'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 2
Guests: Richard Wolffe, Chris Cillizza, Jonathan Turley, Maria Milito
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
U.S. troops held hostage by the president's veto, day two. Congressional Democrats and Republicans meet with Mr. Bush at the White House. They, yes, the bipartisan they, want to move forward. He seems want to move back in time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in the civil war, it's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Then there is this remarkable insight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, you have me there.
Now we know about what Monica Goodling was worried they had her. Those entry-level prosecutor she was given the right to hire, the investigation tonight, did she hire them depending on whether they were Republican or Democratic? That would violate federal law.
Chaos here in Los Angeles. The police say they told a crowd of immigration activists to disperse, then charged them. The witnesses and the local Spanish and English reporters and the videotape say there was no warning, just LAPD out of control again. The police chief is investigating.
Speaking of out of control, lawsuits gone wild. Imus to sue CBS for firing him.
And remember last week's newsmaker, the lawyer suing the dry cleaner's for $67 million over a pair of pants? Tonight we hear from the dry cleaner's.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They came here, they started a cleaner's, and a mere over 10 years later, they found that that dream has become a nightmare at the hands (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And "American Idol" meets the American president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Say, Laura, you think I ought to sing something?
LAURA BUSH: I don't know, darling, they've already seen you dance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What was the number again to call to vote people off?
All that and more, now on Countdown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The singing was horrendous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Good evening from Los Angeles.
In the five years and nearly eight months since 9/11, the hinted, implied, nuanced, whispered link between Iraq and those who attacked us has been repeatedly and emphatically debunked by everyone and everything from the 9/11 Commission to the former head of the CIA, George Tenet. And the president, 16 hours after having vetoed funding and ending the war there, not only raised that nonexistent link anew, but framed it in language as definitive and certain as any used by anyone still harboring the delusion of such a connection.
Our fifth story on the Countdown, in the wake of the veto, as those around him scramble for a compromise, as congressional Republicans prepare to bail out, the president runs even further back into his own dream world, the House of Representatives today trying and failing, as expected, to override the presidential veto of the emergency funding bill for Iraq, the vote 222 to 203, not close to the two-thirds needed to set aside the veto, shortly after that vote, the president meeting with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss a new funding bill, being careful, before the cameras, at least, to use soothing language, like common ground, constructive, and goodwill, Democratic leaders following suit on the language of compromise, though taking umbrage at the very last line of the president's veto message, in which he labeled the bill unconstitutional.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We have an obligation under the terms of the Constitution to legislate. That's our job. The president has an obligation to either veto or sign it. But for any talk about something being unconstitutional, that's a little unusual, and I don't want to get into the other things that have been done with this administration that have clearly been unconstitutional.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That jab not the only crack in the veneer of common ground about Iraq, as the fourth of the five brigades that the president deployed to Baghdad as part of his surge finally arrived. That was when the president jacked up his rhetoric on just who they will be fighting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Al Qaeda is the group that plot and planned and trained killers to come and kill people on our soil. The same bunch that is causing havoc in Iraq was the ones that came and murdered our citizens.
For America, the decision we face in Iraq is not whether we ought to take sides in the civil war, it's whether we stay in the fight against the same international terrorist network that attacked us on 9/11, al Qaeda, the same people that attacked us in America.
These people that attacked us on September the 11th can - will be emboldened. Killers who have got their intentions America.
Al Qaeda terrorists who behead captives and order suicide bombings in Iraq would not simply be satisfied to see us gone. A retreat in Iraq would mean that they would likely follow us here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Are you freshly scared yet? If not, he can do this again tomorrow, by which time we might have a another new definition of victory in Iraq, as we have another new one tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Either we'll succeed, or we won't succeed. And the definition of success, as I described, is, you know, sectarian violence down. Success is not no violence. There are parts of our own country that, you know, have got, you know, a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine.
Great thanks for your time tonight, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So success is now turning Iraq into what, East St. Louis?
WOLFFE: You know, this is strange language that the president has been trying out, I think for about a week or so. He started getting all philosophical about violence, the level of violence that we could tolerate, after Virginia Tech, and he tried it out first with Charlie Rose.
But, you know, these comparisons just don't work. It's like Rudy Giuliani saying that he's got the experience to deal with Iraq because he brought down crime in New York. It doesn't work. I don't know why they try it, other than it's a simple argument, and it sounds a lot better than the civil war scenario we're now facing.
OLBERMANN: For all that talk of common ground and that phrase being repeated by both sides at the White House today, that the president has made it clear he will not bend about timetables. Given that some members of the GOP, though, are indicating a willingness to compromise on the issue of benchmarks for the government in Iraq, the secretary of defense thinks benchmarks could be an important issue, could the president wind up finding himself dragged into a compromise by the Republicans in the Congress?
WOLFFE: Well, remember, the classic MO for the Bush White House is to refuse to compromise, or even use the word compromise, right up until the moment that they actually do. So I expect there's a lot of tough talk going on right now that only said they would work with the Congress rather than saying that they would actually compromise, but a compromise is inevitable.
The question is, what is a benchmark? I'm really not sure what the definition is any more. Does it have any teeth? Does it have any consequence? Can they have a timeline that is just a date, as opposed to being a date certain for something to happen?
Those are the kind of face-saving operations that both sides will be engaged in now, and will work. If the Democrats are smart, they'll come back in a couple of months and say, OK, we're just going to give you the money, let's have the debates all over again.
OLBERMANN: A benchmark without a timetable would still be a timeline, I suppose. If the president does not offer his own concrete promises for a new funding bill, where does that leave the legislation? Democratic or Republican members of Congress are going to blink first if it's, if it - who's going to go first on this?
WOLFFE: Well, it does look like a number of Republicans are peeling off here, and the president has got to be concerned that Republicans want to show they're not a pushover. They've run out of support and patience for the Iraqi government. So he isn't in a stronger position in the second round as he was in the first.
Having said that, again, Democrats have to decide, are they just going to give him what he wants right now, or say, Listen, we'll give you the money for a couple of months, and then let's have this debate, because this is a debate that we're actually winning on, where the American people support us. The long-term politics of this are not good for the president.
OLBERMANN: Richard, the president today, as we heard in that exceptional highlight, almost cherry-picking, but I think we got the nuance and the - or at least the overall picture of what he was trying to say in his speech, he literally said that the same bunch that attacked us on 9/11 are in Iraq.
A, if we take his word, doesn't that negate the whole premise for keeping American troops in Iraq, to prevent it for becoming a haven for al Qaeda? Because certainly, it has already become a haven, if they're in Iraq. And B, given how his marvelously his first attempt to link Iraq and al Qaeda before the war panned out, why is the president using this rhetoric yet again, and even in more strong and definitive terms than he's ever used before?
WOLFFE: Well, if you take him at his word, Al Qaeda has a operational stronghold in Iraq that it obviously never had before the invasion. But I think the reason they're actually using this language is because the White House and Republican candidates, certainly in 2008, are yearning for a time of moral clarity, the time before this war in Iraq turned south, when they knew who the evildoers were, the months after 9/11, when it was very clear which side the bad guys were on.
This is a much more complex conflict now. It's very difficult to communicate to the American people. And what they understand is, of course, that this is a conflict that American troops are not capable of fighting successfully and not trained for.
So that's why they're doing it. It just makes it much simpler than it is on the ground.
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe of "Newsweek" and MSNBC, of course. Great thanks, Richard.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The war in Iraq is an albatross around the neck of any Republican who repeats the president's message of the last three years, We've got to hang in there, we're making progress. Polls show most Americans rejecting that. But many hardcore conservatives do not, and they vote in the primaries, and that may now be boosting the primary fortunes of the Republican contender most closely connected to the war, the Arizona Senator John McCain, Mr. McCain showing surprising resilience in an American Research poll in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
The poll shows McCain leading his rivals among likely Republican voters, and with an even bigger lead among independents. And that's an advantage, because Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are not just key primary states, they're also among the few where independents can cross lines and vote for a Republican or a Democrat in a primary or a caucus.
Let me turn now to Chris Cillizza, who, of course, writes the political blog The Fix for WashingtonPost.com.
Chris, thanks for your time tonight.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: Thank you for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Iraq and tomorrow night's debate here in southern California, how much of a tightrope is this for Senator McCain and the other candidates, compared to how much of a tightrope it will be later?
CILLIZZA: Well, I think it's a more slack tightrope at the moment than it will be later. I think there's a little bit more room for error. As you pointed out, the reality is, is there's a real dichotomy in this country between independents and Democrats and Republicans when it comes to what they think about the war.
Independents and Democrats are clearly soured on this war, want a timeline, want our troops out. Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, are still sticking by the president, still sticking by this surge strategy.
So I think you're going to probably see most of the frontrunners, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani sound the Bush (INAUDIBLE) - message, excuse me. I don't think it's likely we're going to see anybody say, in that first tier, George Bush is flat wrong about Iraq.
OLBERMANN: Clearly, McCain can get the conservatives by supporting the surge, but if there's pupehole (ph) that says that Republicans even are split 49-42, in general, between changing course or staying course, how does he then get them, and if he gets them and gets the nomination, how does he win any support from a majority of Americans, when a majority of Americans oppose the war?
CILLIZZA: That's the much tighter rope that McCain or, I think, frankly, Giuliani or Romney, who have both supported the surge, although they've been a little less out front than McCain, face.
I think what John McCain's allies would tell you in private is, Look, we have to worry about winning the nomination first before we worry about positioning ourselves for the general election.
That said, this is going to be a very tough road to hoe. The traditional thinking in campaign politics is, you run to the base, sort of to the extreme, in the primary, and then you move back to the center in the general election. The question is, can you sell that move back to the center on an issue that is as divisive as Iraq is?
OLBERMANN: And do you not run the risk of everything you had said during the primaries being come back - being used and have your head beaten up with them by your opponent?
CILLIZZA: That's exactly right. I mean, and we've seen this more and more, is that in this age where everything is recorded, whether on YouTube, television, or some other form, cell phone camera, it's really hard to get away with sort of saying one thing in the primary and a different in the general election.
In an era before we had this full-time TV and everything being publicized, it was a little bit easier, because not every word you said in the primary was scrutinized in the general election.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, last week in South Carolina, the Democratic eight, all pretty much focused on Iraq, certainly on the failures of the Bush administration. Is the percentage of amount of time that's going to be spent on the subject of Iraq going to be similar tomorrow night among the Republicans, or are there other things that they're going to try to break the Iraq monopoly on the news with?
CILLIZZA: I think you'll probably see especially Rudy Giuliani talk a lot about the global war on terror. Obviously, that's his association with September 11. They are trying to conflate that with an ability to talk intelligently and be trusted on foreign policy. I think he's going to make that gambit.
I don't think any of these guys really wants to talk particularly about Iraq. None of them have gone out of their way to do so except McCain, and I think he does that because he feels like he needs to.
I think we might see someone like a Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia, maybe a Duncan Hunter from California, try and push McCain, Giuliani, and Romney on Iraq. I'm not sure it's going to happen, though. Remember, the three frontrunners on the Democratic side last week largely ignored Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel, who tried to challenge them and bring them out on the issue.
OLBERMANN: Is anybody going to, at this point, try to bloody Giuliani on the subject of 9/11, as has been done so widely by his opponents in the Democratic field? Is anybody going to come out and say, Hey, you're not exactly the 9/11 hero that you've portrayed yourself as?
CILLIZZA: Not yet. That is coming, rest assured. But I don't think yet. Remember, this is the first debate. There are 10 candidates on the stage. And I think especially for the frontrunners, it's sort of a do no harm above all else philosophy. They just don't want to step in something that they can't get off their shoe later, frankly.
And so I think that's what they're going to be watching out for. And the second- and third-tier candidates are going to try and elevate themselves, get into a back and forth with one of the frontrunners, and the frontrunners are going to do their best to avoid it.
OLBERMANN: Well, there's always the chance that one of the contestants will hit one of the other ones at the beauty pageant with a shoe over the head. We'll see what happens tomorrow.
Chris Cillizza, who writes the blog The Fix for WashingtonPost.com.
As always, Chris, thanks for your time.
CILLIZZA: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And join us tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. We'll have the Countdown to the debate in the final hour leading up to that first Republican faceoff, or beauty pageant. Then at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, our own Chris Matthews, along with Politico.com, moderating the 90-minute GOP debate, 10 candidates trying to, trying to, break away from the pack. And immediately after the debate, 90 minutes of analysis with me and Chris, interviews with the candidates, Joe Scarborough in the Spin Room, reaction, of course, from our panel.
Dramatic developments today in Gonzales-gate, the first mention of possible criminal activity in the attorney scandal.
And Don Imus, headed to court as a plaintiff. He wants CBS to pay off the rest of his contract, $40 million.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Gonzales-gate, as of today, the scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys has graduated from political matters to criminal ones.
In our fourth story tonight, a Justice Department spokesman confirming to the Associated Press that investigators are now looking at whether Monica Goodling, the former Justice liaison to the White House, violated federal law by using political party affiliation to determine who got hired as U.S. attorneys, that news dovetailing with testimony offered and still to come from the two men who have served as deputy to Attorney General Gonzales, several outlets reporting that Deputy AG Paul McNulty told Congress Friday behind closed doors that he did not choose any of the eight prosecutors fired last year, McNulty's predecessor, James Comey, telling "The Seattle Times" today, he had no idea a list of those to being sacked was being compiled.
If Comey repeats that claim in testimony tomorrow, Congress will have Comey, McNulty, Gonzales, former chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and Associate Deputy AG William Moschella all on record denying they recommended attorneys to be fired, despite Gonzales's testimony that the list represented a consensus of top Justice officials, the upshot, by process of elimination, the tip of the investigative spear, now points right at the White House, the Senate today subpoenaing every e-mail Karl Rove ever sent to Justice about the U.S. attorneys, The National Journal reporting this week that without telling other top aides, Gonzales giving sweeping powers to hire and fire to Rove's proxy at Justice, Monica Goodling, who was at the time a 32-year-old who might not have gone to a top-ranked law school, but did work at a Holiday Inn one summer, not a Holiday Inn Express, mind you, the actual front desk of a real Holiday Inn.
Let's bring in Jonathan Turley, constitutional scholar and professor at a respected law school, the one at George Washington University.
Jon, thanks for your time tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Explain what makes that into a criminal matter.
TURLEY: Well, it can be a criminal violation in terms of Goodling's behavior. It certainly, at a minimum, is a violation of Title V. It is one of eight or so prohibited practices in the federal government. You cannot discriminate or hire on the basis of political affiliation for these type of positions.
It can go to a criminal matter, depending on what she may have told investigators, or what she may have done as part of that process. But at a minimum, what it is, is, a very serious federal violation.
OLBERMANN: We know about this immunity, partial immunity that Goodling has been granted. Does it, would it apply, do we know if it applies to actions already being investigated before her testimony? Will this complicate the congressional goal of getting her to say whose orders she was following?
TURLEY: It does, Keith. That is, they - Congress needs now to be very, very cautious. They're giving her testimonial, not use, immunity. And the difference is, all the immunity does for her is protect her from the use of her actual words, her testimony, against her. But if they do not fully investigate this matter, she can go in and basically spill the beans about things like these political affiliation violations, and she could not be prosecuted. That's what Oliver North did. The reason he didn't face jail, ultimately, is because he was able to say that his testimony before Congress was being used against him, because they had not fully investigated, ah, I, the crime as of that point.
So what Congress needs to do is delay any testimony by Monica Goodling, and fully investigate this, so they get that in the bag, so she can't claim that her testimony led them to various facts or people.
OLBERMANN: How does the president reconcile what would naturally be his prerogative to name political appointees with these various laws that ban religious, ideological, or political litmus tests in hiring for these positions?
TURLEY: Well, you know, once again, I feel like I'm a broken record about talking how serious these matters are. What we're talking about here is the use of politics for career people, people who are supposed to be selected on the basis of their talent. You know, this administration's been accused of incompetence from Katrina, to Iraq, to various other scandals.
And it's beginning to appear that the reason is because they're not hiring people for their competence. They're hiring them like they're Ba'athists, like they're loyal to some supreme leader, and not looking at how good they are as lawyers.
That violates centuries of - or decades of tradition, actually centuries, if you go back to the principles upon which this republic was founded, that there are political appointees, it is appropriate to have policymakers that follow your policies. But when it comes to doing the public's business, we're supposed to pick the best people, not the people most loyal to President Bush or Karl Rove or anyone else.
OLBERMANN: On this other matter of the Rove e-mails, is Senator Leahy more likely to get them because he's targeting the people who received them? Will it ultimately matter, or has the White House successfully insulated itself from any of these probes, whether they're criminal or otherwise?
TURLEY: I think Leahy is, at this point, unstoppable, because of the mistakes the White House has made, and these allegations. There's a misconception that executive privilege is an absolute protection for the White House. It is not. Even when it applies, and it may not apply, the court says it can be overcome by a compelling interest in Congress.
Leahy's now investigating possible crimes. He's had statements made to Congress that appear quite clearly to be false. Those are very compelling situations, and he's being very smart. He's asking first for e-mails that go to Justice Department officials. He's entitled to those e-mails, because they dead-ended in the Justice Department, which fall under his jurisdiction.
It's a smart move. And if those e-mails show any evidence of crime, then he's going to be a bulldozer, and he's going to go straight for the White House, and I think he's going to succeed.
OLBERMANN: Yes, forget executive privilege at that point, if those e-mails turn anything up.
Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University. As always, sir, great thanks.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The president shows up on "American Idol," and he lost to Sanjaya? Is this a typo? I'm sorry, it's a typo.
And mother cat, baby chicks. It's all very cute, until the baby chicks start to vanish.
That and more, ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: On this date in 1885, Elda Furry was born in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. At that moment, her future husband was already one of the most famous actors in America. He was DeWolf Hopper. He popularized the baseball poem "Casey at the Bat." When they married in 1913, she was 28, he was 57. She soon switched from acting to becoming a fearfully powerful gossip columnist, as Hedda Hopper.
On that note, let's play Oddball.
We begin in Madaba (ph), Jordan, with the cutest thing I ever did see. It's a mother kitty cat playing with a bunch of baby chicks. And she's not even swallowing them whole. For some reason, the cat, her four kittens, and a half-dozen baby chickens are all living together in the same cardboard box. It's like "Ocean's 11," except, well, no, it's nothing like "Ocean's 11." The mother cat is even feeding the little chicks every day, getting them nice and plump and juicy, mmmm chicken.
To India, at once one of the world's great polluters, and leading the way for technological solutions to the global energy crisis. This is the invention of Mr. Kada Gagoy (ph), who has found a way to conduct energy from passing cars on the highway. You just have to drive over that speed bump. It's safe and convenient. Of course, with speed bumps like that, more drivers are going to need four wheel drive vehicles and SUVs. But hey, why are you raining on Kada Gagoy's parade, Mr. Gore? He's trying.
OLBERMANN: Just when the Imus controversy was going away, he sets it ablaze anew today. And the police here in Los Angeles under investigation anew after they appear to have started the violence at an immigration rally. First here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Fox Noise, which showed an unusual piece of B roll yesterday. Perhaps this will refresh your memory. You'll be able to recognize me. I'm the news caster in this picture. Apparently this was the wallpaper video Fox used to illustrate references to Fox sports. About six hours after this was shown, I ran into my old baseball partner Steve Lions, on right there, at the Dodgers game.
Number two, Jason Harris of St. Louis, Missouri, big Cardinals fan Jason is. After the way they won the World Series last October, he went in to get a tattoo on his back to celebrate. He is suing. That Tattoo was supposed to read "St. Louis Cardinals, World Series champions 2006." Instead, it reads "St. Louis Cardinals worlb," that's right worlb, with a b, "worlb series champs 2000."
And number one, Steven Harold of Medina, Ohio. He has received four days in jail and three months under house arrest. He has to pay restitution. What did he do? He went around to the Clark and Marathon gas stations in town and put glue into the credit card readers and also bad smelling deer repellent on the pumps. Why would he do that? Because he owned the Shell station in town and he will do anything for your business.
OLBERMANN: Every radio and television contract ever written - and I know this. I've signed 16 of them - includes a loophole, loosely known as the disrepute clause. If you do something, anything so bad that it brings your employer into public reproach, you can be fired for, as they say, cause. You're out and they keep your money. Our third story on the Countdown, the I-network, CBS, says the I-man gave it a black eye. Yet he is now suing CBS.
Don Imus not at all content to go gently into his career's good night. You will recall CBS Radio dumped the old cowboy philosopher shortly after this network canceled the cable simulcast of his morning show, because he made insulting racial remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. Today "Fortune Magazine" reporting Imus has now hired Martin Garbus, a noted New York attorney, who specialized in first amendment cases, even though the first amendment applies to the government trying to abridge your free speech, not CBS trying to do so.
Mr. Garbus once defended the comedian Lenny Bruce, whose arrests over what was then called sick humor broke new ground for what entertainers could stay on stage. According to "Fortune," Imus may sue CBS to collect the reported 40 million dollars remaining in his contract. One card up his sleeve may be a clause that says he has to be warned once before CBS can fire him. The so called dog has one bite clause. Friends say that for now Imus is retreating to his ranch and spending the summer under the hot New Mexico, letting any plans he might have get fully baked.
If that is not weird enough legal action for you, remember this from our newsmakers segment from last Friday?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Number one, administrative law Judge Roy Pearson of Washington. Ten years ago a local business lost one of his belongings that he brought in for repair. He has now sued, seeking damages for the litigation costs, the mental suffering, inconvenience, discomfort, time spent on his lawsuit, car rentals, plus the value of the lost item. The amount he is asking, 65,462,500 dollars. What kind of business lost an article so valuable that he's suing for 65.4 million? The dry cleaners. It was a pair of pants, a pair of pants that needed ten bucks worth of alterations, no less.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, rather than shrinking at the cleaners, the dollar figure has actually increased in the legal action that puts the suit back into lawsuit. And if you have any more puns about this case, send them to me or to our justice correspondent, Pete Williams.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It all began two years ago when a customer says he took the pants from a pin-striped suit to this Washington, D.C. dry cleaner for alterations. He claims they lost the pants, then tried to pass off these gray slacks as his. Those were the pants, says the lawyer for the couple that owns the business, Jin and Su Chung, Korean immigrants who came here in 1992.
CHRISTOPHER MANNING, LAWYER FOR DRY CLEANER OWNERS: He did not drop any pants that had red or blue or any other pinstripes.
WILLIAMS: They eventually offered to pay 12,000 dollars to settle the dispute.
JIN NAM CHUNG, DRY CLEANER OWNER (through translator): We can't sleep properly. We cannot eat properly. We can't function properly, because this is always on our mind.
WILLIAMS: But the customer, Roy Pearson, is hoping to sue the pants off the cleaners, asking for an eye popping 67 million dollars in damages. Pearson, a local judge who works in this office building, declined to be interviewed, but he claims the Chungs committed fraud when they put up signs that said "Satisfaction Guaranteed" and "Same Day Service."
(on camera): He is suing under a consumer protection law that allows fines for each day of what he says are multiple violations, which is how he gets to 67 million, that and asking for 15,000 to lease a car so he can get to a different dry cleaner.
(voice-over): An advocate for changing the legal system says consumer laws are open to abuse.
VICTOR SCHWARTZ, LAWSUIT REPORT ADVOCATE: They were designed to protect consumers against real fraud, misstatements that could hurt somebody, not for a small business that says satisfaction guaranteed.
WILLIAMS: The lawyer for the Chungs says he's never seen anything like it.
MANNING: They came here. They started the cleaners and a mere over ten years later, they found that that dream has become a nightmare at the hands of Roy Pearson.
WILLIAMS: The case goes to trial next month, with the Chungs hoping they don't get taken to the cleaners.
Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: L.A. police versus L.A. again. Those in this crowd, reporters included, say there was no violence or warning until the cops did that. And Paula Abdul again, and this time she can't claim she was confused by technical issues. That and more ahead on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: The police of this city, Los Angeles, have a long, complex and far from happy history with the residents of this city. Union organizers in the early 1900's, Japanese and then Mexicans in the 1940's, African-American in the 1960's particularly, and again in the 1990's, and yesterday back to the Hispanics. Our number two story on the Countdown, the LAPD is once again investigating the LAPD. Participants in and reporters covering an immigration demonstration yesterday here say they were stampeded by the police without warning and with rubber bullets fired at and batons used on women and children.
Within hours, even the city's police chief called the violence in McArthur Park inappropriate. Our correspondent is Peter Alexander. Peter, good evening.
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening Keith. This is exactly where that clash took place. After a day of demonstrations that most people had described as both peaceful and positive, it turned violent.
ALEXANDER (voice-over): The May Day march turned into a melee. After a day of peaceful immigration protests, a few thousand demonstrators had gathered in a downtown Los Angeles park. Authorities say several people in the crowd threw rocks and bottles at officers. Police in riot gear responded, firing foam bullets and using batons to disperse the crowd.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Move her back or your under arrest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go this way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a public park. We have a right to be here.
ALEXANDER: This man, hit by two rubber bullets, said "I don't care if they kill me." Another man cradled his child. And on the ground, on his knees, documenting it all, Juan Gara (ph), a photographer for NBC's Spanish Language network Telemundo. Police kicked him. As their line advanced, another officer grabbed his camera and threw it.
Meanwhile, Telemundo's national newscast was broadcasting live. The anchorman Pedro Sevsec was getting ready to go on the air.
PEDRO SEVSEC, TELEMUNDO ANCHOR: One minute I was live and the next minute I was running for my life. Suddenly I had a police officer pointing one of those shotguns at my face.
ALEXANDER (on camera): Was this just clearly a case of excessive force?
SEVSEC: It was excessive force. They basically hit women, children and journalists.
ALEXANDER (voice-over): Police Chief William Bratton today canceled a trip to Central America to deal with the fall out, calling some officers' actions inappropriate.
CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES: I share the understandable concern and frustration of all of you that once again the department, its members and the community are involved in such a troubling event.
ALEXANDER: Among those injured, about a dozen officers and ten civilians. A day designed to focus on immigrants' rights now overshadowed by the controversial actions of Los Angeles police.
ALEXANDER: The LAPD says at least nine people were arrested and the Los Angeles City Council is demanding a review and report of exactly what happened here within 30 days. Keith?
OLBERMANN: Peter Alexander reporting from McArthur Park in L.A., great thanks. Happily no injuries to report in our nightly round-up of celebrity and tabloids, keeping tabs, unless you count widespread shame. Britney Spears performed last night, her first public concert in nearly three years, not including that time she got out of the car. I warned you to stay away from the House of Blues and that's where she showed up last night in San Diego, after charging fans up to 125 dollars a ticket, making them wait about three hours, Miss Spears rewarded them with a powerhouse that lasted long into the 15-minute range, no encore.
After spending the last few years embroiled in one controversy, or bizarro tabloid incident, after another, Spears entered rehab earlier this year and promised her fans a comeback. Countdown's older viewers might recall that she once had a career in the music business.
Long expected fissure has reportedly appeared in the marriage of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, gravely displeasing Xenu. "Life and Style" Magazine reporting that Holmes has been flirting with her co-star on the set of her new project. It's called "Mad Money." And I believe we have a picture of the star of "Mad Money." If we could put that up for a second here.
OK, "Life and Style" reports that he kept Katie in an intimate embrace even after the director yelled - can we double-check if that's the right guy? I mean, he's vivacious and all. All right, this makes a little more sense. This is, I'm told, an actor named Adam Rothenberg. And according to "Life and Style," Katie touched his arm. You know they're totally doing it.
America's president shows up on "American Idol." Fox doesn't even give you a number so you can give him a show of support. Another bizarre TV appearance for Paula Abdul you don't want to miss. That's ahead, but first time for Countdown's latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.
The bronze to Bill-O. Research done at the University of Indiana Department of Media discovered that during his opening, what's it called, barking points memo segment, he used a derogatory name nine times a minute, a little more than once every seven seconds. They note that in the last six months those terms were used about 22 different groups of people. He called all of them bad people. He mentioned terrorists as the bad people 21.4 percent of the time, but 21.6 percent of the time he mentioned the bad people as being the left wing media. Tune in tomorrow when we'll hear Bill-O call the University of Indiana bad evil left wing media terrorist.
The silver, chase bank and its advertising agency. Its new TV ads in New York show each branch of the bank represented by a narrow diaphanous (ph) beam of blue light shooting up from the Manhattan landscape. A narrow beam of blue light shooting up from the Manhattan landscape just like the only memorial we have thus far from the victims of the World Trade Center. You might want to pull those ads.
But our winner, radio's Paul Harvey. After reports that during a NATO fight with the Taliban in Afghanistan, 51 villagers, mostly women and children, were also killed, he said might not the news media put a stop to such pulled punches wars as this. If we could just desist from categorizing civilians. It was civilians, for goodness sake, who decapitated New York City. Since the invention of the aerial bomb five wars ago, there have been no civilians.
So Paul you're suggesting the victims at the World Trade Center were appropriate military targets. Probably time for you to give us your final good day. Paul Harvey, today's Worst Person in the World.
OLBERMANN: A mere two weeks after Sanjaya Malakar was voted off "American Idol," another wannabe has appeared on the show. And surprisingly, this man has a lot in common with the 17-year-old. People watch him and think, what is he doing up there? And how has he gotten so far on so little talent. Some actually find themselves cringing at the sound of his voice, and at least have the audience is certain that the vote must have been rigged. Our number one story on the Countdown, President Bush joins "American Idol" Talk about your vote for the worst campaign.
Granted, the president appeared only in a pre-recorded message, and in fairness he and the first lady were thanking those who gave generously to the Idol charity event. But the specter still persists of a president trying to burnish his image in the one venue where people might actually pay attention to him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We thank all the "American Idol" viewers who have shown the good heart of America. We thank all the celebrities who participated, including Bono, and all the contestants who sang their hearts out for these children. Say Laura, do you think I ought to sing something?
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I don't know darling. They have already seen you dance.
BUSH: Thanks and god bless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Then again, a huge percentage of the Idol audience probably didn't know who those folks were. Let's turn to our own "American Idol" princess, also the mid-day host of New York's classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito. Good evening Maria.
MARIA MILITO, Q104.3: Hello Keith. Nice to be back.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Bush's joke about dancing, of course, referring to his appearance with the West African dance troop last week. Is it possible he did this cameo for "American Idol" because "Dancing With the Stars" wouldn't take him?
MILITO: I hope not. He didn't belong on "American Idol." You know, I vote every week. And I was so angry that he was on, I forgot to vote. I swear that's true. I forgot to vote. I was so annoyed. Why was he on? It makes absolutely no sense. And he is thanking the American people, and blah, blah, blah. Isn't the timing a little bizarre, with everything that's going on? It really, really made me angry that he was on.
OLBERMANN: And, if you think you are mad, he gives this special shout out to Bono and no mention of Celine Dion. Do you think she's like rioting or declaring war on the United States from Canada?
OLBERMANN: She might, but I also heard that Elvis Presley was spinning in his grave on that e too. That was horrendous, by the way, that they put those two together last week. You know, last week's show made me angry as well. "American Idol" is making me angry now.
OLBERMANN: Welcome back over -
OLBERMANN: - to the sunshine part of it. It was really sad when you have to resort to animatronics to get somebody on television. But I mean Celine in that case. Now listen, there's nothing wrong with the president thanking people. But there's still something odd about that, because he did not tape a message to appear during the charity event. Wouldn't that have made sense?
MILITO: Of course, he should have been on last week. OK? There's just something about it that bothers me that he was on. You know, last night it bothered me that Simon kissed LaKisha. Did you see that. And then he was like tasting his lips. It just bothers me. The president, Simon Cowell kissing the contestant; something's very yucky about that too.
OLBERMANN: Something got into the water. And meantime, in the alumni association news, Sanjaya reportedly returning to his home town, good old Federal Way, Washington, after this publicity tour after Idol. City officials are not doing anything for him, no parade, no keys to the city, no Sanjaya day. Is this a gross injustice for you and the other Sanjaya fans?
MILITO: Not really. I think they are embarrassed that he even lived there, because they're claiming that he also lived in California and Hawaii. So they must be embarrassed by him.
OLBERMANN: Get out of town sign.
MILITO: Exactly, don't come back.
OLBERMANN: Now, you did some investigative work of your own here about Paula Abdul. Your pointed out she was trying to sell jewelry on QVC recently, with emphasis on that word trying. Let's look at this before we comment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA ABDUL, "AMERICAN IDOL": I swear, I am here. It's just a nice piece. You can wear with a shirt, a suit and, you know, you can wear it around your jeans, into the area of your -
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the belt loop.
ABDUL: In the belt loop. And I'm creating my own - (INAUDIBLE). Hi everybody, it's my anniversary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All right, there was some other plant there that she might have been hiding from the police. The only lucid thing she said there was the last line about it's my anniversary. Does that shed any light on her condition there?
MILITO: I don't know. Anniversary of what? Like I don't know. And, you know, I have to give her some credit because this season, in the past few weeks, she has actually been very - she has gives opinions to people. She doesn't just says, hey, you look beautiful. You know, she's actually had constructive criticism to the contestants. But I guess this is her true self of being loopy. Maybe she stays on her meds for Idol, because that's her real job and they might replace her. And this is off her meds, she goes to QVC. I don't know. It was crazy.
OLBERMANN: Or it could have been the other way around.
MILITO: It could be the other way around too.
OLBERMANN: One thing here, I'm told to ask you that there was an allegedly original performance last night?
MILITO: Yes, the beat box kid. He was actually quite creative with a Bon Jovi song. And Jon Bon Jovi even said it was a risk. You know what, I give him credit because he did the risk. It was creative. But, you know, beat boxing and rock and roll, I don't know if that is a god mix? We'll see tonight.
OLBERMANN: And the last thing here, Antonella Barba got into the audience last night. She bought a ticket. Is that the most you can do after you've had your semi-final and quasi soft porn finalist photos?
MILITO: I have a theory about her. I think, because she's been laying low for all these weeks, I think now we are going to see some new porn sites and pictures on the web. What do you think? Because people kind of forgot about her, because of Sanjaya. So, she is in the audience. Hey, guess what, I'm back on the web with no clothes on. That's what I think.
OLBERMANN: I think it's kind of funny that you would use the phrase she's been laying low for the last few weeks, OK.
MILITO: I'm glad you caught that. Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: Maria Milito, of New York's Q104.3, our very own Idol princess. Always a pleasure, my dear.
MILITO: Thank you very much.
OLBERMANN: This programming reminder. We will join you an hour earlier tomorrow night. The Countdown to the Republican debate from the Reagan Presidential Library tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern, 4:00 Pacific. That's followed by the debate itself. Ten Republican candidates. The face off moderated by Chris Matthews. And at 8:30 Eastern, 5:30 Pacific, Chris and I join you for the post game show. And that is Countdown for this the 1,463rd day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq. From Los Angeles, I'm Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END