Wednesday, February 14, 2007

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 14

Guests: Maria Milito, Howard Fineman, Paul Rieckhoff

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

The first presidential news conference in nearly two months, Mr. Bush convinced the Iranian government is supplying weapons for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, and even though he admits he can't prove it.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I intend to do something about it.


OLBERMANN: If that sentence doesn't worry you, this one probably not meant the way it sounds might.


BUSH: I've listened to a lot of voices, people in my administration heard a lot of voices.


OLBERMANN: Moving on -

No Valentine from Senator Clinton. No action against Iran without a congressional authorization.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: This president was allowed for too long to commit blunder after blunder under cover of darkness provided by an allied Republican Congress.


OLBERMANN: The Libby trial, the defense rests, but it is admonished for not having the defendant testify. The circus will last into next week.

Did Oliver North call Joe Lieberman and John McCain liars? The senators said the troops in Iraq they visited support escalation. North says he was there too, and the troops were opposed to it.

Habeas corpus in the Anna Nicole Smith case. A ruling from the judge about the body of the deceased.

"American Idol" again editing out Paula Abdul, editing in Michael Jackson. Our princess of "Idol," Maria Milito, with the info.

What's wrong with this picture? A Derek Jeter baseball card with who walking in the stands? Hey, down in front, Mr. President.

Speaking of in front, live, local, late-breaking, and naked.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long you been out here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we've been out a couple hours, get in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold out here. Whoo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people are just out of their minds, you know.

What are you going to do? I mean, it's, it's, it's nuts.


OLBERMANN: Fortunately, not appearing in your picture.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening from New York.

It is the most Bushian solution imaginable. If the prewar evidence used to build his case for war with Iraq turned out not to be real, he can avoid repeating that mistake in Iran by simply saying he does not need any evidence about Iran.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, in his first news conference of the calendar year, the commander in chief saying he's certain that the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons used by insurgents against U.S. troops in Iraq, even if he cannot prove it, and even if Iranian leaders do not even know they are doing it. Scared yet?

What if we told you Mr. Bush also saying that he plans to do something about it, seemingly no matter what, the president stepping up the rhetoric from the East Room in the morning in the wake of the comments by Joint Chiefs chairman General Pace that the discovery of roadside bombs in Iraq containing material made in Iran does not necessarily mean that Tehran is directly involved, Mr. Bush saying, in effect, it does not matter if Tehran is directly involved, accusing Revolutionary Guards in that country, known as the Quds Force, of supplying the deadly roadside bombs.


BUSH: What we do know is that the Quds Force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. That we know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government.

That's a known.

What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did.

But here's my point. Either they knew or didn't know, and what matters is, is that they're there. What's worse, that the government knew, or that the government didn't know?

But the point I made in my initial speech in the White House about Iraq was is that we know they're there, and we're going to protect our troops.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq, specifically about WMD, that turned out to be wrong, and that you are doing that to make a case for war against Iran. Is that the case?

BUSH: I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops. And I'd like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government. But my point is, what's worse, them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it's happening? And so we will continue to protect our troops.


OLBERMANN: As for the war we already have, Mr. Bush admitting he is isolated inside the confines of the White House, so much so he does not really know what is going on in Iraq, never mind that he's commander in chief, including whether or not that conflict is civil war.


BUSH: It's just hard for me in the - you know, living in the - this beautiful White House, to give you an assessment, a firsthand assessment. I haven't been there. You have. I haven't. But I do talk to people who are and people whose judgment I trust, and they would not qualify it as that.


OLBERMANN: Nothing's funny at all in the president's statements about Iraq or Iran, others, perhaps, drawing the same conclusion about Mr. Bush's strained attempts to banter with the reporters who cover him, especially when he was not inclined to answer the questions they asked of him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, we've now learned through sworn testimony that at least three members of your administration other than Scooter Libby leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media. None of these three is known to be under investigation. Without commenting on the Libby trial, then, can you tell us whether you authorized any of these three -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... without your permission.

BUSH: Yes, thanks, Pete. I'm not going to talk about any of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not under investigation.

BUSH: Peter. Not going to talk about any of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about pardons, sir? (INAUDIBLE) asking whether you might pardon some of them...

BUSH: Not doing talk about it, Peter. If you'd like to think of another question, being the kind man that I am, I will recycle you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: You liked that one, huh, yes, recycling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That took care of one of my questions as well, sir. But...

BUSH: That's the case, sit down. Next question.

Michael, who do you work for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, , I work for

BUSH: Pardon me?


BUSH: Do you want a moment to explain to the American people exactly what (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, thank you for the question.

BUSH: Quit being so evasive. Is he good? You like it? David Gregory likes it. I can see the making of a testimonial.



Mr. President...

BUSH: Last question, then I got to go have lunch with Bob Gates, secretary of the defense. What are you looking at, (INAUDIBLE)? Checking the time? For the viewer out there, you know, you're getting a big timekeeper, you know, and everything.

WOLFFE: I didn't mean to interrupt. (INAUDIBLE)...

BUSH: I just thought he was looking at the watch because he was getting bored. I wasn't sure, you know. Remember the debates? Yes.


OLBERMANN: Enjoy the veal. I'm here all month, and the next 23 months.

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

Howard, good evening.


I thought my colleague Richard Wolffe showed pretty good comedic timing there with the president.

OLBERMANN: He is a funny man. I mean Richard Wolffe.

Mr. Bush seemed to back away somewhat from the conclusion that was reached by the military officials over the weekend, who had claimed that the Iranian leaders were very much responsible for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. But does that change of tone really matter, if the president says he's determined to do something, whether or not leaders like Ahmadinejad even knew of the involvement, whether or not there's any proof of the most minimal connection?

FINEMAN: No, I don't. Some analysts were making a lot of his backing away, but he wasn't backing away from the statement that he was going to do something about it regardless of who ordered it. And I think a lot Washington today was focused on the question of, just what is he going to do if he's going to do something? Does that just mean interdiction of those devices somehow, and those Quds Force people into Iraq? Or is he talking about using it as a pretext or a reason, legitimate or not, for attacking Iran? We don't know.

OLBERMANN: And, of course, on Capitol Hill today, Senator Clinton was

charging basically that what you just suggested there, that this is a whip-

up to a war. Beyond providing sound bites, is there a way for lawmakers to

actually stop the president if that's the case, given that he is now

conflating Iran with Iraq? I mean, will they be debating whether a new war

resolution would be necessary while he is sending troops or bombs, if his -

if that's the intent long term?

FINEMAN: Well, you can look at this either way. Either it's bad politics for the president to mix in Iran, or it makes whatever he wants to do in Iran harder to attack, because he's using his role as commander in chief, and we hear him more and more clothing himself in that part of his job, saying that his job is to protect the American troops already in Iraq.

He's daring the Democrats, daring the Democratic Congress, to vote to cut off funds in any way, shape, or form for troops already in Iraq. And he's going to say that defending them may include taking on Iran in some way. And again, he's going to dare the Democrats to do something about t. Very risky, very much sort of a game of chicken developing on both sides here.

OLBERMANN: Is it risky also to answer questions about whether or not Iraq is in civil war by describing how he lives inside the beautiful White House? Does that suggest estrangement from reality?

FINEMAN: Yes, well, I e-mailed a couple of my good Republican sources, including some who've spent a fair amount of time in the White House. And by e-mail, they cringed at that, because that's not the best argument the president wants to make. Clearly, he doesn't want to call it a civil war, because if he does, Democrats are going to argue, Well, we didn't authorize the dispatching of American troops to that part of the world to preside over a civil war.

So that's the reason he shied away from it. Professing his own ignorance, however charming he was trying to be, wasn't a very good way to do it. And his allies outside the White House cringed when they saw that.

OLBERMANN: And a final political question, a different topic entirely, your thoughts today on the announcement from him, Al Franken, that he is running for the U.S. Senate nomination in Minnesota. Is he good enough, smart enough, and goshdarn it, do people like him?

FINEMAN: Well, he's certainly funnier than George W. Bush. No, I've known Al for 20 years. He's a personal friend. This my first and last TV comment on the race in Minnesota, because I know him so well.

He is very, very, very smart and very, very determined. And if I were the Republicans in Minnesota, I wouldn't laugh at Al Franken as a candidate.

OLBERMANN: And he is built like the high school wrestler that he once was. I once, I once tried to hold him back in a mock fight on "Jeopardy," and I thought, I'm in real trouble here.

Howard Fineman of MSNBC and "Newsweek." As always, Howard, great thanks for your time.

FINEMAN: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Quickest defense ever. The lawyers for Scooter Libby have finished their case. Did they also finish their client? David Shuster takes us inside the courtroom.

And are Senators McCain and Lieberman playing politics with our troops and playing loose with what they told us? Oliver North accuses the senators of lying about what they heard from soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Oliver North did that.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: In our fourth story tonight, the defense of Lewis "Scooter" Libby against charges he lied to help cover up White House leaks reached its stunning climax today, with long-awaited evidence and bombshell testimony sure to exonerate Mr. Libby that in fact the - I thought for sure there would have been something in our fourth story tonight, after just three days focused almost exclusively not on Mr. Libby's credibility but that of more than a half dozen witnesses against him.

The Libby defense rested today, and perhaps leaving the jury wondering what happened to the promise in opening arguments to demonstrate that Mr. Libby's faulty recollections were attributable to his overwhelming high-priority workload, and that Libby was scapegoated to save Karl Rove, whose promises in the absence of testimony from Vice President Cheney or Mr. Libby himself essentially unfulfilled.

And that failure to put Libby on the stand, in a case that pivots on credibility, led Judge Reggie Walton to take some shots at the credibility of Libby's legal team, which led the court to believe Mr. Libby would testify.

There unto the bitter end today was David Shuster, as always.

Good evening, David.


OLBERMANN: I want to hear about this Valentine's Day moment in a moment. But let's get the judge's comments first. What did he say, and how does it reflect on Mr. Libby and his defense team?

SHUSTER: Well, Keith, the judge ruled that because Scooter Libby did not testify, much of the evidence about national security matters that might have preoccupied Scooter Libby during the relevant time period could not be introduced. The judge referred to a series of pretrial hearings and said, quote, "My absolute understanding was that Mr. Libby was going to testify."

The judge then said he was not going to allow the evidence Libby wanted then to now come in through the back door. And in an irritated tone, the judge declared, "This trial is about finding the truth. I'm not going to allow anybody to play games with the process."

But one of Libby's lawyers continued to argue the jury should be allowed to hear from a CIA briefer about specific intelligence threats, and draw inferences about what Libby may have felt was important. The judge got angrier, and said if the appellate courts would reverses his ruling on this, quote, "maybe I have to hang up my spurs."

The cumulative effect, Keith, was that nearly all of the details about terror threats and national security issues that Libby was briefed on, evidence the defense hoped would show Libby had so much on his plate that he should be forgiven for making mistakes about remembering the Wilsons, almost all of that was excluded, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Now, about the jury, it's Valentine's Day, and they seemed to mark it in a manner that was both disquieting, in a way, and also set off some speculation that there might be a schism in the jury room, a read of where the jury's going. Go through this for us.

SHUSTER: Well, about after all the arguments over evidence, the jury was finally brought in today at about 3:30 Eastern time this afternoon, and every member of the panel except for one was wearing an identical red T-shirt. It appeared to be new. And it had a giant white heart shape on the center of it.

One jury that actually stood up in the jury box and addressed the court and thanked several court officials from the clerks to the marshals to the judge for the jury's accommodations, and then said, We know our responsibilities in this case, and our unanimity may now go no further. But to everybody, happy Valentine's Day.

The attorneys all appeared to be stunned, and they seemed to force smiles and laughter and politely clapped. And then the judge, of course, quickly thanked the jurors and thanked them for being so attentive and then moved on.

But what was most intriguing about this, Keith, is that there was one juror on the end, an elderly art curator, who appeared particularly cantankerous during jury selection, she was not wearing one of these red T-shirts. And it may be, of course, that perhaps she thought that there was a certain tackiness to all of this, or it may just be that there's at least one juror who's already willing to show that she is independent from the rest. We'll see.

OLBERMANN: Or she just doesn't think she looks good in red. Now, all right, apart from this, this, this perhaps silliness, perhaps indicator, no Libby testimony, no Cheney testimony. What did Libby's team give the jury in his defense?

SHUSTER: The Libby team wanted to show the jury that the defendant couldn't possibly have robbed this bank, because look at all the other banks he didn't rob. What the jury did is, they introduced seven reporters who testified that they had conversations with Scooter Libby during the relevant time period, and testified that Libby did not tell them anything about Valerie Wilson.

Almost all of those reporters, however, weren't talking to Libby about issues related to the Wilsons in the first place, but the defense point was that this somehow shows that there was not a White House conspiracy to leak Valerie Wilson's identity to everybody.

The problem, of course, is that the charges are not related to the leak, but actually to the alleged coverup during the investigation.

But the defense was also able to introduce testimony from Libby's deputy, John Hanna, who described the long hours and some of the serious issues that the office of the vice president was dealing with, and he also testified that Libby had an awful memory.

But based (INAUDIBLE) on how the defense started this case, the strategy appears to revolve around their implicit argument that the prosecution evidence fell short, and therefore it simply wasn't worth putting Scooter Libby or Vice President Cheney on the witness stand.

But one lawyer who supports Libby's defense fund thought that the strategy about the defense was really now about trying to keep a bad situation from getting even worse, Keith.

OLBERMANN: David Shuster, who went to the Scooter Libby trial, and all he got was this lousy T-shirt. Thanks, David. We'll talk to you again.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also here tonight, sure, you can edit around Paula Abdul while your shows are taped. What happens when "American Idol" goes live? And will she really need a drink if she has to sit next to Michael Jackson?

Meanwhile, there's somebody in Cleveland who's obviously had a few too many. Hello. The Valentine's Day blizzard and that guy.


OLBERMANN: On this date, Ed Platt, who played Chief to Don Adams' Agent 86 on "Get Smart," was born. He was born in the year 1792. Would you believe the year 1855? How about 1960?

And we just stop this and say, Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Cleveland, Ohio, where the big story is this wild and wacky weather. Talking about single-digit temps, blinding snow, 35-mile-an-hour winds. You do not want to be out in this stuff.

Let's get a report now that we found on the Internets from the intrepid John Loufman (ph) of Channel 19, Cleveland's Action News. And we've got action.


JOHN LOUFMAN, CHANNEL 19, CLEVELAND'S ACTION NEWS: Would you chat with us for a second? How long you been out here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we've been out a couple hours. Get in the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cold out here. Whoo.

LOUFMAN: Some people are just out of their minds. You know, what are you going to do? I mean, it's nuts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess he's celebrating, you know.

LOUFMAN: I guess. Or maybe he had just a wild night. OK. We're not going to give this guy - Kevin, just stay on us, if you will. Keep it tight. How long you been out, and what are you doing to stay warm?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, well, staying warm is a good (INAUDIBLE)...

LOUFMAN: All right. You know what? (INAUDIBLE) - I'm sorry, I can't, I can't do this. Thanks a lot, man. Thanks for being out here.

Guys, we're going to turn it back to you. Reporting live from a very crazy downtown Cleveland, I'm meteorologist John Loufman, 19 Action News.


OLBERMANN: Thanks, John. Remind your friend, shrinkage can affect the brain as well.

Moving to Oddball World News, you've got fiery demonstration in Kashmir, where conservative Islamists have taken to the streets to protest Valentine's Day. They're burning Valentine's Day cards. I choo-choo-choose you. Seriously. I mean, this has gone too far. You want to burn our flag, effigies of our leaders, go ahead. But I had to pay international postage on that Little Mermaid card, Miss Third Burka from the Left. And now you're going to rip my heart out in front of all those people? You want war, you got it, sister. We don't even need the evidence.

What good is visiting the troops in Iraq if you're going to make up what they told you when you come back? Oliver North's allegations against Senators McCain and Lieberman.

And the fight continues, quite literally, over Anna Nicole Smith's dead body. Ruling by judges on both coasts today.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, pop singer Robby Williams in rehab in Arizona now, the usual stuff, prescription drugs, sleeping pills, but with a chaser. The British newspaper "The Sun" also reports he also smokes 60 cigarettes a day, drinks 36 double espressos a day, and tops it all off with some Red Bull, 20 cans of it a day. His heart, which jumped out of his body a year ago and was last seen lifting weights in Kansas, could not be reached for comment.

Number two, Nakia Davis, a 31-year-old man from Danbury, Connecticut, busted for drugs. He had his aunt bring in his home safe, which included the cash he needed for bail. Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, the safe also included his drug paraphernalia and his stash of 16 grams of cocaine.

Number one, Cleopatra, the famed Egyptian queen and fabled beauty of the ancient world, portrayed by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, and other sultry actress. We've never had a real picture of her radiant physiognomy, until now. A Roman coin minted by her lover, Mark Anthony, in Armenia in 32 B.C., just found in the basement of a British bank, shows us just how beautiful she really was. Well, she was a - she had - She was a swell dancer.


OLBERMANN: To anyone with a brain or faith bigger than a walnut it remains a mystery why anyone would think democracy's vital signs, debate, dissent and disagreement, would demoralize defenders of democracy, the men and women of America's armed forces, but that is a central claim of those who argue that true Americans would not question the president's deployments of those troops, presumably any deployment of those troops.

And so today our third story, the morale of our troops overseas, and the question of whether they have become political pawns, human shields in politics here at home. They and their morale have been waved as rationales for virtually every element of Mr. Bush's war in Iraq, including the troop increase he announced last month.

Supporters John McCain and Joe Lieberman from the Senate famously went to Iraq, reporting back on the unanimous troop support for the plan. Unanimous that is, except in the account of Oliver North, who spoke to some of the very same troops, now making the rounds, revealing that each and every one told North just the opposite, that Iraq's problems cannot be solved with more U.S. combat troops.

President Bush himself today said most morale issues stem from concerns about families left behind.


BUSH: I'm talking to our commanders. Their job is to tell me what the situation on the ground. And I know there's concern about the home front. I haven't heard deep concern about the morale of the troops in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would commanders tell you that?

BUSH: Yes, they would tell me that, sure, absolutely, just like they told me that they thought they needed extra troops to do the job.


OLBERMANN: None of this stopping other Republicans in this week of war debates from suggesting that Democratic opposition both emboldens the enemy, some enemy anyway, and brings down our troops. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer tackled that claim head on today.


REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: When you come to the floor, my friends, debate the substance of the policy. But do not hide behind the troops. Do not assert that anybody on this floor does not have every intention and commitment to supporting, to whatever degree necessary, our young men and women. And as I have said, some not so young, who are deployed in harm's way at the point of the spear.


OLBERMANN: In fact, just as some Republicans were questioning Democratic support of the troops, at a hearing Tuesday Republican Senator Larry Craig threw his weight behind a White House plan to increase health care fees and prescription drug payments asked of veterans, some of whom are still in harm's way, while simultaneously cutting the budget for Veterans Affairs.

Let's turn to a veteran of this war, Paul Rieckhoff, author of "Chasing Ghosts," and founder Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Paul, as always, great thanks for your time.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, "CHASING GHOSTS": My pleasure, Keith. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: You are in Washington today for reasons that are relevant to these issues we just raised. Explain your presence there, if you would.

RIECKHOFF: Well, IAVA, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, is the first and largest Iraq and Afghanistan veterans group. And we are bringing veterans from all over the country to meet with legislators this week on both sides of the aisle, and urge them to support our 2007 legislative agenda.

We are getting hem to sign on to really support the troops. Two of the top items are the Lane Evans Veterans Health care Bill, which would expand health care services and mental health treatment for returning veterans. It's co-sponsored by Olympia Snowe on the right and Barack Obama on the left, and also a new G.I. Bill. These are ways people can really support the troops.

There's a lot of talk in Washington and we are going to go around in the next few weeks and see who really supports the troops and who is willing to put their money and their votes behind them for real.

OLBERMANN: Yes, not cut the benefits and raise the fees you charge them. Does this Oliver North, John McCain, Joe Lieberman story surprise you and do you have any evidence on it? Is Colonel North right?

RIECKHOFF: You know, I never thought I would say on national TV, but I think Oliver North is right and I do agree with him. He is talking to the troops on the ground it seems like. Everybody I talked to inside Iraq, and most of the people coming home, who have come home in recent months, don't support the surge because they don't think it will work. An increase in troop numbers, especially this small level, is not going to be the silver bullet solution to all our problems in Iraq.

And the administration hasn't listened to any of the generals throughout this war, so what makes anyone think that now they are going to start going down to the sergeants and lieutenants, who are at the tip of the spear and kicking in doors every day? They are not talking to the troops on the ground, because they don't support this, and surprisingly, Oliver North gets that.

OLBERMANN: And to the point of the troops and the new troops, the "New York Times" today reported that the Army has increased the number of waivers that have been given to new recruits who have passed criminal behavioral records by 65 percent in the last three years, after previous reports of lowering the educational standards, lowering the physical standards. Is that the way to support the troops on the ground, by giving them people who might be less qualified new comrades?

RIECKHOFF: No, not at all. It is way to put a band-aid solution on the larger problem that our military is dramatically and dangerously overextended. You have got folks going back for a third and even fourth tour, divorce rates are skyrocketing, suicide rates are up and the Army has got to lower the standards right now to bring in new recruits, because this country doesn't support the war, and one way they are doing it is by increasing the age to enlist. You can be 42 years old and join. You don't need a high school diploma and you can have committed a felony or a misdemeanor.

And I don't know what other people thing, but I was in Iraq for over a year, for about a year, and I don't want a guy in my platoon who has been a burglar, or has some kind of a felony. You just don't want a guy like that carrying a weapon in your unit. So lowering the bar endangers us all.

OLBERMANN: Assuming that rising fees do not demoralize the troops, are we really to believe that U.S. troops are so fragile that they wilt whenever somebody suggests that what is happening there needs to be criticized, reviewed, analyzed, discussed? How is this - I could understand if people were saying, hey, you know, to hell with these guys and let them deal with their own trouble over there, which is not what anybody is saying, critical or supportive of this war.

But where does the idea come across that simply discussing the point of their being there is a demoralization factor?

RIECKHOFF: I think it's a shield for a flawed policy and I'm personally offended by it. You know, the troops are not anybody's political chew toy. We're not somebody you can just throw back and forth, or some kind of a political shield. We are tough. We are taking mortar fire, there are roadside bombs going off. We are going back for repeated deployments. Those are the things that affect morale profoundly, not what Trent Lott or Nancy Pelosi is saying back home.

The reason guys like me join the military is to preserve that free right to have a real dissent and a real debate about the most important issue facing our country. That is why we joined the military. It's why we take up arms, to defend exactly that type of right. So I think it is a really dangerous road to go down when it comes to the political dialogue.

OLBERMANN: Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, lobbying for increased benefits, and not increasing the fees we charge those veterans. Good luck on the project Paul, and thanks for your time tonight.

RIECKHOFF: Thank you, Keith. I appreciate it.

OLBERMANN: The fight over Anna Nicole Smith. Habeas Corpus translates literally as give us the body. Decisions on that legal wrangling, and the issue of the child today. And the other Howard Stern, whoever thought we'd call him that, the king of satellite radio with a major announcement of his own. Not about Anna Nicole Smith, please.

But first here are Countdown's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tomorrow is going to be a very exciting day in the history of national coinage. The George Washington one dollar coin will be released into circulation. But we have also have heard that there's a rumor that the tooth fairy is going to be upgrading from quarters to presidential dollars, which is going to make a lot of children happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tina Burnett (ph) took off her wedding ring recently while moving some furniture at home. Then she noticed it was missing. At first she thought it was stolen, so she called the police. But soon her grandma figured out it was filched by Fido. Yes, you guessed it, Missy swallowed the ring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had one of my technicians go jog her around the parking lot and out it came.

DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE LATE SHOW": Ladies and gentlemen, now it is time for great moments in presidential speeches.

FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

BUSH: The uh -


OLBERMANN: It took two judges on two different coasts, making four decisions over six days, to conclude that nothing will change. Anna Nicole Smith should stay exactly where she is for now. Our number two story on the Countdown, Habeas Corpus, the battle over her still unembalmed body, symptomatic of the grotesque spectacle still surrounding her death.

After a Florida judge upheld a California judge's ruling that her corpse should be held by a Florida medical examiner until February 20th. A California judge reversed that decision and the Florida judge then decided nothing should happen to the body until he can determine next of kin in a hearing first thing tomorrow morning.

Smith's fiance Howard K. Stern, her ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, and her estranged mother Virgie Arthur will all be represented, and while the cause of her death is still undetermined, there is new evidence of drug use. The website obtaining not just a prescription for Methadone, issued under one of Smith's aliases, but two air bills, showing that the Methadone and some Demerol had been shipped to her in the Bahamas just one month before she gave birth. No word on whether she actually used the drugs while pregnant, though Smith is accused of starving her daughter postpartum.

In an affidavit filed in December, after she was fired, Dannielynn's former nanny alleges that Mrs. Smith forced her to underfeed the child, because, quote, she wanted her baby to be sexy, and that Dannielynn is badly under weight and not thriving. The nanny, the fired nanny, also alleges that Smith tried to kill herself twice, that after the second time, her partner, Mr. Stern, told her that if anything happens to you, I would go to jail, and that Smith had a flagrant sexual relationship with the Bohemian minister of immigration.

He has been denying such accusations ever since photos of him and Anna Nicole Smith, in bed, were published by a local paper, but his father says they were good friends and that she was planning on expanding her family.


ERIC GIBSON, FRIEND OF ANNA NICOLE SMITH: She had no intention of going any place outside the Bahamas. She was going to make it her home. She had planned to adopt a Bohemian child.


OLBERMANN: Now we are assuming that was the minister's real father. As for Smith's biological child, a Bohemian judge ordered that she stay in the Bahamas, issuing an injunction preventing Mr. Stern, who is listed as Dannielynn's father on her birth certificate, from taking the child out of the country.

Shifting from Howard K. Stern to Howard A. Stern, in our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs. After eight years of saying and repeatedly vowing that he would never get married again, the King of all media is getting married again. Stern announcing on his radio show this morning that he proposed to his long time girlfriend former model Beth Ostrosky (ph) last night as a Valentine's Day gift, complete with a 5.2 carat diamond ring, but Stern warned fans not to expect a wedding any time soon, that they want a very long engagement and no children, unless, I suppose, a very good pay-per-view deal comes his way.

And my finely tuned PT Barnum sense tells me this is a publicity stunt, but it's a good one. Yes, I promise, this will be the last baseball card reference for a while, but look at the brand new 2007 Tops card of Derek Jeter of the Yankees. You see the guy behind him in the dugout, the guy on the left, with the bat on his shoulder, it's the late Yankee immortal Mickey Mantle, who died a few months after Jeter's first big league game.

But wait, there's more, in the crowd, to Jeter's right, the fellow in the suit waving to everybody and blocking the view of everybody in those nice 135 dollar seats, looking like he doesn't know where his seat went, President Bush. The Tops spokesman jokes the president must have been at the game that day. Just for the record, the photo shopping did not put Waldo anywhere in the background and most importantly, if Mickey Mantle was in uniform for the Yankees last year, why in the hell didn't they DH him in the playoffs against Detroit?

It was a reality show blood bath on "American Idol." Paula Abdul says she has never been drunk. Wait until Michael Jackson joins the show, if he does. Maria Milito handles all our Idol headlines. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to the city of New York, listen, the snow here was a drop in the bucket compared to almost everywhere else, but the city doesn't get its first measurable snowstorm until Valentine's Day and it wasn't ready for it. Midtown streets virtually unplowed. The place paralyzed by two inches of slush. You guys ran out of sand or something? These plows will be along any month now.

The silver to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two guy in al Qaeda, in the latest tape he has called President Bush an addicted gambler and an alcoholic. Look, Bozo, you want to criticize him, take a number. You have a lot to work with, but if you are going to medically diagnose him by merely watching video, doctor, you are going to look as stupid as Bill Frist during the Schiavo case.

But our winners Frank Gaffney, once assistant secretary of state for a few months, who wrote the column, and the "Washington Times," which printed the column, the latest morons to attribute to Abraham Lincoln a quote reading, "Congressmen who willfully take actions during war time that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled and hanged." That is potent stuff. Civil war (INAUDIBLE) and all that. Except President Lincoln never said anything of the kind.

The quote was made up by writer Jay Michael Waller in 2003. Mr. Waller confirms this. You can read about it at He says he wrote it and "Insight Magazine" mistakenly put quotes around it. To be fair, it is not like the "Washington Times" would know about "Insight Magazine," just because they are co-owned with "Insight Magazine," by Reverend Moon's Unification Church.

Well, all right, it is not like there are any Lincoln scholars out there who could fact check it for you, or any place on the Internet they could have looked it up. Nitwits! Frank Gaffney and the "Washington Times," today's Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN: If it is true that the "American Idol" producers are editing around judge Paula Abdul so that she never appears to be drunk, their time is running out, since the episodes start live beginning next week. Oh joy, live.

In our number one story on the Countdown, we're still awaiting confirmation that Michael Jackson will be featured in one of those theme weeks, and after we've all been editing around him for ten years, we get stuck with a theme week with him in it.

We're also learning tonight that last year's winner Taylor Hicks was reportedly a big old diva, something that the likes of Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Miss Abdul are simply unaccustomed to. As for Idol executive producer Nigel Lithgow, while he denies that Miss Abdul is ever under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the show, he confess, reportedly, that public perception has affected the show's editing. Damned liberal media.

Quoting, "we look when we're editing the show nowadays, and say, hey, are people going to think she's drunk for doing that?" Perhaps Michael Jackson can partake of a little Jesus Juice to smooth the rough edges, if he actually takes a turn on Idol, as we noted last night. No doubt Mr. Jackson would be able to out-Diva anybody, certainly Taylor Hicks, who reportedly become difficult after making last season's top 24.

According to "Star Magazine," so gee wiz, it must be true, Hicks threw hissy fits and tantrums and never made nice with the other male contestants. Tonight's episode will reduce last night's remaining 40 contestants down to 24. 24, which one of them gets the drill through his shoulder?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a sexy Colombian.


SIMON COWELL, "AMERICAN IDOL": You are personality over talent at the moment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I think is what I have worked hard for over the past three years, I wasn't able to display, because I picked a bad song that I wasn't feeling.

COWELL: Let me make this clear, it was not the song. It wasn't the song.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, don't you shout at me.



COWELL: You sang through your nose and halfway through you looked like you had been boiled.


OLBERMANN: On that note, we turn again to the guest we look to call the princess of "American Idol," Maria Milito, mid day host of New York's classic rock station Q-104.3. Good evening Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3: Hello, happy Valentine's Day Keith.

OLBERMANN: And to you too dear. So we are finally reaching that point that some have been waiting for, the selection of the final 24 contestants. Or is the real attraction Paula Abdul unedited?

MILITO: Yes, that too, because next week is it. We're going to see if she's been in rehab the past few weeks. Because she really could have been, since all these shows have been taped, so next week the truth will be told.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of rehab, we still don't know if Michael Jackson will tutor the contestants one week. What are the odds? And what might that look like? Do you think - this is almost a serious question -

Could "American Idol" actually rehabilitate his career, if he chose to be on it?

MILITO: No, I don't think so. No, please. I read something he will mentor. That is not a good word that should be associated with Michael Jackson at this point. I mean, it's a rumor. I hope it doesn't happen. He can't mentor - well, actually, he could because they're older than, you know.

OLBERMANN: I know where you're going on this.

MILITO: Yes, so maybe, but I don't think so. Do you know Paul McCartney might actually be a judge?

OLBERMANN: Well, there goes my 40 years affection for the Beatles.

MILITO: And Bob Dylan, too.

OLBERMANN: Come on, come on.

MILITO: Those are true facts. I think Paul McCarthy is a fact. That could be pretty good. And you know about Heather Mills, right?

OLBERMANN: What does she have to do with this?

MILITO: His soon to be ex-wife wants dance on "Dancing With The Stars." Hello.

OLBERMANN: Oh, boy. How many jokes could we get into trouble with on that front?

MILITO: But it's true. It's not a rumor, I just had to share that with you, because I was pretty amused by it.

OLBERMANN: You now, how about - who are we missing? Dig up Frank Sinatra and put him on this show too?

MILITO: That could work.

OLBERMANN: Moving on to Taylor Hicks, I don't care, except for one example, reported from "Star Magazine," that he did not want a body guard to accompany him to the bathroom. And told the bodyguard to bleep off. Why would bodyguards walk contestants to the bathroom? Is there a bathroom part of this competition that I don't know about?

MILITO: Well, there actually could be, but I think it is more of a personal thing. Because maybe he is afraid that the bodyguards might check him out, you know, like the physical aspects of him, you know, to see if he's William Hung, you know what I'm saying.

OLBERMANN: Oh. You know what it is, they're testing these guys for artificial drugs and performance enhancing steroids. Before we run out of time, let me play a clip from one contestant talking to his mother, and get your reaction to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd just made it through to the next round. Yes, I did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god. Oh, my god. I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Love you too. She never says she loves me.

Hello. I did not make it through today. I am coming home. I forgot my words.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I forgot my words for the group song.


OLBERMANN: So does it reduce itself to this, that the poor boy's mother only says I love you when he is doing well on the show?

MILITO: Yes, he said that he's never been hugged by his mom until he made it to Hollywood. So I think the love is gone, yes. I mean, his mother was really excited. Did you hear her tone of voice, you forgot the words, you what? That's it. I think unless he calls home and says, hey mom, guess what, I'm in a porn movie, that is it. That is what I think. It's sad.

OLBERMANN: What on Earth has gotten into you?

MILITO: I don't know. I'm excited it is going live next week Keith, that's why.

OLBERMANN: Mary Milito of New York's Q 104.3, our Countdown "American Idol" princess, who will herself be tested for performance enhancing steroids on the way out.

MILITO: That's fine, thank you.

OLBERMANN: Great thanks for your time Maria.

MILITO: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: That's Countdown for this the 1,403rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. From New York, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.