this is elections I don't think would mean much at all at this juncture. And to try and conduct them in this environment probably would not work at all.

So I think a delay is a wise step for them to take at this point.

OLBERMANN: Whatever breathing room that would provide, and the reality of the political situation here from the Iowa caucuses, but we're a year and nearly four weeks before the next presidential inauguration.

Everything happening in Pakistan is not going wait for our 45th president to be sworn it. It looks like we've wasted at least part of $5 billion in counterterrorism efforts and aid to Pakistan. We're no closer to bin Laden now than we were in early 2001. And Pakistanis had a share in that at the least.

Musharraf suspended democracy. Now she's basically locked the country down. And the leading pro-democracy spokesman is dead. In all that context, is Musharraf still a long-term answer? Why is - why is president and this country standing behind him? And what does the president have to do right now?

DODD: Well, it's the devil you know and the devil you don't know. And again, this is a country that has a nuclear arsenal capable of causing devastation tomorrow. It's not a question such as Iran where maybe five or 10 years down the road, or Iraq, which doesn't have any weapons at all, as we have learned. But this country has them. And in the wrong here, stabilized in where a rat, which doesn't give any weapons at all, as we now have learned. But this country has them. In the wrong hands here, could destabilize the entire region.

Given the history between Pakistan and India, the axis to Afghanistan and the important of what's going on there, this is not a long-term answer, clearly.

But in the interim there, the short-term answer is not to be looking for an answer. We don't know who would have the control of those weapons and what it could mean.

And clearly, there are those who benefit from the events here today. And certainly, while we don't know that al Qaeda was responsible, it certainly looks at those they're the ones who would certainly benefit the most from this level of chaos where they could possibly emerge here with a radical fundamentalist state in control of those weapons.

So very important right now that we have a mature, sober response to this without jumping too quickly to an answer here, that we don't know what that could mean. I mean, that's what I concerned about, but I'm not arguing for Musharraf, long-term answer. I'm merely buying some time here until we sort this out.

OLBERMANN: Senator, us layman don't have to know very much about Pakistan to know the highlights, if you will: 60 years of independence, 60 years in which politics and violence have seldom been separated there.

Could Benazir Bhutto really have led some kind of coalition? And is there anybody left that country who could take up those cudgels who could lead to some sort of middle path?

CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think they could have. And this was one area why they were linked to this, the idea of having some sort of a collision between Musharraf and his party and Benazir Bhutto of her party and some real hope.

But she would have emerged as a prime minister, inviting that transitional period we're talking about.

I don't know if anyone can give you the answer to the second part of your question, Keith, here. I don't know of anyone on the immediate horizon. I don't think Shamir provides that kind of alternative at this juncture. All the more reason why we've got to be very careful how we proceed here.

As you pointed out, Musharraf has already faced, I think, four or five assassinations attempts on his life. Benazir Bhutto lost both of her brothers by assassination. Her father was hung by General Zia (ph). Here we've got one coup after another. This is a very, very destabilized situation.

And at the end of all of it, again, we're talking about a nuclear arsenal controlled by the military in Pakistan. It's very important that those relationships be maintained.

Thus, I think it - while I understand people's temptation to want to cut off aid here, that could be just the tipping point for us where we end up losing our ability to influence and very well may find that people in control of those weapons who could do a lot of damage to us and to other allies of ours around the world.

OLBERMANN: Senator, let me ask you one last question. Then we'll let you go with our thanks.

Most of the Republicans running for president were quick to blame the assassination today on al Qaeda and interjected to a large degree into their campaigns today. Mr. Giuliani says it shows how we have to win the war against the terrorists. And Mitt Romney said it was another example of radical jihadism.

Is there a difference in the way Republicans and Democrats have been looking at Pakistan and are looking at this right now?

DODD: Well, I welcome their concern about Pakistan. But this is the same crowd that continues to fan the flames that we need to stay in Iraq militarily here. We've been eyeing the wrong ball here. We've been deeply involved, at $10 billion a month, in Iraq. We're not paying attention to the more serious problem.

For weeks, I've suggested that Pakistan was a far more delicate situation than Iraq or Iran. And yet, these supporters of the Bush policy in Iraq have been engaging in that particular effort here, disregarding the serious issues being posed inside Pakistan.

So I - I would suggest here that we better get back to the Pakistan-Afghanistan issue rather quickly here. That's the epicenter of terrorism here. Not suggesting we maintain the military presence that we have in Iraq. That's a dangerous policy, in my view.

OLBERMANN: Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, taking some time from the campaign trail to join us from Des Moines. Senator, once again, thanks for your time. Have a good night.

DODD: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Affixing the blame, a difficult and dangerous thing, like all else in this story. When in Pakistan, al Qaeda could be present, but a dictatorship in a country with a terrible history of political assassination certainly is present.

And was Mrs. Bhutto not our strongest ally against al Qaeda in Pakistan?

And before the body was cold, which would-be president had already said her death is a reminder that we must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists' war on us? Making political hay of the Bhutto assassination in Iowa as our Countdown special coverage continues.


OLBERMANN: Nothing would be easier than to lay the assassination of one of the two most critical figures in the critical and fractured nation of Pakistan entirely at the feet of al Qaeda and other religious extremists.

But when the victim had said it sure looked like the government was trying to make it easier for her to be assassinated, where does the blame actually lie?

And an unseemly scramble over the body of Benazir Bhutto by Republican presidential hopefuls, each trying to say, "I told you so" firsts and loudest.

That's next. This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Even as a president and his would-be Republican successors broadly hinted, without using the actual name, that the assassination of former Prime Minister Bhutto of Pakistan was the work of al Qaeda, comes the bitter realization that the most optimistic interpretation of that hypothesis is that, if that group or other religious extremists did it, and the assassination occurred under the watch of a Pakistani government supposedly determined to root out al Qaeda and the U.S. administration propping up that Pakistani government. And neither of them doing a very good job of it.

And behind that is our No. 2 story on the Countdown, the prospect that Pakistan's and our best chance at destroying al Qaeda there may have died today when Benazir Bhutto was killed.

Despite $5 billion in aid to Pakistan from the U.S. since September 11. The terror threat in that nation has grown. According to American intelligence officials quoted in "The New York Times" this week. Leaders of al Qaeda, hiding in Pakistan have become increasingly active. This year, mounting a record number of suicide attacks inside Pakistan and Afghanistan, according to the National Intelligence Estimate released in July.

Al Qaeda, based in Pakistan, is stronger than it has been in years and is actively planning new attacks.

Evan Kohlmann is one of our counterterror analysts.

Evan, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Is that an ironic twist here? Accurate, that whoever actually killed her, that she was a better bet against al Qaeda than Pervez Musharraf?

KOHLMANN: Well, it wasn't ironic. I think it's obvious. I mean, the Islamic militants refer in Pakistan to the current situation as the regime of controlled freedom. Because these are purely cosmetic changes that Musharraf has enacted.

Whereas Benazir Bhutto, who they call a pig. They call her Hanazir (ph) Bhutto, Pig Bhutto. When she was in power, she actively pushed against the Arab Mujahideen. She nearly caused the collapse of their movement back in 1993. She kicked them all out. And they were furious at her.

So there's absolutely no doubt she would have done much more than Musharraf. I mean, last week we had a "most-wanted" terror suspect who escaped from police custody. This is the same guy that's responsible for the fact that we can't carry toothpaste when we fly in this country now.

And he escaped from Pakistan police custody, inexplicably. No one has any idea where he went. This didn't happen five ago. This didn't happen three years ago. This happened last week. Where is Musharraf? What is he doing?

OLBERMANN: We know that within the Pakistani version of the CIA, the ISI, there have been factions that have been sympathetic - and more than sympathetic to the Taliban, is there a chance, as long as that's the case, that anybody could get anywhere on a counterterror basis. Musharraf or some successor at some point in the paper. Don't they have this extraordinary built-in hurdle?

KOHLMANN: Well, it's true that the ISI has undermined various different Pakistani governments, including Bhutto. But that being said, Bhutto was much more enthusiastic and much more eager to crack down on extremism in Pakistan than Musharraf has. Musharraf has been very reluctant to go after the group's insider Pakistan that are at fault for most of this.

Many of the suicide attacks that we've seen have been carried out in Pakistan over the past three years, they are the work of Pakistani extremists. Now, they may be in league with al Qaeda. They may be taking orders from al Qaeda. But they are Pakistani. And those organizations have not been banned.

There's an organization called Jemaah Dredowa (ph), which is on the U.S. list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, which is openly operating in Pakistan. And you even have the Pakistani interior minister saying openly, publicly that this organization is doing good relief work, that they're doing good charitable work. Well, you know what else they're doing? They're taking recruits from western countries, from the United States and the United Kingdom, even this year, taking them in, training them and sending them back in order to carry out terrorist attacks here. So I would say their work is not so good.

And it's inexplicable why the Pakistani government doesn't do more. I think Bhutto was our best chance. And I don't know who there is to replace her right now that is any better.

OLBERMANN: The assassination itself, Evan, that is an act of terrorism, no matter who decided to do it, who carried it out, but is there a way of assigning the blame? This is a nation that has existed for 60 years, at least 30 of them under some former military rule. Her father was deposed as prime minister in '77 and hanged by a military dictatorship. Her two brothers were killed under mysterious circumstances, and that's being generous.

Why is there an assumption this is more likely to be al Qaeda than it is an all-too-familiar Pakistani political assassination? Or maybe the third option, some sort of combination of the first two?

KOHLMANN: Well, it could be a combination, but I think one of the big clues here is the concept of a suicide bombing. It's very rare that you would find someone, other than a religious extremist, who would be willing to give up their life in terms of a suicide attack. And not just one suicide attack, because let's remember, this is the fourth of fifth time that such an attack has taken place, even recently, targeting against Bhutto or a senior member of the Pakistani government. That's a big clue that would tend to indicate the call sign of al Qaeda.

Was it al Qaeda? We don't know until there's an official statement. But it certainly is an indicator.

OLBERMANN: Do you - do you look askance or does it go outside your own experience to say you had a suicide bomber who was evidently carrying some form of automatic weapon, though, who shot first? Isn't that an unlikely combination?

KOHLMANN: I think what's unbelievable is someone like that with a handgun could get so close to Bhutto that he could shoot her and then detonate his weapon.

Clearly, there was a major problem with security here. And I think that's why a lot of people are asking right now, well, maybe al Qaeda was involved. Maybe Pakistani extremist groups were involved.

But what happened to all the security that Musharraf promised Bhutto? What happened to the layers of Pakistani police? And that is - I'm sorry, it's inexplicable.

OLBERMANN: Our own Evan Kohlmann, the international terrorism investigator. Great thanks for joining us tonight, Evan.

KOHLMANN: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: A week from tonight, the Iowa caucuses. And if any voter there had not heard of Benazir Bhutto, they probably will by next Thursday. Giuliani and Romney will race to explain why this validates their candidacies. The Democrats seem to step more gently but step nonetheless. Dana Milbank, next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Events, wrote Michael Dobbs in his political science fiction novels of a modern-day MacBeth, a British prime minister named Francis Perkett. "Events," he mutters on the way to a gas leak that makes his authoritarian government looking human and a liberal king humane.

Events, he concludes. The politicians' enemy, or in our No. 1 story in the countdown, his best friend, if the politician is a Rudy Giuliani or a Willard "Mitt" Romney, whose world-view divides all events from baseball games to political assassinations into events caused by violent radical jihadists, as Romney put it today. And nonevents. It is a black-and-white simplicity that grows more stark still, what with the Iowa caucuses precisely a week away.

Dana Milbank in a moment. First, the noise from the campaign trail.


MCCAIN: Right now, there is significant unrest in Pakistan as we speak. And there are people that are blaming Musharraf for it. That's why I say we're the winners and losers. It seems to me that the winners are the radical Islamic extremists.

GIULIANI: This reminds us of how we have to redouble our efforts in that area of the world - Pakistan, Afghanistan - and make sure that successes that they're proud of are military.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to make sure that we are clear as Americans, that we stand for democracy and that we are - we will be steadfast in our desire to end the kinds of terrorist acts that have blighted not just Pakistan but other parts of the world.

ROMNEY: The world is very much at risk by virtue of these radical, violent extremists. And we must come together in an effort in great haste and with great earnestness to help overcome the threat of radical violent jihad.


OLBERMANN: And a statement from Senator Clinton, underlying a reminder of her own particular brand of experience. Reading in part, "I am profoundly saddened and outraged by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, a leader of tremendous political and personal courage. I came to know Mrs. Bhutto over many years, during her tenures as prime minister and during her years in exile."

To Dana Milbank now, national political correspondent with the "Washington Post" and MSNBC analyst.

Dana, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Acknowledging that we necessarily join the candidates somewhat in the mud here. They're talking about this nightmare in their own political context. And we're still at the edge of the quagmire with them.

But dividing this into parties, the Republicans first, the conventional wisdom, this could revivify Giuliani. Is that right? Or will it not come with a little sting, emphasizing that he doesn't have any relevant international experience?

MILBANK: Well, I think first we have to say it's probably a marginal impact overall, while it's an international tragedy. I was with Hillary Clinton when she spoke about it this morning, and the general reaction was just puzzlement in the crowd. And after all, they're not Americans being killed here.

However, it is a marginal benefit for Rudy Giuliani, particularly because he had really not been part of the debate. He's been sunning himself in Florida while everyone is slogging it out here in Iowa and New Hampshire. It's back on his terms, to national security issues. He doesn't really campaign on it, but it helps him.

OLBERMANN: The Democrats, it would seem, is this an assumption that's correct, that it would have less impact in Iowa and New Hampshire for them than it does the Republicans? Or is there some sort of lesser Pavlovian response in the Democratic voter that benefits Hillary Clinton and hurts Barack Obama?

MILBANK: I think it's similar in both cases. So you - it would benefit McCain because of his experience. It would benefit Giuliani because of his 9/11 experience. Similarly, it helps Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama.

Obama was supposed to deliver a new closing argument to his campaign here, saying why his relative inexperience didn't matter. This stepped all over that message today. It really muddied it up for him. Clinton was very discreet in the way she brought it up. But again, a marginal benefit, but it certainly helps the debate more on Clinton's terms.

OLBERMANN: And I don't know if you heard Chris Dodd earlier in the show, but he said something that really - that came as something of a surprise. He was saying with great regret that - he suggested that the - our policy should be to delay those parliamentary elections, which are just 12 days off, to give the party of Benazir Bhutto time to regroup.

Does something like that, even from one of the second-tier candidates, have a chance of resonating in this? Or is your earlier point about it not being a mainstream issue for most of these caucus-goers prevail in the - in the analysis?

MILBANK: Yes, I think so. I mean, you have Biden out there saying thoughtful things, Dodd, Richardson making quite an elaborate proposal today about the sort of new coalition government that should govern Pakistan. None of this is going to be, you know, in the bumper-sticker slogans that are going to decide the caucuses here in Iowa a week from now.

So again, this is really - it's a huge national security issue but relatively marginal in the political world, I'm predicting.

OLBERMANN: And as a last note, Republican voters, any nuance is bad nuance? Assassination equals terrorism equals 9/11? That's all you need to know?

MILBANK: Well, it does help a little bit, but I think larger than the 9/11 terrorism association is experience. Will they want to be embraced by the leader with a great deal of experience?

OLBERMANN: Dana Milbank, national political correspondent of the "Washington Post," doing a great job giving us the headlines of the reaction politically to this. Great thanks, Dana.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's recap. It is morning in Pakistan, with both spellings of the work applicable. The government of that nation announcing three days of grieving for former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated Thursday afternoon in the city of Rawalpindi, less than three weeks before parliamentary elections in that country are scheduled.

The mourning period announced by President Musharraf, who blamed Islamic extremists for Ms. Bhutto's death and mentioned al Qaeda. Mrs. Bhutto, it seemed, blaming General Musharraf, having sent an e-mail that was to be read only in the event of her death.

At least nine people killed in violence that broke out in the aftermath of the news of the assassination. Opposition leaders, both in Pakistan and here in the U.S., calling for President Musharraf's resignation.

And earlier in this news hour, as I just mentioned, Connecticut senator and Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd suggesting, with great regret, that the U.S. should push Musharraf to postpone those January 8 parliamentary elections to give Mrs. Bhutto's opposition party some time to regroup.

Mrs. Bhutto's body was flown from an air base in Islamabad to her hometown of Larkana, where she will be buried with great ceremony and, no doubt, great grief at sundown tomorrow, roughly 9 a.m. Eastern Time tomorrow. She is the fourth member of her family - her two brothers and her father, Pakistan's first truly elected leader - to die violently as a result of their involvement in the politics of their homeland.

That is Countdown for this, the 1,702nd day since the declaration of "mission accomplished" in Iraq. A reminder: please join us tomorrow night for our review of 2007's special comments, 8 and midnight Eastern, 5 and 9 p.m. Pacific. Obviously, if there is breaking news from Pakistan, or anywhere else, we'll again pre-empt that special, as we did this evening.

I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

video 'podcast'

Transcript missing. A clip show, 'Best of Oddball'.

Video via YouTube: Onion rings

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

No show. Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No show. Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

video 'podcast'

Transcript missing. A clip show, 'Best of Special Comments'.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Transcript missing. Episodes near Christmas are always hard to find.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 19
video 'podcast'

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, Tom O'Neill

ALISON STEWART, HOST (voice over): Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Tape-gate: The "New York Times" reporting at least four White House lawyers were involved in discussions with the CIA about destroying those interrogation tapes among those names - Alberto Gonzalez and Vice President Cheney's lawyer, David Addington. The finger pointing begins, a retraction is demanded and questions arise: Did the White House cover up its role in this latest scandal?


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The White House role was wider than it said in finding that I had either changed my story or I have some doubts that the White House had misled the public. And said it's not true.


STEWART: This as fire breaks out in the vice president's offices.

We'll have the latest on both.

Caucus countdown: It's a holiday fall dance. With percentage points as abundant as fruit cake. The latest numbers out show Clinton, Obama and Edwards all on top. It all depends who you ask. This as Rudy's popularity plummets.


SANTA CLAUS: I was with you right up until that last one.


STEWART: Shocking news for the Spears family. Britney's 16-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn is pregnant. As the star of a hit "Nickelodeon" series, what will this mean for her career and how will it be explained to her many young fans?

"Time Magazine's" will reveal their "Person of the Year" is Vladimir Putin? Wait a minute. Al Gore didn't win something this year? No word yet on how Larry Birkhead is taking the disappointing news. Maybe it has something to do with these fats, I mean pit.

Speaking of gifts that keep on giving: We'll take a look at this year's best of the Internet and revisit our own ceremonial nod to the video's most viral - the Kitty (ph). All that and more, now on Countdown.

O'REILLY: Jack may have offers.

STEWART (on camera): Good evening. I'm Alison Stewart. Keith Olbermann has the night off. In the only statement he has made about the CIA's destruction of those interrogation tapes, President Bush said, quote, "It will be interesting to know what the true facts are." Redundancy aside, our fourth story on the Countdown: The search for truth facts uncovers a dozy. The "New York Times" reporting that Harriet Myers wasn't the only White House lawyer who discussed the handling of those tapes before they were erased. There were at least three others including, Alberto Gonzalez. No comment from President Bush on new development but his press secretary certainly was not happy about that report. More on that in a moment.

We'll also have more on the other burning issue on the grounds of the White House today. Literally. Burning. Vice President Cheney's ceremonial offices going up in flames. But, we begin tonight with the metaphorical heat with today's "Times" report that quote, "At least four top White House lawyers took part in discussions with the CIA between 2003 and 2005 about whether to destroy video tapes showing the secret interrogations of two operatives from Al Qaeda," end quote. Officials telling the "Times" that those who took part included, Alberto Gonzalez who served as White House counsel at the time. David Addington, who used to be Vice President Cheney's lawyer now his chief of staff. John Bellinger, who was the senior lawyer at the National Security Council until 2005. And Harriet Meirs who replaced Mr. Gonzalez as the White House counsel. She is the only White House official that the administration officials have admitted knew about the tapes. At the White House today, Press Secretary Dana Perino breaking with her "no comment" policy sort of to demand a limited retraction from the "New York Times."

The White House Press Office is not denying the substance of the story, or its headlines, only its sub-headline which read that the quote, "White House role was wider than it said," end quote. Specifically, Ms. Perino taking issue with the implication she might have been misleading when discussing any details related to the tapes.


ED HENRY, CNN: In fact, right after the story first broke, people within the administration did say privately that in fact, Harriet Miers had told the CIA not to destroy the tapes and that suggested the White House in fact, was, saying don't destroy. Now, this "New York Times" story saying, four people in the president or vice president's inner circle actually talked to the CIA about it. So, that does suggest a wider role.

PERINO: I am not accountable for all the anonymous sources you turn up. I'm not. I am accountable and I speak for the president and for the White House. This says that I was misleading and I was not.

HENRY: It doesn't say you, it doesn't you at all. There were other

people the administration -

PERINO: The White House does not comment. The only thing that I have said from this podium is regarding to the president and his recollection. If that CNN has different information that they want to provide to me that contradicts what I've said, let's see it.

HENRY: It isn't specifically saying it's you; it is talking about the

White House, the administration -

PERINO: I speak for the White House. I represent the White House.

HENRY: Why are you taking it personally?

PERINO: I am not taking personally. I'm taking it - I speak for the White House. It's not a personal thing. The White House asked for a correction. And I would remind you, the "New York Times" is going to do one.


STEWART: The "New York Times" moving only the sub-heading. The substance of its reporting stands. When asked to comment on the article yesterday, before it was published, spokesman for the White House, the Vice President's Office and the CIA all declined to do so.

Meanwhile: On Capital Hill, the man applying to be the number two official at the Justice Department was getting an earful about those destroyed tapes from lawmaker. When Republican Arlen Specter asked Judge Mark Filip about the Justice Department's recent declaration that Congress should wait until the department has finished its interrogation of the torture tapes, Judge Filip hit it straight down the middle.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Wouldn't you agree that even if criminal prosecutions are jeopardized, that it is more important to acknowledge by the courts that Congress have primacy to proceed as Congress, ultimately concludes the public interest requires.

JUDGE MIKE FILIP: I would hope senator I did not to have pick between the two. I would hope to be able to try to work with Congress, such that Congress could perform its oversight missions and criminal prosecutions if they were there to be made could be preserved.

SPECTER: But if it comes to a conflict and you have to make a choice, is there any doubt that the broader issues that we're facing which I've enumerated for you, whether we're going to bind the CIA to the Army field manual, what we're going to do on interrogation practices generally, how we'll deal with our Geneva Convention obligations, international matters, all beyond the scope of the Department of Justice. If you have to choose, doesn't Congressional primacy prevail?

FILIP: Sir, I wasn't privy to the discussion you had with the attorney general.

SPECTER: Well, strike that part. Just deal with the litany of issues I've given you above and beyond the criminal prosecution, whether Congressional primacy isn't pretty clear cut there.

FILIP: Sir, I think, you and I very much share the view that Congress has broad oversight authority and we very much share the view that hopefully that broad oversight authority can be accommodated while at the same time not jeopardizing criminal prosecutions. As to picking between two of them, I would work very hard to try to find common ground, so, I wouldn't have to make that choice.


STEWART: Time to call out our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine. Hi, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK: Good evening, Alison.

STEWART: So, how effective was Dana Perino's defense, putting the onus on the "New York Times" that it had to issue this correction about a sub-headline even if the substance of the reporting was correct.

WOLFFE: Well, this was an excessive response from the White House. I mean, she used the language, pernicious that the story was. And there are three ways to look at this. Either, A, this is a distraction; she's challenging the sub-head of the story as a way to take away attention from the main thrust of it. Or B, that they didn't like the substance of the story and without commenting on it, remember the substance here, is that the White House lawyers were saying, destroy the tapes. Previous reports that said, suggested other people were saying, keep the tapes. But if the White House is really ordering up the destruction of the tape, then maybe that's what she was reacting against, rather than the sub-heading.

STEWART: Now, how is it the White House Press Office for a week has acted this "no comment" policy on the CIA tapes and then today, feels free to comment.

WOLFFE: Yes, very curious here. They have been under very strict legal opinion and advice not to comment because not just of what Congress is up to but because there are legal proceedings. The judge is looking at what's happened. And if there is a special prosecutor, appointed here, then as we saw from the Valerie Plame situation, everything revolving around communications could be part of a cover-up if indeed this was all a big cover-up. So, very, very curious that they chose to comment at all, frankly, because she had such a strict policy and I have to say, behind the scenes, that policy was upheld as well.

STEWART: Now, the "New York Times" report, I want to read this one, quote, "One former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the matter said there had been vigorous sentiment among some top White House officials to destroy the tapes. But that no one gave an order to destroy them or to preserve them." So, without proof some of directory from somewhere, is this going to go anywhere?

WOLFFE: Well, remember, "Newsweek" has also reported that Negroponte then, director of National Intelligence advised them to keep the tapes. So, and you have the head of Covert Operations has hired a lawyer saying, he is not going to be the fall guy. He got a green light to do what he did. So, there's a lot of spinning going on here. And obviously, these stories really don't match-up.

STEWART: Now, the hottest story today as we mentioned reveal these four people - Alberto Gonzalez, David Addington, John Bellinger, along with Harriet Miers were aware of some sort of discussion about these tapes. So, why this discussion reached this particular group of people?

WOLFFE: Well, these are the lawyers you would expect to deal with it. I don't think having these people involved was surprising. But, to come back to your previous question, there is a certain pattern here of people not wanting to go on the record and saying, do this, do that. There is a gray area that obviously makes it incredibly difficult for people at the CIA or anywhere else in the administration to figure out what to do. I mean, make the comparison with the war here. Where was the decision to go to war and invade Iraq? People have still not been able to pin that down. I don't think we'll ever be able to know what orders were given about these tapes. That's just how they've been running things in this White House.

STEWART: All right. As we pushed this forward, move the story forward, the administration is going to answer questions before a judge Friday to find out if a court order was violated. Congress not stopping in this investigation. What options might the administration take advantage of to make this go our way? Or at least take the sting out of it?

WOLFFE: Well, I think you're going to hear executive privilege, time and again here. If this comes down to who ordered what and who discussed what, they're going to say, this is confidential, it's super secret, it's White House advice that involved the president. So, they can shut down Congress pretty much. Whether they can do that with the courts is another question.

STEWART: Richard wolf of MSNBC and "Newsweek." as always, great thanks.

WOLFFE: Thank you, Alison.

STEWART: No matter how mad Dana Perino might have appeared about the "Times" story, when smoke was seen on the ground of the White House this morning, it was repeat, not coming out of her ears. Unfortunately, the smoke was all too real. Coming from a fire at the executive office building next door to the White House. No one was seriously hurt but the damage was extensive. Our White House correspondent, John Yang has the details.

JOHN YANG, NBC NEWS - THE WHITE HOUSE: Alison, both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were here in the west wing this morning when the fire broke out just across the street here on the White House grounds.


YANG (voice over): When Washington firefighters arrived shortly after 9:30 this morning, there was so much smoke in the building, they immediately struck a second alarm. About 110 firefighters and 60 pieces of equipment battled the blaze. Nearly 1,000 White House staffers in the building were evacuated. The only reported injury, a marine who cut his hand, breaking a window on the top floor and was treated in the White House medical unit. Officials say the blaze began in a utility closet near a suite of offices belonging to Vice President Cheney's staff, an area without a sprinkler system. They suspected there was an electrical fire. Firefighters took about 30 minutes to control it. Afterwards, the president and Mr. Cheney thanked them.

CHIEF DENNIS L. RUBIN, WASHINGTON, D.C. FIRE DEPT: I would describe the overall picture as moderate to minor damage, meaning that the total amount of area, but one office did receive significant damage.

YANG: The Vice President ceremonial office used for interviews such as this one in 2003 with NBC'S Brian Williams, suffered extensive smoke and water damage. Officials said everything in it is covered by a thick layer of soot, including the desks which has been used by six presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It has a lot of historic artifacts in there and it's got a gorgeous wood floor that is currently underwater.

YANG: The ornate 19th century executive office building is one of the largest stone structures in the world and houses most White House offices.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The poignant thing is that sometimes it takes an event like this for us to appreciate the importance of a building like this.


YANG (on camera): Workers still here tonight, cleaning up and

boarding up windows. White House officials hope to have as many offices as

possible open for business tomorrow morning. Alison -

STEWART: NBC's John Yang, thank you.

Fifteen days to Iowa. Talk about working the polls. Various poll numbers are up and down like handy, sandy and Randy on the main stage. Does anyone know who is actually in the lead? And for once: Britney Spears is out of the limelight replaced by her now pregnant teenage sister. You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: Candidate break out the holiday ads as polls tighten the race for 2008. Little Jamie Lynn Spears manages to outdo her sister in tabloids scandal, and it is that time of year again, a look at the very best of the 2000 of the Internet. That's ahead. This is Countdown.


STEWART: In our fourth story in the Countdown tonight: A new poll leaves no doubt about who is leading the Democratic race in Iowa, the site of the caucuses, 15 days from now and in a significant surprise, the latest insider advantage puts John Edwards on top with 30 percent of the vote.

In our fourth story on the Countdown tonight: A new poll leaves no doubt about who is leading the Democratic race in Iowa, the site of the caucuses, 15 days from now. In a modest surprise, the latest Washington Post - ABC Poll puts Barack Obama on top with 33 percent of the vote.

In our fourth story tonight: A new poll leaves no doubt about who's leading the Democratic race in Iowa, the site of the caucuses, 15 days from now. No surprise, the latest Rasmussen Poll puts Hillary Clinton on top with 39 percent of the vote. What? No, Richardson. No, if you get the point. The truth is, in the national polls, Senator Clinton comes out on top pretty consistently. Tonight's new NBC-Wall Street Journal Poll gives her 45 percent among Democrats to Obama's 23 and 13 for Edwards. But that could all change in 15 days in Iowa. And in Iowa, the polls are all order the map. Is it Obama? Clinton? Edwards? Is it "Washington Post" and ABC say? Or is it Edwards and then Clinton with Obama in third as the Insider Advantage found. Or could it be Clinton, Obama, and then Edwards, as Rasmussen reported. How is the media supposed to avoid talking about all the real issues in obsessive poll numbers when no one can say how the horse race is going? But if the numbers look squarely for the Democrats, petty the Republican front-runner, whoever that is, our poll shows the race tightening into a three, possibly four-way battle. What leaders lag and late bloomers surge. The former front-runner, Rudolf Giuliani dropping to just 20 percent among Republicans after spending the last few months in the 30s. Willard Mitt Romney up sharply tying Giuliani at 20. Mike Huckabee almost doubling last month's numbers up to 17 percent and John McCain holding steady in the mid teens. And where is Waldo? I mean Fred Thompson? Well, don't you see him there? You don't really, do you? Let's bring in MSNBC contributor, Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at "Newsweek." Jonathan, nice to see you.


STEWART: So, what does it say that we don't really have a clear picture of Iowa just two weeks out?

ALTER: Well, we don't have a clear picture of Iowa, where I am tonight in New Hampshire. You know, this whole thing is up for grabs. All the polls are pretty much meaningless at this point, anything I could tell you or any other pundit could tell about what's going to happen is mostly just hot air and we should just kind of stipulate that at the outset. So, all that we can really do is give people a very general sense of direction to warn them that national polls are close to irrelevant at this stage of the game because so much changes once real people vote and people like me shut up.

STEWART: I can't believe you just told yourself to shut up. OK. So,

let's up a couple -

ALTER: I mean, you know, the truth is that, yes. There's too much kind of phony prognostication. So, what I think is the best role for all of us in the media, is really do try to look at not just some of the issues that the candidates are talking about but some of the ways they operate and how that might reflect on what these folks would actually be like, should he or she become president which is what this is supposed to be about. Not kind of making phony news based on often phony polls.

STEWART: But let's talk about how the campaigning is going because you have to do that before you can become president.

ALTER: That's right.

STEWART: Let's put one scenario out there. Senator Clinton's national standing. Whatever happens with that, what happens to her campaign if someone beats her in Iowa?

ALTER: She's in trouble. You know, then she has five days to recover in New Hampshire and a lot of people think that would be, you know, tougher to do. Unless, she has a good organization in New Hampshire and a lot of support up here. So, if she doesn't win after all expectations, all the talk of inevitability, it would be a serious, although not total blow her chances.

STEWART: All right. We had inevitability for Mrs. Clinton. You have pragmatism when we talk about Giuliani and Thompson and McCain. But now, you have a little more of the fuzzy faith-base appeals from Romney and Huckabee. Do you think those are actually working?

ALTER: Well, clearly, you've got some movement from Mike Huckabee. It might have stopped in recent days but he went from being an asterisk to being one of the top contenders on the Republican side. And the polls are tightening some now in Iowa. And the polls there, by the way, just to demonstrate my screen about this, particularly useless to poll for caucus-goers. Very, very unreliable in the past. You can depend on them a little more in New Hampshire and other states. But in Iowa, Huckabee went from nothing to being in the lead even though Romney outspend 20 or more to one. Now, it's tightening a little bit there. You've got to give Huckabee a good shot there. His ads don't look very good in New Hampshire so, that will be on to Michigan and South Carolina to see how he does there. McCain is kind of the story up in New Hampshire right now that should Huckabee wound Romney in Iowa, it gives McCain an opportunity to win New Hampshire as he did eight years ago.

STEWART: Well, let's talk about something quite tangible. Christmas ads.

ALTER: OK. Good idea.

STEWART: We're going to follow up you know, after Mr. Huckabee released his uber Christmas ad. In space of the last 24 hours, we received Obama's Christmas holiday card. We got Senator Clinton's Christmas gifts for the American people. Senator Edwards reminding those of less fortunate than us this Christmas. And perhaps maybe the weirdest ad so far, we got this one from Rudolph Giuliani. Let's listen to this one.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With the primaries coming so early this year, I've got to tell you, I'm having a little trouble getting my holiday shopping done. So, I'll be working to get everyone the same gift. A safe America, lower taxes, secured borders, job growth, fiscal discipline, strict constructionist judges and probably a fruit cake or something.


GIULIANI: What? It would be a really nice fruit cake with a big red bow on it or something like that. I'm Rudy Giuliani and I approved this message. Merry Christmas, happy holidays.


STEWART: I can't get past the sweater vest, I don't know about you.

ALTER: Yes. It looked like one of those ads for Home Depot or something at Christmas time.

STEWART: Effective in any way?

ALTER: Well, he got his message out at the beginning of the ad and you could say that - that might be effective for him. But it's always real risky when politicians who are not you know, gifted actors like Ronald Reagan or who have a real instinct for humor when they try it. Huckabee, Mike Huckabee did it in an ad and it work very well. But I didn't, I doubt that Rudy in this ad sort of confirmed what some New Yorkers think about him which is that he is a bit of a fruit cake himself. So, it might not have been the best way for him to go.

STEWART: Jonathan Alter, senior editor at "Newsweek." stay warm up in New Hampshire.

ALTER: Yes, thanks a lot, Alison.

STEWART: President Bush saw his soul and saw that it was good. Now, Putin-Bush "Time Magazine" not to. And here comes the bride. All dressed in white, squeezably soft white. That's ahead.

But first: The latest in the administration's 50 other scandals. Number three: Gonzo-gate. Attorney general Michael Mukasey signing order today reversing a practice of his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales. From now on, staffers of the Justice Department will be sharply limited in their contact with the White House regarding any pending investigation, criminal or civil. Contacts between such staffers and the White House were fueled and complicated the U.S. attorney firings scandal.

And number two: Contractor Assault-gate. The testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, Congressman Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, said that his office had been contacted by three more women about sexual assaults they sustained while working for KBR in Iraq. Congressman Poe suggested that the alleged gang rape of Jamie Lee Jones in Baghdad's Green Zone by employees of KBR which is - was then the subsidiary of Halliburton might not be an isolated incident. Meantime, the Justice Department today, refused to send a representative to answer questions about that issue before the House Judiciary Committee.

And at number one: Blackwater-gate. The U.S. embassy in Iraq is now investigating another deadly shooting by Blackwater mercenaries that of the "New York Times" dog called Hentish (ph). Reuters reporting that according to the "Times" staff in Baghdad, Blackwater bodyguards shot and kill the dog last week. A Blackwater spokesman said the Hentish had attacked one of Blackwater's canines and the ensuing dog fight could not be resolve at which time the canine handler was forced to use a pistol.


STEWART: Nine years ago, after 14 hours of debate, Congress impeached the 42nd president of the United States. Ultimately, Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice charges the following February. But, we hear that he may still be in the dog house with the missus for wandering off that Heidi(ph) supermarket yesterday? On that note, let's play "Oddball."

We begin right here in New York City where nothing says I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you than getting married in a public bathroom. Or, at least, that's what Jennifer Cannon and Doy Nichols think. They consented to get hitched in the Charmin restrooms in Times Square as part of a PR stunt. Jennifer even wore a dress made solely of toilet tissue, glue, and tape. Which might explain why she is crying.

And to a Dunkin Donuts in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, where Dustin Hoffman is beating the jelly out of a robber. Don't mess with Tootsie. No, I am mistaken. That is not two-time Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman, that is store clerk Dustin Hoffmann - Hoffmann with two Ns. Attempting to thwart the robbery by bashing the crook over the head with his tip jar. The crook got away with $290 and is still on the loose. Hoffmann said he sprung into action because he didn't want to look like a wimp on "You Tube". And added that his Dad lets him drive slowly down the driveway every Saturday. You don't want to mess with that.

Just when you thought nothing by anyone with the last name Spears could shock you again, 16-year-old Jamie Lynn reveals her impending motherhood. And her sister's biggest internet defender finds herself in the running for best web video of the year. This story's ahead but, first, time for Countdown's top three "Best Persons in the World" today. Number three, best gift for the person in your life who already has everything: edible crushed gold in a bite-sized capsule. Just $275 for a three-pack. And, they have absolutely no redeeming value except they make you poop gold. Be careful what you wish for.

Number two, best wasted opportunity: an unnamed thief in Brixton, England. Eying a truck with the keys in the ignition, the thief hopped in and drove off only to stop and take off 30 yards later when he spotted the owner's 126-pound Great Dane Diesel in the back seat. Little did he know that he was never in any real danger. Diesel's owner said he is a big softy. If the guy had hung around, he would have licked his hands and face. He was very good with strangers.

And, at number one, best reason to cut out the fat: skipper Pete Bethune. Bethune had set out to break the speed record for circumnavigating the globe in a motorboat and promote the use of alternative fuel sources. His eco-friendly vessel would run entirely on bio-diesel, some of which will be produced from Bethune's own body fat - the by-product of his elective liposuction procedure, quote, "I wanted to do a positive project," unquote, he said. Sure, you know. Lose the love handles before the holidays, too.


STEWART: In the world of celebrity-watching, come on, admit it - shock and putty(ph) is practically an Olympic sport. But, sometimes, the news comes of someone who has fallen into a situation with such long-lasting implications that snarky comments are pushed aside by genuine concerns. In our third story in the Countdown, 16-year old Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant. The younger sister of Britney decided along with her mother Lynn to announce that news in the pages of "OK" magazine, a decision which her father Jamie reportedly abhors. According to the publication, Ms. Spears said that her boyfriend, 19-year-old Casey Aldridge, is the father of her child. The two reportedly met at church. Spears also tells "OK" magazine, quote, "it was a shock for both of us, so unexpected. I was in complete and total shock and so was he." is reporting that Spears will be paid $1 million for baby photos in exchange for that interview. She is 12 weeks pregnant but reportedly did not tell her mother until three weeks ago. Jamie Lynn Spears is also the star of a popular teen-friendly TV show on Nickelodeon, "Zoe 101". A spokesman said that Nickelodeon respects Spears' decision to, quote, "take responsibility in this sensitive and personal situation."

According to "Access Hollywood", Spears and Aldridge want to get married though their respective parents are against that idea. Joining us now is senior editor of "In Touch Weekly", Tom O'Neill. Hi, Tom.


STEWART: So we'll get to the details of this story in just a minute, but I want your honest opinion: do you think this announcement about Miss Spears will open a dialogue about teen pregnancy or will this story come and go like any other celebrity news?

O'NEILL: This is not any regular story of a trashy celeb having a baby out of wedlock. This is a baby having a baby, Alison. She's 16. There are issues here - serious ones of statutory rape. The daddy is 19 years old and the mother, Lynn, may be implicated here, too, if she openly permitted these two to, you know, carry on.

STEWART: You know, aside from all judgments about the pregnancy and about their behaviors, there is a serious business angle to this story, as well. "Forbes" is covering it. Miss Spears' show is on Viacom's kid channel, Nickelodeon. A lot of parents are wondering, how will they even explain this to their kids? How difficult a position does Viacom find itself in? Should they just shelf the show "Zoe 101"?

O'NEILL: Today, outcry was growing all over America and the pressure

was building on Nickelodeon to shut this down. Remember how they make

their money - what their big successes are. Channels like Nickelodeon and

Disney - it's "High School Musical", it's "Hannah Montana", it's "Zoe 101"

these wholesome shows! So, I don't know if they're going to have much of a choice.

STEWART: Strictly from a professional perspective, Ms. Spears' genuine mother giving the go-ahead to make the announcement in a glossy magazine and allegedly accepting money for future photos of the baby. Is that just as damaging to Jamie Lynn's image, as well?

O'NEILL: I think so. But, I'm sure mommy went ahead with Jamie Lynn's permission. I can't imagine that happened any other way. But, I can't imagine Jamie Lynn protesting this, either, because Mommy has been hustling these girls since they were little kids. The most interesting thing about the story when you hear what happened behind the scenes is that when Lynn heard the news, she cried and cried and cried. Well, Alison, I think that lasted about ten minutes until she started laughing, laughing, laughing all the way to the bank.

STEWART: Now, Jamie Lynn has reportedly said she wants to raise the child in Louisiana but, according to "Access Hollywood", a source says the parents think Spears and Aldridge are too young and that Jamie Lynn has, quote, "the mind of a teenager. She doesn't understand the ramifications."

But, couldn't in this case the kid be right? Get out of Hollywood at this point? Go underground?

O'NEILL: That's exactly what has to happen here. Recently, a reporter asked Jamie Lynn what she wants to do in the future. Remember, she's just a junior in high school. She answered, "I want to go to Louisiana State University." And that was just the right answer. Remember Jodie Foster, kid stars like that who suddenly put their career on hold, went to college, resumed a normal life, and went back to Hollywood. That is the way for Jamie Lynn, not to follow the path that her sister has.

STEWART: Tom O'Neill, senior editor of "In Touch Weekly". Thanks for checking in, Tom.

O'NEILL: Thanks a lot, Alison.

STEWART: Do you want to get your loved one something they might actually use this holiday season? Then, apparently, you should stay away from gift cards. And they certainly provide with us the most provocative pictures of the year. And, it seems "Time" magazine can't quit him either. Up ahead. This is Countdown.


STEWART: 2007, the year of the gift card and retailers are smiling because they are making billions off your unused generosity. 2007: the year of put-id put or so "Time" magazine says. And the year in viral videos: the wonders of the world wide web and your top picks for Countdown's favorite internet clips. All that and more ahead in Countdown.


STEWART: Time is flying. Overnight shipping on internet purchases cost as much as per capita of a small former Soviet-block nation. The mall will be the seventh ring of hell this weekend. What's a shopping procrastinator to do? Gift cards! Our number two story. When cash seems too crass, a little decorative three inch by two inch plastic does the trick. But, with a little news you can use, our correspondent Kevin Tibbles found out, a lot of you are throwing away money without knowing it.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS REPORTER (voice-over): It is the piece of plastic that this year, more than ever, is giving Santa a run for his money.

MAN DRESSED UP AS SANTA CLAUS: Just offer gift cards.

TIBBLES: Millions of gift cards, super-charged with billions in cash, as the stigma, they're bland and thoughtless, has apparently vanished. DAVE SIEVERS, ARCHETONE CONSULTING: This has been a big year and Archetone is forecasting $35 billion in sales for this holiday season for gift cards which is about 25 percent more than last year.

TIBBLES: Retailers now compete for your wallet with cards tailor-made for almost every store imaginable. Toys R Us lets you personalize it. Starbucks cards come with an ornament. The Home Depot bundles its cards with a "how-to" video. And Target has 36 varieties with values from $5 to $2,000. Even the shopping centers have them.

SARAH BURROWS: It is really beautiful. It does. It makes it feel like it is a gift.

TIBBLES (on camera): Wow, a purple tie again. Now, that's going to sit in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. A gift card would not do that, now would it?

TIBBLES (voice-over): In fact, in 2006, an estimated $8 billion went unspent as recipients either forgot about the cards or simply failed to spend the entire amount. And unlike cash, with time, many lose value or assess penalty fees. Right or wrong, Ron Lieber calls them "the gift that keeps on taking".

RON LIEBER: You're faced with a choice of either leaving money on the card which makes you feel foolish or spending more than is on the card.

TIBBLES: And that means extra money for the retailer. Still, the average American family is expected to spend $184 on gift cards for the holidays. Because for many this busy season, Santa just can't beat the convenience. Kevin Tibbles, NBC News.

STEWART: On to our nightly gift to the world of celebrity and entertainment, "Keeping Tabs". Beginning with "Time" magazine's person of the year. Last year, it was not a person at all. It was you and me but our reign is over. Behold: "Time's" person of the year for 2007 - Russian President Vladimir Putin says "Time" because he brought Russia warring back. Even if he gives democracy a dope slap now and again and, of course, his public relations campaign of making sure no kid's belly goes unsmooched.

Not everyone agrees with the choice of the man who recently shipped nuclear fuel to Iran. John McCain saying, quote, "I look into his eyes and I see three letters: K, G, and B." Well, senator, maybe these snap shots will change your mind. Feast your eyes on the man roughing it on horseback in Siberia this summer or bravely going shirtless against Siberian mosquitoes the size of canaries or fishing in his fatigues, the Siberian sun glinting off his pecs. Now, that is cover boy material for sure.

From the Kremlin to those little gremlins that make us fall in love, who can explain them? For instance, a report today says that Larry Birkhead may be smitten to the heart with none other than the brickster. "In Touch Weekly", quoting Larry as saying, "I think Britney Spears is sexy. And "Insider" reportedly saying that he who fathered a child with the late Anna Nicole Smith had a thing for vulnerable blondes and is trying to get fixed up with Spears. According to "In Touch", he would love to combine their families "Brady Bunch" style. Yes, that's what you hear -

Robert Reid spinning in his grave.

The 20-minute cover-up conversation just won the top ten web videos of the year, picked by the same folks who put Putin as their top person, so be forewarned. Up ahead. This is Countdown.


STEWART: To the top of the Countdown and a subject dear to all our hearts and millions of bored office workers everywhere: viral video. And, for once, we didn't have to do any hard slam. "Time" magazine has done it for us. Compiling its lists of the top clips forwarded to inboxes all around the world in '07. Starting at number ten with someone who had too much time on his hands, literally, ON HIS HANDS. That little piece, the $6 Million Man meets Kanye West. meets daft punk, meets daft digits - that's Daft's Hands.

At number nine, Clark and Michael, the office's web comedy from '07 Break-out Star Michael Serra. Then this is at number eight.


DAN RATHER, TV TALK SHOW HOST: Jeff would prefer to do without the coat. On the other hand, I would prefer not to be the frozen anchor man. Let me take it off, I think, we need to be consistent. Absolutely. Nobody wears his coat with his collar down. Jeff is insistent that I keep my collar down. I never wanted that. Now, we need to make a decision. Coat or no coat?


STEWART: That was Dan Rather's twenty-minute meditation about whether to have his collar up, collar down, coat on, coat off while waiting to anchor the evening news. For the recorded, he ended up with coat on, collar down. At number seven, a mash of cheesy music and current events.

A current event that Florida kid getting tased with the back beat of Hammers' "You Can't Touch This". Staying with the musical theme at number six:


(Singing) You belong to me. Like -

STEWART: SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE's and December's storm quiet love ballad to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Yet, more music at number five.

The inmates at the Cebu prison in the Philippines getting rehabilitated through the magic of Michael Jackson. At number four, the 1984 commercial 2.0 with Hillary Clinton replacing big brother, made by a guy who works for a company that works for the Obama campaign. He says it was all his own idea. The company fired him for it. At number three: map for Americans, related to Miss Teen South Carolina's explanation for why so many citizens can't find states on a map.

MISS TEEN SOUTH CAROLINA: I personally believe that U. S. Americans are unable to do so because so many people out there in our nation don't have maps. And, I believe that our education such as in South Africa and Iraq and everywhere such as and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U. S. should help the U. S., or rather, should help South Africa and should help Iraq and the Asian countries so we will be able to build up our future.

STEWART: How do you beat that? Well, at number two, such as, a cute kid with a drinking problem.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Where's the rent?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You don't to have raise your voice.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: You pay now! I want my money, bitch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Don't call me bitch, I'm a grown man!

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, you're mean!

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm going to smack you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Ok, you know what? You need to relax.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I want my money!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But, why do you need your money so fast? Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I need to get my drink on.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You scare me. You're an alcoholic.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Can I have four beers?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Seriously, you are an alcoholic. Yes, you're drunk. I knew it. You're already drunk.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm just buzzed.

STEWART: The 2-year-old daughter of Will Ferrell's long-time collaborator Adam McKaye showing him up in the great landlord skit. And finally, at number one, this:

UNIDENTIFIED LADY: Leave her alone! You're lucky she even performed for you, bastard! Leave Britney alone!


STEWART: Chris Crocker defending Britney Spears' abysmal performance at the MTV music awards. A two-minute video that earned him instant fame and a reality TV show. But we here at Countdown say, "Pearl, you were robbed."

Of course, back in March, Countdown held its own prestigious web video awards, the 'Keithies" - not just for 2007 but since the internets began. And you, the viewer, got to decide. Which explains how Pinky the cat won the best animal category.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: A very loving cat.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Pinky, whoa! Whoa!

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We've got a wild cat on our hands. Pinky, settle down, girl. Be careful. Yes. I'm not going to grab it.


STEWART: Pinky is so not happening. These dudes won best everyday idiots award for their attempt to get their car out of a snow drift. As for the award for best internet superstar, not involved in porn. That went to this little lady. She should have won for best actress. And winning the final category, stuff from the TV that made the internet famous. None other than possibly the most brilliant Howard Stern prank in history.

BILL O'REILLY, TALK SHOW HOST: "Mr. O'Reilly, I see the new Fox definition of fair and balance means interviewing DNC Chief Terry McAuliffe at both conventions."

Well, right you are, Mr. Mehoffer. Newt Gingrich appeared with us at both conventions so did Mr. McAuliffe. What's the beef, sir?


STEWART: And that will do it for this Wednesday edition of Countdown. I'm Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. Until we meet again, join me weekday mornings at NPR's "Bryant Park Project". Thank you so much for watching. Our coverage continues now with "MSNBC LIVE" with Dan Abrams. Good evening, Dan.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Dec. 18

Guests: Christopher J. Dodd, Derrick Pitts, Eugene Robinson

ALISON STEWART, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? It's supermarket sweep Clinton-style. Hill and Bill causing a ruckus among Iowa grocery goers, bringing a little bit of magic along with them. Instead of divide and conquer, the Clintons divide and confuse. It's Bill working on the produce section while Hillary favors the beverage, two for the price of one indeed.




STEWART: Meanwhile, as Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House, the hopeful first gentleman says, diplomacy will be back in fashion. And who would better to help explain away eight years of George W. Bush's hard work? Then the current president's father and his BFF, Bill Clinton.

Rudy in retreat: The numbers are out, and the more effort Mr. Giuliani puts into wooing New Hampshire, the less people want to vote for him. Ouch. The former mayor and now pinning his hopes on a big state strategy, big states where his numbers are slipping.

The fight over FISA: The bill granting telecom companies immunity for spying on you taken off the table in part, thanks to a Dodd filibuster. Senator Dodd joins us.

And in the galaxy, not too far away, it's the discovery of an actual death star, a gigantic black hole bully destroying planets and anything else in its path. No comments yet from the empire. All that and more, now on Countdown.

STEWART: And good evening, everybody. I'm Alison Stewart. Keith Olbermann has the night off. The good news for the fine citizens of the Hawkeye state tonight, only 16 days to go until the 2008 Iowa caucuses. The even better news for the value shoppers in Des Moines, a three-for-one special at the Hi-V (ph) Supermarket this morning, a Clinton sandwich made with magic. In our fifth story in the Countdown: Not even Magic Johnson was a big enough star to keep former president Clinton from stealing the spotlight from the lady running for his old job. At the very least, Mr. Clinton was creating lots of confusion. The odd trio arriving for their supermarket sweep in Des Moines this morning, no shopping list could be seen, just a photo op waiting to happen. Senator Clinton just doing her thing, signing some autographs, chatting with folks when her husband, he got just a little bit restless, so Mr. Clinton went to check out things in aisle five.

On the one hand, a former first lady running for president, $80 million, the look on her face when she realizes her husband has wandered off, priceless. Our camera catching up with him in produce, sharpie at the ready. And if you've got a shoulder, he's ready to sign it. And if you happen to have a microphone and just happen to be standing by the meat counter, oh, he'll talk. But if you want to hear what president Clinton is saying, I'm afraid you're going to have to tune into "Entertainment Tonight." Such is the state of most, not all, political coverage these days. We were lucky enough to catch Mr. Clinton's thoughts on holiday headgear.


BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I like your Santa Claus hat.


STEWART: He likes the Santa Claus hat. We'll be getting that tape over to the Peabody committee any day now. Mr. Clinton wrapping things up at the meat counter just in time to put focus from his wife uncharacteristically on the press availability with Magic Johnson. Shh. That's Clinton in the background. He's back there. As for what was said, Magic Johnson found a way to praise Senator Clinton without denouncing her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.


MAGIC JOHNSON, NBA SUPERSTAR: I love the Clintons, and I just know that Senator Clinton is the best candidate to move our country forward.


STEWART: Can you feel the love? Can you feel the magic? Can you feel the so five minutes ago Terry McMillan reference?


H. CLINTON: I think I got my groove back.


STEWART: Our correspondent, David Shuster, is on the campaign trail in Iowa and joins us now from Des Moines. Hi, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC - DES MOINES: Alison, great to be with you, as always.

STEWART: Was today a reminder that when you've got President Clinton around, anything goes?

SHUSTER: Yes, absolutely, Alison. It was so bad for the Clinton campaign today that even though they've had experience with Bill Clinton essentially freelancing and going off the script and doing his own thing, but one of the press aides got so infuriated when they saw that there was Bill Clinton first talking to people at the store then talking to microphones and reporters, that this press aide used an expletive as he tried to muscle his way to find out what Bill Clinton was doing then the press aide said thank you, thank you all very much and tried to coax the former president over back to his wife, and then they had, of course, the impromptu press conference there on the spot which they were not supposed to have until another event. So, certainly the Clinton campaign is used to it but frustrated as always perhaps even more frustrated given the way things went today.

STEWART: To senator Clinton's own question whether or not she has gotten said groove back. A new Gallup poll out tonight shows Clinton still leading nationally among voters, but in head-to-head match ups with individual Republicans, Senator Obama fairs better than she does and is viewed as more electable. What kind of problem might this pose for the Clinton camp in the very near future?

SHUSTER: Alison, it's a huge problem because what Barack Obama has been able to do and what he will continue to do is say look, I am more electable in the general election, more voters across the spectrum see me as more electable than my rivals including Senator Clinton. But for Senator Clinton, of course, the big number there really matters as what's happening here in Iowa and what's happening in New Hampshire. But even to that point, there's Hillary Clinton trying to say, look, I'm the one with the experience who will be ready on day one. And yet these polls back up her rivals' point that it doesn't really matter, that voters want a change. And so, there you have Senator Clinton sort of butting up against that poll number, and that does hurt her campaign.

STEWART: All right. Aside from bringing Magic Johnson out on the campaign trail with her, what else is Senator Clinton doing to build momentum and take on Obama?

SHUSTER: Well, Alison, the Clinton campaign released a new ad today that features Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Hillary Clinton and Senator Graham had worked together on some veterans' care issues. So, what the Clinton campaign has done is they cut the spot and they are running it in New Hampshire. That's significant because New Hampshire has more military veterans per capita than almost every state in the Union. So, what Senator Clinton can do is she can now sort of use this message to try and go after an Obama theme, and that is Senator Obama has been suggesting, look, I'm the one that can unite this country, I can move beyond the politics of the past and there's Senator Clinton with the spot that sort of steals that argument away from him and says, look at me, here I was working as a Republican on an issue that certainly veterans care about. I'm the one who can reach across the aisle and solve the problems. And that's at least one of the themes now that she has going in New Hampshire.

STEWART: MSNBC's David Shuster in Des Moines, Iowa, tonight, thanks, David.

SHUSTER: Alison, a pleasure, as always.

STEWART: Team Clinton always found itself dealing with the fallout from something Mr. Clinton was saying on the campaign trail yesterday. In South Carolina, the 42nd President of the United States claiming that under President Hillary Clinton, who would be number 44, the first husband would spend the bulk of his time globe-trotting with the 41st President, George H. W. Bush, trying to undo all the damage to America's image brought by his son, Bush 43. Got that? According to President Clinton: "The first thing she, Senator Clinton, intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again." End quote. But a problem, nobody seemed to have consulted Bush 41 who, when asked to comment, did not seem too thrilled to the insinuation that his son was doing a poor job. Quote, "Former President Bush wholeheartedly supports the president of the United States including his foreign policy. He 's never discussed an around the world mission with either former President Clinton or Senator Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted," end quote. So, there.

Let's turn now to our Craig Crawford, also a columnist for Hi, Craig.


STEWART: President Clinton and Bush 41, you know, they have this quote, "Working relationship," a friendship, even. Is it close enough for Bill to be signing them up for around-the-world dinner dates?

CRAWFORD: Apparently not. As Bush senior made it clear, they had had no discussions with him about that. I don't know that he would accept that invitation on those terms. He might travel around the world with Bill Clinton for some other purpose, at least not for a mission statement like the way Clinton described it.

STEWART: It's hard. You think Mr. Clinton, you know, his need to campaign for his wife and in the process trash talk 41's son, that must put a strain on their ability to continue with their charitable work.

CRAWFORD: Who knows? I've encountered a lot of Democratic grumblings Alison, about the cozy relation between President Clinton and former President Bush and also a lot of this talk about the Bush and Clinton dynasties, there's a hint of that, much of the Obama campaigning against the Clintons. So maybe Bill wanted some distance here, but more than likely he was just popping off. This man likes to turn up the heat and stir the pot, and sometimes he slops a little on the burner and somebody gets hurt.

STEWART: On that subject, tell me how hard a day you think the person hired to be Mr. Clinton's press handler had out on the campaign trail today? I mean and in the bigger picture, is that job even possible?

CRAWFORD: Yes, the rest homes are littered with people who were former Clinton press handlers, I think; handling Clinton is something that's just not done. Bill Clinton is a very spontaneous guy. When you showed that picture, that scene of Hillary Clinton's face when they couldn't find him, didn't know what he was up to, it reminded me of a story from the '92 campaign about the differences between them.

They'd gotten a contribution from Jackie Kennedy, and Bill Clinton was very excited about that and very passionate and said we can't possibly cash this check. I want to frame it. And Hillary Clinton said make a copy and cash the check. That's the difference between them.

STEWART: I'm watching this footage of his Secret Service guys having to jump over that barricade. I can remember covering Clinton right after he was elected president, and some lady handed over a bag of cookies to him, and he took it. And these guys just had to swarm. But that's just who Bill Clinton is. He saw this nice lady wanting to give him a present. He had to go up and give her the hugabubba.

CRAWFORD: He's very spontaneous and that is something she is not. Maybe, she tried to pick up a little bit of that today.

STEWART: On the plus side at the supermarket in Des Moines this morning, even with Magic Johnson's attendance, Mr. Clinton proved to be I should say a major draw. So all in all, was today a plus for the Clinton campaign heading into the final stretch, or was it a negative?

CRAWFORD: You know, having watched so many Clinton campaigns, Alison. I have to laugh sometimes at how their opponents get so excited about all this trash talking of them in the media and everywhere else. What they do, I believe, is make sure everyone's talking about them. Their opponents talk about them, the media talks about them. They have a way of just constantly being the center of attention even if it's negative stories. At least everyone's spelling their name right, and I think that's their attitude and many times I think that's how they win campaigns.

STEWART: If we can back it up and talk about in terms of how they run their campaigns, how much of a role do you believe Mr. Clinton has in the strategy and the minutia of his wife's campaign?

CRAWFORD: Lately, he's - in the last several days, he's almost been serving the role of the running mate, carrying some of the attack charges, moving the message out to the outer limits which sometimes a running mate does. But behind the scenes, I think more recently, he's been more involved. The above the fray incumbency campaign supposedly began to bother him because he saw some of the attacks on Senator Clinton working. So, I think he has lately become more involved in this strategy of getting tougher on the road, especially about Barack Obama.

STEWART: Why is he the best attack surrogate?

CRAWFORD: I think he has the high approval ratings. He' the most popular person, Democrat, in Iowa, for example, according to polls that probably play out in a lot of other states. So, he's got more chips to play, to spend. And I think he's willing to go out there and do that for anyone who might have thought he wasn't willing to put his heart and soul into this campaign for his wife, I think the last few days, weeks have shown that's not the case.

STEWART: And frankly, he likes to campaign.

CRAWFORD: Absolutely loves it, I think. And if she becomes president and he is the international ambassador they've talked about and that he suggested earlier about his plans for Bush Senior, I sort of wonder about the Secretary of State in that administration. That will have to be a very patient person who's not very turf conscious.

STEWART: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and Thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD: Great to talk to you.

STEWART: Rudy Giuliani's got a new campaign headache. The more he stumps in New Hampshire, the more his poll numbers go down. So, how do you turn that little problem into some sort of strategy win?

And Senator Dodd gets a win of sorts on the Senate floor. He stands up to his own party leaders to keep the FISA legislation from granting immunity to telecoms for now. Senator Dodd is our special guest. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: So, here is a sign your campaign for president might be in a little bit of trouble. The more voters hear your message, the more your poll numbers fall. Is apparently is the reality for Rudy Giuliani in New Hampshire? So, he's working on a whole new election strategy.

And formal update on how Karl Rove's book auction is going.

And "Star Wars" coming to life. Galaxy on galaxy violence in a big way. That's next. And this is Countdown.


STEWART: There are critics and then there are New York critics. And they tried to warn the other 49 states, but to know Rudy Giuliani was not necessarily to love him. Our fourth story on Countdown to 2008: He can run to New Hampshire but he can't hide. The harder Mr. Giuliani campaigns in the granite state, the worse things get for him. The former New York City mayor is still the top choice of Republican in many national polls, but the latest tracking polls show him losing ground to former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

After pouring millions of dollars and thousands of miles into Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani has now fallen to third place in those early contests. Even back home in New York, his lead over Huckabee has been cut in half in the last couple of months. So, a change of strategy. Last week his honor slipped the icy bonds of Iowa and New Hampshire and headed south to Florida, a state filled with former New Yorkers, holding its primary at the end of January, one week before Super Tuesday. An unnamed aide explaining to that Florida might juice up his chances of winning the really big states. Still, the slump has campaign watchers wondering, what happened? A good time to welcome "Washington Post" columnist, Eugene Robinson. Hi, Eugene.


STEWART: Now for months, Mr. Giuliani seemed to have this in a lock. So, what do you think started to turn the key the other way?

ROBINSON: Well, how about another five minutes ago cultural reference, he lost his mojo. (INAUDIBLE). You know, Rudy Giuliani was leading, therefore, he was leading. The fact that he was so far ahead in the national polls, because he was known, people knew the name, people knew basic kind of knew about what he had done in New York and remembered him from 9/11. And because he was ahead, just that fact seemed to give energy and direction and momentum to the campaign. And then along came Mike Huckabee. And - who has taken a lot of the wind out of Rudy Giuliani's sails. And as he rises in the national polls, any sort of air of inevitability or even probability that Giuliani once might have had you know, seems to kind of flutter away. So, it looks now he's going to really do very poorly in Iowa, New Hampshire, potentially South Carolina. So, yes, time to go to Florida.

STEWART: So, Giuliani had the strategy that I'll just say 9/11 a lot, and that was working for a while. Why has that run its course apparently?

ROBINSON: You know, two things. One, repetition kind of, I think, numbed the effect of saying 9/11 over and over and over again. Second, this became a different kind of election. You know, a few months ago it looked as if a really, really major issue in this election was going to be, you know, national security, war on terrorism, Iraq. Well, of course, that's still a huge issue, but this has become more of a change election and more of a focus on domestic issues. These are his weak points, and so 9/11 just doesn't have the impact that it was having a little while ago.

STEWART: All right. You just said the election was going to focus on some domestic issues which many aren't the strong suit and then the terrorism thing isn't working anymore, so what should he concentrate on?

ROBINSON: I think he might want to go back to saying 9/11 and saying it a little louder. I mean, you know, he'll talk about; you know, again, his accomplishments in New York and what he got done there and fiscal responsibility. The problem is that, of course, he's not running for mayor of the United States. He's running for president. And the fairly reasonable positions he has on a lot of domestic issues - immigration, abortion, gun control. Of course, he can't talk about those at all in the Republican primaries because they're run counter to the views of many Republican primary voters. So I think it's 9/11 through a megaphone maybe.

STEWART: All right. Let's get back to Florida. The former mayor has said repeatedly that he's doing well in Florida. Two weeks ago, he told Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS that he was 18 points ahead. Is it a wise strategy just to pass by this first week of January, head to Florida and use it as a springboard to Super Tuesday?

ROBINSON: Well, it's not a wise strategy if you believe some of the more recent tracking polls in Florida which show Huckabee and even Romney gaining ground on him rapidly in Florida. I mean, it's kind of, you know, double or nothing strategy to skip the early primary. Not skip them, but to kind of bet it all on Florida and that catapulting you to the big states. You know, if you don't do well in Florida, if you don't win Florida big in that scenario, where are you going to be in California? Where are you going to be in New York? He's really in trouble if he doesn't do well in Florida.

STEWART: We talked about Mike Huckabee a little bit. You know, Eugene, Mike Huckabee wants to wish you a merry Christmas and me, a merry Christmas and a lot of Christians a merry Christmas in this new ad. Let's look at it.


MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If your not worn out of all the television commercials you've been seeing? Mostly about politics. I don't blame you. At this time of year sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends. I hope that you and your family will have a magnificent Christmas season. And on behalf of all of us, God bless and merry Christmas. I'm Mike Huckabee. And I approve this message.


STEWART: Am I a bad person to think that's more than just him wishing me merry Christmas?

ROBINSON: Poor person and you're also right. I had the same reaction. Look, the White House is not a parsonage. And the United States of America is not a giant evangelical mega church. And you know, a president or someone running for president of the United States, I think, should have an expansive enough view of the country to try to include non-Christians and non-evangelical Christians in his holiday message. I think that was very pointed, you know, directed at evangelical Christian voters who support he was in Iowa and South Carolina and the rest of the country.

STEWART: Eugene Robinson of the "Washington Post," great thanks for joining us.

ROBINSON: Great to be here, Alison.

STEWART: A death star galaxy destroying everything around it. Did Dick Cheney trade in Wyoming for outer space? No.

And a deer rescued off by this got away scot-free. What did his rescuer name him? Here's a hint. Think obstruction of justice. That's ahead.

But first: The latest in the Bush administration's other creative uses of executive power, at number three: NIE- gate. Contrary to White House claims that the president did not know that the intelligence level changed until August and didn't know any details of the intelligent estimate until just before it was publicly released earlier this month. The Interpress Service News Agency is now reporting that Bush knew about the intelligence as early as March and even February. For the record, NBC News has not confirmed that. And number two: Waterboarding-gate. A federal judge against the wishes of the Justice Department ordering a hearing into whether the Bush administration violated a court order by destroying the CIA interrogation tapes. DOJ go to court on Friday. And number one: We'll just call this any-old-gate. Karl Rove's new memoir which is people are hawking for a near $3 million is still languishing at auction. It's been sitting there with no takers for a whole month.


STEWART: He's been pardoned by Mike Huckabee, he's joked, he's snorted his dead father's ashes, and he stopped taking drugs because they don't make them strong anymore. Or make them strong enough anymore. And he's warning Kent England 64 years ago today, happy birthday, Keith Richards. Let's play Oddball.

We begin in San Lake, Wisconsin, with a warning that much like the antics of Keith Richards, don't try this at home. When David Cooks spotted a young deer stuck in a frozen lake, he didn't hesitate risking his own life, while (INAUDIBLE) the whole endeavor, he stepped out onto the ice and tried to cajole the frost-covered, the terrified little creature back onto solid ground. After a couple of 'Bambi-esque' moments, the fallen eventually charged off into the woods escaping so unscathed from his ordeal that the cooks decided to name him Scooter, as in "I, Lewis Libby."

To Salina, Texas, and another miracle of the Son of God who has apparently come back to earth, falling as a meteorite into Terrence Cotton's backyard last year. Mr. Cotton says he had heard a voice telling him to look for a face in the stone and when he did, presto, Jesus Christ! No, there he was, Jesus Christ! He now wants to share his rock with the rest of the world and, to that end has drawn a handy diagram showing exactly where Christ's eyes, nose, mouth, et cetera are on the rock. Mr. Cotton taking Psalm 19:14 that "the Lord is my rock and redeemer" quite literally.

He's not alone, though. Look at what Ray Alber(ph) found in Tucson, Arizona. She said this is the profile of Jesus Christ. And wait, her rock, doubly special.

RAY ALBER, FINDER OF "JESUS-GEORGE WASHINGTON ROCK": You turn it one - 180 degrees: voila, there's George Washington!

STEWART: Jesus Christ and George Washington - on the same stone. What are the odds? I don't know, but we'll leave that to bookies and theologians.

About as odd as a Democrat filibuster in legislation brought forward by the Democratic leader. Senator Chris Dodd joins us live from the campaign trail in Iowa on why he took a stand to stop the new warrantless wire-tapping legislation from going through to help us make sense of what's going on in Washington.

And Commissioner Gordon weighs in on the latest Spears snafu and it's the current attitude of the court, if the actions of Ms. Spears is any indication, she won't be getting custody of her kids back anytime soon. Those stories ahead but, first, time for Countdown's top three "Best Persons in the World". Number three, best show of determination: Santa Claus. An actor dressed as the jolly one went to ride in a helicopter and deliver gifts to the kiddies in a slum outside Rio de Janeiro. Local drug lords, mistaking Santa's souped-up sled for a police chopper fired their guns to the sky, whipping two holes into the fuselage. Thankfully, no one was injured and, after an emergency landing, Santa hopped in the car, delivered the gifts, and added a bullet-proof vest to his own wish list. Now, that's a war on Christmas.

Number two, best completion of an important round: the U. S. postal service delivering a Christmas card to an Overland, Kansas, address this week. Nothing really strange about that except the postmark is dated December 23rd, 1914. Neither snow nor rain nor 93 years, you know the rest.

And number one, best body modification: Lane Jensen, the Canadian body art devotee, not satisfied with a tattoo of a buxom beauty on his calf, elected for a surgical procedure to fix it. Have it removed, you say? Not really. He bought himself breast implants in his calf. The guy had miniature silicone sacks implanted into his calf, accentuating the curves and figure of his skin-inked friend. He just had to shave his thighs off - he couldn't wait to show off his girlish figure by wearing shorts.

It is currently eight degrees in Alberta.


STEWART: On January 20, 2009, the next president of the United States will pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States. Four Democratic senators hope to take that oath. But in our third story tonight on December 17, 2007, all of the senators had the opportunity to walk that talk, but only one took the stroll. Because, while rivals were extolling their leadership in Iowa, Senator Chris Dodd spent much of the day attending to the job he was elected to do: be a strong senator. He vowed to filibuster a controversial revision of the FISA law that would strip American citizens of the right to sue U. S. phone companies for letting government officials eavesdrop on them. Dodd's filibuster and several like-minded amendments threatened to push the Senate's budget work into the Christmas break or 2008.

Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who wanted to get this all wrapped up had to blink and ultimately pulled the bill from consideration, acknowledging the time crunch and saying that before the vote, President Bush had let the full Senate see the administration's classified document justifying its warrantless wiretaps. All of this setting up a dramatic showdown next month - a showdown against the clock because on February 1st, the stopgap FISA Law expires leaving in place the original law which requires warrants for all federal wiretaps. We are now joined by Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd who has returned to the campaign trail in Iowa, joining us from Des Moines. Senator, thanks for your time tonight.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Allison. It's cold out here, but happy to be on your program.

STEWART: You said that few things made you come to the Senate floor so angrily as the immunity issue. Anger doesn't usually come from logic, it's defined as an emotion. So, why did this issue raise that particular emotion in you?

DODD: Well, for the last six years, this administration has been assaulting the constitution. I mean, you go back whether it was secret prisons, rendition, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, water-boarding, walking away from the Geneva conventions, the list just goes on. The destruction of these tapes at the CIA. I mean, how many more items, how many more pieces of evidence do you know that this administration just has a disregard for? In my view and I decided enough is enough. I took the chance, I decided that if I cared about these things - I regretted a year ago that I didn't filibuster the adoption of the Military Commissions Act which was a major blow to the constitution. And, I promised if they ever tried again on a piece of legislation to do it, that I'd filibuster if I had to.

In fact, yesterday, I started that effort. I'm glad the bill was pulled down. If it comes back up in January, I'll be right back there again as long as it includes this retroactive immunity to the telephone industry, many of which succumbed to the administration's request and listened into millions of Americans' faxes, e-mails, phone messages here without any order or any warrant whatsoever for five years - not just for a day or a week or a month. And to me, that's reprehensible to give them immunity here for doing something that I think could be illegal.

And the courts ought to be able to determine that granting immunity would be, in effect, saying it never happened. And, mind you, the president said he'd veto any legislation if that immunity were not in the bill. Imagine this, passing a bill that would allow us to get better information about those who would do us harm and protect our rights. He'd squander all of that to protect a few phone companies. I'm not going to stand for it. I'll go back and filibuster, if I have to.

STEWART: You said, you took a chance. Why was this a chance for you?

DODD: Well, in a sense, one person going back, I was pleased with people like Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, Barbara Boxer, among others, Ron Wyden, Bill Nelson of Florida joined me yesterday in expressing their outrage - Russ Feingold - to oppose provisions of the bill. Pat Leahy has been terrific on these issues. And so, I didn't know if I'd be alone or not in taking this on and, obviously, people want to leave, they've got the holidays coming. But, we just can't let this continue to happen. There's nothing more important.

I've been asked what's the first thing I'd do as president in the year 2009, on January 20th? And I'm going to give you back your constitution because this administration has gone out of its way to do just the opposite and the constitution does not belong to a political party or candidate. And they've been trampling all over it.

So, I invite people to go to our website,, and see all of the information about why we took this on, what steps we're going to take and follow up and if people are interested, we have some wonderful supporters using e-mails to inform their members of Congress on how important this issue is and I'm grateful to those people as well.

STEWART: Now, on the subject of support, your colleague/rival Senators Clinton, Obama, and Biden - all said they support you but, realistically, to carry out a filibuster, a person needs physical support to keep it going, buying time for taking breaks. Did you ask those senators to come with you?

DODD: Well, they knew what's going on. They've got schedules, I suppose, to keep. I would have liked to have their company, but I can't think of another issue as important as this one. We voted on other matters when they've been there for it. And, as I said, they've come back for the farm bill and other issues but, it seems to me when someone wants to grant retroactive immunity to a bunch of phone companies who for five years were listening in on all your conversations in America - that's worth standing up and fighting on.

I'm sorry they weren't there. They'll have to explain for themselves why they weren't. I appreciate their willingness to, at least, be verbally supportive of what I was doing. But, in a moment like that, I think, there are things more important than campaigning and, frankly, if you care about these issues and you want to lead in 2009, a little leadership in 2007 wouldn't be a bad idea.

STEWART: Let me do a quick time lapse for our viewers here: Majority Leader Reid opposed immunity but it brought the immunity version to the floor, bypassing your hold on that version. The debate ensued and then it was pulled. Now, knowing what was coming, why would Senator Reid put the bill with immunity on the floor rather than the bill without it?

DODD: Well, as majority leader, there's what you call, Alison, regular order. And under those procedures - and I don't want to bore to you to tears on all this - but the regular order would require that you bring up the intelligence committee bill first and then the judiciary committee substitute second. So, Majority Leader Reid was following the regular order of the Senate and that's why he brought it up in that order.

STEWART: He said that he has postponed the debate "in the best interest of the Senate." Those are his words. Why is it "in the best interest of the Senate" to take care of this later rather than let the process play out now?

DODD: Well, again, the majority leader has his hands full. They often say being majority leader is like trying to keep frogs in a wheelbarrow. He's got a lot of issues to grapple with everyday: they have the omnibus bill in front of them. Obviously, the holiday season upon us here. People want to move on. So I'll take this as a victory last night, pulling the bill down. It's going to come back up. We've got to have a FISA bill. I'm not opposed to a FISA bill, one that works. We've had one since 1978. But I'll strenuously object to any FISA bill that grants retroactive immunity and doesn't do some other changes to fix it. So, when we get back in January, we'll be on it again.

STEWART: Now, obviously, the president wants the immunity revisions. In the past months, congressional Democrats have come in for some criticism for not using every available method to stand up to the president. The merits of immunity aside - we've talked about that a lot - why have Democrats had to wait until this week for one Democrat to go all out?

DODD: Well, again, the timing of the schedule here and I haven't been back for all the time to understand the schedule. I know, the committee, I think, finished work on this back in November. There have been other matters to bring up. I'm not going to try and second-guess the agenda here - whether or not they waited for this until the end, assuming it might have to go through the way it did - I just can't explain that for you, Alison. All I know is I promised myself a year ago, the Military Commissions Act, anything like that happened again, and I was going to go back and fight it. I'm just not going to put up with this any longer and, I hope, others will continue to join me in that effort.

STEWART: Senator, after accomplishing what you did this week, might you better serve the United States by being a kick-ass senator than being back in Iowa and pursuing a nomination that you might not get?

DODD: How about a president that upheld the constitution? That wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

STEWART: Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, thank you. Happy holidays. And nice bus.

DODD: Hey, thank you. Great bus. Come on out. If you want to take a little trip, Alison, around Iowa, it's warm and cozy on that bus. Bring out the team. We'll give you a good ride.

STEWART: Certainly, sir, you're going to be sorry you said that. Chris Dodd, thanks.

OK, now, this is a seg from hell: the continuing saga of Britney Spears versus Kevin Federline. Apparently, can make all the difference in the custody battle.

And, George Lucas' creation was, quote, "an honored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." But now, scientists have discovered a real-life death star in our space. That's ahead. This is Countdown.


STEWART: When good stars go bad, figuratively and literally: the case of the former Amy Winehouse under arrest and the latter, a collapsing star. The literal black hole that is pummeling an entire galaxy in outer space. That's all ahead. You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


STEWART: In our number two story on the Countdown, "Keeping Tabs", a meta-moment when a celebrity-watching website founded by a lawyer winds up as part of a lawsuit involving one of its bread-and-butter subjects, Ms. Britney Spears. Today, the judge in her custody case was wrangling with the rescheduling of her deposition, the one she missed because she was sick. So Kevin Federline's attorney subpoenaed video from, showing Ms. Spears going to a gas station the same day that she had called in sick. But Commissioner Scott Gordon 'cried uncle', instead of waiting for the video to arrive and having to sit through it, he said he would not need to see it. According to TMZ sources, Commissioner Gordon said he will accept TMZ's reporting as true for the sake of today's argument. Holy bizarre judgment call, Batman. The judge then rescheduled Spears' deposition for the first week of January, so happy new year, everybody.

A fine, howdy-do to singer Amy Winehouse. She was arrested in London as part of an investigation into perverting the court of justice. Really? That's what they got her for? The case stems from her husband Blake Fielder allegedly beating up a bartender who was then allegedly offered money not to testify. Though police have not provided details, both Winehouse and her husband were arrested in connection with the perversion of justice charge which is roughly equivalent to obstruction of justice here in the States. Winehouse surrendered voluntarily and was released on bail.

And Brad Pitt might want to watch out for his sometimes inelegant choice of words. On "The Charlie Rose" show last night, speaking about his four kids with Angelina Jolie, three of them adopted, Mr. Rose asked Pitt about plans for future young 'uns.


CHARLIE ROSE, TELEVISION TALK SHOW HOST: She thinks maybe 12 would be about right?

BRAD PITT, ACTOR: I think, we'll crap out somewhere between seven and nine.

ROSE: Are you serious?

PITT: Yes.

ROSE: Between seven and nine?

PITT: Yes, somewhere in there, I think, we'll crap out.


STEWART: So, is that how they do it in Hollywood? It would explain a lot about those brats I read about.

Anyway, in a galaxy far, far away, the death star lives. Seriously. There was a real life galaxy, literally acting like the dark lord of Lucas' pet project. Details ahead on Countdown.


STEWART: Given enough time, outer space may wind up mirroring some of our wildest imaginings about the celestial world. In our number one story on the Countdown, NASA scientists revealed the existence of a new galaxy, the Death Star Galaxy. It is an awesome and frightening and it bears no relation to Darth Vader, except for that wicked cool name. It's the system known as 3C321, eight billion trillion miles from here.

This is a composite photograph taken from various telescopes capturing both visible and invisible wavelengths. But what is it? Two galaxies, each with a black hole at their center. The larger galaxy, dubbed "The Death Star", emitting a deadly radiation of energy that blasts a section of that neighboring galaxy. Quote, "it's like a bully, a black hole bully punching the nose of the passing galaxy," end quote, said noted astrophysicist Neil Degrass(ph) Tyson.

The stream of emissions, represented in the blue, has already traveled one million light years, though that is considered young and in its cosmically vicious wake, tens of millions of stars in the smaller galaxy. Thus, the analogy as scientific leader of the NASA study Dan Evans says, quote, "We've seen many jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we've seen one punched into another. This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the smaller galaxy it is pummeling." But not to worry, Lea, Luke and Han Solo, they don't live in that part of the hood.

Let's bring in Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Derrick Pitts. Hi, Derrick.


STEWART: Do astronomers know exactly what's in this deadly stream of emissions?

PITTS: Astronomers have a pretty good idea, they know that it's filled with gamma rays and also x-rays.

STEWART: You made that up - gamma rays and x-rays.

PITTS: That's off the top of my head. The other thing I would say is that they have - the being really is packed with high-energy photons, and that includes the gamma rays and the x-rays. We're not talking about your regular run-of-the-mill x-grays like you get in the doctor's office, but very, very highly energetic. So, these really are deadly, as far as life forms are concerned.

STEWART: You say "highly energetic" - where do they get their spunk from?

PITTS: They get it from the black hole that's found at the center of that galaxy. A lot of galaxies we're determining these days have what is called 'super massive black holes' at their cores. And one of the things super massive black holes do is they squirt out incredibly high energy jets of material that could have an effect on something else nearby, as we're seeing here.

STEWART: Let's talk about those effects, just to give it a little context. If any of those planets affected by the Death Star Galaxy had environments such as the earth's, what would happen?

PITTS: Can you say 'fried planet'?

STEWART: That's it - a fried planet?

PITTS: Yes, it's a really bad situation because, in this case, what happens is, I mean, it's not like we're thinking about burning the planet up but it's that the atmospheres would be stripped away by these very highly energetic particles. And, as well, that bath of very deadly radiation would sterilize a world without any problem at all. So, any life forms would be certainly wiped out.

STEWART: Oh, that doesn't sound good.

PITTS: Not good. No.

STEWART: And, even though this deadly jet stream is about a million years old, it could still be in its early stages, can you explain that for us?

PITTS: Sure. You have to remember that, when we're talking about objects in space, the scale of things is very different. And, in this case, saying something is a million years old is not really very much time. So we can look at the length of this and some astronomers estimate that this could exist for another 100 million years. That still is a fairly short time in galactic time terms. But that's a pretty long time for something like this to be having this action.

STEWART: Now, NASA scientists say this might eventually produce new stars.

PITTS: Yes, that's true.

STEWART: How would that be?

PITTS: It works like this. If you can imagine this jet coming out of the core, the super massive black hole, with all these particles and the stream coming into this next-door galaxy, what happens is shock waves are set up by this stream coming in that causes the collapse of other collections of gas and dust in that second galaxy that could collapse into stars. So in a way, not only could it be deadly for life forms, but it can also create new stars and, in turn, be able to create new life somewhere way down the road.

STEWART: So, bottom line, Derrick, what is the chief significance, do you think, of this discovery?

PITTS: Oh, I think the chief significance is that we're seeing something we've never seen before and, now, we've learned that there are so many different ways that these interactions can happen in space. Things we'd never be able to imagine happening on earth certainly can take place in space and still fit within the laws of physics as we know and understand them.

STEWART: Besides that, it's just kind of cool.

PITTS: It looks great, doesn't it?

STEWART: Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, thanks for being with us tonight.

PITTS: Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: That will do it for this Tuesday edition of Countdown. I'm Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann. You can catch me bright and early on NPR's "Bryant Park Project" every weekday morning at 7:00 a. m. Check for the details. Thank you so much for watching Countdown.

Our coverage continues now with "MSNBC LIVE" with Mr. Dan Abrams.