Wednesday, January 31, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 31

Guests: Dana Milbank, Flynt Leverett; Michael Musto

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

John McCain criticizes the Bush administration about Iraq. That would make it unanimous. He says he's not getting the information he needs. Mr. Bush versus Congress, day number - We've lost count.

Senator Biden may have lost count of how many mistakes he made on the day he starts his presidential campaign. He calls Senator Obama the first "mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He blasts John Edwards about Iraq, calls Senator Clinton's plan about Iraq a disaster, and right now, this man knows his disasters.

Which disasters will the administration face at the Libby trial? It was journalists' day. The latest from the courthouse.

And Boston, over these streets, over these houses, hung a pall of fear. Ten suspicious packages found. Counterterrorism forces mobilized, parts of the harbor and the Charles River closed. News networks go live. The packages? Parts of the ad campaign for the new movie "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." They've been there two weeks.

And Harry Potter, you forgot your invisibility cloak, boy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wouldn't turn off seeing Harry Potter, but I wouldn't necessarily go and watch him be naked on stage.


OLBERMANN: Of course, that's exactly what he will be next month in London.

And speaking of on stage and naked, Mr. Bush and Iran. And doesn't the president's rhetoric all sound eerily familiar?


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our struggle is not with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, we want them to flourish.



BUSH: The Iraqi people cannot flourish under a dictator that oppresses them.


OLBERMANN: Good grief, he's in reruns.

At least, it hasn't gotten like this.


BUSH: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of...




BUSH:... will continue to live in brutal submission.


OLBERMANN: Hasn't gotten like this yet.

All that and more, now on Countdown.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Jiminy Christmas.


OLBERMANN: Good evening.

Not since the British prime minister decided against committing his own troops to the escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq has President Bush lost as significant an ally in that conflict. Not since the senator from Virginia called a member of his opponent's staff "macaca" has a comment about race so dominated the day of politics.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, the Bush administration managing to alienate its most passionate supporter of the president's plan for Iraq, Senator McCain, by failing to give him information he had requested.

On a parallel track, what Senator Joe Biden had to say about Iraq today on this, his first day as an official candidate for the White House all but drowned out by the unfortunate description he gave of his African-American opponent, Senator Barack Obama.

We begin with the president, Mr. Bush making an obvious attempt to change the subject to the economy by making a pilgrimage to capitalism's Mecca, Wall Street, where he criticized giant salaries and bonuses for CEOs, and was treated to spontaneous applause on the floor of the stock exchange, what might very well be the most friendly prescreened audience he has ever faced, Mr. Bush not bitter but arguably condescending when it came to explaining why, beyond Wall Street, a victory lap of the nation's economic performance was proving to be a hard sell.


BUSH: It's unsettling at times when you're at war. War's hard, war's difficult, it's negative. And so I'm not surprised that some of the good economic news is overshadowed by the difficult news out of Iraq.


OLBERMANN: Or, it could be that the economy for investors and executives is not the same economy for employees.

Back in Washington by late afternoon, more trouble waiting for the president. Senators John Warner and Carl Levin, the former and current chairmen of the Armed Services Committee, joining forces, reaching agreement on just one nonbinding resolution between them to criticize the Iraq plan.

That new resolution would vow to protect funding for the troops, Chairman Levin also reaching agreement with Senator McCain in asking the Bush administration for further information on the benchmarks the president has said he will hold the Iraqis to as part of his new plan, McCain and Levin, having quarreled last week over what the Iraqis have agreed to do, remaining united in their desire for concrete answers from the administration about what exactly those benchmarks would be, Secretary of State Rice finally responding late yesterday with a one-page document both men found to be woefully inadequate, lacking details and timelines, the senator saying in response, jointly in a statement, quote, "What Secretary Rice's letter makes abundantly clear is that the administration does not intend to attach meaningful consequences for the Iraqis' continuing to fail to meet their commitments. What has been said before is still true, America supplying more troops while Iraqi leaders simply supply more promises is not a recipe for success in Iraq."

Instead of withholding information, Senator Biden perhaps offering far too much, giving in to his self-admitted tendency to bloviate. Having launched his bid for the White House by declaring his candidacy on the Web this morning, comments made the old-fashioned way, through some guy from a newspaper, stealing all his thunder, Mr. Biden describing Barack Obama to a reporter for "The New York Observer" thusly.


BIDEN: I mean, you got the first sort of mainstream African-American.


BIDEN: Who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.

I mean, this - that's a storybook, man.


OLBERMANN: Late today, Senator Obama releasing a statement seizing on Mr. Biden's use of the word "articulate." Quote, "I don't take" - or "didn't take Senator Biden's comments personally, but obviously they were historically inaccurate. African-American presidential candidates like Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Al Sharpton gave a voice to many important issues through their campaigns, and no one would call them inarticulate."

By late afternoon Mr. Biden issued an apology. "I deeply regret any offense my remark in 'The New York Observer' might have caused anyone. That was not my intent, and I expressed that to Senator Obama."

Add it all up, and Senator Biden's hearings today, at which former secretary of state Kissinger testified, causing barely a ripple, (INAUDIBLE) Dr. Kissinger in subtle disagreement with the Bush administration, telling the committee that the U.S. should always be ready to negotiate, even with Iran and Syria, Senator Biden's comments about yet another Democrat rival's plans for Iraq, quoting, "I don't think John Edwards knows what the heck he is talking about," and more about Senator Clinton and her plan for U.S. forces in Iraq, all that lost, almost, in the clamor.


BIDEN: She and I have been almost in lockstep on those of these foreign policy issues. But I think it would be a disaster if that is her plan, for one, cap the American forces. I think we should lower American forces. And two, cut off funding for the local Iraqi forces.


OLBERMANN: Let's call in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Dana, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: You have a triage report from the circular firing squad? I mean, can Senator Biden get out of this, or does he declare today, and drop out tomorrow?

MILBANK: Well, let's hope he doesn't. We could have a year and a half of these, and we treasure every one of them, going back when he used so many words in his last run for president, he ran out of them, and he had to starting quoting Neil Kinnock (ph), the British labor leader, using his speeches.

Senator Biden has - this year said famously that he can win the presidency if he can be the best Biden I can be. And that that does not include running off his mouth at every opportunity, and his aides have told him to stop this. He's gotten repeated spankings in the press for this. He's trying to stop in public. He says, I'm going to hold myself to just a few minutes a day. And, it, you know, it's just sort of like an at addict falling off the wagon. And he's done it again, and with any luck for our business, he'll stay in the race and keep doing it.

OLBERMANN: Well, you can turn to the conservative media establishment for that, Rush Limbaugh, the Drudge thing, bloggers, who seem to be doing a lot of Biden-bashing today. How much of the outrage is driven by, say, actual outrage, I mean, the Edwards and Clinton remarks about Edwards and Clinton seem to be - have some more texture to them than the one about Obama. That just seemed to be a slip. But how much of this was really stems from a desire to inflict damage upon a Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee right now?

MILBANK: Well, that's exactly what it is. It's not inflicting damage on a Democratic presidential candidate. Nobody gives Joe Biden a chance of winning that nomination anyway. But he is the guy who's out there front and center and has been having these hearings criticizing the president on Iraq. So he's potentially quite a fat target for that reason.

I don't think there's much outrage on anybody's part there, certainly not on Obama's part. Nobody sees Joe Biden as a racist. They just see him as a man who just can't seem to, you know, get that governor in control in between his brain and his mouth.

OLBERMANN: How significant now, turning to the substantive stuff of the day, that Senator Warner and Levin have joined forces in regarding their antisurge resolutions? Is this (INAUDIBLE) is that the fact that it's going to be bipartisan more important than the fact that it may be less than, say, the Democrats or the other antiwar the war opponents would want?

MILBANK: Yes, that's what's usually important. It is still pretty early in this. We've got to wait and see who else is on board here in terms of the sponsors of the original two. It's very crucial to have, for the Democrats and for the Republican critics of the administration on the Iraq war, to have some sort of unity here. The White House strategy has been to throw out a whole bunch of resolutions, give, sort of muddy up the waters, confuse people as to what the votes are about.

This allows for a lot of clarity here. The White House was opposing this sort of thing. So we could have a very clear vote next week, if indeed Senators Hagel and Snowe and others decide to go along with this.

OLBERMANN: White House opposing clarity. It reads like a great headline for your paper.

To McCain now, he's been dropping in the opinion polls, he's down 8 to

10 points in the last month. Might that explain why he seems to have come

out against the president, even in that limited way, about Iraq, and not he

now suddenly he doesn't have enough information?

MILBANK: No, I don't think so. I think what's happening here is, in fact, this is part of the White House's strategy. McCain is getting behind an alternative resolution, to say, Hey, you better send us some more benchmarks. In fact, the White House would be very happy for the McCain resolution to pass, as an alternative to the harsher ones that Warner's talking about, that Joe Biden's been talking about.

So I think that McCain sort of wants it both ways, to criticize the administration on the one hand, but he, I, he remains the most ardent supporter of this surge.

OLBERMANN: Is that a tightrope?

MILBANK: It sure is a tightrope. And McCain's in a very difficult spot, because, you know, every day another Republican enters the race there and is trying to appeal to the conservative base, and then he's got the Giuliani on his other side. So he's in a very difficult spot there.

Of course, all this will be irrelevant if, for some reason, things pick up in Iraq, or depending on what the situation is a year from now.

OLBERMANN: Well, there's where you use that headline, White House opposes clarity. Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post" and MSNBC. Clear as ever. Dana, as ever, great thanks.

MILBANK: But never called clean.

OLBERMANN: That's true.

And to paraphrase his old bit from "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE," how will this all this affect him, Al Franken? He's decided to run for the Senate from Minnesota, so says a senior Democratic official from that state. Nothing confirmed from Mr. Franken's offices, but sources close to him had said that if we were to give up his Air America Radio show, that should be a clear indication he was intending to seek in 2008 the seat now held from Minnesota by Republican Norm Coleman.

Earlier this week, Franken said he was giving up the show in two weeks' time. Al will be the first comedian, or former comedian, to seek national office, unless you count all of them serving right now.

The current political drama in D.C., the Libby trial, good for a few laughs, no doubt, another day, another witness throwing Scooter Libby's memory under the bus. David Shuster takes us inside the court and onto the bus for the day's developments.

And have we learned the lessons of the Iraq war? Well, if you mean by learned we can recognize when the president is today saying the same things virtually word for word about Iran, yes, we have learned. Videotape evidence that will startle even the most cynical.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: So far, the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, has focused largely on the charges that Libby lied about his conversation with NBC's Tim Russert.

Today, in our fourth story on the Countdown, the trial's focus shifted to the charge that Libby also lied about his conversation with former "TIME" magazine reporter Matt Cooper, lied specifically by claiming that when he told Cooper that war critic Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, Libby also said this was based only on what he, Libby, knew from other reporters. Had that been true, it might have helped Mr. Libby fend off any criminal charges related to the leak by suggesting the information was already out there, mitigating Libby's culpability in blowing the covert status of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame.

This trial, as we already know, pivots not on the leak, but on whether Mr. Libby was honest during the investigation of the leak. According to Mr. Cooper, on the stand today, Mr. Libby was not.

Tracking the proceedings for us yet again, MSNBC's David Shuster.

Good evening, David.


OLBERMANN: What did Matt Cooper tell the jury today, and how will it affect the defense for Scooter Libby?

SHUSTER: Well, Matt Cooper testified that Scooter Libby confirmed for him that Valerie Wilson did in fact work at the CIA, and that Libby never said anything, or even implied, that Libby's information came from other reporters.

And this is a big problem for Scooter Libby for a couple of reasons. First of all, at the grand jury that was investigating the outing of Valerie Wilson, Libby testified he may have spoken about Wilson with Cooper but was clear in telling Cooper that Libby only knew the information about Valerie Wilson because it came from other reporters.

And Libby also testified that he did not know for a fact, at the time of his conversation with Matt Cooper, that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA.

The problem with this is that five government witnesses have already testified that Libby knew that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA well before Libby's phone conversation with Matt Cooper.

Secondly, Matt Cooper testified that if he had any inkling from Scooter Libby that Libby's information was based on any reporter's, Cooper testified he, Cooper, would have never used any of this information.

So what was Scooter Libby's motive? Well, prosecutors are convinced that Scooter Libby, in pinning this on reporters, was somehow trying to block investigators from truly understanding what was going on in the office of the vice president, in the crucial week leading up to when Valerie Wilson was outed in that column by Robert Novak.

OLBERMANN: Tonight, as we understand it, the court is considering the possibility of letting prosecutors introduce as evidence statements from Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, made about Libby and about Karl Rove after the leak investigation was under way. What is that about?

SHUSTER: That's about prosecutors trying to get at the state of mind of Scooter Libby, the reason that they believe Scooter Libby had a motive to lie. And what they're talking about is the idea that Scooter Libby wanted to make sure his testimony in the investigation was in line with what the White House was saying publicly at the time.

Keep in mind that in the fall of 2003, when the CIA referred the Scooter Libby - referred the Plame leak for a criminal investigation, the White House, and in particular President Bush, were under tremendous pressure. The president had said publicly that nobody was involved in this. If anybody was involved, they would not be working at the White House. And Scott McClellan was also making public statements to that effect.

So when McClellan then publicly stood up at the briefing room and said Karl Rove was not involved in this, but didn't say much about Scooter Libby, Libby and Vice President Cheney wanted to correct the impression that was left that Libby may have been involved. And so they wrote out talking points for McClellan, urging McClellan to essentially publicly clear Scooter Libby.

However, once the White House went down this road in its PR strategy in the fall of 2003, they were stuck with the strategy in 2004, a presidential year. And if Scooter Libby had gone to investigators and said, OK, I didn't do anything criminal, but yes, I was involved in (INAUDIBLE) disseminating some information I learned about Valerie Wilson and giving it to reporters, that information, had it come out, would have contradicted what the White House was saying publicly, and that, of course, would have been a huge political problem for the White House in 2004, a presidential election year.

As a result, the White House and Scooter Libby, their actions were essentially forcing Fitzgerald to get to reporters to find out what was happening. By the time that litigation was finished, the 2004 presidential campaign was over. But now Scooter Libby, of course, faces some major legal problems as a result, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, we just getting the late news that prosecutors want the jury to hear seven hours, David, of audio recordings of Mr. Libby's grand jury testimony. So our thoughts and prayers go out to the jurors in advance of that, and also to the reporters like David Shuster, who will be standing by and listening to all this.

SHUSTER: Thanks. Yes, we'll need those tomorrow.

OLBERMANN: Good luck, and bring your earplugs.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Thanks, David.

From faulty prewar intel to a real-life terror scare, Boston's roadways shut down today because of suspicious packages that turned out to be an ad campaign, miniature billboards for a movie. Boston terrorized by Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

Some parents terrorized by these pictures, to say nothing of the younger readers. The actor who plays Harry Potter is showing off his Voldemort.

That and more ahead on Countdown, suckers (ph).


OLBERMANN: Two birthdays to note, one of the actress Kelly Lynch (ph), who, we've been delighted to find out, is a regular viewer. She should in turn be delighted to find out that she is and will always be four days younger than me. To a birthday that will numb the brain of countless sports fans, Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan, once the boy strikeout wonder, is 60 years old today, 60.

Let's play Oddball, if we can.

We begin in India, the world's leader in developing the transportation technology of tomorrow. Look, everybody, it's a floating bike. That's what inventor Dwarka Prasad Charafia (ph) says this thing is. Seventy-five-year-old man says his invention can be used on land and sea and is perfect for when the village floods in the rainy season. He also has floating shoes if you're more of a walker than a cyclist. They also come in handy in a flood. He's saving his best one for last, one that lets you sit. It's an invention he calls the rowboat.

Now, here are three men in Japan smelling their cell phones. You sick freaks. Oh, wait, this is another one of these weird Japanese fetish deals. It's the latest in mobile phone technology, the smellular phone, phones that smell like stuff. Users can choose from a variety of scents, with names such as Ocean, Aqua, Mystic, Exotic, Barnyard, Outhouse, Robin Williams. An innovative idea at a price, but owners of cheap phones can still get in on the action without spending a fortune. Just slap some ham on the back of your phone and wait for the battery to overheat.

No segue here. When you hear the president talk about Iran, do you have this weird sensation you heard him say exactly the same stuff about Iraq? It is only because you did. An extraordinary tale of the tape, next.

And out of the frying pan into a fire. Rumors that Paula Abdul might be out at "American Idol" to be replaced by Courtney Love. What, Liza Minnelli is busy?

Details ahead.

But first, but first, time for Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He will conduct a hearing tomorrow at his Senate Commerce Committee into baseball's decision to sell its cable and satellite package of out-of-town games exclusively to one satellite provider.

Number two, the "Fort Worth Star Telegram," which actually ran this story in Sunday's paper after what was presumably the slowest news day since the last dinosaur perished. Quote, "Four Towels, Ashtray Taken from Motel 6," complete with a map of the location of the Motel 6 in Eulis (ph), Texas. A police report, the story notes, did not have the dollar loss in theft.

But number one, William Yosses chosen by the first lady, Laura Bush, as the new executive pastry chef at the White House. And you can't make this stuff up. Besides the culinary accomplishments of Mr. Yosses, he goes to work for the Bushes having written the best-selling cookbook, "Desserts for Dummies."


OLBERMANN: It has been a haunting undertone to the new year; at moments the start of 2007 has sounded like the end of 2002, or the start of 2003. It's been as if you could just substitute one letter, an N for a Q. And all that President Bush once said before he took us to war in Iraq war being recycled as what he's been now saying about Iran.

Our third story on the Countdown, your ears and your instincts are not deceiving you. It feels that way because it is literally, almost word for word, the truth. We'll play you the tapes in a moment.

The hard news details of the day first. Both Iraqi and U.S. officials continuing to suspect Iranian involvement in the January 20th attack in Karbala that claimed the lives of five Americans, on which more to come. But last night Mr. Bush used words, ostensibly intended to assuage concerns that he is trying to provoke a clash with Iran.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some are trying to take my words and say, well, what he is really trying to do is go and invade Iran. Nobody's talking about that.


OLBERMANN: In fact some people are talking like that, specifically the very same conservative think tanks which pushed for the Iraq war as part of an aggressive U.S. policy of regional transformation throughout the Middle East. So if Mr. Bush's words fail to convince, it may be because he used similar language, very similar language in 2002, at a time when critics suspected he had already decided to invade Iraq. Consider the similarities between the phrases Mr. Bush uses now about Iran and the ones he used in 2002 about Iraq.


BUSH: The Iraqi people cannot flourish under a dictator that oppresses them - threatens them.

Our struggle is not with the Iranian people. As a matter of fact, we want them to flourish.

Iraq is land rich in culture and resources and talent.

And the Iranian people are proud people, and they've got a great history and a great tradition.

If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will remain unstable. The region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom and isolated from the progress of our times.

One of the things that the Iranian government is doing is they've begun to isolate their nation, to the harm of the Iranian people.

Hopefully this can be done peacefully.

I believe we can solve our problems peacefully.

All options are on the table.

All options are on the table.


OLBERMANN: But it's not mere rhetoric that echoes down to us from 2002. Strategically, diplomatically, Mr. Bush is pursuing the same course now that he did then, disengage from discussion, marshal international condemnation, convince the world that the enemy in question aids and abets anti-American terrorism now, and that it poses a grave potential threat in the future.

In 2003, when Mr. Bush still exhibited thorough optimism about Iraq, he spoke quite openly about what would come next.


BUSH: We support the advance of freedom in the Middle East because it is our founding principal and because it is in our national interest. The Middle East presents many obstacles to the advance of freedom and I understand that this transformation will be difficult. The way forward in the Middle East is not a mystery. It is a matter of will and vision and action.


OLBERMANN: But the logic has since become inverted. Back then American success in Iraq was supposed to lead to success in Iran. Now we are told that we must succeed with Iran to ensure our success in Iraq. But even standing on its figurative head, the administration's conclusion remains inviolate; something must be done about Iran.

Let's bring in the National Security Council's former senior director for Middle East affairs, Flynt Leverett, now a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Great thanks, once again, for your time sir.


OLBERMANN: The accusations are well known, but does it shock you to hear just how close the president's rhetoric about Iran is compared to his past rhetoric about Iraq?

LEVERETT: No, because in many ways the rhetoric in the run-up to the war on Iraq worked. The president singled Iraq out to justify military action there on three particular issues, Iraq's links to terrorism, including what were alleged to be direct links to al Qaeda, its weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and it's regional meddling, that was making the region unstable.

And if you look at the rhetoric on Iran right now, Iran is being singled out for basically the same things, its links to terrorism. The president basically, in the State of the Union Addressee, equated Iran as a Shia version of al Qaeda. Of course, there is the nuclear issue and concern about the Iran's weapons of mass destruction ambitions. And then the president is accusing Iran of regional meddling, being the principal source of instability in the region, much as he did with Iraq in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2005.

OLBERMANN: Focusing in about the Karabala raid, attackers disguised as Americans. They were wielding American-style M-4's and they had stun grenades that were used only by U.S. forces. Reportedly they were able to monitor Iraqi communications. They got through Iraqi checkpoints. Obviously that's Iran, right?

LEVERETT: Well, I think it's very clear that Iraqi militias and Sunni insurgents in Iraq have been getting better. They have had the benefit of daily live ammunition training, courtesy of the U.S. military, the best military in the world. And it is not surprising, I think, that they would be getting better, more capable, more sophisticated in their tactics. That does not prove that Iran was responsible for this raid.

Now, Iran has certainly done bad things in the region. It has been a bad actor. It's possible they're linked to this raid, but there has been no hard evidence put on the table of that. I think it's important to keep in mind, though, that if at some point there is some hard evidence that linked Iran to this, keep in mind the context. The president of the United States has accused Iran of fomenting attacks on U.S. forces. He is building up American military forces there, and he's ordered the capture or killing of any Iranian that is found in Iraq.

And there are five Iranians who were detained out of a diplomatic compound in Irbil last week. There is a kind of symmetry between five Iranians detained by U.S. forces and the five American soldiers who were unfortunately killed in this raid.

OLBERMANN: Is there anything, in sum, to the president's premise that it is Iran attacking us by proxy in Iraq, and if so, how does this jibe with the facts that 99 percent of all attacks on U.S. troops occur in areas controlled by the Sunni militias, which are largely funded not by Iran, which is Shia, but private Sunnis in U.S. allied states like Saudi Arabia?

LEVERETT: Well, that's right; the Sunni insurgents have been a much bigger problem, in terms of inflicting casualties on U.S. forces than the Shia militias have been. But at this point I don't think this is really about a detached analysis of on the ground reality in Iraq. It is about making a case to the American people and to the international community on how bad Iran is, so that the conditions are there, should the president take a decision down the road to use military force against Iran. He has prepared the way, rhetorically.

OLBERMANN: Flynt Leverett, the former member of the National Security Council, now senior fellow at the New American Foundation, our great thanks for joining us again.

LEVERETT: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: Forget the manufacturing of a threat from Iran. We've got a real terror problem on our own shores from the Cartoon Network. It shut down Boston today. A movie promo shut down Boston. Do we blame it on the ads or on paranoia. And they've arrested somebody?

And on what do you blame this? How do you explain to your 12-year-old that Harry Potter is on stage and he's not wearing pants? That and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: How fitting, Boston police now say one person has been arrested in what began as a terrorism scare across that major U.S. city. Though the type of culprit has turned out to be different, perhaps, than what authorities originally supposed. But cable news networks and local television were captivated and breathless, with rampant speculation about improvised explosion devices, commonly used in Iraq, suddenly turning up here in the U.S.

In our number two story on the Countdown, who was responsible? Not al Qaeda, not Hamas, the Cartoon Network. At approximately 2:30 eastern this afternoon, breaking news of four suspicious packages in Boston, two of them at bridges, one actually attached to a structure beneath the span of the Boston University bridge. Concerned calls about the packages, having been made to police around 1:00 this afternoon, but a fifth package police had already detonated. It contained evidence reportedly of an electronic circuit board, elements supposedly consistent with an improvised explosive device, and IED.

Authorities said that the detonated device did not contain actual explosives. Well, it did after they exploded it, but I'm getting picky. The device at the Sullivan Square Subway and bus station, located under Interstate 93, caused the temporary shut down of the highway. They just blew it up once, by the way. Shortly before three this afternoon, reports from a local TV station that police were fanning across Boston and environs to calm the fears of residents and to assure them that police had the situation under control.

Meanwhile, with all the cable networks covering developments live, major roadways in Boston had been shut down. Subway service between Boston and Cambridge had been suspended, albeit briefly. One of the train system's busiest lines halted, and the U.S. Coast Guard closed off a section of the River Charles as the investigation proceeded. Speculation about the provenance of the mysterious devices continued all day, while the black trucks lining up in Boston Common were described as the bomb squad, all part of Boston's emergency response plan, which authorities had rightly put into action.

Let's cut to the chase, shall we? Boston Police gave the all clear at about 3:30 as the word hoax surfaced. The electronic devices, as many as nine in Boston alone, two in surrounding towns, turned out to be part of a marketing campaign for a feature film version of an animated TV show called "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." "Aqua Teen Hunger Forcers" to the rescue.

Turner Broadcasting, owners of the Cartoon Network, apologizing for the packages, which they described as magnetic lights that posed no danger. Those circuit boards were imprinted with images of the shows characters. For example, the talking shake and the obnoxious fries, and the icon there on the left, the moononite (ph), all part of a Turner Broadcasting outdoor marketing campaign in ten cities.

The devices have been in place in those cities for two to three weeks. Reminiscent of a bomb scare in southern California that turned out to be simply audio chips that started playing an advertisement when you opened up a newspaper vending box. Authorities are not happy. One politico suggesting tonight that any marketers who dreamt this up needed to go into another line of work. No snarky reply, suggesting that any official who could not tell the difference between this moononite and a bomb needed to go into another line of work.

And lastly this just in, "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" has been innovated by the reruns of "Family Guy." So it's a regional conflict now.

Bender from "Futurerama has WMD. I'm telling you. From the reign of error to the reign of Miss USA, marking our segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Tara Conner's substance abuse issues go well beyond alcohol. In an exclusive interview with our own Matt Lauer, Miss Conner admits she has used cocaine. The 21-year-old Miss USA says it's a relief to reveal her drug use, after rumors swirled in the media. Conner spent 31 days in rehab after nearly losing her crown last month because of inappropriate behavior in several night clubs in New York City.

She has moved to a different apartment in New York and now has a pageant chaperone living with her. Tara Conner's first live interview since leaving rehab is tomorrow more than on "Today." In addition to her alcohol and drug use, she's also expected to talk about the Playboy rumors and react to Donald Trump, Rosie O'Donnell feud, a feud which began over her before it became another promotional stunt, likely to cause terror fears in major American cities.

Also tonight the entertainment world has lost one of its most prolific writers. Sidney Sheldon died after complication from pneumonia. There was hardly a medium in which he did not write, from stage, the big, the little screens and novels. Sidney Sheldon was the creator and producer of "I Dream of Genie," a show which won him an Emmy Award. He also won an Oscar and Tony, but Mr. Sheldon writing novels was the most fun he had ever had. Sidney Sheldon was 89-years-old.

He couldn't have written an odder career path for young Daniel Radcliffe. If you're worried about being type-cast as Harry Potter, is the solution to do a London stage play with nude scenes. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three nominees for Worst Person in the World.

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma at the bronze. At a meeting of most of the senators to discuss global warming, his fellow Republicans Gregg and McCain agree it's a real thing and a threat. Mr. Inhofe insists it's just an Al Gore campaign platform plank. Quote, he thinks that's his ticket to the White House. Mr. Gore's not running. Where do we get these guys? Are we paying our senators enough?

Runners-up, the Flinchere (ph) County Council in Wales. It had a problem, the rock salt it spread on its roads after snow storms was occasionally being licked off by local sheep, so the council switched to a different kind of salt, a salt made out of sugar, so now the same sheep are licking that up twice as fast as they licked up the salt-based stuff.

But the winner, correspondent Julie Banderas of Fox noise channel, appearing on Bill O'Reilly's yuck fest last night as a guest expert on TV news. This is a woman who two years ago was covering toilets overflowing on the local newscast. She explained, quote, NBC has lost over two million viewers since Peter Jennings stepped down and then Tom Brokaw, his show has lost about, I don't know, two million viewers. Actually Tom retired more than two years ago and the fall off since then has been, at worst, negligible. And Peter Jennings was on ABC, not NBC, and he passed away.

This makes Miss Banderas exactly the kind of expert Bill-O loves. Julie, does the red light mean the camera is on or off, Banderas, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: Harry Potter, your Nimbus 2000 is showing. The number one story on the Countdown, Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who has played Potter since they started making movies out of the books, has thrown his producers, his fans, Ginnie Weasley, and every 12-year-old girl reader a big curve. He is going to go on-stage in London next month in the nude. From Hogwarts to warts and all. Yes, I know he upgraded brooms to a Firebolt.

More on this in a moment. But also filed tonight under bizarre career moves, Courtney Love, that would be rehab happy Courtney Love, is rumored to be joining "American Idol" as a guest judge. A so called source saying Idol producers will make Miss Love the replacement for the clarity challenged Paula Abdul.

And then there's this Kevin Federline has raised the ire of America's fry cooks with his portrayal of one in an upcoming Superbowl ad. More on that presently.

But as promised, first more on the new insight into Mr. Radcliffe's Harry Potter. Our correspondent is Dawna Friesen.


DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After seven magical years playing Harry Potter, actor Daniel Radcliffe is revealing himself in a whole new light. Gone are the round glasses. In fact, everything is gone. These are publicity shots for Radcliffe's latest role in a racy West End, London play called "Equus." In some scenes, he is completely nude. It might make some actors reach for an invisibility cloak.

Radcliffe plays a raunchy stable hand in a controversial play that was first performed in the 1970's.

MATT WOLF, THEATER CRITIC: It could not be a more different role. I can see that if you want to transform yourself, and transform the perceptions of you, this is one way to go.

FRIESEN (on camera): A complete departure from the wizardry of Hogwarts, a chance for the 17-year old to reinvent himself, and not be forever type-cast as Harry. This is his professional stage debut in a role that is dark and dangerous.

WOLF: It is a pretty daunting task for any young actor, particularly an actor with no experience of handling a massive role eight times a week.

FRIESEN (voice-over): The play has not opened yet, but some parents are already angry, telling Harry Potter fan sites they will boycott future films.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wouldn't turn me off to see Harry Potter, but I would not necessarily go watch him be naked on stage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I'm sure Hermione's jealous.

FRIESEN: For those who prefer him as Harry, he will be back. The fifth Harry Potter movie comes out this summer.

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.


OLBERMANN: And who could follow that but "Village Voice" columnist Michael Musto, also author, of course, of "La Dolce Musto." Good evening Michael.


OLBERMANN: So Mr. Radcliffe as bad boy, as naked boy. He also appeared in HBO's comedy "Extras" this week, playing a version of himself, trying to pick up women who were twice his age and walking around with a condom at the ready. Obviously he's got to think about his post-Potter career, but doing this, is he hastening that day? Is going to be the ex-Harry Potter soon?

MUSTO: No, I think this is all a very smart move. I mean, being stuck in one of these family franchises, like Harry Potter, is lucrative, but it can be extremely stifling. Let's not forget that Julie Andrews for years has been showing her breasts in movies to kind of break the curse of Mary Poppins, and that's kept her relevant, I feel. And Doris Day years ago, on the other hand, turned down "The Graduate" because it messed with her career. She has been eating out of garbage pails ever since. So I say bravo Daniel. Show us your gauntlet of fire.

OLBERMANN: Yes, Julie Andrews has been doing that to passers-by too.

I don't know if you knew about that.

MUSTO: Yes, there's not even camera's around.

OLBERMANN: The Harry Potter websites, as we heard, have reportedly received these e-mails from concerned parents, and one was quote in there, "We, as parents, feel Daniel should not appear nude. Our nine-year-old son looks up to him as a role model." Obviously, if they're sitting in the front row of "Equus" at London, they're really going to be looking up at him, but otherwise, is that an over-reaction on these people's parts?

MUSTO: Absolutely, I mean, how about the fact that the character he plays blinds six horses. That's much more upsetting than the fact that he's showing his booty. How about the fact that the horses themselves are hot. I mean, if Catherine the Great were alive, she would be the first in line. (INAUDIBLE) And worst of all Keith, how about the fact that this play is utter Ca-Ca? I saw it as a kid. I've been a little twitchy ever since.

It just is pretentious psycho babble schlock (ph).

OLBERMANN: Mr. Radcliffe's spokesman has said - let me quote this exactly - "Daniel does not want to step away from Harry Potter, but he does want to show he is a rounded actor, capable of very different and diverse roles." Are there other, simpler ways that you could prove that you are rounded?

MUSTO: Oh sure. He could have done a Dana Plato (ph) and ODed. He could have done a Todd Bridges and maybe kill somebody in a crack house. Or an Adam Rich, and keep that horrible bowler haircut. I think Daniel is doing pretty well a recovering child star. I mean, being a naked stage actor is looking better all the time, isn't it?

OLBERMANN: All right, let's switch over to the other way you could go, which is turn into Kevin Federline and this ad, not, sadly, for Fed-Ex, but for an insurance company. Let's play it first.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Federline, fries.

ANNOUNCER: Life comes at you fast.


OLBERMANN: So he is finally going to get the audience he has so richly not deserved. Ninety million people are going to see that commercial.

MUSTO: Well, first of all, that's going to disturb children. But yes, I mean, Britney got nine people for the movie "Crossroads." I was one of them thank you. I'd like my money back. He is getting a captive audience of 90 million. I actually don't feel those people will stay captive. They would need "Clockwork Orange" devices on their eyes lids to keep them open and pointed toward the TV. I actually predict that when this commercial comes on there will be the biggest massive, en masse bathroom break in American history. The country's going to be on a brown alert.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the people in Miami have already been warned about flushing simultaneously. Now we'll quickly get to Courtney Love and "US Magazine" saying that the executive producer of Idol called her to possibly replace Paula Abdul. And she said, yes, he called. He was wondering if I was interested. I thought it was kind of weird, but brilliant. And now he has issued a statement saying - this fellow Lithgow (ph) - that he never made the phone call.

So did Courtney Love just have a hallucination about becoming an "American Idol" judge?

MUSTO: I would imagines so, but I think it's perfect, because "American Idol" now is rehab for celebrities. I hear that Isaiah Washington's going to be a judge, along with Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson. And if this did happen with Courtney, it's perfectly wonderful, because you wouldn't even have to tell Paula. You wouldn't even have to remove Paula, just leave her there. Bring Courtney in. You wouldn't even have to tell Courtney. Just tell Simon to adjust his barbs.

OLBERMANN: And maybe then Courtney Love could move on to playing opposite Daniel Radcliffe in "Equus" in London.

MUSTO: That's disturbing.

OLBERMANN: That is disturbing. The one and only Michael Musto, great thanks for your time tonight Michael. That is Countdown for this the 1,389th day since the declaration of the mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.


Tuesday, January 30, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 30

Special Comment:
Bush shoots for 'Jaws,' delivers 'Jaws 2'
via YouTube, h/t fferkleheimer

Guests: Dick Durbin, Jonathan Alter, John Dean

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

Who can, who will stop the war? Leaders from both parties ask the attorney general to state what the administration believes about congressional rights to end a war, about deciding for the Decider.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I would suggest, suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Today we have heard convincing testimony and analysis that Congress has the power to stop a war if it wants to. The president...


OLBERMANN: Can the president stop global warming? Apparently he can stop talk about global warming. It's all coming out now, government scientists saying publicly the White House pressured them not to mention climate change publicly.

The Scooter Libby trial, a note in the defendant's hand, evidence that the vice president told him where Joe Wilson's wife worked on June 12, 2003, nearly a month before Libby claimed he first learned it. And Judith Miller on the stand, Libby told her about Valerie Plame on June 23, on July 8.

Signing statements plus. Dramatic revelations about the president's executive order, each government agency to have an overseer, a political appointee, there to make sure the agency does the what president, not the Congress, wants.

On counterterrorism, Mr. Bush seems to handle that job himself.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stopped (INAUDIBLE) plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast.


OLBERMANN: The president's latest claims about terror we have prevented. Fact-checking reveals the only thing that has been prevented is the dissemination of the truth. A special comment tonight.

All and that more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

The looming constitutional battle over who can stop a war seemed to edge closer today. A bipartisan group of senators dashed off a quick note to Attorney General Gonzales. It asked him, in short, to summarize what the current transients in the White House think about Congress's right to terminate American involvement in a foreign conflict.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, hope they included a self-addressed, stamped envelope, because the administration suddenly has a lot of plates spinning atop a lot of different sticks, from Iraq to an erupting scandal about global warming, to another about the insertion of political overseers in every agency of government.

As the president escaped Washington to go to Detroit and tout the economy today, Nancy Pelosi returned from her first visit to Iraq in her new role as speaker of the House. Speaker Pelosi indicated that the trip did nothing to change her position about the president's plan.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER: The escalation instituted by President Bush has been tried before and failed. Although we heard varying judgments about prospects for the success this time, everyone we spoke to said that this was the one last chance. And it might not work.


OLBERMANN: On the Hill today, even the administration's pick to head up U.S. Central Command warned the Senate Armed Services Committee to temper their expectations in Iraq.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Could you envision a democracy emerging in Iraq with this level of violence at the current state?

ADM. WILLIAM FALLON, NOMINEE TO HEAD U.S. CENTCOM: I would have two comments. One, clearly not much in the way of progress is going to occur with the current levels of violence and instability. But I think that we would probably be wise to temper our expectations here, that the likelihood that Iraq is suddenly going to turn into something that looks close to what we enjoy here in this country is going to be a long time coming.


OLBERMANN: And in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the nominee for deputy secretary of state, himself the former ambassador to Iraq, did not go quite that far, though John Negroponte did acknowledge that violence is increasing, and corruption is a serious problem.

And in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bipartisan leadership sent that letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, asking how the administration interprets the right of Congress to end a war.

Senator Russell Feingold, who plans to introduce legislation to cut off funds for more troop deployment, another escalation, chaired a hearing on the same subject, where there was bipartisan agreement on one issue, that the executive is not the only branch of government which matters.


SPECTER: The president repeatedly makes reference to the fact that he is "the Decider." I would suggest, suggest respectfully to the president that he is not the sole decider.

Mr. President, reconsider, and recognize the shared responsibility with the Congress, and let's work it out.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: For those who argue that for the United States Congress to engage in a bipartisan debate about our Constitution, and our policy, is somehow, quote, "emboldening the enemy" or undercutting the troops, they are wrong.

This debate is evidence of what a democracy is all about. The president wants to send 21,000 more soldiers into Iraq. And this morning's "Washington Post" tells us they will go into battle without the equipment they need, they will not have the body armor, they will not have the vehicles, they will not have the equipment they need to go into battle.

Now, who is standing behind the troops when it comes to escalating this war in Iraq? Those who question whether this is the right policy in the right place, or those who would send 21,000 more into battle and risk their lives without giving them the rest that they need, the time with their families, the equipment and training that they need to come home safely?

FEINGOLD: Congress has the power to end funding for the president's failed Iraq policy and force him to bring our troops home. Nothing, nothing will prevent the troops from receiving the body armor, ammunition, and other resources they need to keep them safe before, during, and after their redeployment.

Congress must not allow the president to continue a war that has already come at such a terrible cost. By redeploying our troops from Iraq, we can begin to refocus on our top national security priority, defeating terrorist networks operating around the globe.


OLBERMANN: And while most eyes stay focused on Iraq, the Democrats might gain easier ground against the administration on the environment. This morning, the Senate started to look into capping emissions on greenhouse gases, and the House began investigating whether the White House quashed its own scientific evidence of global warming and is still trying to cover up a coverup.

Advocacy groups surveyed more than 300 scientists in seven agencies, and found that nearly half of them were personally pressured to eliminate the words "climate change" or "global warming" from their reports, one former climate change official testifying that the administration even edited "global warming" out of a report to Congress.

A congressman also claimed he was told that the nominee at State, Mr. Negroponte, was warned not to even say those words in conversation, the House Oversight Committee acknowledging that the very fact the Bush administration refused to hand over documents on climate change for today's hearing suggests that there is evidence of a deliberate attempt to mislead the public.


REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: We know that the White House possesses documents that contain evidence of an attempt by senior administration officials to mislead the public by injecting doubt into the science of global warming, and minimizing the potential dangers.


OLBERMANN: We're joined now by "Newsweek"'s senior editor, Jonathan Alter.

Jon, great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Global warming first. And out of deference to the administration, hm-hm, hm-hm first, if, as Mr. Waxman says, Congress knows the White House deliberately set out to mislead the public by quashing the scientific community, what does that mean? What can they do about it?

ALTER: Well, we've known now for a couple of years that the White House policy on global warming was run by oil lobbyists. And there's a guy named Phil Cooney (ph) who actually edited out, and this leaked to the press about two years ago, any mention of global warming, softened all of the documents. He came from the American Petroleum Institute before he was head of the Counsel on Environmental Quality inside the White House, and left the White House to go to ExxonMobil.

So this is the guy who was driving this particular train, and perverting administration policy on climate change.

OLBERMANN: About Iraq, this dance about Congress's rights to stop a war. Do we know what this is about? What is the - is - there seems to be some sort of ritualistic process before anything substantive happens.

ALTER: Well, right now, what's happening is, they want to see what the order of battle is, on what is shaping up as a constitutional struggle. So Arlen Specter today kind of fired a shot across Bush's bow, saying, Look, you're not the Decider, we're the Deciders, plural, Congress has a role in this.

And then he also threw it to them, with the of Democrats, and said, All right, give it your best shot. We know what their arguments are, Keith, for what's called a unitary executive, also maybe known as a monarchy, where the president gets to decide everything. They have a series of arguments. Some of them do come out of English common law, that they're going to try to make about why they have the only authority in foreign policy.

The problem is, there's a lot of arguments against that, and the Congress is feeling its oats for the first time. It's reasserting its congressional prerogatives. And it's going to fight back and say, Hey, we've got a role in this too.

OLBERMANN: So the letter to the attorney general, asking for a, a, an administration stance on this, could his response be exhibit one, out of a series of one, in some sort of constitutional clash? Is that a, is that a fair possibility, if not a certainty?

ALTER: Yes, I think it is. I mean, I don't know if I would call it an exhibit, because I'm not sure there's going to be any, you know, formal process. But we could be heading into, if not a constitutional crisis, definitely a clash between the two branches of government on this most important of authorities, warmaking power.

There's a lot of ambiguity about it in, you know, in court decisions, but clearly Congress has some role, and the administration is - seems like bound - it's bound to argue that it doesn't have any role at all. In fact, when Jim Webb asked Condoleezza Rice recently in congressional testimony whether Congress had a role in deciding whether the United States went to war with Iran, she said, I'll get back to you, Senator, and she still hasn't.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of getting back to us, the - none of these Senate resolutions about Iraq are going to be voted on till next week. But there was a Republican senator who told NBC News that the White House wants even more Republican-based resolutions, split the voting blocs, just crowd the docket. Is this it (INAUDIBLE), essentially a filibuster preventing a filibuster, to confuse the whole matter of by what is done by Congress about Iraq?

ALTER: Well, these are the kinds of games that often get played in Congress. The problem is, it's harder to confuse everybody when there's so much focus on it. Those sorts of games work better in the dead of night, on issues people aren't paying as much attention to. I think it's going to be hard for Republican members of the Senate to get out and filibuster their colleague, John Warner's nonbinding resolution on Iraq.

So the Republicans are in a tough position on this. There's a lot of private muttering in the cloakroom by Republican senators, a lot of resentment toward the White House on this issue. I think you will see some kind of nonbinding resolution next week. And after that, we'll get on to the question that Senator Obama and others raised today about whether we should cut the purse strings down the road.

OLBERMANN: Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" and MSNBC. As always, sir, great thanks.

ALTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The president stood before Congress and the nation a week ago tonight and lied about his government's successes in breaking up terror plots. Yet again, the nexus of politics and terror, a special comment ahead.

And the nexus of politics and war, and the law, the Scooter Libby trial. Today, the former "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller under oath. Complete analysis of today's trial headlines.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Setting aside politicians and government officials, there is one civilian, one ordinary American who is blamed more than any other by critics of the Iraq war for helping to make that war possible.

In our fourth story on the Countdown, today Judith Miller went to court, not as defendant, but as a possible key to the saga known as Plamegate. Before the Iraq war, Ms. Miller was a reporter for "The New York Times," reporting ominous developments from Iraq, quoting Iraqi defectors who, it turned out, had motives to lie.

After the war began, the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, told Miller that one of the war's most vocal critics, Joe Wilson, was married to a CIA operative. Ms. Miller spent 85 days in jail rather than tell a grand jury about Libby's revelation.

That has all changed under oath now. Today, Judith Miller became the sixth witness to testify that Libby knew about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, before July 10, 2003. That is the date Libby told investigators he learned about Plame from NBC's Tim Russert.

It is that discrepancy that forms the heart of the charges, perjury, obstruction, making false statements. Those are the charges for which Mr. Libby is now on trial.

In the courtroom for us again, David Shuster, who joins us once more, as always, with the highlights of this extraordinary event.

David, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Judith Miller's position about Iraq, what she reported, basically irrelevant today. But her testimony about June 23 and July 8 certainly was not, was it?

SHUSTER: No. And in fact, you pointed out that July 10, of course, is the date that all the jurors probably have circled in their notebooks. And what they're doing is trying to determine if, in fact, Scooter Libby did have information about Valerie Wilson before then. So there was Judy Miller testifying that not only did she receive information from Libby just a couple of days before July 10, but that she got information from Scooter Libby two and a half weeks earlier from July 10 about Valerie Wilson.

And again, that gets to the idea that Scooter Libby had this information and therefore he deliberately lied when he said to investigators, Oh, I only first learned about Valerie Wilson on July 10.

The other thing about it, Keith, is that Miller's testimony relied, she said, on her notes that she took of these conversations, notes that she was writing at the time. She described where the meetings happened, she described the demeanor of Scooter Libby as being agitated and annoyed. In other words, there's some credibility to the idea that Miller was writing this stuff down as it was happening.

The other thing, Keith, that was so intriguing today is that Judy Miller's testimony provided yet another glimpse at the intense effort by the office of the vice presidency to blame the Central Intelligence Agency for false prewar intelligence. Miller said that Libby acknowledged in her conversation, her first conversation, that was an inquiry by the CIA, based on a question from Vice President Cheney about intelligence, suggesting that Saddam may be seeking uranium from Africa.

And she testified that Libby said that, yes, the CIA followed up by sending somebody to Niger. But Libby was adamant, according to Miller, and emphatic in saying it was the CIA's fault for not following up, that Libby was agitated, he was angry that the CIA essentially left the office of the vice president in the dark about Wilson's findings, and again, it gets to the idea that if Scooter Libby is so agitated about this issue, it had to have been something that was on his mind.

According to Miller, Scooter Libby said that nobody from the CIA ever came to the White House and said to the president, This is not true, this is not correct. And yet, we do know that in the fall of 2002, the CIA actually stripped out the claim that Iraq was seeking Niger - seeking uranium from Africa in Niger from a speech that the president gave in Cincinnati, Ohio, Keith.

OLBERMANN: And we have to note also that the product placement by Ms.

Miller as she walked in front of those cameras was just extraordinary.

But moving on to the testimony of David Addington, who, oddly enough, is the current chief of staff to Mr. Cheney, Mr. Libby's old job, highest-ranking current administration official to testify so far. Presumably Miller will get the headlines, but Addington brought something for show and tell, did he not?

SHUSTER: Yes, and the show and tell was a handwritten note that was introduced into evidence while Addington testified, and it was a note that Addington said had Scooter Libby's handwriting on it. It's from June 12, 2003.

And the most relevant portion, of course, in addition to references to a conversation with Vice President Cheney about Joe Wilson, is a notation from Scooter Libby that says, "C.P. His wife works in that division." Addington testified it meant that Wilson's wife worked in C.P. or counterproliferation division at CIA.

And again, this backs up, in Libby's own handwriting this time, previous testimony that Scooter Libby learned from Vice President Cheney himself about Valerie Wilson in June of 2003. And again, this is a month before the event where Libby said, where Libby testified that he first learned about Valerie Wilson.

Addington also testified about a direct conversation he had with Scooter Libby once the criminal investigation had began in September 2003. He said that Scooter Libby asked him in reference to the Wilsons, How would somebody know if somebody was undercover at the CIA? And according to Addington, Libby then said, I didn't do it.

Again, the point by prosecutors in introducing this testimony was to

try and show that Scooter Libby was perhaps scared after the criminal

investigation began, and therefore that he might have had some motive to

perhaps attempt to try to mislead investigators or somehow tell them not to

tell them something that wasn't the truth.

OLBERMANN: To put the two ends of the trial together, nothing happened, but I didn't do it.

David Shuster, following the Libby trial again for us. Great thanks, David.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: From prewar prevarications to playing make-believe on the war on terror. Intelligence pros say that part of the president's State of the Union address was almost fact-free. A special comment ahead.

And Paul Wolfowitz, holes in the plans he once made for Iraq, but in the news because of holes today in his socks.

That's next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Sixty-six years ago today, Vice President Dick Cheney was born at Lincoln, Nebraska. And yes, he'll get his birthday present from me a little later on in the show. On that note, we'll just take a wild shot.

Let's play Oddball.

The vice president's birthday gift from his old friend Paul Wolfowitz, this from Adierny (ph) in western Turkey. Mr. Wolfowitz, now president of the World Bank, he was one of the principal architects of the war in Iraq, he was visiting an Ottoman-era mosque over the weekend, and, as everyone must when entering, he removed his shoes.

Now, either no one told the man he was going to have to take his shoes off in front of the bunch of press, or Wolfie needs a better sock budget, because this pair has just about had it. This little piggy went to the Common Market. Reports say Wolfowitz seemed completely unembarrassed about the ordeal. Then again, after Iraq, how could you ever be embarrassed by anything?

And why should he be? He's got the best-looking feet in Oddball tonight. Sorry, Mr. Chicken, the truth hurts. Booga (ph), Colombia, hello. It's a chicken born with duck feet, or it could be duck with a chicken's body, except for the feet. No, probably not. Crowds of villagers are flocking to this local farm just to catch a glimpse of the little fellow. Colombian veterinary experts say the web-footed little bastard is most likely not the result of crossbreeding, just a genetic aberration. Still, they can't wait to get him in the cock-fighting ring.

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, a special comment on the truth and the State of the Union, and never the twain shall meet. The president taking credit for thwarting terror plots that were plots only in one particular sense and meaning of that word.

And another day, another incredible discovery at Stonehenge. No, it was not a terrorist plot from 2000 B.C., it was an elite suburb.

Details ahead, but first, Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Gail Woods (ph), spokesperson for Alaska Electric Light and Power. She has now explained why 10,000 residents of Juneau were without power for 45 minutes on Sunday. One of the company's overhead transmission lines was hit by a deer head, a deer head being carried in midair by a bald eagle, a bald eagle that could not quite clear the transmission lines. His head, to say nothing of his deer head, was bigger than his stomach.

Number two, Dan Dyer, chief engineer of Milwaukee television station WDJT. You probably heard about his van. Yes, that van, the one they parked on Big Muskego (ph) Lake, the one that fell through the ice. Mr. Dyer says it'll cost the station a quarter million to replace it. The van was parked on the ice so the station could do a live shot on, you got it, ice safety.

And number one, the U.S. responds to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. The panel wants lower emissions worldwide. Our experts, according to Britain's newspaper "The Guardian," who's seen an advance copy of the U.S. response, the earth should be building giant mirrors, we say, to deflect the sun's rays away from a superheating atmosphere, or we should pump reflective dust into the atmosphere, or if the dust might make anybody, say, cough, we should fill the sky with thousands of reflective balloons.

It is balloons!


OLBERMANN: On January 18th of this year, exactly two weeks after the 110th Congress, a Democratic Congress, first convened, President Bush issued Executive Order 13,422. In among the legalese of Executive Order 13,422 is our third story tonight. It is language that constitutes what appears to be not only another presidential attempt to weaken Congress, but also opens the door for potential threats to literally the health and safety of every American.

Here is what is at stake. Each year the people's representatives pass laws to protect the people from unfair or dangerous practices of their bosses, big business, special interests and so on. You may have read about this in school. Government agencies then figure out how best to execute those laws, the classic example is regulating corporations to prevent them from doing things like using lead paint or asbestos insulation, or poisoning fish with mercury.

In one fell swoop Executive Order 13,422 may change all of that. Here are Mr. Bush's magic words: "each agency head shall designate one of the agency presidential appointees to be it's regulatory policy officer," meaning every new rule at every federal agency will now have to go through a political appointee, chosen solely and unaccountably by the president. This may all seem far too familiar to John Dean, White House counsel under Richard Nixon, and thus veteran of conflict between the executive and legislative branches, more recently, of course, author of "Conservatives Without Conscience." John, as always, great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: For purposes of context, as it pertains to assuming unilateral powers, compare this to these signing statements the president has made over the last six years?

DEAN: Well, I guess the biggest difference between a signing statement and an executive order would be a signing statement is what a president intends to do at some later date, or may or may not do. He is just putting everybody on notice. An executive order is exactly what he is doing. It is an order to the rest of the executive branch to follow his direction. So it's definite at that point.

OLBERMANN: All right, so extrapolate, if we have something that's definite already, if this order is not countermanded in some way, acted against by Congress, what is the worst kind of outrageous or startling thing this president or any president who succeeds him could do and still claim, hey, this is legal. I have this executive order?

DEAN: Well, hypotheticals are tough, but let's just say hypothetically a French drug firm comes up with a cure for AIDS and all sexually transmitted diseases, and the Bush administration, who's not fond of any sexual transmission of any kind, says no, no, we have to study this. We have to do this, that and the other thing, and puts up all kinds regulatory hurdles until they leave, meanwhile million of Americans die, or are sexually transmitting diseases. That would be a travesty, but that, indeed, is the kind of power that a president has.

OLBERMANN: And in the report in the "New York Times" on this story, that paper quoted a series of pro-business voices supportive of the new measure. Should that reassure us or should that concern us more than we are already concerned?

DEAN: Well, I was actually pleased to see it on the front page of the "New York Times" this morning, rather than the business section, where this sort of thing normally lands. Because, having arrived on the front page, it's one, going to alert a lot of people, two, it's going to trigger to the Congress the importance of it. They will then be more vigilant. So I think that probably will help to protect the safety of a lot of Americans, because of the play the story has gotten.

OLBERMANN: In the past though, John, any vagueness from Congress about how you meet the goals regarding safety, regarding health, was fleshed out to a great degree by career experts at each of the agencies. Now you have got decisions that will be subject to the just maybe political skewed interpretations of political appointees. We have learned tonight that the House is, in the wake of this, the publicity that you just mentioned, is likely to hold hearings about this in the future, but other than tightening the legislative language to minimize a president's wiggle room, does Congress have any recourse about this thing?

DEAN: Well, of course, the strongest recourse the Congress has is to shine the pitiless light of publicity on misbehavior or somehow abusing this regulatory power. So they can do that with oversight authority and they can keep an eye on agencies and what they are doing, and alert Americans if this kind of action is indeed what is going on.

OLBERMANN: And let's lastly apply the standard litmus test that we apply to all such seeming changes in the executive branch: would Richard Nixon have tried this or not?

DEAN: He did. No, he actually did not. This has been a steady trend where, in fact, Bush's order is amending Clinton's order, which is amending Reagan's order. So this has really gone back and is likely to be in place for a good while.

OLBERMANN: That's encouraging. John Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon, author "Worse Than Watergate, Conservatives Without Conscience." As always, sir, our great thanks, our privilege to have you here.

DEAN: Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN: From trying to control policy in any way possible to attempting re-write the history of counter-terrorism success, the president making four claims in the State of the Union. Experts say all four just are not true. Special comment ahead.

And who built Stonehenge and why? Did George Bush do this too? First it was thought to be a hospital or rehab facility, that was last month's story. The latest hint, an upper class suburb? Details next here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: It has been identified as a religious shrine, a place for human sacrifice. In the days of legend it was supposed to be the product of the magic of Merlin the Wizard. About a month ago a story came out that it was actually a hospital. In our number two story on the Countdown, now the results of an archaeological dig nearby have suggested yet another explanation, Stonehenge, a kind of Beverly Hills 2,000 B.C. Our correspondent is Lester Holt.


LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over): For centuries, Stonehenge has drawn everybody from scientists to mystics, all trying to gleam the origins and meaning of this nearly 5,000 year circle of stones.

DAVID BATCHELOR, ARCHAEOLOGIST: Something special must have been about this place that we can't get to.

HOLT: But now scientists may be closer. Just two miles from Stonehenge a National Geographic team has unearthed the remains of a human settlement from about 2,600 B.C., and what its inhabitants left behind may explain a lot.

MICHAEL PARKER PEARSON, ARCHAEOLOGIST: We've got enormous quantities of trash. They are feasting and eating huge amounts of beef and pork.

HOLT: Archaeologist Mike Parker Pearson led the dig.

PEARSON: It's a very substantial village. It's the same date as this lot going up, so we think there is a very good case for this being the homes of the builders of Stonehenge.

HOLT (on camera): Dr. Parker Pearson believes Stonehenge is part of a much larger complex of structures, linked by a nearby river, and a prehistoric avenue, perhaps the oldest roadway in Europe.

(voice-over): Carbon dating puts the construction of Stonehenge in south central England at the same time as development in nearby Durington Walls, where the village was found and where a wooden circle once stood. The team has also traced the avenues running to and from a river that form what now appears to be a funeral procession root, leading to Stonehenge.

PEARSON: I think what we are looking at is a procession that would have taken place quite probably at mid-winter.

HOLT: Human remains have previously been found at Stonehenge itself, but no signs of anyone living there.

PEARSON: The emphasis on timber for one, stone for the other, we think has to do with notions of transience in life, permanence in death.

HOLT: And providing another clue to unlock the enduring mystery of Stonehenge.

Lester Holt, NBC News, near Salisbury, England.


OLBERMANN: Thus, similarly may the archaeologists of the year 4007 be stumped by the mystery that would be discovered remains of Paris Hilton. She is our segue into the nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. And Miss Hilton calls this, quote, the single most egregious and reprehensible invasions of privacy ever committed against an individual. Paris, you said all that? What a girl.

Her sex tape that got out? No, all of her crap that's up for sale. Miss Hilton has filed a federal lawsuit against the people behind The website, for a fee of nearly 40 dollars, is giving people with too much free time on their hands virtual access to Hilton's storage facility, literally. The hotel heiress failed to pay a 200 dollar storage bill. The storage space and its contents went up for a foreclosure auction. Contents sold for 10 million dollars.

Voila, here is where the Internets comes in. Miss Hilton is asking for compensatory and punitive damages, and an injunction to stop the website, which shows subscribers more sex tapes and raunchy photos, diary entries, audio tapes of private conversation, even sensitive medical records? What, she is made out of recycled sneakers?

Speaking of invasions of privacy, Lindsay Lohan reportedly making more enemies in rehab than friends. Last week we told you she was making waves at the Wonderland Rehabilitation Facility because she was allowed to come and go pretty much as she pleased. Now other participants in her AA meetings are also upset with her, so upset, this is according to the British tabloid "The Sun." Why so upset? Because every time she shows up to a meeting the paparazzi in tow, snapping pictures of everyone, which would make it hard to keep the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings anonymous.

Also tonight it got lost in the shuffle, and the post speech analysis, but the president blustering about terror plots he and his government have interrupted, fails the fact check yet again. Special comment on the danger of awarding yourself medals for things that never happened, next.

But first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. And tonight the bronze to Dick Morris. The Fox noise channel may have decided it had corrected its crappy reporting on the phony story about Senator Obama and an Islamic training school, and its crappy reporting on the phony story that Senator Clinton's people had spread the other phony story. Nobody gave Dick the memo. He went on last night and said he believes somebody close to the Clinton war room indeed planted the made up story about Obama. Dick Morris, the same guy who let the hooker listen in on his phone call to the president, well that's credibility there.

Runner-up, Bill O'Reilly, still riding this argument that the kidnapped kid in the Missouri, Shawn Hornbeck, was having fun during his four year ordeal, noting the kidnapper had surgery at one point, recuperated in his parents' home, and that left the boy alone in the apartment. And Bill adding his little show is planning a report on a abducted children who fought off their kidnappers or escaped. Keep blaming that victim, Bill. Much better than admitting you've taken the kidnapper's side on this one.

And our winner? Oh, it's a two-for, Bill-O offering you this splendid deal, buy a copy of his book, "I'm Squinting While Wearing a Wind Breaker" - no, I'm sorry, it's called "Culture Wart" - I will get it somewhere. You buy a copy of the book from him, and he will send a free copy to a U.S. soldier somewhere. So you've got copies to give away to the soldiers, but you only do that if I give you at least 26 bucks first? That's generosity. You know Bill, I can buy two copies from Amazon for 25 bucks. And I can send the second copy to a soldier, along with a dollar. Bill, you're taking a dollar out of the hands of everyone of our troops. Why do you hate the troops, Bill? Bill O'Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, as promised, a special comment on presidents and terrorism, and on the seemingly trivial fact that West Yorkshire in England has a new chief police constable. Upon his appointment Sir Norman Bettison (ph) made one of the strangest comments of the year: the threat of terrorism, he says, is lurking out there like Jaws II. Sir Norman did not exactly mine the richest ore for his analogy of warning. A critic once said of that flopping sequel to the classic film, you are going to need a better screen play.

But this obscure British police official has reminded us that terrorism is still being sold to the public in that country and in this as if it were a thrilling horror movie and we were the naughty teenagers about to be its victims. And it underscores the fact that President bush took this tack exactly a week ago tonight in his terror related passage in the State of the Union, a passage that was almost lost amid all of the talk about Iraq and health care and bipartisanship and the fellow who saved the stranger from oncoming subway train in New York City.

But a passages, ludicrous and deceitful, frightening in its hollow conviction, frightening in that the president who spoke it tried for Jaws, but got Jaws II. I am indebted to David Swanson, press secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 campaign, who has blogged about the dubious 96 words in Mr. Bush's address this year, and who has concluded that of the four counter-terror claims the president made, he went 0 for four.

We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, Mr. Bush noted, but here is some of what we do know: we stopped an al-Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. This would, of course, sir, be the purported plot to knock down the 73 story building in Los Angeles, the one once known as the Library Tower, the one you personally revealed so breathlessly a year ago next month.

It was embarrassing enough that you mistakenly referred to this structure as the Liberty Tower. But within hours, it was also revealed that authorities in Los Angeles had had no idea you were going to make any of the details, whether serious or fanciful, public. Who terrorized southern California that day, Mr. Bush? A year ago next month, the "L.A. Times" quoted a source, identified only by the labyrinthine description, a U.S. official familiar with the operational aspects of the war on terrorism, who insisted that the purported Library Tower plot was one of many al-Qaeda operations that had not gotten very far past the conceptual stage.

The former staff director of counter-terrorism for the National Security Council, now NBC and MSNBC counter-terrorism analysts Roger Cressey, puts it all a little more bluntly. In our conversation he classified the Library Tower story into a category he called "the what ifs," as in the old "Saturday Night Live sketches that tested the range of comic absurdity. What if Superman had worked for the Nazis? What if Spartacus' had a piper cub during the battle against the Romans in 70 B.C?

More ominously, the "L.A. Times" source who debunked the Library Tower plot story said that those who could correctly measure the flimsiness of the scheme, quote, feared political retaliation for providing a different characterization of the plan than that of the president. But Mr. Bush, you are the decider and you decided that the Library story should be scored as one for you.

And you continued with a second dubious claim of counter-terror success, we broke up a south east Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States, you said. Well, sir, you've apparently stumped the intelligence community completely with this one. In his article, Mr. Swanson suggests that in the last week there has been no reporting, even hinting, at what exactly you were talking about. He hypothesizes that either you were claiming credit for a ring broken up in 1995 or that this was just the Library Tower story, quote, by another name.

Another CIA source suggests to NBC News that since the south east Asian cell dreamed of a series of attacks on the same day, you declared the Library Tower one threat thwarted and all of their other ideas a second threat for thwarted. Our colleague, Mr Cressey, sums it up, this south east Asian cell was indeed the tail of the Library Towers simply repeated, repeated Mr. Bush, in consecutive sentences of the State of the Union, in your constitutionally mandated status report on the condition and safety of our nation. You showed us the same baby twice and claimed it was twins. And then you said that was two for you.

Your third claim, sir, read thusly, we uncovered an al-Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. Again, the professionals in counter-intelligence were startled to hear about this one. Last fall, two "Washington Post" articles cited sources in the FBI and other governmental agencies who said that hopes by foreign terrorists to use anthrax in this country were fanciful at best and farcical at worst. And every effort to link the 2001 anthrax attacks, the mailings in this country, to foreign sources has always struck out. The entire investigation is barely still alive at this point.

Mr Cressey goes a little further, anything that might even resemble an al-Qaeda cell developing anthrax, he says, was in the, quote, dreaming stages. Mr. Cressey used as a parallel those pathetic arrests outside Miami last year, in which a few men wound up getting charged as terrorists, because they could not tell the difference between an al-Qaeda operative and an FBI informant. Their, quote, ring leader, unquote, seemed to be much more interested in getting his terrorist masters to buy him a new car than in actually terrorizing anybody.

That is three for you, Mr. Bush. And just last August, you concluded, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. In a series of dramatic raids then, 23 men were arrested. It turned out, sir, a few of them actually had gone on the Internets to check out some flight schedules. It turned out, sir, only a few of them actually had the passports needed to even get on the planes. The plot to which President Bush referred was a plot without bombs. It was a plot without any indication that the essence of the operation, the in-flight mixing of the volatile chemicals, carried on board in sports drink bottles, was even doable by amateurs or professional chemists.

It was a plot even without sufficient probable cause. One-third of the 24 people arrested that day, exactly 90 days before the American midterm elections, have since been released by the British. The British had been watching those men for a year. Before the week was out, their first statement that the plot was ready to go in days had been rendered inoperative. British officials told NBC News the lack of passports and plans told us that they had wanted to keep the suspects under surveillance for at least another week. Even an American official confirmed to NBC's investigative unit that there was disagreement over the timing.

The British then went further. Sources inside their government told the English newspaper "The Guardian" that the raids had occurred only because the Pakistanis had arrested a man named Rashid Raouf. That Raouf had only been arrested by Pakistan because we had threatened to do it for them, that the British had acted only because our government was willing, to quote that newspaper "The Guardian" again, to ride rough shod over the plans of British intelligence.

Oh and by the way, Mr. Bush, an anti-terrorism court in Pakistan reduced the charges against Mr. Raouf to possession of bomb making materials and being there without the proper documents. Still sir, evidently that's close enough. Score four for you. Your totally black and white conclusions in the State of the Union were based on one gray area and on three pallets on which the experts can't even see smudge, let alone gray. It would all be laughable, Mr. Bush, were you not the president of the United States. It would all be political hyperbole, Mr. Bush, if you have not, on this kind of intelligence, taken us to war, now sought to escalate that war and are threatening new war in Iran and maybe elsewhere.

What you gave us a week ago tonight, sir, was not intelligence, but rather a walk-through of how speculation and innuendo, guesswork and paranoia, day dreaming and fear mongering, combine in your mind and the minds of those in your government into proof of your daring do and your success against the terrorists, the ones that didn't have Anthrax, the ones who didn't have plane tickets or passports, the ones who didn't have any clue, let alone any plots. But they go now into our history books as the four terror schemes you've interrupted since 9/11. They go into the collective consciousness as firm evidence of your diligence, of the necessity of you ham handed treatment of our liberties, of the unavoidability of the 3,075 Americans dead in Iraq.

Congratulations sir, you are the hero of Jaws II. You have kept the piper cub out of the hands of Spartacus. Good night and good luck.


Monday, January 29, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Jan. 29

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Anne Kornblut, Lester Velez

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

Ari Fleischer today, Karl Rove later? The Libby trial, and the former press secretary says he was horrified to learn after the fact, he says, that he had told reporters about a covert CIA spy named Valerie Plame. And what did he do while horrified? He got himself a lawyer.

The Bush administration on trial by proxy. David Shuster with the latest from the courthouse, Richard Wolffe on the big picture for Mr. Cheney, to whom he spoke.

Mr. Cheney blasts Senator Hagel and says of his other critics, quote, "I'm the vice president, and they're not." What is this, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" circa 1975?


CHEVY CHASE: I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not.


OLBERMANN: Senator Clinton hits the trail in Iowa and hits the president on his legacy, his legacy about Iraq.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office.


OLBERMANN: And how to stop a raging mountain lion, a life-or-death game of, I've got your nose.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got my fingers into his nose and twisted his nose to give him pain, to make it so that he can call off the attack.


OLBERMANN: All that and more, now...

Uh-oh, sorry.

But first, our national anthem.


CLINTON (singing): Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free...


OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on Countdown.


CLINTON: I thought I was funny.


OLBERMANN: Good evening from New York.

It was four years ago yesterday that President Bush stood before Congress and the nation, and, with the help of 16 words, delivered a prologue to war, a war necessary, he told America, because Iraq had pursued the makings of that ultimate weapon, affording no warning, the nuclear bomb.

Today, in our fifth story on the Countdown, Ari Fleischer, who served as the president's first White House press secretary, his voice, during that drumbeat before the invasion of Iraq, took the stand in the Scooter Libby trial and revealed part of the administration's campaign to sell the war to Americans and to take down those who dissented.

The trial pivots on one central point. Did Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, intentionally lie when he told investigators that reporters told him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife was a covert CIA operative named Valerie Plame, rather than that he told others about her?

The political significance of the trial pivots on another central point. Did the administration intentionally lie when it told Americans that intelligence made the war in Iraq necessary, rather that the desire for war in Iraq made the intelligence necessary?

The trial's focus on first question affording us new insights today into the second one, courtesy of Mr. Fleischer.

Covering this trial, as he has covered this story for the last three years plus, MSNBC's David Shuster, who joins us from Washington.

David, good evening again.


OLBERMANN: The headline of Ari Fleischer's testimony seems relatively clear today. Mr. Libby had testified previously he learned about Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, casually, a conversation in July 2003, July 10, with NBC's Tim Russert. Fleischer basically said, No, Libby not only knew about Plame three days earlier than that, on the seventh, but Libby had treated it like a big secret that they should push to reporters. Is that about right, and is that discrepancy damning?

SHUSTER: It's about right, Keith, and it's also devastating for the defense, because four other government witnesses have already testified that Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Wilson before the date of this conversation that Libby had with Tim Russert. And now you have a fifth witness, Ari Fleischer, testifying that Scooter Libby intentionally acted on that information.

In other words, Libby was acting on information that he supposedly hadn't learned yet, or had forgotten until this conversation with Russert.

And yet there was so much about the Libby-Ari Fleischer conversation before the Libby-Russert conversation that was memorable. First of all, regarding that lunch, the lunch with Libby and Fleischer was the day after Joe Wilson's column criticizing the Bush administration. Secondly, Fleischer testified it was the first and only time that Scooter Libby ever invited Ari Fleischer to lunch.

Third, Fleischer testified that Libby said Valerie Wilson's name and revealed she worked in the counterproliferation division, which is widely known in Washington as being the most sensitive at the CIA. And fourth, Fleischer testified that during this conversation, Scooter Libby said that the information about Valerie Wilson was "hush-hush" and "on the QT."

Fleischer testified he took that to mean that Scooter Libby wanted him to disseminate this information, essentially pass it along to reporters.

And all of this tears apart Scooter Libby's defense that he only remembered learning information about Valerie Wilson first coming from Tim Russert. And it's also devastating for the defense notion that the media knew this information, because why would Scooter Libby want Ari Fleischer to pass information to the media, if the media already knew about it?

OLBERMANN: And also, it reveals that there is at least one last person in this country using the phrase "on the QT." But what was the, David, the significance of the Air Force One flight that Fleischer testified about?

SHUSTER: Yes, the significance here is that Ari Fleischer testified that he heard a second government official talking about Valerie Wilson, and that was during this Air Force One flight to Africa. Dan Bartlett he heard mentioning Valerie Wilson in the context of criticism about Joe Wilson, and this underscored to Ari Fleischer that this was a talking point, the idea that nepotism, the idea that Joe Wilson should not be believed because his wife worked at the CIA, the idea that nepotism should be part of the case against Joe Wilson.

And so at the end of the week, Fleischer testified that when two reporters talked about Joe Wilson's criticisms dominating the president's trip to Africa, Fleischer felt that at leas two administration officials felt that part of the case against Joe Wilson should be this idea that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA. In other words, Fleischer felt he was simply repeating what top administration officials wanted him to say about this story.

OLBERMANN: The immunity agreement under which Mr. Fleischer testified, does that factor into this, even in how he's perceived, and if not that way, in what way does it factor in?

SHUSTER: Well, it factors in in the sense that after Bob Novak's column came out, and the CIA asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into how Valerie Plame's status was disclosed, Ari Fleischer testified that he was sitting at home when he read about this criminal referral, and he read online an sort of a lengthier account of the CIA's complaint, and he - Ari Fleischer said that he was horrified, and he said to himself, Oh, my God, did I play a role in somehow outing a CIA operative?

Fleischer testified he didn't think anything that he had done was criminal, but he thought that it could be perceived that way, because of his lunch with Scooter Libby and because of the Fleischer information passed along to reporters. So Ari Fleischer, at the beginning of the criminal investigation, asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. And then he got a deal from prosecutors, an immunity deal, which essentially meant that Ari Fleischer could not be prosecuted for his actions in the summer of 2003, but that he could be prosecuted if he then lied to the grand jury or lied on the witness stand today.

The defense today, Keith, tried to get at this and say that Ari Fleischer was essentially trying to save his own skin at the expense of Scooter Libby, and that because Ari Fleischer is a former press secretary and has a lot of experience dealing with tough questions, his smooth testimony today should not be believed.

But the immunity deal also cuts for the prosecution, because it underscores the level of fear that was in the White House once this criminal investigation began, because there you had the president's former press secretary suggesting that he needed to get a lawyer and get an immunity deal, so he did. Scooter Libby, of course, there was nobody above him that he could essentially pin this on, so, perhaps in order to protect the vice president, or for other reasons, Scooter Libby decided he had to testify. He blamed it on reporters. And for that, Scooter Libby is facing the trial of his life.

OLBERMANN: And lastly, as we look ahead in this trial, anything further on this "Newsweek" report that there were defense subpoenas issued last week to Mr. Rove and Dan Bartlett?

SHUSTER: Yes, we have confirmed that Rove and Bartlett have received defense subpoenas, meaning they have to be on standby for the defense in the defense phase, which could start as early as the end of this week.

Based on the testimony today about Dan Bartlett on Air Force One, it seems even more likely that he would have to testify as a defense witness, whether he wants to or not. And Karl Rove could testify simply because the defense is trying to show, at least they argued in opening arguments, that Karl Rove was also involved in spreading information, and that, therefore, the prosecutors have the wrong guy, at least according to the defense.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's David Shuster on the Libby trial. As always, thanks for your great reporting, sir.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As we mentioned earlier, each day of this trial threatens to bring, from both prosecution and defense, new information implicating the administration in a (INAUDIBLE) - purposeful, rather, attempt to discredit war critics, and also implicating it in a near-Nixonian paranoia regarding what he has said about the administration in public.

Nevertheless, although the trial told us that Mr. Cheney's office actually transcribed MSNBC's "Hardball WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS" on a regular basis just to track coverage of the story, today Mr. Bush's latest spokesperson said, in essence, Trial, what trial?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the president following the Libby trial?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not that closely, really. I mean, (INAUDIBLE), I know there's this perception that we're all sitting around buzzing about it, but we really aren't.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I mean, you've got Rove and Bartlett both subpoenaed, and you've got the vice president to testify. I would think there would be some interest in the White House.

SNOW: Yes, but it's just - look, it is what it is, it's an ongoing trial. And we're not going to comment on it any further.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is the president's response to the White House being portrayed as being (INAUDIBLE)?

SNOW: Well, again, as I said, as tempting as it is to jump into that, we're not commenting.


SNOW: (INAUDIBLE), we're just not jumping into it. I am glad I'm press secretary now.


OLBERMANN: As we just heard, the witness list for this trial new including Mr. Bush's vice president, his top political adviser, Karl Rove, top policy adviser and the man who ran the communications office, Dan Bartlett, as well as, today, former spokesperson Fleischer, and others still to come.

But Mr. Bush not buzzing about it.

Let's bring in "Newsweek"'s chief White House correspondent and our political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For - can you fact-check Mr. Snow there? Is the White House tracking this trial? And what is on the line for the administration at this point, from its perception?

WOLFFE: Well, Tony Snow might be not be tuning in here, but I've spoken to a lot of people in the White House who were there at the time. Some people have left, of course. And they're obsessing about this trial.

They're fascinated by it.

Look, one of the problems for folks in the White House is that once this investigation really kicked into high gear, they were told not to talk about it to each other. And their lawyers since then have told them, Don't talk about it. So maybe Tony isn't in on the conversation, but there is one going back and forth.

And, look, what's on the line? Their personal reputation. People are worried about how they look, what everyone else is saying about each other on the witness stand, and it's being taken very personally.

OLBERMANN: The trial is giving the public and the media alike an unprecedented inside view - almost any would be at this point - of just how far the administration went to use the media to spin what was out there in order to support going to war in Iraq. Is this having, now, any material impact on the way the administration is approaching Iraq at the moment, or even Iran?

WOLFFE: Well, the run-up to the war affects everything they talk about, although they're loath to admit it. Even the vice president, when I spoke to him, conceded that they have a credibility problem. And the credibility problem is clearly about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq, which happens to, of course, be the primary concern about Iran, weapons programs.

Having said that, does that stop them making the same cases about Iran that they made about Iraq? No, it doesn't. They're very happy to make the same case. And as the vice president said, he expects people to believe it.

OLBERMANN: Over the weekend, you did the first print interview with

Mr. Cheney since the elections in November, and he wouldn't comment on the

trial, rather reminiscent of Mr. Snow there. But when you asked about this

central issue of it, the credibility of the administration on threats to

the country, he said - let me quote him from your piece, "We should not

let the facts of past problems in that area lead us to ignore the face we -

the threat we face today," now, meaning Iran.

Does that - does he - did he see any irony in saying, Don't let me past screw-ups stop me from - or stop you from thinking I might be screwing up again?

WOLFFE: No, I think this was irony-free at that point. He was

certainly talking about the broader threats in very similar, dark,

apocalyptic terms. But look, if you talk to reasonable people outside the

administration, they see real threats, Europeans see real threats in Iran's

in what Iran is doing right now. And everybody feels that something should be done. The question is what? An invasion is pretty much off the table.

OLBERMANN: Your interview ended up here with another potential irony, even if it was irony-free at that point. You asked him about criticism. Your question was, "People have gotten quite personal, people you worked with before. You wouldn't be human if you didn't have some reaction." And his answer was, "Well, I'm vice president, and they're not." And other than the Chevy Chase similarity, was that his human reaction to it? Or was that his version of a no comment to the premise of your assumption that he would have a human reaction?

WOLFFE: Well, I laughed about it, and he had a wry smile on his face. I mean, look, he was saying he wasn't taking anything personally, and then he laid a very personal blow on these people. I think he obviously takes some comfort in the fact that he's president and none of the rest of us are.

OLBERMANN: Well, could have been worse. You could have gotten the Wolf Blitzer treatment. So that's - (INAUDIBLE) you could have that stare-down for a week in your nightmares.

Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and "Newsweek" and the Dick Cheney interview, of great interest. And as always, Richard, great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE: Any time, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the war in Iraq, a major battle over the weekend. Are Iraqi forces finally stepping up? And who exactly is the enemy they're going after?

And later, Senator Clinton's coming-out party on the campaign trail. Hillary heads to Iowa. Her positions on the war and the war on terror are already center stage, and already have the current White House paying attention.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Two and a half weeks after the president announced a planned troop increase in Iraq, five days after he reiterated that in the State of the Union, four days after a Democratic resolution opposing the plan passed a Senate committee, U.S.-backed Iraqi troops killed 200 enemy fighters in a single raid.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the timing might instigate cynicism, the reality suggests otherwise. The weekend's raid happened not where the troops are supposed to surge, in Baghdad or in Anbar Province, but rather in Najaf. And the enemy was not al Qaeda nor Ba'athists nor radical death squads backed by Iran, but instead a messianic Shiite cult looking to bring about Armageddon.

Our correspondent in Baghdad is Jane Arraf.



JANE ARRAF, MSNBC Correspondent: Keith, one of those killed, according to Iraqi officials, was the leader of the group, an Iraqi Shia who believed that he was a messenger of God. Now, his group came virtually out of nowhere, and waged one of the biggest battles the Iraqi army has fought.

(voice-over): The group, called Soldiers of Heaven, was using the cover of hundreds of thousands of Shias on their way to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala. Their goal was to attack the pilgrims, the holy sites, and to kill top Shia clerics.

But before dawn Sunday, Iraqi police got a tip that gunmen planning to attack Najaf were hiding in the palm groves north of the city. When the Iraqi troops arrived, they found 600 men armed with machine guns, mortars, and rockets, dug into trenches.

Quickly overwhelmed, they called for Iraqi reinforcements, and then U.S. air support. U.S. and British jets, as well as U.S. Stryker brigades, were called in.

The fighting had been raging for hours when an Iraqi policeman took this cell phone video. The smoke rising was from a downed U.S. helicopter. Two American servicemen were killed.

An Iraqi official said the fighters appeared to be well trained and equipped. Later, the Iraqi military found 500 automatic weapons, mortars, and Katyusha rockets.

Iraqi officials say the group included Shia cult members, Sunni insurgents, and foreign fighters. About 200 of them were killed after U.S. F-16s dropped 500-pound bombs.

Senior Iraqi officials tell NBC News the group planned to assassinate the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered cleric in Iraq. The group believed the resulting violence would bring on the Apocalypse.

ADEL DARWISH, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: There would have to be massive bloodshed, by killing those who seemed to be the priests, the high priests, of the Shia.

ARRAF (on camera): This plot has been foiled, but one of the concerns is that Iraq, with all its divisions, has become a magnet for all kinds of groups that aren't yet on anyone's radar.

U.S. and Iraqi officials tell us the area around Najaf and Karbala is calm, but tense, Keith.


OLBERMANN: Jane, thank you. Jane Arraf reporting from Baghdad.

President Bush continues to rationalize sending more troops into Iraq in part, anyway, by evoking the war on terror. He did it again in last week's State of the Union address, president again claimed credit for the government for having stopped several terror plots, everything from an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles to the scheme to use liquid explosives to blow up British airplanes flying to the U.S.

Except, as in his other State of the Union speeches, the president was factually challenged to a degree large or small, terror experts openly questioning what, if anything, has really been disrupted.

Tomorrow night here, a special comment. We are faced once again with the nexus of politics and terror. When, if ever, will the president stick to the facts? Tomorrow night, here on Countdown.

Here tonight, talk about a high-speed blowout. At 288 miles an hour, you lose a tire.

And is it a close encounter of the third kind? UFO sightings in Hawaii. Well, if you were coming from the Planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda, wouldn't you go to Hawaii?

That and more, ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this day in 1923, Sydney "Paddy" Chayefsky was born. He was a screenwriter, and he did a lot of extraordinary work, from the TV play "Marty" to the movie "The Hospital." But nothing of his compared to almost nothing of anybody else's compared to his script for the movie "Network." Released in 1976, "Network" not only captured the early signs of where television news was going, but extrapolated from them, more or less correctly, to the way it really is 31 years later. In short, everything in that movie's happened to me or somebody I know except for the anchorman getting shot from the audience. And that's why newscasts don't have audiences.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

Most of the time, TV news is rather like this, scary video from Britain, where the driver Richard "The Hamster" Hammond's (ph) attempt to break the world land-speed record did not go that well. The crash actually occurred in November, when a tire on the jet-powered car blew out at about 288 miles per hour. Mr. Hammond spent a few weeks in the hospital, but he's made a full recovery. He released this video to the BBC this week after he awoke from a coma to find out that the owner of the car had been blaming the crash on driver error.

Hey, pal, I know you lost your jet car on the deal, but lay off the Hamster. The guy almost died in your death trap on wheels.

To Rome, where the hottest thing on the catwalks these days, huge dresses with the huge likenesses of your favorite female heroine. Oh, cool, Rod Stewart. No, I'm sorry, that's Hillary Clinton. Italian fashion label Gazzetoni (ph) unveiling the line today with dresses featuring Senator Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Condoleezza Rice, Ali G n the glasses. Ali G, I think it's fabulous. Ali G.

And finally, it's another exciting episode of What's Happened to This Man's Neck? If you guessed freak accident with a Norelco, you're wrong. It seems Jesus Martinez was the loser in a Colombian bullfight over the weekend. You'll find this video disturbing, but just think about how Jesus feels. Better yet, think about how the bull feels. It had been stabbed a dozen times before it made an amazing comeback to win the battle. Of course, the bull always loses the war, which is why we celebrate whenever one can get a few licks in on his way down. You done good, Bully, you done good.

It's become a rite of passage for any presidential hopeful, open mike night, inadvertently open mike night.

And a septuagenarian survives getting mauled by a mountain lion, only to now face a deadly infection.

Those stories ahead.

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

A theme tonight, perhaps the three dumbest criminals ever presented in one grouping. See if you can spot them.

Number three, Clenzo Thompson of Brooklyn, bank robber. Holds up the Commerce Bank in Park Slope on the 12th, gets money, dye pack explodes in face. Holds up the same Commerce Bank in Park Slope on the 15th, gets more money. Another dye pack explodes in face. Police considered him armed, dangerous, and wearing way too much foundation.

Number two, attorney Rick Patri of Madison, Wisconsin. Formerly a prosecutor of drunk drivers there, he's now a defense lawyer. On his way to the county lockup to pick up a client charged with drunk driving, he was arrested for allegedly drunk driving.

Number one, James Timothy Buchanan of Panama City, Florida. (INAUDIBLE) county narcotics investigators there asked him to stop by the office for questioning, because he'd been charged with obtaining a false prescription for drugs. When he arrived at police headquarters, police say, Mr. Buchanan was carrying in his pockets prescription drugs for which he had no prescription.


OLBERMANN: In the parallel universe that is politics, it is the equivalent of those Disney World commercials filmed right after the Super Bowl. You have just decided to run for president, what are you going to do now? I'm going to Iowa.

Our third story on the Countdown, Senator Hillary Clinton hits the Hawkeye State, campaigning and singing, and further nuancing her stand on Iraq with the implication we need to be out of there or on the way out of there before Mr. Bush is on his way out of the White House. Making her first visit as a presidential candidate to the first stop on the campaign trail over the weekends, choosing a town hall question and answer session to step up her rhetoric against the administration.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The president has said this is going to be left to his successor. He has said that on more than one occasion. And I think it's the height of irresponsibility and I really resent it. This was his decision to go to war. He went with an ill conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office.


OLBERMANN: The White House responding the way it often does to those who disagree with it, by labeling criticism partisanship, saying in a statement, quote, "it is disappointing that Senator Clinton is responding to the president's new strategy for Iraq with a partisan attack that sends the wrong message to our troops, our enemies and the Iraqi people, who are working to make this plan succeed."

It was not Senator Clinton's comments on Iraq or the president that garnered the biggest reaction in Iowa, rather her response to a question about dealing with bad men.


CLINTON: And what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?


OLBERMANN: That led to a flurry of media speculation that she was referring to her experience with the former president. The senator denied that, but she did say it was just meant to be a joke.


CLINTON: I thought I was funny. You guys keep telling me, lighten up be funny. Now I get a little funny and now I'm being psycho-analyzed.


OLBERMANN: She may have a point. To help us analyze, rather than psycho-analyze Senator Clinton, I'm joined by "Washington Post" national political reporter Anne Kornblut, who followed Senator Clinton in Iowa this weekend. Great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Maybe psycho-analyzing ourselves and the voters applies here, not her joke or what she meant, but this lingering aura in the public or at least the media mind that is her husband's administration, an aura for good and for ill. Does she understand the size of that aura? Do we understand the size of that aura?

KORNBLUT: I would say that she certainly does. Her advisers certainly do. The presence of Bill Clinton is everywhere when she is campaigning. He wasn't physically there this weekend. She went by herself, no family, juts a bunch of aides, but she referred to him all the time. She referred this guy from Arkansas who she met in law school. She referred to Bill, our administration, really harking back to the 1990's.

What you saw with the bad men joke though was an example of the lurking potential for people to remember the bad Bill, and I can tell you the press conference was quite uncomfortable when the bad side reemerged. So, I think their goal now is to maximize the good Bill, minimize the bad Bill, and try and get the most out of the parts of the electorate who still really car for Bill Clinton.

OLBERMANN: Turning to her remark about the president that would intercede between his presidency and her presidency, and Mr. Bush not leaving Iraq to his successor, is she defining her platform in little dribs and drabs, or kind of code here? Did she mean to imply that she thinks we need to be out or going out by January of 2009?

KORNBLUT: Absolutely. She has been trying to redefine her Iraq platform for some time now, ever since she voted for it, stood by her vote, and now that she's running in a primary has come out as a very harsh critic. She certainly is calling for the troops, at a certain point, to come out by 2009, if necessary. But there is another part of her stump speech that she repeated several times, which is that she would be ready to hit the ground running in January 2009.

So she's raising the specter of the mess not being solved by the time she were to get there and come in and be able to fix it.

OLBERMANN: She really is finessing her own stand on Iraq? Is she not? I got to interview her last week and got her to admit that - she said a lot of us in Congress made mistakes in the Iraq authorization votes. I couldn't get her to say she made a mistake by voting as she did. Can she pull off this fairly complex position on it, or will somebody come and slam her the way that John Kerry was slammed for being too subtle and requiring a little thinking in the election of 2004?

KORNBLUT: Look, this is the great unknown. I mean, she has been trying to finesse it. She has very studiously avoided saying that she made a mistake and trying to really avoid the, I was for the war before I was against it charge that Kerry faced to his great detriment in 2004. We don't know yet. We haven't seen John Edwards, Barack Obama, any of the other Democrats come after her. It's only been a week, after all.

It will be interesting. We'll start having debates in April. We'll see how they decide to go after her and whether the people who were against the war from the beginning, such as Barack Obama, or John Edwards, who has very strongly denounced every aspect of it since then, how they really attack her with that, or if they even do.

OLBERMANN: This trip to Texas, the reddest of the red states, at least symbolically, if not actually statistically, what is the goal there? Is there in way for her to get those electoral votes or votes in other traditionally or recently Republican states that other Democrats could not get?

KORNBLUT: That's putting the cart before the horse, since she's not even through a primary, let alone a general. Today she was on a Senate trip, not a campaign trip. But you do see her running a general election strategy as much as a primary strategy. One of the questions about her that she's trying to confront is her electability. So she's stuck to a relatively centrist course, or at least that's been their goal, to argue that she's not as polarizing as she was back in the 1990's, that she was able to win upstate New York, when she ran for her reelection, and that she would at least be able to take some of the purple states, if not red states, states as red as Texas, which her campaign would argue no Democrats going to be able to win anyway.

OLBERMANN: Last thing, it just occurs to me, having heard her response to the bad men joke and this whole thing about loosening up, did she make a concerted effort to loosen up? Did she go off to loosen up boot camp at the beginning of this year? Did we not know about that?

KORNBLUT: I don't know about the loosen up boot camp, but she certainly was trying to, you know, drop parts of her biography into her stump speech, to seem like a real human personal person out there. That's been one of the raps on her, that she's not able to do that. So, I think, you'll see her trying more and more as she goes forward.

OLBERMANN: Yes, that's a strong sense I had when I got to talk to her. Anne Kornblut, national political reporter for the "Washington Post." Great thanks, welcome to the program. We appreciate it.

KORNBLUT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Finally a quick coda to the senator's campaign swing through Iowa. It may not be as starting as hearing former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert trying to sing the national anthem and not knowing all the words, but there are dangers to open mics on Saturday afternoons in Iowa.




OLBERMANN: Just remember at the ballpark we all get to sit there and not actually sing. The good news for her, the 2008 election will still consist of ballots cast by all eligible voters, not merely the judges from "American Idol."

Also here tonight, a northern California man narrowly escapes a mountain lion attack, thanks to his brave wife. He is in the hospital though now, fighting to beat a life-threatening infection. And at times it has veered from being a touching story, to something more like an obsessive cult. In any event, sad news about the horse who was the center of affection. Details ahead, but first here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you say to the prince?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Camilla made some friends too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She shook my hand. I keep showing my husband my hand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now I fell weak. I'm overwhelmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know where the Big Foot is?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For five years Big Foot marked the entrance to Village Chiropractic, but some time this weekend Big Foot disappeared, ripped from the fence he was chained to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We called police, placed a report, you know, a missing person's report.

JOHN STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Try to go peer to peer, if you will. Let me try and put you at ease, if I could. Here we go. What do we do, just sit around here waiting for old men's heads to fly by? Hey, Mr. Cheney, how is the ticker? Doom it up a little more if you could, OK, OK.



OLBERMANN: One would think that surviving a mountain lion attack would be all fate would ask of a 70-year-old man in northern California, not so. In our number two story on the Countdown tonight, Jim Hamm has been transferred to a San Francisco hospital. An infection that found its way in through the wounds, inflicted by the animal, has now led doctors to list him Mr. Hamm in critical condition. Our correspondent is Mike Taibbi.


MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The picture tells much of the story; 70-year-old Jim Hamm mauled by a hungry mountain lion and lucky to be alive after an attack on a northern California hiking trail.

MIKE HAMM, MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK SURVIVOR: I got my fingers in his nose and twisted his nose to give him pain, to make it so that he can call off the attack. And then he got me in the mouth and I got my thumb in his eye.

TAIBBI: When that didn't work, Hamm shouted for help to his 65-year-old wife Nell, who used whatever was at hand, including a ball point pen and a tree branch, to try and drive the 60 pound animal away.

MAURY MORNINGSTAR, SUPERVISOR RANGER: She went for the pen and attempted to use it, and I understand that it broke, and then she went back to using a tree limb and that was more successful.

TAIBBI: The attack occurred last week on a popular hiking trail in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, about 300 miles north of San Francisco.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The victim received severe injuries to the head.

TAIBBI: After he was mauled the park was closed and two mountain lions were found and destroyed, one of them the carnivore that he and his wife had fought off.

HAMM: Any other animal probably would be easier to fight than a lion, because you can't do anything, because they got their claws and they'll go at you with the claws.

TAIBBI: But amazingly Hamm and his wife kept their wits about them, when he clearly could have been killed.

NELL HAMM, VICTIM'S WIFE: We love each other very much and we've been together for 50 years now, and it was just a matter - his life was in jeopardy and we were fighting for his life.



OLBERMANN: The lead item in our round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, also focusing on an animal, in quite a different way. The concern for the winning horse at the last Kentucky Derby, Barbaro, grew from an emotional reaction to an injured into something almost uncomfortable in its idolatry. Tonight, the reaction certainly is not over, but the life of Barbaro is. He had shattered his right leg at the Preakness Race in Baltimore last may and failed to recuperate, despite months of treatment.

He was euthanized earlier today. Barbaro suffered a significant set back over the weekend, when he underwent what doctors called risky surgery after they had discovered an abscess in his right foot. For months doctors had said they would continue to try to save the life of the animal, but only as long as Barbaro was not suffering. The owners of the colt called the decision to put him down the right one. Barbaro won his last race, that Kentucky Derby, by six lengths, the longest margin of victory in that fabled race since 1946.

Potential jail time on the horizon for the singer known as Brandy. The singer and actress facing vehicular manslaughter charges for an accident she caused last month in southern California. Police say Brandy Norwood was driving her SUV on interstate 405, the 405 freeway. Traffic ahead of the singer had slowed considerably, but she did not notice and slammed into a car in front of her while driving 65 miles per hour. That initial impact triggered a chain reaction. The driver of the car Brandy had hit survived the accident, but died the next day of blunt force trauma.

Miss Norwood walked away from the crash and was found to not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Now the California highway patrol has recommended charges be filed against her and if prosecutors follow through on that request, this actress could spend a year behind jail - behind bars rather.

So what's that in the sky above Hawaii? A blip in the sky fuels UFO fears days after another area in the country went through its own string of sightings. Here we go.

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

The bronze to "Time Magazine" blogger Andrew Sullivan. Yesterday, on national television, he says he's found Hillary Clinton a very sensible senator, finds it difficult to argue with her position on Iraq, but when he sees her, quote, all the cooty vibes sort of resurrect themselves. Listen up Millhouse, let's just all leave our political cooties at the door.

Our runner up Bill Shine (ph), senior vice president of Fox noise, the channel offering a sort of apology for running with that Barack Obama attended an Islamic training school nonsense. Mr. Shine said that subsequent Fox programs corrected the story and had even run Senator Obama's statement on it, so the controversy should be considered closed. Left out of that equation, the fact that while clarifying the story, Fox also reported that Senator Clinton had, quote, reportedly outed Obama's Madrassa past. Some correction.

And our winner, a two-for - they must be mighty proud - the publicity folks at the Fox noise channel. Their latest targets, well target, CNN's Anderson Cooper, whom they have described in magazine ads as the, quote, the Paris Hilton of television news. Well, not speaking for Mr. Cooper or anything, but it would seem it would be better to be the Paris Hilton of television news than to be what Fox is, the Dame Edna of television news. Fox noise P.R. today's Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN: It was the masterful late and lamented comedian Bill Hicks who pointed it out in the starkest of terms, if those really were intelligent beings from another planet or even universe coming to earth in what we call UFOs why do they invariably seem to show up in out of the way places, along America's truck routes and rural outposts?

Tonight our number one story on the Countdown, perhaps the first true evidence of intelligence from outer space, flying saucers seen over Hawaii? A second set of sightings in a week. First, this was captured at Charlotte, North Carolina by an amateur photographer, whose video ricocheted around the Internets. Witnesses described it as a blue/green ball with a tail. The usual suspects were ruled out. It's not Venus. It's not an airplane. NORAD says it's not a satellite either.

Then Friday, this other image hit the Internets around 6:20 p.m. in Honolulu with witnesses describing it as two little fire balls with a stream behind it. Also noting they changed direction a few times. The National Weather Service and the FAA had no explanation, while the U.S. military was conducting missile defense drills nearby, those did not occur until an our hour after those images were made.

Joining us now from San Jose, California, Lester Velez, the assistant state director for MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network in California. Mr. Velez, thank you for your time tonight sir.

LESTER VELEZ, MUFON: Thank you, good to see you.

OLBERMANN: Before we get to the specific examples from this past week, you're groups serious about this. Tell me about MUFON and what you do.

VELEZ: Well MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, is dedicated to the study of UFOs and what benefit it could possibly be to humanity. We feel that if we understood the technology behind these unknowns, that perhaps it could be utilized in some fashion to better our lot in life.

OLBERMANN: Let's look at what your assessment is of these two sightings. This first image that we saw from Charlotte, explained in the newspaper, the article in the "Charlotte Observer" edition, by an astronomer. He said this was a fire ball, a meteor about 30 miles high that burned up in the atmosphere. I know this is just a still image, but is that a viable explanation to you?

VELEZ: Well, it's one of many viable explanations. Most of the sightings, probably 95 percent, are explainable to some degree by totally standard, you know, types of sightings, like airplanes, as you said earlier, or space junk. But then there are those five percent that are pretty incredible and very hard to explain. I did take a look at that photo and it's a remarkable photo, but I tend to agree with - I think it was an astronomer that was saying that it was probably a meteor that was coming in.

But then again, you can't tell because there's just - you can't get your hands around, your arms around it. They're out there, just beyond our reach. And so it's difficult to get a clear understanding of what it is.

OLBERMANN: The second report from Hawaii, that was a little different. It was explained by an expert there as something called a contrail. Give me an idea of what a contrail is and also, give me your opinion on if this looks like a contrail to you.

VELEZ: Right. The photograph that I saw, or the video that I saw, was a little bit difficult to see, because it was on this little square piece on my computer screen. But basically a contrail is the exhaust from an aircraft that creates oxygen or - excuse me, water in the atmosphere and it freezes and creates this trail. And then after a while it dissipates, either through heating or wind dispersion.

So it's a distinct possibility. The one thing that the witness said though, was the fact that he saw this thing move and change direction, which a contrail doesn't usually do. However, if there was two jets going in two different directions and the contrail evaporated on one and then became apparent on the other, it could explain it.

OLBERMANN: I mentioned at the beginning the Bill Hicks joke about the destination of the supposed visitors. Obviously he did that for a laugh, but do you think there's a colonel of seriousness in there? Wouldn't intelligent beings who came here from light years away know enough about us already to visit like the capitals?

VELEZ: Well, I tell you, we have found that the incidents of cases where not only just sightings, but people supposedly have been in contact, are pretty amazing. And through various types of analysis we've been able to determine that whether or not these people are coming from another planet, inter-dimensional, maybe time travelers, who knows.

OLBERMANN: Yes, well, at least they chose Hawaii. Lester Velez, the California state chair of the Mutual UFO Network. Great thanks for your time tonight sir.

VELEZ: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That is Countdown for this the 1,387th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. Back here tomorrow night with you for a special comment on the president, his counter-terrorism claims, from New York, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.