Thursday, March 15, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 15

Guests: Howard Fineman, Wayne Slater, Chris Cillizza, Maria Milito

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

Table for five, Justice Department, table for five. The Senate Judiciary Committee will subpoena five of the primary players in Gonzales-gate, Kyle Sampson included, no decision yet on Karl Rove or Harriet Miers.

How much of the decision to purge the U.S. attorneys was political?

Tough times with that one for the press secretary today.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Oh, no, I, I, I, it's, it's a loaded term. (INAUDIBLE) I mean, I think what the president - what the president is saying is, that there's no - that...


OLBERMANN: And how much of all this was Karl Rove? Wayne Slater on the silhouette of Turd Blossom in the back of the Gonzales-gate picture, Howard Fineman on the big-picture politics, and our focused picture on the scandal, as told by the e-mails of its perpetrators and the words of its victims.


DAVID IGLESIAS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Are these going to be filed before November? And I said I didn't think so. And to which he replied, I'm very sorry to hear that. And then the line went dead.


OLBERMANN: What's the newest line from the Democratic frontrunner? A comprehensive Iraq policy, keep some forces there to joust with al Qaeda, protect the Kurds, deter the Iranians? And does it jibe with any of her past Iraq policy?

The new policies and the new world, thanks to dashcam videos. Half police work, half reality TV.

From the celebrity equivalent of dashcams, Britney Spears in rehab, getting heartfelt letters from ex Justin Timberlake, and drinking two dozen Coca-Colas a day. No cause and effect implied.

And trying to cause the wrong effect. Howard Stern meets "American Idol." His campaign to elect the worst contestant in the world.




OLBERMANN: That's right, the guy from Nacho Libre.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening from New York.

In the ancient world, all roads were said to lead to Rome. Two thousand years later, and you only have to change one letter.

Our fifth story on the Countdown tonight, all roads do indeed lead to

Rove. Late-breaking developments tonight in Gonzales-gate, the plot to

purge U.S. attorneys who were not politically subservient to the White

House, the Judiciary Committee clearing the way for subpoenas in the Senate

that would compel Justice Department officials to recount under oath why

and how they came to dismiss eight of those prosecutors, a decision on

subpoenas for White House officials tabled till next week, but a new match

batch of e-mails tonight leaving no doubt that Karl Rove should definitely be on that list, to deflect a report on ABC News late today that new e-mails showed Rove was far more involved than White House officials had previously acknowledge.

The Bush administration released them, Kyle Sampson in one of them telling a White House staff of the plan to fire U.S. attorneys midterm, quote, "If Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, then so do I," the e-mail Mr. Sampson was replying to having read, "Karl Rove stopped by to ask you, roughly quoting, how we plan to proceed regarding U.S. attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, et cetera," those e-mails dated January 2005, putting Rove into the timeline of discussions significantly earlier than the White House had previously acknowledged, and Democrats on Capitol Hill responding, it is high time to hear from Mr. Rove himself.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It is now imperative that he testify before Congress and give all the details of his involvement.

The bottom line is, if the White House prevents Karl Rove from testifying, it will be thumbing its nose at the American people, and at the rule of law. And the reason it's so imperative that people testify under oath is because every time new information comes out, it proves that the White House was not telling the truth in their previous statements.


OLBERMANN: One of the replies to the newly released e-mails also showing Alberto Gonzales first discussed the idea of en masse firings while he was still White House counsel, thereby cementing the notion that he remained the president's lawyer when he seemingly moved from the White House to Justice, Mr. Gonzales saying in a statement tonight that he, quote, "has no recollection of any plan or discussion to replace U.S. attorneys while he was still White House counsel."

When he goes next to Capitol Hill, Mr. Gonzales will be forced to backtrack on his previous claim to lawmakers that he would, quote, "never, ever make a change in a U.S. attorney position for political reasons." His soon-to-be former but inexplicably still on the job for now chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, on the witness list as well, the administration still trying to claim the firings were not made for political reasons, despite 144 pages of e-mails, just the ones released yesterday, between White House and Justice Department officials that suggest otherwise, and collusion, White House press secretary Tony Snow struggling with the definition of political reasons at this afternoon's media briefing.


SNOW: How would you define political decision-making? I mean...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would you define it?

SNOW: Well, no, I, I, I, it's, it's a loaded term. (INAUDIBLE), I mean, I think what the president - what the president is saying is that there's no - that - that in evaluating U.S. attorneys, this is based on performance. And the important thing to do - And furthermore, the Department of Justice made recommendations that the president has accepted.

Also keep in mind, the president has the authority to remove people and put other folks in the job. That is at his discretion. That's the presidential power.


OLBERMANN: Of course, it is hard to define "political" when you believe the term applies to everything, so it should be no surprise to learn that the White House political office was in on the U.S. attorney plan from the get-go, when White House counsel Harriet Miers suggested sweeping out all 93 U.S. attorneys, their merit was clearly not a consideration, nor was the disruption of every single ongoing federal case in the country.

If anything, the list ultimately generated by Kyle Sampson appears to have been an attempt to calm the White House down, to minimize the disruption at Justice by minimizing the number of U.S. attorneys actually purged for politics.


ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These, these fires were not politically motivated, they...


OLBERMANN: But on Sampson's list of who should stay and who should go, the politics was not hard to spot. "Recommended retaining - strong U.S. attorneys who have exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general. Recommended removing - weak U.S. attorneys who have chafed against administration initiatives."

But strength was no guarantee of immunity against politics. David Iglesias was rated "strong," but Republicans complained he was not pursuing alleged Democratic voter fraud quickly enough before the 2006 election.


IGLESIAS: And he said, Are these going to be filed before November? And I said I didn't think so. And to which he replied, I'm very sorry to hear that. And then the line went dead.


OLBERMANN: Soon, Iglesias's job line went dead, he was fired. Dan Bogden was targeted because he was unwilling to take good cases. Terrorism cases? Organized crime cases?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They said he wasn't paying enough attention on obscenity cases. No one ever talked to him and said, Hey, we think you need to put a little more priorities on this.


OLBERMANN: Carol Lam was rated "weak" for not prioritizing immigration, but Sampson called her "a real problem right now," just as she was expanding her successful prosecution of Congressman Duke Cunningham to target other Republicans.

Replacements too were chosen for openly political reasons. And when there was no Republican senator in a prior U.S. attorney's state, those replacements were nominated not by lawmakers, but by the president's leading political friends, or by the White House itself.

"White House wants this guy for New Mexico," Sampson wrote. DOJ also tried to circumvent the checks and balances intended to insulate the process from politics, such as the public and Congress. So the firings were carried out quietly, "to reduce chatter."

Only Republicans were told, "Or where there is no Republican home state senator, the home state Bush political lead." If anyone asked who was behind it, Sampson told everyone to lie and say, not any specific person at the White House or the Department of Justice.

"To shut out Congress," Sampson suggested, "we should have DOJ take over entirely. We can give far less deference to home state senators and do it at less political cost to the White House."

Politics drove one case from beginning to end, U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins told flat out he had to go to make room for Karl Rove's former assistant, Tim Griffin.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: We now have strong reason to believe that despite the earlier protestations to the contrary, Karl Rove and political operatives of the White House and for the Republican Party played a role, along with those in the White House counsel's office.


OLBERMANN: Sampson, "Hiring Griffin was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera." They had two obstacles, Griffin worked in the White House, making the personnel switch problematic, and Congress liked Cummins. White House liaison Monica Goodling, quote, "We have a senator problem. So while the White House is intent on nominating" Rove deputy Scott Jennings "thinks we may have a confirmation issue."

Jennings and Goodling endorsed hiring Griffin in some other capacity at the Department of Justice - it did not matter where they parked him -

"and then install him as an interim" U.S. attorney. "That resolves both the White House personnel issue and gets him into the office he and the White House want him in."

Plus, it helped alleviate the implication that Cummins had been forced out.

And the Senate? Sampson suggested they "gum this to death. Ask the senators to give Griffin a chance. If they ultimately say, No, never, tell them we'll look for other candidates and otherwise run out the clock. All of this should be done in 'good faith,' of course."

Of course.

Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.

Howard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Yes, tell us, in your assessment, about the position Rove finds himself in now, the position the White House finds itself in now after these additional e-mails. A lot of people seem to have been caught not knowing the truth, or not telling the truth.

FINEMAN: I think it's a very serious political situation, and potentially legal, but mostly political, for Karl Rove and the White House. In terms of politics, Karl Rove is the White House. It's important to remember that.

First the White House said, and the Justice Department said, no politics was involved. They said that the White House wasn't involved. And they said that Karl Rove wasn't involved. And to the extent that he was involved, he thought the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys and replacing them was over the top, and he was against it.

Well, all that turns out to be wrong and untrue. Some of those untruths were told directly to Congress under oath. Now those people are going to have 'splainin' to do. The more e-mails that come out, the more the picture is clear of exactly how focused the administration was on using these 93 U.S. attorneys' positions for political reasons.

This was a big cookie jar that they got after they won reelection in 2004. And Karl Rove, it's clear, and George Bush, and his people from Austin, Harriet Miers and Alberto Gonzales, were intent on using the cookies in that cookie jar for political reasons.

OLBERMANN: So the new White House counsel, Mr. Fielding, is trying to negotiate, on the one hand, conditions under which Mr. Rove might testify or Mr. Gonzales might testify. Does he have anything to bargain with at this point?

FINEMAN: Well, he's got executive privilege. A lot of e-mails are out, a lot of things have been said about what Karl Rove said. But I don't think there are specific documents out there in the bloodstream from Karl Rove himself.

Which means that this sort of wall, the sort of, you know, levee, if you will, of executive privilege remains unbreached. And that's the only legal bargaining chip that Fred Fielding has.

But Fred Fielding's been around this town since the Nixon administration, and he knows full well that the political pleasure is building. I don't think the Democratic-controlled Congress is going to sit still for not hearing something from Karl Rove. If the White House refuses, we've got another court case heading to the Supreme Court over executive privilege.

OLBERMANN: Based on what we have seen so far, if Rove is not necessarily in a crosshairs here, it would seem that Alberto Gonzales is. What happens to him when he goes to Capitol Hill? Does he have basically two options, either being the most absentee attorney general ever, perhaps in any country, in order to (INAUDIBLE) the other option, to avoid appearing as if he had not been involved?

FINEMAN: Well, let me explain. Karl Rove's got the political problem. You're right, Gonzales has the legal problem because of what he said on the Hill, and because he's - can be brought up to testify at any time, voluntarily, under a subpoena. They've got the budget control, DOJ, all of that kind of stuff.

I thought George Bush was very clear yesterday in basically cutting Gonzales adrift with the Congress, basically saying to him, Alberto, you clean up the mess you made by not knowing all of what was going on.

Of course, the irony here is that the White House can't decide fully whether to defend what they were doing or not, because, on the one hand, they're saying they didn't act politically, but on the other hand, they're saying they have every right to act politically, and that - you saw that in the confusing answers That Tony Snow gave.

But I think Gonzales doesn't have long for the attorney general's job, even though the White House would then face the very daunting task of finding somebody to replace him who could be confirmed by the Democratic Senate. That's probably the only thing keeping Alberto Gonzales in his job right now.

OLBERMANN: Lastly, Howard, what happens in the Senate among the Republicans? We saw Mr. Sununu's call for Gonzales to be fired yesterday. There's anger over one of the attorney firings from John Ensign inside those e-mails. Is there going to be a piling-on tomorrow from the Republican side?

FINEMAN: I think there will. But I think the White House is reduced to arguing to the Republicans on the Hill, Don't weaken your president further. But this White House was totally trying to undercut the power of their own senators in terms of jamming these U.S. attorney appointments down their throats. They picked fights with Orrin Hatch and a lot of other people who are now not going to be all that interested in their pleas for mercy.

OLBERMANN: Yes, the victims may pile up on the bully.

Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek." Great thanks, as always, Howard.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Alberto Gonzales obviously the front man for Gonzales-gate, but tonight's developments seem to confirm that the epicenter of the strategy and the spin is truly Karl Rove. The co-author of the Rovian bible, "Bush's Brain," joins us next to react to and analyze the breaking news.

Also tonight, Senator Clinton's war stance on the campaign trail. She says she'll end the war when she's president, but now she's added that there will still be some troops left in Iraq.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: If there is a point to the U.S. attorney scandal that has eluded scrutiny thus far, it may be this, the fact that this was not merely about patronage. Karl Rove's assistant, Tim Griffin, already had a job, obviously.

So in our fourth story on the Countdown, with new e-mail confirmation tonight that Rove and the political landscape he surveyed were at the center of the scandal, why was it so important to him specifically to get political appointees into the country's 93 U.S. attorney slots?

One possible answer may be found in Rove's history. Back when he was a political operative in Texas, Democrats had a habit of finding themselves the target of investigations just about election time. On one occasion, the investigation was announced not by the FBI, but by Karl Rove.

Fast forward, and a recent study finds that Mr. Bush's U.S. attorneys have investigated seven times more Democratic officials than Republican officials. Three days before last December's purge of seven U.S. attorneys, Mr. Rove gave a speech in which he blamed the 2006 election results on a handful of scandals, some of which had been prosecuted by those U.S. attorneys.

Mr. Rove promised 2008 would be different.

Joining us now with some perspective on how 2008 would be different, a man who has covered Mr. Rove for many years, Wayne Slater, senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News" and co-author of "Bush's Brain."

Wayne, great thanks for being with us again.


Great to be with you.

OLBERMANN: You have covered the Rove-Bush operation since its early days. I'll get your reaction to the breaking news in a moment. But finish Mr. Rove's thought there for us. How would 2008 be different in his dream world?

SLATER: The key thing to understand about Karl is, he is obsessed with the effect of the Republican scandals on the Republican defeats in 2006. The day after the election, he went to the White House, and he told the president that but for these scandals, we might very well have held onto both the House and the Senate. You know, Karl the master of the math had some math that showed that was the case.

Karl believes that the scandals were the thing that undid the Republican Party in 2006, and so it was imperative to make sure that, as he looked at the landscape in 2008, that not be duplicated, that the U.S. attorney team enforce, not resurrect new scandals involving Republicans before the 2008 race. If they're going to be (INAUDIBLE) investigating anybody, it ought to be Democrats.

OLBERMANN: Ironically now, to avoid scandals being repeated, there is another scandal.

But to the breaking news about that, if the new e-mails available as of tonight say and (INAUDIBLE) reference Karl and Karl Rove and Karl Rove's political will, how can this not be a political invasion of the body snatchers of the U.S. attorney's office?

SLATER: It can't be anything else. Look, you don't have to connect that many dots to see the political elements that are involved here. It began in 2005, where Karl was looking over the landscape and the prospects of redoing the team. Politics is policy for Karl, the government always, here in Texas, and also more recently in Washington, has been seen by him as a political machine. And so there's no way that you can look at (INAUDIBLE) this any other way.

OLBERMANN: Is it any coincidence that one specific story, that Mr. Rove was hellbent on inserting his own assistant, Tim Griffin, who, incidentally, used to dig up dirt on Mr. Bush's opponents, into the U.S. attorney post in Little Rock, Arkansas, just as Senator Clinton would happening be to be launching her campaign for the White House?

SLATER: The chances of that being a coincidence are zero, Keith. That's exactly what was happening here. It was important in Karl's mind, clearly, to have an ally on board, in Arkansas, a state that's going to be very important in the next presidential race if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, a U.S. attorney who will be in a position to look at problems, potentially, with what may have happened in the Clintons when they were living in Arkansas. So this is no mistake, this is no accident. This is by political design.

OLBERMANN: And Mr. Gonzales's aide, Kyle Sampson, was once considered by insiders as the next Karl Rove. He might this day be more characterized as the next Scooter Libby. But as we saw in their notes, Cheney and Libby anticipated Libby's sacrifice to protect Karl Rove. Is Sampson also the next Scooter Libby in that regard? Is he being sacrificed? Is he the guy who's going to come out of here in the worst condition?

SLATER: Yes, it certainly looks like it. And frankly, this fits a pattern, a long pattern - and I can talk about it some other time - here in Texas. People who've crossed paths with Karl, both his enemies and his political allies have found themselves out of a job, out of work, in trouble.

Most recently, look at the case of Scott McClellan. Karl lied to Scott, told him that he had nothing to do with the Valerie Plame-CIA leak issue. In fact, he had everything to do with it. And Scott McClellan was damaged, and he was out of office. Libby was dealing with the same way, and they both Karl and Libby were fully marching I the same direction. When it was all said and done, Libby's gone, Karl's still in office.

Looks like the same thing's going to happen here.

OLBERMANN: We'll see how it turns out, and how many have to go to keep the one man where he is.

Wayne Slater of "The Dallas Morning News," and, of course, co-author of "Bush's Brain." As always, Wayne, our great thanks.

SLATER: Great to be with you.

OLBERMANN: Senator John McCain, McCain 2.0. He's actually gotten the Straight Talk Express out of storage. It seems to be lurching to the right. Is anybody buying the "straight talk" argument right now?

And a recipe for live television disaster. A TV reporter and an angry cat. The claws come out.

Ahead, here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1913, the new president, Woodrow Wilson, held the first formal White House news conference. Helen Thomas asked about Nebraska having voted the day before to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment, to provide for the popular election of senators. And the press secretary announced, mistakes had been made.

On that note, let's play Oddball.

Sorry, Helen.

We begin in Cleveland, with local news lesson 607. Whatever you do, do not work with live animals live.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathleen Cochran, live in Russell Township, with details.

KATHLEEN COCHRAN: Hi, Bill and Stacy.

Well, the couple is accused of throwing two cats, like this one here, out of their car and killing them. Now, as part of their sentence - this little guy's having fun - but now, as part of their sentence, the couple is going to have to come right here...



OLBERMANN: Don't worry, folks, reporter Kathleen Cochran says she was not crying after that vicious attack by Becky, the cat with no tail but plenty of claws, she was laughing. So I guess that makes it OK for us to laugh too. It's with you, I promise.

To Hollywood, where it's not cats causing trouble, but catwalks and their wickedly waxed floors. Carmen Electra, come on down, the latest victim at last night's Max Factor Fashion Show. And down goes Electra, followed promptly by her would-be rescuer, soap star Alison Sweeney (ph). Twofer. The fallen ladies thus ignominiously becoming new additions to Countdown's ever-growing archive of catwalk catastrophes.

The catwalk that is the presidential campaign. What would Senator Clinton really do in Iraq, were she commander in chief. It's not exactly ending the war, as she's been saying on the campaign trail. Why she would leave some troops behind. How that could leave some of her supporters behind as well.

And speaking of support, no one loves Sanjaya's singing, but plenty of people love to hate "American Idol." Why Howard Stern is working to bring the singing competition to its knees.

Details ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three news makers of this day. Number three, the "Los Angeles Time" and "New York Post" crossword editors. Today's number 49 down, clue, Countdown host Olbermann, five letters. But egotist is seven letters.

Number two, the Pascha legal brothel in Cologne, Germany, now offering senior citizens 50 percent off if they can prove they're 66 and over, and if they take advantage of the Early Bird Special, before 5:00 p.m. There's also a joke here about all you can eat buffets, but I'm not doing it.

Number one, Robert Allen Fry in Rock Island, Illinois, an ex-con who was quickly arrested anew on suspicion of burglary at an apartment in Rock Island. He had jimmied the front door lock with a plastic card, a plastic card he left behind after ripping the place off, a plastic card that the Illinois Department of Corrections had issued to him, with his picture on it, after he got out of jail two months ago.


OLBERMANN: Who will be the next president is anybody's guess. How they will get us out of Iraq will almost certainly be their biggest problem. Our third story on the Countdown, one likely candidate is dropping hints about what she would do. Senator Hillary Clinton telling the "New York Times" she would not withdraw all the troops from Iraq, because of vital Mideast interests like oil and Israel. She did not say how many of the 160,000 there now would stay, but she did say it would be far fewer troops, adding, "we would not be doing patrols. We would not be kicking in doors. We would not be trying to insert ourselves in the middle of various Shiite and Sunni factions. I do not think that's a smart or achievable mission for American forces."

Somewhat nuanced from the impression she has given on the campaign trail lately.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: If I had been president in 2003, I never would have started this war. And if it is not ended, when I am president in 2009, I will end it.


OLBERMANN: Well, that would be different, then. I'm joined now by Chris Cillizza, the political reporter for Thanks for your time tonight, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Thanks for having me, Keith.

OLBERMANN: How different is it? Is that a clarification or a flip flop?

CILLIZZA: I think it's a clarification. I think what really is though is it highlight a difference between trying to govern and legislate and trying to campaign, which are two totally different things. In campaigning, you want to cast things in black and white terms. If the president doesn't end this war, I will end it.

When you're legislating, you recognize that there's a lot more gray area. There's complexity in these things. It's not just as easy as sort of A or B is the right answer. The problem for Senator Clinton is that in her campaign mode, she's trying to say that she is the one who is best equipped to govern, that while some of these other candidates, Senator Obama, former Senator Edwards, are going to offer pie-in-the-sky plans about Iraq, pie-in-the-sky plans about health care, she is the one who's going to be realistic about it.

It's a gray area that doesn't necessarily lend itself all that well to winning a primary.

OLBERMANN: Speaking to that, since most Democratic primary voters tend to be at the liberal end of the spectrum, why would she do anything that would dilute the idea of bringing home the troops this early in the political process?

CILLIZZA: I think it's because she's already down the road of sort of this I'm going to be a governance, not a campaigner, necessarily, that she's the realist. She has been in the White House for eight years. She knows that this is a complex issue and she probably also knows, though she would never say this publicly, that the people who simply cannot stomach anyone who voted for that 2002 use of force resolution aren't going to be voting for her anyway. So what she's going to offer is an attempt to show that this is a nuanced issue, that does not lend itself to simple solutions and that she recognizes the seriousness of this, and she's ready not just to win the nomination, but to win the White House back for Democrats.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, she's still dealing with another what the ambassador meant to say moment. She was asked about General Pace's remarks this week about gays and was bluntly asked if she thought, as he said he did, that gays are immoral. And her answer was not yes. It was not no. It was not it doesn't matter what I think, so long as I would treat them fairly and legally as president. She said I am going to leave that to others to conclude. She's since come out with a statement saying she was not trying to be evasive there. She wants to end don't ask, don't tell. And she added, "I should have echoed my colleague, Senator John Warner's, statement, forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral, because that is what I believe."

How do you swing and miss at that one? How much did it hurt her?

CILLIZZA: The problem that she faces is: is she cautious or is she savvy? And that's a question that I think you can go back and forth on. You know, being careful not to alienate any one constituency could well mean that you alienate a lot of constituencies. And so I think what Senator Clinton needs to do is just come out and say what she means. Say what thinks on these issues.

And I think she is actually, in her defense, doing that on the war. I think she does believe that this issue is too complex to say let's just withdraw all our troops. I think she knows it puts her political peril to say that, but I think she also believes it. I think with the Peter Pace comments, I think she needs to just come out, say what she believes, stand by it and leave it at that. Because she is going to be under a microscope, one way or another, because she is the front runner and her last name happens to be Clinton.

OLBERMANN: And the microscope on the other side, to the former front runner on the other side, the polls showing Mr. McCain falling farther behind Rudy Giuliani among the registered Republicans, and today in Iowa, the senator boarded the time machine. He got the old Straight Talk bus that he used to ride before nuanced some of his positions. Is he getting desperate? Is this being perceived, in his own circle, as having been a mistake, to really just present positions that so contrast with what he has said previously?

CILLIZZA: Well, I think what happened is they were running John McCain and John McCain was running as the front runner, you know, the establishment candidate here. That's not a role that he's particularly comfortable in. We've seen that over the last six months. He's looked sort of buttoned down, uncomfortable, not the John McCain that we knew in 2000. I think what they're getting back to now, and the polls certainly show he's not the front runner, so it's easier to get back to it, but what he's getting back to now is the maverick, the shoot-from-the hip, the I'm always on the record kind of guy that people liked, that he's clearly more comfortable being.

So remember, a candidate needs to be comfortable in his open skin in order to do well.

OLBERMANN: Chris Cillizza of As always, Chris, thanks for your time tonight.

CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: The police ride along taking on a whole new meaning with the explosion of the dash cam video. You get a TV series out of it. What do the cops get out of their own version of YouTube?

And a car wreck of the celebrity variety, a new addiction in rehab for Britney Spears. And she's getting love letters from an old flame. That and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: If there is still anybody around who imagines video cameras as devices the size of a healthy five child, that have to be hooked up to recording decks called Quasars, that outweigh most Volkswagens, our number two story on the Countdown tonight will disabuse such Luddites. The dash cam, small enough to be concealed in your palm, has changed not just police work, but also television.

The images it produces have been turned into their open weekly TV show, called "Hot Pursuit." And as our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports tonight, they've also turned into a priceless police tool, defending cops against bad guys and us against the bad cops.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This started as a routine traffic stop for Conoshu (ph), Wisconsin Police Officer Brian Miller. It turned out to be anything but.

More than 40 shots fired, all recorded on his cruiser's dash cam last month. Miller wasn't hurt. The assailant was arrested. More and more, TV audiences are witnessing traffic citations turn into potentially deadly encounters.

Like this frightening video of an officer being dragged by a runaway speeding suspect.

And this driver, who pulled on gun on a Montana police officer. The driver was killed in the subsequent shoot out.

As more police departments nationwide install the cameras, the phrase caught on tape becomes commonplace. Incidents like this Fedex truck slamming into a police car.

Or this high-speed chase that ended with a water landing.

Or this officer hit by a pickup truck while helping another motorist on the side of the road. In this case, the lucky policeman survived.

For police, the cameras have become a violates partner in fighting and prosecuting crime.

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPT: When you have the video, it become quite clear that some people are very irrational and do some very irrational things.

TIBBLE: The same camera that can help catch and convict criminals, can also expose questionable behavior by those sworn to serve and protect.

Here a pregnant woman's pleas for help are dismissed by two Kansas city officers.

BRATTON: The benefits to policing is that it not only support the good cop, but it also helps to identify an officer who's behaving inappropriately.

TIBBLES (on camera): While in cameras in police car are there to help solve crime, with the explosion of the Internet and television news, there's a whole new audience out there, clamoring to get right inside along with the officers, and that audience is us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all voyeurs. We all want to know what's going on in the world. We would all like to see it with our own eyes.

TIBBLES (voice-over): And seeing what police officers deal with day in and day out can be eye-opening. And thanks to the on board cameras, not only will law enforcement have a powerful tool in the courtroom, we are able to ride along, from the comfort of our living room.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: Perhaps only a camera could now put to rest the mystery of the death of Anna Nicole Smith. That leads our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. Instead, we have the drip, drip, drip of facts and innuendo. The latest that Miss Smith's laptop computer contains evidence, according to, specifically e-mails, here we go again, e-mails about drugs from Miss Smith to and from her doctors.

Also, reportedly, copies of prescriptions on her computer and officers Florida police acknowledged that they have met with homicide prosecutors, according to the "Miami Herald," but that no homicide investigation has been opened.

Meanwhile, Bohemian police are also reportedly interested in Miss Smith's computer, as they continue to investigate the death of her so, Daniel.

Good news and bad news for Britney Spears. She's acting out in rehab and consuming 24 cans of Coca-Cola a day. On the other hand, her ex, Justin Timberlake, has sent her a letter so heartfelt it moved her to tears. You can be the judge, which is the good and which is the bad news?

"Star Magazine" quotes a fellow inmate - patient at the Promises Center in California, who claims Spears is refusing to pick up after herself or eat the center's food rather than her own selections, or even acknowledge she should really be there. Supposedly she is in there to address substance abuse, bipolar disorder, bulimia and postpartum depression.

Then there are the four six packs of Cokes she's reportedly gargling per day. And then there's the Timberlake letter. Another source telling "Life and Style Magazine" that the ex wrote a letter promising his unconditional love, and wishing they hadn't fallen in love so young, because otherwise they might be married with kids right now. An insider is quoted as saying she could barely catch her breath to read the words. It was one of the most moving letters she had ever received.

You know, those symptoms could be from the 24 cans of Coke. Not even two dozen Cokes could liven up the performance of this Sanjay guy on "American Idol." That doesn't matter if you have a secret voting weapon behind you, the Howard Stern nation. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

It's an all television addition. The bronze to the vaunted BBC, which profiled Libby prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and included this quote from his blog, "Now that I am in Chicago and DC, I have found the rampant corruption to be a travesty, a travesty of a mockery, of a sham of a mockery, of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham, hey." That's, A, from Woody Allen's movie "Bananas," not Patrick Fitzgerald's blog. And B, Patrick Fitzgerald does not have a blog.

The runner up, Mesa, Arizona cable TV station KPPX. Let me just read the local newspaper's account: "viewers of a news show broadcast on a Phoenix area cable television station received a lot more than news. Hardcore pornography started streaming into their living rooms, replacing a health show featuring former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw. It certainly brings a new meaning to the greatest generation."

But our winner is the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing. Its annual list of nominees for its hall of fame are out, among them Fox noise channel for the branding campaign, Fair and Balanced. There could be news for our species in this. I cannot speak for the pantheon of the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing, and whether or not it would Fair and Balanced up on the wall somewhere. But in all the halls of fame I've heard of, don't you have to be retired to get in? The Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing, today's Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN: Mediocre is a relative term, and even bad does not exist in a vacuum. So when I am told earnestly informed by the individuals referenced in the title, another story my producers are forcing me to cover, that the really bad ones survived the first cut on "American Idol" last night, I have to wonder, the other 11 finalists are actually good enough to make this other kid look that awful.

In our number one story on the Countdown, I am skeptical, but I will humor them to a point. Here is a sampling of the really bad one.




OLBERMANN: No, sorry, that's not him, and our apologies to the cab driver. The contestants name is Sanjaya Malakar. This is his latest stab at a tune.




OLBERMANN: To last night's results then.


RYAN SEACREST, "AMERICAN IDOL": After nearly 28 million votes, America has decided that Sanjaya, you are safe.


OLBERMANN: Absolutely shocking. Creating a vast theory about an "American Idol" right dialing hand conspiracy, who say the show's open ended voting system has been sabotaged by Howard Stern, who has encouraged his listeners to vote for this Sanjaya kid. And exhibit number two,, that vicious Idol lampooning website that encourages viewers to cast their vote for - you've already gotten the idea here.

Let's turn to Countdown's very own "American Idol" princess, also the mid day host New York's classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito. Good evening, Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3: Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN: Is this not another reason to admire your old colleague, Howard Stern?

MILITO: Well, you know, I love Howard, always have, always will. I don't think that he can do this, compared to the days when he was on free radio. It's different now. So I don't think it's because of Howard.

OLBERMANN: Would it help if I chimed in some way? Could we get it done together?

MILITO: No, I don't think so. I think it is going to happen eventually. Have faith, it will happen. This kid is not going to last.

OLBERMANN: I try to be patient with this, and I can see that this poor kid is not that good, but I am supposed to believe that his survival over the other ones in the lower echelons of this pack is really such an outrage, is really so egregious?

MILITO: Honestly, he is the worst singer, and I think there is some juice to the fact that has him there. He replaced Sundance when Sundance was off. But he is also a young kid. He really should not have been in the top 12, and that's the bottom line.

OLBERMANN: I would like to play a composite of some of Simon Cowell's comments, not about Mr. Seacrest, but after Mr. Malakar has performed, and then get your reaction to it.


SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": It was like some ghastly lunch, where after lunch your parents have asked the children to dress up and sing.

I am just finding the whole hoola hooping, the Paula hair style, all of it weird. You know, when you hear a whale in Beverly Hills, that's when Diana Ross is watching this show.


MILITO: That made me laugh out loud. I am sorry.

OLBERMANN: He meant wail, W-A-I-L. I mean, Diana has not gained a lot of weight. But the other judges have not been much more complimentary and you have a theory about this?

MILITO: Well, I think the fact that Simon is brutally mean, but he's also brutally honest about the kid. I think America feels bad for him. He is 17. Look at him. He didn't even understand what that meant, when Simon mentioned that. I also think he is the first of his ethnicity to be in the top 12, so maybe people of his ethnicity are voting for him.

OLBERMANN: Well, there is not a real vetting to this voting system on this show, is there? And whether you like the program or not, there are plenty of people who want to believe it's legitimate. Do the wheels come off at some point because the voting seems so screwed up?

MILITO: I don't know. I think the voting gets really screwed up as it gets closer. You know, if you think of last season and the seasons before, when they get into the top five, that's when all the conspiracy theories come out. I don't know. I really think people feel bad for him, because he is young. So the more that they are brutally mean to him, the more people vote for him, because they feel bad.

OLBERMANN: Last point, the other Idol news, Paula Abdul telling TV guide that Simon Cowell pokes and prods her under the table during the show, and that it throws her off, and that's why people think she is drunk. Is that the best she can come up with after three months of this?

MILITO: I know, she claims that she never drinks, that never does drugs. She claims she is drinking, I believe, Diet Red Bull in that cup. But I don't know, you know, when you watch the show, Simon is always bothering her and has his arm around her, and whispering to her, but it's the best she could come up with.

OLBERMANN: Come on, Britney Spears did a better job, 24 Cokes a day.

MILITO: And she claimed she was a virgin for many years, too.

OLBERMANN: Maria Milito, "American Idol" princess, who, as the pros say, hit the post very nicely on a U2 song about 1:35 this afternoon on New York's Q104.3. Great thanks Maria. That's Countdown for this the 1,432nd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.