Monday, February 12, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 12

Guests: John Dean, Juan Cole, Richard Wolffe, Paul F. Tompkins

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

You say 16 words, and what do you get? At the Scooter Libby trial, tapes of former Deputy Secretary of State Armitage insisting that former CIA director Tenet personally told the Bush administration to take out the Saddam uranium claim. But when it came to the State of the Union, the CIA, quoting Armitage, "was overruled by the White House."

So that kind of makes this statement from July 2003 look kind of, like, well, like lying.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If the CIA had said, Take it out, we would have taken it out.


OLBERMANN: But for that, you'd need the president's approval, right?

No, I meant the other president. The theory of the shadow presidency.

John Dean joins us.

And the shadow this presidency casts on those who want the next one. The two Democratic front runners are officially in now. Iraq and how they approached it in 2003 will shape 2008, as will terminology.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM Clinton (D), NEW YORK: And I'm in it to win it.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Yes, I want to win, but I'm in it to transform the country.


OLBERMANN: No political metaphor here. This is reality. Your parachute doesn't open. You hit the ground at 70 miles an hour. You survive.


MICHAEL HOLMES, SKYDIVER: I never thought I'd be able to actually be watching it again. I thought those moments then were the last, you know, (INAUDIBLE).


OLBERMANN: And final moments of Anna Nicole Smith were last Thursday. The saga, the farce, shows no sign of even nearing an end. Candidates for paternity of her daughter now up to five men, including, now, her billionaire ex, J. Howard Marshall, who died in 1995. Those must have been some lap dances.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

A year ago yesterday, Vice President Cheney accidentally shot a man in the face during a quail hunt in Texas. Today, at the D.C. Federal Courthouse, however, it was Mr. Cheney in the crosshairs, and not accidentally.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, though not a defendant, not even a witness, not yet, anyway, the vice president dominating the trial of his former chief of staff yet again today, the picture emerging suggesting that this is really Dick Cheney's administration, George W. Bush just gets to work in it, day one of the defense for Lewis "Scooter" Libby, his attorneys attempting to portray him as nothing more than the scapegoat by putting on the stand a string of journalists to whom Mr. Libby did not leak the identity of Valerie Plame, never mind that he is on trial for perjury, not for the leak itself.

Among today's witnesses, Bob Woodward, the defense playing an audiotape of an interview that the veteran "Washington Post" reporter and editor conducted with then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told Mr. Woodward the CIA did everything it could to convince the White House that those infamous 16 words about Iraq seeking uranium from Niger were not true and could not be used in any speech by the president, Mr. Armitage adding that the White House ignored that advice, putting the claim in the 2003 State of the Union address anyway, the evidence amounting to yet another smoking gun catching the White House in an elaborate lie.

Listen to the spin given by the departing and incoming press secretaries in July 2003, after Joseph Wilson's op-ed was published.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS, July 14, 2003)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The broader statement about seeking uranium from Africa was vetted through the CIA.

MCCLELLAN: We made it clear that it - that statement should not have been in the speech. I mean, if (INAUDIBLE) CIA had said, Take it out, we would have taken it out.


OLBERMANN: Those talking points (INAUDIBLE) as evidence at the Libby trial suggests, were, in all likelihood, developed by the vice president, trial testimony before today revealing just how aggressively Mr. Cheney was trying to sell a war gone bad, even moving himself to declassify some intelligence material to bolster his case against Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Let's turn once again to our own correspondent David Shuster, who has been covering the trial since its beginning.

David, good evening.


OLBERMANN: Since the implications here are enormous about this, walk us through exactly what was said in that interview with the former deputy secretary of state, what the background of it was, and why it rings so important.

SHUSTER: Well, in June of 2003, Richard Armitage was being interviewed for a book that Bob Woodward was working on. Woodward had just seen an article in "The Washington Post" referring to Ambassador Joseph Wilson's trip to Niger, and the possibility that it would undercut the administration's claim Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa.

In addition, Richard Armitage had just seen, because of his deputy, some reports about Wilson's trip, because of inquiries to the deputy from Vice President Cheney, in particular, Scooter Libby.

So Richard Armitage says to Woodward, Joe Wilson went on the trip because his wife works at the CIA. Armitage then, sensing potential problems of Wilson's findings might cause administration, says, The State Department is clean, and the CIA is as well.

Armitage points out that CIA director Tenet convinced the White House to eliminate a line in a presidential speech delivered in Cincinnati in the fall of 2002 that originally contained the Iraq uranium claim. Here is the Woodward-Armitage exchange.


RICHARD ARMITAGE, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE: And George personally got it out of the Cincinnati speech of the president.


ARMITAGE: Oh, yes.

WOODWARD: Oh, really? It was taken out (INAUDIBLE)?

ARMITAGE: Taken out. George said, You can't do this.

WOODWARD: How come it wasn't out of the State of the Union then?

ARMITAGE: Because I think it was overruled by the types down at the White House. Condi doesn't like being in the hot spot.


SHUSTER: The implication is that Condoleezza Rice, who was then the national security adviser at the time and responsible for voicing Tenet's concerns to the president, didn't like being in the hot spot, as Armitage said, of having to stand up to Vice President Cheney and others who were pushing the uranium claim in the State of the Union.

And again, Keith, the point is that there just shows the power of the vice president as far as overruling other administration officials regarding prewar intelligence, not only before the war, but after the war had begun.

There's already been testimony in this case about how Vice President Cheney decided himself to declassify some information to undercut Joe Wilson, and in the process of getting approval from President Bush and getting Scooter Libby to leak the information to Judy Miller, the secretary of state - I'm sorry, the now - the former - the secretary of state, who was then the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, her deputy and even the CIA director were kept completely out of loop as far as this declassification was concerned.

OLBERMANN: Quickly, and speaking of being on the hot spot, any word on whether or not the vice president is going to wind up testifying?

SHUSTER: No, still no word. His status, though, changed in recent days, and his classification now stands as a potential witness, not a certain witness. That is a change. There's been a lot of talk that perhaps Vice President Cheney's testimony wouldn't help Scooter Libby. And at least there's been no talk in the courthouse, Keith, about the logistics that would be required if the vice president were to show up and testify, Keith.

OLBERMANN: MSNBC's David Shuster at the Libby trial. Great thanks, as always, for your time, sir.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: For more on the extraordinary portrait of the vice president that is being drawn in that Courtroom 16 of the D.C. Federal Courthouse, let's turn now to Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, most recently author of "Conservatives Without Conscience," and, of course, an old friend of the program.

John, good evening.


OLBERMANN: If the vice president took steps to declassify parts of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate so they could be used to rebut Joe Wilson, and if declassifying is something that's only done by the president, is it possible here that the vice president acted illegally, just within this narrow focus?

DEAN: Well, (INAUDIBLE) if you recall, about a year ago, he said in an interview, after the shooting incident, that - the tail end of that interview, he said that the president had given him power in an executive order to declassify information. I've searched for that order. It's got to be a classified order, because it's not on the public record.

There are broad statutes that would cover this. But I doubt that anyone's going to declare it illegal.

OLBERMANN: Have the last week's developments given us any new insight

into the unprecedented nature of the Cheney vice presidency? There was a

description of it as the shadow presidency. And I know this has been

batted around since probably before the election in 2000, and it seemed to

be kind of a - either a whiny response to people who didn't like the way

things were going politically, but it certainly seems now that this was at

this has been, at minimum, a co-presidency.

DEAN: Well, it certainly has confirmed, I think, that the suspicion, as well as some of the facts that I was able to pick up years ago, as back as far as the 2000-2001 transition, when people told me of the strong hand that Cheney had in building and forming the White House. So I think it really is evidence of that. And again, it's evidence of Cheney's true genius, where he lets George Bush wake up every morning and actually believe he is president.

OLBERMANN: So this would then be, I guess, a no-brainer in the contest of what we're hearing here. But a man who (INAUDIBLE) - who held that chair of White House counsel, if you were asked, would you advise Mr. Cheney against testifying on Scooter Libby's behalf, even if he was so asked to do or ordered to do?

DEAN: Well, I think good counsel obviously would tell him not to volunteer. If he has no choice, then he has no choice. He's going to have to go and do it. But he's out there, he's flying without a net, if you will, because while it's possible that Scooter Libby's attorney, Wells, would rehabilitate him if he made a serious mistake, Patrick Fitzgerald is certainly not going to do so. So it's one of those tough things, where if he's out there, he could stumble, and no one will help him get back up.

OLBERMANN: And I have to ask you, while we have you here, about something the president said today, did a sit-down interview with Steve Scully (ph) of C-Span that's running tonight, and it's about the administration's treatment of the media. Listen to this.


BUSH: I'm wise enough not to bash the media. I would hope, however, that they would take a good look at, for example, the rest of the country outside of Baghdad and Anbar Province, (INAUDIBLE) at least the reports I get, are people beginning to live a normal life.


OLBERMANN: Is that, John, the definition of the administration, that legally it may be true, the president never bashed the media about Iraq or anything else, but has not everybody else who's ever worked for him done that?

DEAN: Well, I think that's the way it's normally done. You do put the surrogates out to do the heavy lifting in that department. That's certainly been done with great skill and accuracy in this administration. They beat up on the media regularly, and obviously they keep the president on the high ground.

I think that some of his perception of the media, if he would, say, turn on the television when he's in the gym in the morning, he might be more informed.

OLBERMANN: Well, that's what "SportsCenter" is for, John.

John Dean, White House counsel to President Nixon, author most recently of "Conservatives Without Conscience." As always, sir, our great thanks for your time.

DEAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: U.S. military officials with a religious 180 in the latest claim about Iran being responsible for American deaths in Iraq. Is this intel without actual intelligence, again? We'll put this to the test.

And the race for '08. Barack Obama already criticized by the prime minister of Australia, the one whose son worked on the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: On the Muslim lunar calendar, today is the one-year anniversary of the Golden Dome Mosque bombing that sparked Iraq's Sunni-Shiite tensions into a state of civil war there.

In our fourth story tonight, Iraq marked the day, as it has so many others, with bloodshed and mourning, after a series of bombs killed approximately 80 people in Baghdad, the attacks, in a mostly Shiite neighborhood, in glaring contrast to yesterday's claim by an anonymous U.S. military official that Iran, a Shiite country, quote, "is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces, and also supports violence against the Iraqi security forces."

Exhibit A backing up this claim, photos released Sunday of an allegedly Iranian munitions found in Iraq, that anonymous official blaming shaped charges from Iran, known as explosively formed penetrators, EFPs, for having killed 170 American troops in Iraq since June 2004, all of this coming in Sunday's background briefing in Baghdad intended to bolster the president's portrayal of Iran as a threat to Iraq's stability and to the lives of Americans in Iraq.

But no Pentagon officials publicly attached their names to the new claims. No one representing the State Department, the CIA, director of national intelligence, participated in the briefing. And a mere 24 hours later, the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Peter Pace, responded to one of the briefing's central claims, saying, quote, "We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government per se knows about this."

Joining us now, University of Michigan Modern Middle East history professor Juan Cole, author of "Sacred Space and Holy War." He blogs about the Middle East at

Professor Cole, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: Are we simply in reruns now? Earlier tonight, we heard Richard Armitage's voice on tape in the Libby trial, White House overrules the facts the CIA had about Niger and uranium because it didn't like the facts. Is this the same kind of guilt by association kind of intelligence that was used to rationalize war in Iraq in 2002, being used to rationalize something against Iran in 2007?

COLE: Well, it's like the bad answer to a mystery story. The people with the right motives are not being matched up with the right actions. And the whole thing doesn't make any sense.

OLBERMANN: In specifically, specifically regarding that, didn't the U.S. government originally hint, suggest, that the Iranian aid was going to the Sunnis, the religious opponents of Iran, and now these Iranian EFPs are supposed to be going to the Shiites? Isn't that a 180? Is that not enough to make anybody with an IQ bigger than a walnut doubt that there is any connection between the two countries in this?

COLE: Well, I think part of it is hat they're reasoning back from facts on the ground. You know, the Hezbollah pioneered with these shaped charges against Israeli tanks in southern Lebanon. So then when the Sunni Arabs in Iraq started using them against American armored vehicles, they thought, well, they must be getting them from Hezbollah and Iran.

But what the other possibility is, that, you know, they're not that hard to make. There are other groups in the terrorist underworld who knew how to do it. And the Sunni Ba'athis picked up it from them.

OLBERMANN: Yes, in 2005, the London paper, "The Independent," reported that the bombs like these EFPs were in Iraq, but they didn't go through Tehran, even though that was the British claim at that point, but they went through Palestinian groups who had gotten technology from the IRA, and the IRA had gotten them in a botched sting operation from British security services.

Are the weapons that the Iraqi militias are getting more likely to be from Iran, or are they more likely to be from the West, and even, not directly, obviously, but could they be from the U.S. itself?

COLE: Well, the Sunni Arab guerilla groups get their weapons from all over. There were 200,000 tons of missing munitions in Iraq to begin with that they mined. Then the Iraqi government gets munitions from the United States, which corrupt soldiers and officials sell off on a lively black market. Recently, Lebanon has been importing black market arms from Iraq which originally came from the United States.

So the place is awash with weaponry. It would be surprising if there weren't some Iranian bombs lying about there.

OLBERMANN: Now, Iran has been portrayed as an enemy, often with just cause, from the perspective of the average American, but Iran tried to help us against al Qaeda and the Taliban, helped establish democracy in Afghanistan, is today, at least officially, an ally of the new Iraqi government. And Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, said that Iran had offered to help us in Iraq in 2003, and this government turned them down.

Is the bottom line on Iran clearly visible? Are they enemy? Are they potential enemy? Are they potential ally? What are they?

COLE: Well, Iran could fairly easily be brought into the cold - from the cold, I believe. I think that the Washington power elite, especially Vice President Dick Cheney, does not want Iran's regime to be rehabilitated. They don't want to deal with them. They'd like to see them gone and overthrown. And so they seize on any pretext to put Iran forward.

I mean, over 3,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq, mostly by Sunni Arab guerillas. Why aren't they doing briefings at the Pentagon about the Ba'ath Party and about the backing for the Sunnis from various local publics in the Middle East, which are allies of the United States? Why are they trotting out this Iran stuff is because they have it in for Iran.

OLBERMANN: Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and of

Great thanks for your time, professor.

COLE: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, it is impossible, and it's impossible to look away from, a skydiver's parachute fails. He falls two miles to earth, and survives. And every second is captured on tape.

And do you see anything funny in the tree in the back yard? You mean, besides the bear? Hello.

That and more, ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Wishing no candidate any ill fortune, but on this day in 1944, Wendell Wilkie announced he would again seek the Republican nomination for president, but now seems like a quaint nine whole months before the election. Sadly for the 1940 nominee, it was also eight months before the last of his several heart attacks. Not long before his death, Mr. Wilkie was asked about his own epitaph. He said if he could have a choice between "Here lies a president" and "Here lies one who contributed to saving freedom," he would pick the latter.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in the Rachivuri (ph) Province of Thailand for the annual festival of high speeds and horned beasts known as the Oxcart Olympics.

Thousands show up to the rice fields of central Thailand to watch 16 riders on wooden carts battle it out for the grand prize of a few dollars. And down the stretch they come, in races that often end in injury and sometimes death. Who knew an ox could motor like that? Hard to figure out why there's so many injuries. I mean, these guys seem to be trained professionals out there. Come back, come here, come here.

To Maplewood, New Jersey, just 15 miles or so from New York City. Bear country. Once again, we got a big black bear in a backyard tree who just won't cooperate with the authorities, so the authorities brought out the tranquilizer gun. A local fire department, rather than trying something interesting, set up a nice safe net, and the bear was very gently caught and returned to the wild.

Good news for bear, bad news for you, the viewer, at home, because, honestly, we're not going to have this tape to play much longer. We're wearing that one out. Every time a bear gets shot out of a tree in this country, we play this tape. Let's just thank the fire department in Missoula, Montana, for thinking not just in the bear's best interests, but in Oddball's as well. We swear, he was OK. We swear.

A ridiculous footnote to this story that we'll file under, It's Too Bad Bears Can't Talk. It's reported a veterinarian removed one of the New Jersey bear's teeth to find out how old he is. Oh, come on.

Any (ph) early bounce in campaign '08, Senator Clinton quizzed in New Hampshire, Senator Obama bashed Down Under.

And the drama over Danny Wynn (ph), the latest nominee for the father of the late model's daughter, the late model's even much later billionaire husband. No, I'm not kidding.

All that ahead.

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

Number three, St. Louis Cardinals' first baseman, 2005 National League MVP Albert Pujols, now a U.S. citizen, after having scored 100 percent on his written test on American history and law. But there is some concern that Pujols may have used performance-enhancing drugs.

Number two, Boots, a chain of drugstores in Britain. This week, it will begin a test program at three of its 1,500 pharmacies in England offering Viagra without a prescription. The experiment begins Wednesday, Valentine's Day. Happy holidays.

And number one, Dr. Kotara Yashimura of the University of Tokyo. He and his team are making tremendous strides with stem cell research. Dr. Yashimura's stem cells are injected into women's chests, were they mature into larger breasts. That's right, ladies, no more plastic surgeons. You can grow your in own implants in the privacy of your own home. Now, there's the kind of stem cell research that might overcome opposition even in this country's radical right.


OLBERMANN: First came Australian Rupert Murdoch's acknowledgement that he tried to shape the American agenda before the Iraq war. Now comes Australian Prime Minister John Howard's attempt to shape the American agenda before the next presidential election. In our third story on the Countdown, the Aussie leader, questioned in his own parliament today, about wisdom of blasting Senator Barack Obama and other Democrats on their policy intentions about Iraq.

One legislator pointed out that what Howard said was tantamount to calling the Democrats the terrorists' party of choice. And, looking at it just selfishly, it could harm Australia's future were a Democrat to win the White House in 2009. I'm doing nothing of the kind, the prime minister answered today. I don't retract anything I said.

To the right winger down under in a moment. First Senator Obama, he formally announced his candidacy for the presidency in Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, and referred to Iraq as, quote, someone else's civil war.

Meanwhile Senator Hillary Clinton in Manchester, New Hampshire yesterday said she would tell the Iraqis, quote, "We are not going to babysit a civil war."

It is beginning to look as if Iraq may be more central to the 2008 vote than it was even to last year's midterms, especially, perhaps, for Senator Clinton, if her grilling by a resident in New Hampshire is any indication.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know if right here, right now, once and for all, without nuance, you can say that that War Authorization Vote was a mistake?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it. I have taken responsible for my vote. The mistakes were made by this president, who misled this country and this Congress into a war that should not have been waged.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Most of you know that I opposed this war from the start. I thought it was a tragic mistake. That's why I have a plan that will bring our combat troops home by March of 2008.

CLINTON: If I had been president if 2003, I never would have started this war. And if it is still going on when I am president in 2009, I will end it.

OBAMA: It is time to start bringing our troops home.

CLINTON: I'm in it to win it, because I think that we need to renew the promise of America.

OBAMA: That is why I'm in this race, not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.

That's why I'm in it, to transform the country.

CLINTON: I am running because I believe I will be the most qualified person to hit the ground running in the Oval Office in January 2009.

OBAMA: I know that I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change.


OLBERMANN: And then there is the continuing flap between President Bush's last prominent international supporter and senator Obama. Australian Prime Minister Howard, who's son worked in the Bush 2004 campaign, charged that a victory for Senator Obama, or any Democrat for that matter, in 2008, would embolden the terrorists in Iraq.

He described Mr. Obama's position as one that would, quote, "completely destabilize and destroy Iraq, and create chaos and victory for the terrorists... If I were funning al Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."

Mr. Obama's rejoinder, quote, "we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now and my understanding is that Mr. Howard has deployed 1,400, so if ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq. Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."

After that, let's turn to the senior White House correspondent for "Newsweek," MSNBC analyst Richard Wolffe. Good evening Richard.


OLBERMANN: Are Prime Minister Howard's remarks a proxy fight on behalf of the Republican party? Or is, A, that too paranoid, and B, is that not logical enough, since it looks exactly like what Mr. Bush is complained of in the past, foreign meddling in American politics?

WOLFFE: Well, let's just start by pointing out that President Bush isn't above meddling in foreign politics himself. And in fact, Condi Rice, in 2002, tried to influence the German election. It turned out unsuccessfully. This was the run-up to the war in Iraq and she warned German voters that the then German chancellor was poisoning relationships. Gerhard Schroeder won reelection pretty easily after that.

So, these things do backfire. But it is extraordinary that a politician as experienced as John Howard would try and intervene like that. The great thing for Senator Obama and for American politics in general is that he showed he was more than up to the fight, and he landed a good zinger back on the Australian prime minister.

OLBERMANN: About Senator Clinton, and the weekend that she had, when I interviewed her last month, I tried to get her to say my vote was a mistake, in so many words. The fellow in New Hampshire tried it. A lot of us have tried it. Is the problem for her going to be that over the next year, everybody is going to try it? Should she just eliminate this now by saying, yes it is? Or is there a risk of that being used against her later in the primaries, or by a Republican? Does she perceive that as just being too great to come out and say it in those terms?

WOLFFE: Yes, and this is going to be the tension for her throughout. She has got to appeal to primary voters who are 80 or 90 percent against the war, and don't agree with her initial vote for the war. And yet, she's also got to think about the general election. And at some point, although she started out as a clear front runner, she's in a real contest here. And the challenge to her comes from two candidates who are really purely anti-war, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

So, she's going to feel the pressure. We've got to see how she deals with it, but she is going to face this question everywhere she goes, because there's no question the biggest applause line for Barack Obama - I was with him over the weekend - at every single place, was his criticism about the war, and his assertion that he had always been against the war. No question, that's one of the biggest parts of his candidacy.

OLBERMANN: But even if you have that clean line history about not supporting war in Iraq, or not going for war in Iraq - we shouldn't say supporting - but the line of history that Senator Obama has, is that not a problem merely among Democrats in the primary stage? Because he's now had a speech interrupted by someone unfurling a cut off funding now banner. He has to walk the same tight rope, even though he never wavered on his position in Iraq, correct?

WOLFFE: Yes, that's absolutely right. In Chicago, you know, hometown rally, a lot of people there. These hecklers came up. He actually struggled to deal with them, which was kind of surprising itself. He tried to convince him that he would get around to their point. And they weren't much interested in having a debate. You know, they reminded something of the environmentalists in 2000, who kept on attacking Al Gore, and ended up with President Bush, who was completely anathema to their position.

You know, he is going to face this pressure. And, to be fair, his position although was against the war to begin with, he's not for immediate withdrawal. And he is not taking that pandering position. So he is going to face that problem too. But, you know, clearly his record is more favorable and more in line with where the Democratic base is right now.

OLBERMANN: And finally, the tactics. Are we seeing dialogue evolving here, rival plans to end the war. We heard a lot of these phrases and the similarity, and the phrase, in it to win it from Senator Clinton, and adopted and morphed by Senator Obama. Is he debating her, in essence, debating her long distance right now?

WOLFFE: Yes, he is, absolutely, and she's debating him. When she talks about experience and he talks about change, these people are going head to head, right now, a year before anyone votes.

OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, as always Richard, great thanks for joining us.

WOLFFE: Any time.

OLBERMANN: Not many other phrases work here, cheating death. And it's caught on tape. The sky diver, his parachute having failed, his backup chute having failed, falls two miles to the Earth. All there is beneath him is a bush. And he lives to tell about it.

And the post Anna Nicole Smith story also in free fall. Two new nominees for paternity of her daughter. One of them has been dead for more than 11 years. Now that's a neat trick. Ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The premise of a somewhat sappy but beautifully made 1946 film called "Stairway to Heaven" was that a British World War II aviator, played by David Niven, had to bail out of his burning Spitfire without a parachute and despite falling hundreds of feet, somehow survived. The number two story on the Countdown puts that fiction to shame.

The British sky diver was named Michael Holmes. He jumped from two miles up. The parachute failed. The backup failed. The only thing to break his fall was a blackberry bush. And yet, he not only survived, but six weeks later was on "The Today Show" this morning with Matt Lauer and with the videotape of his own miracle, recorded by his own helmet mounted camera.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Free fall, at 5,000 feet over New Zealand Lake Taupoe (ph), Michael Holmes was plummeting to Earth at 70 miles an hour. He pulled the cord for his main parachute at 4,000 feet, but it didn't fully open, even though it caught enough air to violently spin him around.

It was all caught on tape by two helmet cameras, his and the helmet camera of fellow sky diver Jonathan King. Seconds later, Michael pulled the cut away cable to free his main chute, but it was snared in his harness, and wouldn't break away. Two thousand feet, he now faced a dire choice, release his reserve chute, which could tangle in the main chute and completely wipe out the little lift he had, or ride it out with the main chute only, hoping it would fully inflate before he hit the ground.

He had the make a decision in seconds. After 700 feet, he knew the reserve chute would make little difference. Michael checked his altimeter, 1,100 feet, 800 feet, 650, he decided to release his reserve chute. As he feared, it snagged in the main chute and failed to open. Michael was now 15 seconds from impact.

He waved good-bye to the camera at 530 feet and believed he would die. Michael crashed into a thicket of blackberry bushes. His buddy, Jonathan King, swooped to his side.



KING: (INAUDIBLE) Talk to me man. Are you OK?


LAUER: Not OK, but incredibly Michael Holmes was alive.


OLBERMANN: Broken ankle. Let's descend into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Beginning with a what did we learn from the 49th annual Grammy Awards. Number one, Dixie Chicks won a bunch. Two, Bill-O got a faux shout out from a guy named Ludacris, seemingly appropriate. Anyway, Chicks were the big story last night. They took home Record of the Year, Album of Year, Song of the Year, Country Album of the Year, Country Performance of the Year, and three World's Greatest Mom mugs.

In 2003 it was lead singer Natalie Maines who felt the wrath of the country music world for her disparaging comments aimed at President Bush. Last night it was Maines who had the last laugh, accepting the Best Country Album Award with a hardy Nelson Munce, ha ha.

Five of the sweetest words in the English have been spoken around the country today and tonight: Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow! Baseball Spring Training begins in Arizona and Florida, and those buried up to their stepladders in snow in upstate New York would be greatly relieved if only they could still hear us.

Nevertheless, in a tradition as old as time itself, my colleagues at the Topps Company have been good enough to permit me to open up the very first, literally the first pack of the new 2007 baseball cards. This is the first box to hit stores later this week. And there's always some sort of symbolism to the identity of the first player on the first card, to come out of the first pack. There it is.

So let's see who we have. All right, can I get it open. The first one in the front is Johnny Damon of the New York Yankees. Not planned in advance, how about that. Johnny Damon, Robinson, Tejada, some other guys I've never heard of. B.J. Upton, Eric - so you look for something from them, but I'm not sure which.

There it is. Johnny Damon, the first player out of the first pack of the first baseball cards of 2007. Good luck to him and all who sail on him.

Another day, another potential father for the baby of Anna Nicole Smith. No, not Johnny Damon. No resting in peace for the former center fold. Every new angle of the investigation and the resulting soap opera still ahead.

But first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for the Worst Person in the World. The bronze to Anne Biglan (ph) of West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. She was backing out of a parking spot with an incredible amount of garbage in her car, suddenly shifted and much of it fell on the gas pedal, causing the car to accelerate, cross a highway backwards, and hit another car.

Police say the old coffee cups and other debris literally filled her car from floor to ceiling.

Our runner-up, speaking or garbage, William Donohue, the creator of the nicely named, but nonetheless notorious, Catholic League on CNBC, to repeat his insistence that two bloggers working for Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards were, in his opinion, anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash talking bigots. Another guest pointed out that three years ago Mr. Donohue himself had said, quote, Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews, who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

Mr. Donohue responded, I'm not going to put up with it. It's not the issue here, or I'm not the issue here. Yes, you are pal. Vulgar, trash talking bigotry can transcend race, religion, creed or color.

But our winner, actor Ralph Fiennes. A Quantus Airlines flight attendant, who left the same lavatory as Mr. Fiennes did, just seconds after he did, during a flight from Darwin, Australia to Mumbai. She has been suspended. She denies that she was in there canoodling with the arch villain of the Harry Potter movies. No doubt they were just discussing his Lord Voldemort.

The real reasons for his candidacy, however, first, he no commented the story. Secondly, Quantus acknowledges that he and the flight attendant were chatting as she served him in business class. Business class? You want to seduce a flight attendant in midair and you can't spring for first, buddy? Actor Ralph Fiennes, today's Worst Person In the World.



OLBERMANN (voice-over): Previously on three - I'm sorry, on five men and a baby, million dollar baby. Lawyer turned lover Howard K. Stern returns to the Bahamas and the child he claims is his, picking up a cool mil for an exclusive interview along the way. Gabor galore, Prince Frederick Von Anhalt, Mr. Zsa Zsa Gabor, says he will file a paternity suit.


OLBERMANN: Bait and switch, photographer Larry Birkhead fighting for Anna's DNA, to stop others from stealing his alleged daughter. Bodyguard boyfriend, secret lover Alex Denke (ph), says he could be the father, or at least there is a, quote, possibility. And cold case file, is J. Howard Marshal Dannielynn's daddy, even though he's been dead for over ten years.

Well, we know who it isn't, you are not, but who is the daddy. All that tonight on five, maybe more later, men and a baby.


OLBERMANN: And that's just the beginning. Our number one story on the Countdown, the death of Anna Nicole Smith proving to be even more salacious than her short lived life. Her estranged mother and various other relatives have descended on the Bahamas, arguing they need to protect five month old Dannielynn Hope, because her purported father, Howard K. Stern, was present when both Smith and her son died, even though there is no evidence he was involved in either death.

Mr. Stern returned to the Bahamas to pick the baby up and to give Entertainment Tonight an exclusive interview, for which he was supposedly paid a million dollars. He returned to find the house robbed, the locks changed by the purported owner. So Mr. Stern changed the locks again, but not before the website obtained photos of the contents of Miss Smith's fridge. In it, large amounts of Methadone, Trimspa and Slim Fast.

Other photos that surfaced over the weekend raised questions of how Miss Smith got residency in the Bahamas in the first place. A local paper publishing pictures of her locked in close embrace with the Bohemian immigration minister. You mean he doesn't welcome every visitor that way?

Who better to help put this whole soap opera in its rightful context than comedian and regular contributor to VH-1's "Best Week Ever" Paul F. Tompkins. Paul, good evening.

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Good evening Keith.

OLBERMANN: Let's start with the most trashy part of the rather trashy tabloid extravaganza here, the on going questions about paternity here. Her sister claimed in a new book, that was conveniently finished the morning that Anna Nicole Smith died, that Anna Nicole Smith had frozen some of J. Howard Marshall's sperm before he died and may have used it to become pregnant?

That's a great story, but would she not have used something like that in her court battle over the estate if that had been true?

TOMPKINS: Yes, I mean, I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but it was not like Anna Nicole was any sort of Oliver Wendell Holmes. I think it probably would have come up. Plus, further evidence that Howard Marshall is not the father, if you saw those pictures of him at the top of the piece, that baby would have been born old.

OLBERMANN: What is this, by the way, with her and guys named Howard?

TOMPKINS: Everybody's got their type.

OLBERMANN: If there could be anything more outlandish then dead guy daddy, the Zsa Zsa Gabor husband thing. He is now officially filing a paternity suit, even though his wife is threatening to divorce him if he brings a baby in to the house. Her publicist called him a complete fabricator, and there was the story that he sued Viagra, claiming that it had made him - or Pfizer, claiming that Viagra had made him impotent.

On the other hand, having said all that, could you make that much stuff up?

TOMPKINS: Well, I mean, is it considered making it up if you suffer from senile dementia. I don't know if you saw his press conference where he was talking about it, but he was just seconds away from saying he had also fathered children with Clara Bow and the Kaiser.

OLBERMANN: Clara Bow! And now we've got the fifth contender here on "The Price Is Right," the former bodyguard, this mister Denke (ph), claiming he might be the father. Do we have anybody else who falls into that might be the father category?

TOMPKINS: I don't know, she flew a lot in her career, such as it was.

Maybe it could have been ray Fiennes.

OLBERMANN: That's a lovely thought. And the Bohemian immigration official, is there anyone who didn't fool around with Anna Nicole Smith?

TOMPKINS: I think I'm inferring what you mean to imply and I have never met the woman.

OLBERMANN: OK, so why was this policy of hers not stated on her website, or included in the emergency broadcast system tests, or posted on the backs of hotel doors along with room rates? Why did we not all know this?

TOMPKINS: I don't know, people might have thought that anybody getting into a situation with her might have assumed that the substances were doing their work and the chance of being a father was never a possibility.

OLBERMANN: The photographs of the fridge, the exclusive photographs, is that the real shocker, Paul, I mean, not the Methadone, we knew about that, but Slim Fast. She was the spokesperson for TrimSpa. These are not rivals?

TOMPKINS: I think we should just be glad that it was only Slim Fast in there. You know, I'm sure all of us we're assuming that it could have been a sort of dummy fridge that opened up onto a staircase to an underground Meth lab. You know, give her some credit.

OLBERMANN: Or to J. Howard Marshall?

TOMPKINS: The mummy strikes.

OLBERMANN: Now, TrimSpa and Slim Fast, though, in the same refrigerator, can you safely combine them or do they blow up if mixed, or what happens? Do you know?

TOMPKINS: They're totally inert. The TrimSpa really works fast and the Slim Fast shakes are just delicious.

OLBERMANN: Now the million dollar interview about Howard K. Stern and Entertainment Tonight, he showed his reunion with his supposed daughter, cried on camera. That's not illegal, but it would probably be defined as tacky. Was there any other purpose for doing that interview, that you can think of, besides the million dollars?

TOMPKINS: Probably not. It is possible that maybe he thought he was going to establish DNA evidence that he was the father, by taking some hairs from his brush and planting them on the baby's head.

OLBERMANN: Here, drink this, along with the TrimSpa, little Dannielynn. You know, it's just a shame. It's a tragedy. A young woman died and she can't even escape this in death. But she can't. Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH-1's "Best Week Ever," great thanks Paul.

TOMPKINS: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,401st day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.