Friday, March 23, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for March 23

Guests: Wayne Barrett, Larry Sloman

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

The House passes the bill, troops out of Iraq by September of next year.

The president passes judgment.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democrats in the house, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq.


OLBERMANN: As opposed to letting the president substitute his judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq, and as opposed to letting the president substitute his judgment for that of the people for whom he works.

No substituted judgment from the White House on the Gonzales-gate subpoenas. It's still take it or leave it. But tonight, a new motive appears for not putting Karl Rove under oath. He's had past problems under oath, once being asked if he knew a certain FBI agent, and answering, "Senator, it depends. Would you define 'know' for me?" And this was seven years before the meaning of "is."

And we get Mr. and Mrs. Rudi Giuliani under oath. Never mind why he married a cousin or why ex-wife number two won't endorse him. Now it's about her. She's on marriage number two? No, turns out she's on marriage number three.

And speaking of sleight of hand, let's dig up Harry Houdini, because his descendants think he might have been murdered.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You never know for sure until you're there, until you have whatever the remains may be in hand.


OLBERMANN: Well, Houdini did promise he'd be back in touch after he died.

And speaking of late-breaking news, the former governor of Arizona, about the mass sighting of bizarre lights over Phoenix 10 years ago this month, the ones he made a UFO joke about, those were UFOs. And he adds, I don't know why people would ridicule it. Oh, no? How much time you got, Gov?

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening from New York.

It sounds somewhere between counterintuitive and self-destructive, a commander in chief promising to veto a bill containing what he himself calls vital funding for his troops.

Yet in our fifth story on the Countdown, that's exactly what President Bush is threatening to do, because the bill also demands the end of his fiasco in Iraq.

All this, while tonight there is breaking news about just how far and how long the fiasco that was the military coverup of the death of Pat Tillman went. To that in a moment.

First, the secretary of defense has already warned that soldiers and their families will be facing financial problems if a spending bill is not passed by April 15. The House emergency funding bill provides $124 billion in emergency funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also provides a mandate that troops are fully equipped and rested before redeployment or deployment. It also requires that combat operations stop by September 2008, or earlier, if the Iraqi government does not reach certain benchmarks.

On the floor of House this morning, Congressman Jack Murtha, who led the charge to start redeployment, made an impassioned and emotional plea for his colleagues to pass this bill.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This is a failed policy wrapped in illusion. We don't have the troops, we don't have a strategic reserve to be able to react to a future threat to - a national threat to this great country.

My grandfather's civil hat is in my office, Civil War hat is in my office. He lost his arm in the Civil War fighting for the North, some of you Southerners here. And my great-grandmother lived to be 96. I was 6 years old when she died. She said, You're on this earth to make a difference. We're going to make a difference with this bill. We're going to bring those troops home, we're going to start changing the direction of this great country.


OLBERMANN: Congressman Murtha's request not falling on deaf ears. The bill passed 218 to 212, as a cheer echoed through the House, the speaker calling it a historical day, and a great giant step towards ending the war in Iraq, the president, barely an hour after the vote, reiterating his threat that even if the measure got through the Senate as well, he would veto it.

After a backdrop of assorted veterans and soldier families filed into the diplomatic reception room, the president himself took to the podium virtually palpably vibrating with outrage.


BUSH: Today, a narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law and brings us no closer to getting our troops the resources they need to do their job.

Purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq.

This bill has too much pork, too many conditions, and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. As I've made clear for weeks, I will veto it if it comes to my desk.


OLBERMANN: And, of course, that was not political theater there in the diplomatic reception room with all the vets and their families there.

Joined now by "Washington Post" national political reporter, our own analyst Dana Milbank.

Dana, thanks for you time again tonight.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Politically, did Mr. Bush walk into some kind of trap here? I mean, for the purposes of this argument, say the Senate actually passes the same bill. The Democrats would have then voted to financially support the troops, and the president would be vetoing that support? Am I missing something in the chain of logic there?

MILBANK: Well, but don't forget, this White House is very good at passing the blame. You recall them blaming Harry Wittington (ph) for getting shot by the vice president.

And they may have a little bit of an advantage here. Think back to Newt Gingrich and - versus Bill Clinton and the big government showdown. He thought he had a winning hand there. The president, even when he may be in a weaker position, can use the bully pulpit to win in these cases. Could be very, very difficult.

But, of course, this isn't the last stage. It's going to go back and forth. The Senate has to take action, then we're going to have a conference, then more rounds and then an attempt to override a veto. There's a whole lot more to go here.

OLBERMANN: Stage two of that, the practicalities in the Senate, is the Senate really going to pass a version of this bill?

MILBANK: The Senate's going to pass a version of this bill, it appears. They have some decisions to make now. The one they've been floating has a nonbinding provision to pull out of Iraq in March of next year.

The truth is, what really is going to matter here is what goes on behind closed doors when the two chambers get together and decide what actually they're going to send to the president, and what they're going to do after that is presumably vetoed.

OLBERMANN: Giving him the benefit of the doubt, the president seemed genuinely angry today at that podium. Could he possibly have been surprised by what happened today? Is he that unplugged?

MILBANK: No, I don't think he is, and he was throwing out every possible argument there. He was very surprised to find that there was pork in a spending bill, and, of course, there is money in here for shrimp farmers and spinach growers and peanut storage. But this is how spending bills work. The president surely was not surprised with what he got today.

He may have been surprised that the House Democrats were able to unify their caucus for really the first time on Iraq.

OLBERMANN: Is - first off, is there (INAUDIBLE) - can you remember the last bill that went through without any pork in it? I mean, the Democrats say they tacked on the other appropriations for this bill because the last Congress, the Republican Congress, didn't deal with any of the measures. The president says it's pork, says it's pet projects. Is that his best argument? Does that carry any weight in the middle of the debate over whether or not we should still be at war?

MILBANK: I don't think that one's going anywhere. That was something you just want to sort of toss out there. But if he's going to try to fight off the Democrats on Iraq by calling - talking about pork barrel spending, he's certainly got a big problem.

OLBERMANN: And a question on a different topic here, the secretary of defense, the new one, Mr. Gates, had previously said that he wanted to see the infamous facility at Guantanamo Bay closed. Now, according to the White House, Mr. Gates has changed his position after speaking with the attorney general.

What do we infer from this apparent flip? Is the White House leaning on everybody to fall in line, or is there something else to this?

MILBANK: We can infer that Mr. Gates spoke to the attorney general while wearing a hood and having electrodes attached to him.

But certainly, he's been told. He made it very clear during his confirmation hearings that he wanted Gitmo closed, but he's been - it's been made very clear to him that he is not the boss here, and Secretary Rice was out there saying today that the - that Guantanamo is not going to be closed during the time of this administration. That's - full stop.

OLBERMANN: Good grief.

Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post." As always, Dana, our great thanks. Have a good weekend.

MILBANK: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: It's not just the move to get out of Iraq coming into play in this presidential election cycle. Once again, it's about the vote to get into Iraq, Senator Hillary Clinton's camp bringing out one of its biggest political guns to shoot down criticism of her yes vote in 2002.

When I spoke to the senator back in January about what kind of role her husband might play in her campaign, she replied he would remain her staunchest supporter and greatest adviser. But now the former president also is shaping up to be her fiercest defender, telling hundreds of supporters in a conference phone call that the way his wife has been portrayed because of her vote on the war resolution is not fair.

Quote, "I don't have a problem with anything Barack Obama has said on this, but to characterize Hillary and Obama's positions on the war as polar opposites is ludicrous. This dichotomy that's been set up to allow him to become the raging hero of the antiwar crowd on the Internet is just factually inaccurate."

I'm joined now by the reporter who transcribed that message from President Clinton, possibly the only reporter on that conference call, Sam Youngman of "The Hill" newspaper.

Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

SAM YOUNGMAN, "THE HILL": Keith, thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN: Just from that nugget, it would seem that the Clinton campaign sees this war vote as one of the, if not the major hurdle for the senator to beat out Barack Obama and the other Democratic contenders. Was that your impression from this? Did they reveal the biggest self-perceived hole in their own armor?

YOUNGMAN: Very much so. I think just the veracity with which the former president responded to the question, which was posed by one of the supporters on the phone call, demonstrated to me that they do see this as a vulnerability. It's legitimizing of Senator Obama in the eyes of many, and it's creating, I think, more of a contest than they would have liked, especially in these early stages.

OLBERMANN: Did anyone raise that question that - of perhaps 100

percent of those of us who have interviewed Senator Clinton has raised, why

what is the danger in saying that was a mistake, because we were given bad information? She uses the word "mistake." How do they perceive that's going to be used against her later on?

YOUNGMAN: Well, and that's how the question was posed. It was a very simple question, one the supporters asking, How do we - essentially, how do we explain the senator's vote when talking to undecided voters, people who we'd like to, you know, encourage to vote for her, and contribute money?

And it was at this point that the president, the former president, jumped over, figuratively jumped over former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe and said, Let me answer this. And he really went through a lengthy and staunch defense of Senator Clinton and her vote, saying he had reread the 2002 authorization as recently as last week. He - clearly, he - they either memorized or had a copy of this month's "GQ" magazine with an interview with Senator Hagel, next to him.

So I think, you know, this is a - he did a - he try - did try to offer why she shouldn't apologize. He said, In the future, future presidents may need to use similar resolutions to force coercive inspections.

OLBERMANN: Was there any fear, in his voice or throughout that phone call, that the - that the senator's campaign is running a risk simply by explaining nuances, (INAUDIBLE) something that tripped up Senator Kerry at least once during the 2004 campaign?

YOUNGMAN: There really wasn't an acknowledgement of that type. I think the nuance kind of speaks for itself, actually. The fact that here we are now, five years later, or four years later, and we're - you know, the former president still feels the need to explain this vote in great detail, and evidently needs to - needed to reread the resolution as recently as last week.

Clearly, the nuance, I think, speaks for itself, and the antiwar crowd is not one that appreciates nuance.

OLBERMANN: "The raging hero of the antiwar crowd on the Internet," about Senator Obama. That was a particularly telling phrase, was it not?

YOUNGMAN: It kind of jumped out at me, sure.

OLBERMANN: And what did - (INAUDIBLE) - was there, was there a sort of a damming by faint praise in that about Obama? Was there anger? What was the tone? You could never - anyone who knows President Clinton or has ever talked to him once or even listened to him once knows that the tone behind the words is as important as the words themselves.

YOUNGMAN: Sure. And I really - the emotion that I sensed the most was frustration, one of frustration. You have the president and others saying, Look, sure, Senator Obama said he wouldn't - he said, I don't know how I would have voted had I been in the Senate and been privy to the same intelligence as Senator Clinton. But that's the benefit of not being in the United States Senate when that vote's being cast.

Since then, President Clinton and others with - in - other Senator Clinton supporters would argue that, Look, since he's been in the Senate, he's been casting the same votes, almost identical, to Senator Clinton in terms of war funding, voting against Senator John Kerry's bill that would have forced troop removal, I believe as early as this month.

So that - I think it's just exasperation. They feel like the narrative's being written, but it's being written incorrectly.

OLBERMANN: Sam Youngman of "The Hill," a media fly on the wall of the Clinton phone conference. Great thanks for your reporting, and great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

YOUNGMAN: Keith, thank you.

OLBERMANN: Finally, in a typical Friday night take-out-the-trash news

dump, we find out late this evening that the Pentagon investigation into

how the Army handled the death of the former football star Pat Tillman is

complete, and its conclusions are appalling, the Pentagon's inspector

general finding that nine Army officers, including as many as four generals

four generals - knew that former NFL star Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004, but they were all in part responsible for neglecting to tell his family in a timely manner.

Pat Tillman's mother has said the Army wanted to use her son's death to foster patriotism, and that that was why they waited until weeks after his nationally televised memorial service to share the true cause of his death, friendly fire.

Also tonight, the White House continues its full-court press to keep its aides from testifying under oath in Gonzales-gate. Looking at Karl Rove's track record under oath, it seems they probably have good reason to want to avoid that.

And a mystery marriage in the past of the latest Mrs. Rudy Giuliani. Judy Nathan Giuliani's real first marriage now revealed. You know, you guys have still got 10 months to get the correct final answer.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: With the news today that Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to the attorney general, Mr. Gonzales, will testify to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, the U.S. attorneys scandal offered up yet another batch of e-mails late this evening, the Justice Department turning over 100 more, the scanning thereof now underway.

Even before that release, White House press secretary Tony Snow was still fielding questions about the scandal, literally, Fred Fielding questions.

But in our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, Mr. Snow reported that while Fielding, the White House counsel, was still in talks with members of Congress who want testimony from Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, those talks did not qualify as negotiation. Translation, the White House will not budge.

In fact, Mr. Snow made clear today that the information being offered includes only e-mails sent from inside to outside the White House, not internal e-mails, even though executive privilege actually only covers communications with the president himself.

Mr. Snow continued to insist that Congress does not need Rove or Miers or either under oath to get the truth from them, a position he might advance with less vigor regarding Rove had he been at the podium on October 10, 2003, for this particular exchange.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Earlier this week, you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams, nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wonder if you could tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Those individuals, I talked - I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this.


OLBERMANN: Of course, today, both Mr. McClellan and Mr. Snow know all too well that Mr. Rove was one of the two senior administration officials responsible for the original leak. But would getting Rove under oath make him any more honest?

Let's turn to Wayne Slater, who has covered Mr. Rove's moments under oath, as well as his oaths, for "The Dallas Morning News," where he serves as senior political writer, also the author, of course, of "The Architect:

Karl Rove and the Dream of Absolute Power."

Welcome back, sir. Thank you for your time tonight.


Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Mr. Rove has given sworn testimony before. Start in '93, when he was advising Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who was later acquitted, but at the time was under indictment. What was - was he honest in his testimony in that case?

SLATER: He was not honest in his testimony in that case. Basically, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was preparing to run for U.S. Senate, had been indicted on charges of using her office for political purposes, and Rove was part of a very aggressive public relations campaign to undercut the district attorney. The whole idea was to say that he was looking for publicity, publicity hound.

And so, as a result of the district attorney sending agents in to Kay Bailey Hutchinson's office to get documents, Rove took the stand in a prehearing, was asked about this episode, and said, Well, that was part of the district attorney's efforts to self-aggrandize himself, to basically talk about publicity, and to try to get his name in the paper.

When the attorney said, How do you know that? he said, Because a couple of reporters told me they got word in advance to be there for the raid, and one of those reporters was Wayne Slater. I was watching, I got no such advance. It was absolutely untrue. But in the end, Rove was able to plant that seed with the judge, that the district attorney was involved in a publicity stunt.

OLBERMANN: Boy, that sounds like - that's a curious echo of Tim Russert telling Scooter Libby, isn't it, though?

You wrote in "The Dallas Morning News," he's also testified under oath to lawmakers before, and years before Bill Clinton parsed the definition of "is." Tell us about Mr. Rove's sort of precursor to that.

SLATER: Well, it was an amazing day. It was in 1991, Rove had been appointed by the governor to be on a university board of regents. And so he appeared, under oath, before a senate committee, in this case, the Texas Senate Nominations Committee, and members of the senate committee really didn't want to hear about education. They wanted to know about Karl Rove, this emerging political force in Texas politics.

They began to ask about, What about the fact that you had found a bug, a eavesdropping device, in your office in a campaign just at the moment that it hurt your Democratic opponent, helped your Republican client win office? And what about this FBI agent, they asked, who, time after time after time, opened investigations in Texas against the Democratic opponents of Karl Rove's clients, always, in every case, drawing publicity, and Karl Rove's client would win.

The favorite exchange, my favorite exchange, was when a senator asked Karl Rove, years before the Clintonization of our language, asked him, Do you know this FBI agent? Karl said under oath, Well, Senator, it depends, what's the definition - what's your definition of "know"?

OLBERMANN: So this leads where - anybody who's that careful about this, and parsing, is he likely to have to included anything, even in an internal White House e-mail, in any event?

SLATER: That's one of the things that's fascinating about Karl, and I've watched this for almost 20 years now. He's very, very careful. Very often things happen, episodes in political campaigns or during the course of the development of public policy, in which he seems to be at the center of some episode, some skullduggery of one sort or another.

But he rarely leaves fingerprints, it's rarely that moment like we saw with Scotty McClellan, where he actually says something that's documented to be untrue. More often than not, he's not there, and so you put him in front of a Senate committee, and I'm not sure what it is they're going to learn.

At the same time, what the committee clearly would like to know - as sort of an echo of the old Watergate thing, what did the president know and when did he know it? Karl knows most of the secrets inside the White House, and that's probably why there's not much subpoena envy at the White House these days.

OLBERMANN: As they used to joke about a ballplayer named Greg Nettles, who started all the fights on the New York Yankees of the 1970s. They called him Poof, because he'd stir up the trouble, and by the time anybody found out what was going on, poof, Wayne - Greg was gone.

Wayne Slater with "The Dallas Morning News," co-author of "Bush's Brain." And thank you very much, as always, sir.

SLATER: Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN: A string of pet deaths across the country now linked to rat poison. Now, investigators scramble to find out how it got into the pet food.

Remember the UFO sightings over Phoenix ten years ago this month? Turns out the then-governor of Arizona saw the whole thing, pooh-poohed it at the time. Now he says, really was something from outer space.

That and more ahead from Countdown.


OLBERMANN: On this date in 1822, Schuyler Colfax (ph) was born. The 29th speaker of the House of Representatives, this country's 17th vice president, he came to an unfortunate end at the age of 62. He needed to catch a train in Minnesota, and decided to walk the three-quarters of a mile to the station. It was 30 below zero at the time, and as soon as he got there, he keeled over.

On that happy note, let's play Oddball.

We begin in Rustin (ph), Louisiana, where civil engineering students from around the nation have gathered for a three-day competition. Three-man teams with canoes they've constructed out of concrete. And what do you know, the concrete canoes are sinking. How in the world could we not have seen that coming? You're paying how much for tuition? Lazy, no-account...

To the Internet, where guys posting their kite surfing video is all the rage. But there are none better than this one, which starts with an interview with a strange-looking dude in a top hat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did you get into this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was by coincidence. One day I grabbed a kite and I just flew up in the air. There's a guy up there, look.

OLBERMANN: That guy up there is kite surfer Eric Eck (ph), who had just come out water, still trapped in, when his kite was caught in a freak thermal updraft. It yanked him off the beach and took him way, way higher than a kite surfer has ever gone before. I can see my house from here?

Mr Eck later said he was all but helpless, but managed to steer the kite out of the updraft and then came in for an extremely hard landing. Amazingly, he was not seriously injured. The guy in the top hat later said, quote, dude.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the checkered marriage history of Rudy and Judy Giuliani takes another hit. It's now a tie. Turns out they have both been married three times. She reveals she was hitched one more time than had been previously publicly known.

And if you are worried about the Anna Nicole Smith story going on forever, his descendants now want to exhume the body of the great magician Harry Houdini to see if he was murdered, a mere 81 years after his death. Details ahead, but first time for Countdown's top three news makers of this day.

Number three, former Governor Fife Symington of Arizona. When dozens of people saw strange, other worldly lights over Phoenix in March 13, 1997, like this, then governor Symington poo-pooed the UFO angle, even dressing up his chief of staff in an alien costume. Today, he says he saw the lights too, and since he is a pilot, he knows what they were, a big UFO. It was enormous, he says. It just felt other worldly. In your gut, you could just tell it was other worldly. His former chief of staff says the governor is a little other worldly. He has always believed in ETs and is, quote, a Treky.

Number two, Mr. Marlon Brown of England, who tried to rob the Chesington World of Adventures Zoo. He stole a Bolivian Squirrel Monkey named Sponge Bob, where upon he was attacked by nine of the zoo employees, other monkeys. They bit and scratched Mr. Brown so seriously that police had a blood trail to follow and they captured him and his monkey.

Sometimes it's even easier for the police. Ask news maker number one, Umar Farooc, of North Miami News, Florida. Waiting for friends outside the Ale house there for his 34th birthday party, when two policemen on dinner break approached. Mr. Farooc said, good evening officer, to one of them, politely pulled his hand out of his pants pocket, and opened the door for them, and in so doing dropped the small plastic bag of cocaine he had been hiding in his pants pocket. Farooc, cell for one, Farooc please.


OLBERMANN: It is in retrospect hard to believe, but Nelson Rockefeller never won the Republican presidential nomination in large part because he had divorced his first wife. No divorced man was elected until Ronald Reagan, who ironically road to power on conservative family values. It did not, and apparently does not, matter at all to his parties conservative base, not now.

But can they learn to live with a candidate who along with his wife now has a total of six marriages between them, one of which the public did not know about until like this morning. Our third story on the Countdown, the messy personal life of Rudy Giuliani getting even more so. His third and present Mrs., Judith Nathan Giuliani, disclosing a previously unmentioned Las Vegas wedding to a man she left to marry a man she left to eventually marry Giuliani.

And she says Giuliani knew that there's was a third marriage, but neither Giuliani nor his campaign has ever mentioned it, the latest quirk in a personal life that his own campaign machine once called the weirdness factor, an annulled marriage to a second cousin, allegations from second wife, Donna Hanover, of open and notorious adultery, of course, having told her he was going to divorce her during a news conference, more recent reports that he is estranged now from his own children.

And still, the latest poll showing a growing popularity with Republicans, leading his closest rivals in that presidential race by sizable margins in every poll, even among those who call themselves very conservative. Let's see if someone who has followed his career can make some sense of this, Wayne Barrett, senior editor at "The Village Voice." His latest book is "The Grand Illusion, The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11." Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

WAYNE BARRETT, "THE VILLAGE VOICE": Glad to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Unfortunately for Mr. Giuliani one more marriage in Vegas did not stay in Vegas. What is the deal here? Did he know and not want the rest of us to know?

BARRETT: The good news is Keith, it wasn't an additional marriage for him.


BARRETT: The fact is that Rudy's, he'll call it messy personal life, it's really such a strange personal life that it appalled New Yorkers. Now, I don't know how it's going to sell across America, but it appalled New Yorkers. I mean, Larry Sabatos (ph) said - he called this, three marriages on both sides. The fact is that Rudy's personal life - you mean Andrew, the son, I mean, he didn't go to his son's high school graduation. Many people experience divorce in America and manage to make it to their son's high school graduation. This is more than a messy personal life. It's a tragic personal life.

OLBERMANN: Is this - I keep wondering about this, having lived in the city for much of the mayor's tenure here, and there is no getting around the idea that his last three months were extraordinarily human and helpful. But the rest of the time, he was an extraordinarily controversial figure. Do you expect that this message that New Yorkers might want to testify to, about the Giuliani mayoralty and the whole story about his personal life, will get out slowly to the rest of the country, to the conservatives he is courting? Is it all going to hit at once? Is he just going to disappear one day? How is this going to play out.

BARRETT: Well, this Baptist leader recently said that it's not the problem of how many marriage he had, it's how he humiliated his second wife, Donna Hanover, publicly. I think you give him too much credit for the last three months. I mean, let's remember that Ground Zero occurred in the last three months as well, and we are still getting news stories ever day about the toxins that first responders and the construction workers were crippled with down there, and Rudy Giuliani played an equal role, at least, with Christy Whitman (ph).

He said all the same things. He was an echo chamber for Christy Whitman, and he had his own studies that the city's environmental agencies were doing, and he was really responsible for running the site at Ground Zero. So I wouldn't give him the credit you do for the last three months. I think that, in fact, there are lawsuits working their way through the federal courts here in New York that could haunt the presidential campaign, because so much of that evidence in those cases points out the terrible role that the city played, in terms of supervising the Ground Zero site.

We gave him all the credit in the world when it was done ahead of schedule and under budget, and he seemed to be running Ground Zero at the time, but now, when these toxins and the full consequence of those toxins is revealed for all the world to see, then suddenly, he is saying now, well, that's really a federal responsibility.

OLBERMANN: So is it to his advantage that the giant February 5th super duper primary day is going to occur when it does? Is all this stuff going to hit after that? Is he going to be the nominee and then this stuff hits him?

BARRETT: Well, I think the real question is when does his opponents or the media itself begin to examine his 9/11 record? The 9/11 experience, the methodology that is built around Rudy, that is associated with 9/11 is such a transcendent event that all of rest this stuff sounds very trivial. So I think what really has to happen is the media has to examine the truth about his performance on 9/11, the truth about his terrorism credentials, which I think we take apart in the course of this book. But neither his opponents - I don't understand John McCain's silence about it, but neither his opponents nor the media seem ready to do that.

OLBERMANN: Well, maybe he thinks all the ex-wives are going to gang up on him or something. The book is - and the ex-husbands - is "Grand Illusion, The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11." The author is Wayne Barrett. Thanks for joining us tonight.

BARRETT: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, new clues in the tainted pet food story. Investigators say rat poison is at fault. We still don't know how it got there.

Good thing rehab worked for Mel Gibson, huh? A college professor criticizes his movie, "Apocolypto." He respond with a series of f-bombs. That and more ahead on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: A mystery solved, but only partially solved, tonight in our number two story on the Countdown. The mystery, what was in the recalled cans of pet food which killed more than a dozen cats and dogs across the country this week. The cause was identified today. How it got into the pet food remains unclear. But our correspondent Tom Costello pieces together the clues we have thus far.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For pet owners

across the country, it's been a week of fear and heartbreak. In Las Vegas

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: WE gave her a kiss goodbye and gave the go ahead to euthanize.

COSTELLO: In Atlanta -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She was just a good dog. She was like my child.

COSTELLO: In Denver -

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She started throwing up a lot and then she stopped eating completely.

COSTELLO: And at a clinic in Los Angeles, where today they were trying to save this Negra.

REYNA SILVA, NEGRA'S OWNER: She was on the floor in a little ball.

She wouldn't even lift up her head.

COSTELLO: Finally, from New York today, some answers.

PATRICK HOOKER, NY AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER: We are reporting to you, with absolute certainty, what the New York State Food Lab has found.

COSTELLO: It found Aminopterin, a type of rat poison, illegal in the U.S., but used in other countries. If pets ingest it, the symptoms are of classic kidney failure.

DR. DONALD SMITH, CORNELL SCHOOL OF VETERINARY MEDICINE: The dogs and cats, they vomit, they eat less food, they don't want to eat food. They drink extra amounts of water.

COSTELLO: Researchers found the poison in the cat food they inspected, but how did it get there? Investigators are looking into the possibility that one ingredient, wheat glutin, possibly produced overseas, may have been contaminated.

(on camera): The FDA says it doesn't believe the wheat gluton entered the human food chain, but, out of an abundance of caution, has notified the CDC to be looking for in illnesses in humans. Also, so far, no reason to suspect sabotage.

(voice-over): Menu Foods, the maker, has recalled 60 million cans and pouches of cat and dog foods, sold under 95 different brand names, all produced at plants in New Jersey and Kansas. At his pet store in Massachusetts, Dave Ratner has spent the week trying to calm his customers.

DAVE RATNER, PET STORE OWNER: It's not dry food. It's only the canned food that had cuts and gravy in it.

COSTELLO: The question tonight, how many more pets may have been exposed to the rat poison, and where did it come from?

Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN: Strange segue then into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, wherein Mel Gibson visits a university and gets all and goes Apocolypto on a professor. The setting, a film class at Cal State Northridge. Gibson was a guest and according to the website, the assistant professor of Central American studies, Alicia Estrada, asked Mr. Gibson if he had read any books about the Mayan culture before making his film, "Apocolypto."

When Gibson said he had, she persisted, accusing him of portraying racial stereotypes. The director reportedly grew angry and said lady, F *** off. Gibson's publicist said that this person was a rude heckler who was escorted out, but the chief of central American studies at the university, who was also protesting Gibson's portrayal of the Mayans wants an apology.

Perhaps there should be some sort of cosmic apology for the plots and subplots following the death of Anna Nicole Smith. The results of her autopsy will be made public next Monday. The medical examiner will reveal, finally, the cause of death, after delaying results when police discovered new evidence.

Meantime, diaries from Ms. Smith, one from 1992 and another from 1994, have sold for more than half a million on e-Bay. They were auctioned by a memorabilia dealer to an individual in Europe. A few diary entries were revealed before the sale made. 1992, Ms. Smith talks about her cat dying and getting some sleeping pills. 1994, she expresses concern about the health of her husband J. Howard Marshall. No wonder the bidding went so high.

All that's missing from the Smith story is an exhumation of the body. Well keep your shirt on, we have some time to play with here. Famed magician Harry Houdini died in 1926. Now his descendants want to dig him up. That's ahead, but first, time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze is self awarded. After I hit Glenn Beck of CNN and ABC for calling Rosie O'Donnell "you fat witch," it occurred to me that I had once called Roger Ales (ph) of Fox Noise fat ass. This is inappropriate on several levels, not the least of which is, I have a fat ass. So my apologies to Roger Ales and I will swear that type of trash talking off. And I will await Mr. Beck's apology to Rosie O'Donnell and his similar pledge. And with that, I suspect I will be waiting the better part of some time.

The silver to quarterback Michael Vick of the Atlantic Falcons. The day after the team invested in him by trading away his rival for the job, Mr. Vick explained the curious events last month, in which he was stopped by security at the airport in Miami for trying to take on board a plastic bottle that happened to have a false compartment that authorities said wreaked of marijuana. He now says there was jewelry and rings inside the secret compartment, and that the screeners were trying to, quote, I don't want to say frame me, but at the same time, look at what I had to go through. Airport screeners capable of framing somebody?

But our winner, Bill-O. Had his radio engineer turn off the mike of his own co-host, Leece Wheel (ph), because she said Gonzales-gate mattered and because she reminded him, under the president's offer to Congress, Karl Rove and company would not have to testify under oath. Stop talking, he yelled at her. It's not about you. And you're misleading the audience. Stop talking. He then had her mike shut off for three minutes, and asked rhetorically about Wheel, what can we do to her? What can we do to her?

Bill-O, she has to sit next to you for two hours a day? You are already doing just about the worse thing you can do to her. Bill O-Reilly, today's Worst Person in the World.


OLBERMANN: To contemporaries, it surely must have seemed like his latest and greatest act, the sudden death on Halloween day of 1926, of a hero only 52 years old, a man known worldwide for his vigor and vitality, and for his famous nickname, the handcuff king. Yet it was not a set up for another escape, but rather then end of Harry Houdini. He was buried soon after, without an autopsy, by the way.

Suspicion and rumor surrounding his demise was immediate. A newspaper headline then, "Was Houdini Murdered." Now 81 years later, in our number one story on the Countdown tonight, Harry Houdini's body will be exhumed and tested for poison. Was Harry Houdini murdered? He supposedly died from complications of a ruptured appendix, after he was punched in the stomach.

But the escape artists had enemies, including Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes author. In 1924, Doyle had written in a letter that Houdini would, quote, get his just deserts very exactly meted out. I think there is a general pay day coming soon. That nugget, along with a detailed account of the circumstances surrounding Houdini's death published in a 2006 book, "The Secret Life of Houdini." The biography has inspired Houdini's family, in particular his great nephew, George Hardin (ph), to call for the body's exhumation.

The legal paperwork will be filed on Monday. Renowned forensic pathologists have already joined the exhumation team. The co-author of the book in question, Larry Sloman, joins us now. Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

LARRY SLOMAN, AUTHOR: Hi, nice to be here.

OLBERMANN: Tell us a little bit more about the enemies of Houdini, what the issues were, and had there been threats against him.

SLOMAN: Well, it's a very complex story, but to nutshell it, Houdini, in the last few years of his life, was spent in an all out crusade against phony, fraudulent spirit mediums. These were people who were basically taking advantage of vulnerable people in society, who had lost their loved ones and wanted to get in touch with them. These spirit mediums claimed they could do that. Often times they were ripping off these people, taking their houses, things like that.

Houdini really, as a public service, started this crusade against them. It got incredibly bitter. There were many threats against him, against his life. He did take them very seriously. We have anecdotal evidence he carried a Deranger (ph). We know that he warned many of his friends that he was marked for death. He even gave very sensitive papers about his fight with a spiritualist to his brother and said, hide these in case something happens to me.

You mentioned Doyle, now that was another element. Houdini would expose these spirit mediums. He organized what he called my own secret service and he sent show girls out to infiltrate sayonces, and then he would come the next day with under cover cops and they would bust the sayonce in the middle. Doyle was another case. Doyle was the head of the spiritualist movement as a religion.

And Doyle was a true believer, who was getting messages from a 3,000 spirit entity, coming through his wife's mouth, telling him that the end of the world was near. He was going to be the new Messiah. And that there were some people standing in the way of that, and one of those was Houdini, and he must be dealt with.

Now, there's a third element to this. A satellite group in Boston, which was led by Doctor Krandon and his wife Margory, who became the worlds most famous medium. Dr. Krandon developed a very acrimonious with Houdini, because Houdini basically was trying to expose his wife, and he did. What Houdini also, when he was digging the information and dirt on these people, he found out there were some young boys that Doctor Krandon had adopted from England that had gone missing. And all of a sudden Krandon was being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service and by a British member of parliament. And this was enough - motive enough for Krandon, obviously, to wish Houdini ill will.

OLBERMANN: Briefly, how did he get buried without an autopsy.

SLOMAN: Well, because the diagnosis at the time was that he had gotten punched in a playful episode with a student. He wasn't ready for the punch. It caused traumatic appendicitis. We know now that that is absolutely not true and that can't happen. But at the time the doctor signed off on that. And one of the sad facts about this, I think, is that the doctor signed off on that diagnosis because Houdini's widow would then have received twice the insurance money, because it would have been an accident.

But there was absolutely no autopsy done. There was also some very strange circumstances, because they brought in a specialist doctor that we really know nothing about, Dr Lefever, who administered an experimental serum to Houdini, that nobody else had taken before. At the time, there was a crusading publisher named Bernard McFadden, who wanted to open up this investigation and say, what is this serum. Nobody did it.

OLBERMANN: Maybe, we'll find out 81 years later. Larry Sloman, the co-author of "The Secret Life of Harry Houdini," our apologies for cutting you short here, but thanks for your time tonight.

SLOMAN: Thanks.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,440th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. Our best wishes to the White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who is to undergo what will hopefully be minor surgery on Monday. From New York, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.