updated 1/4/2006 2:32:01 PM ET 2006-01-04T19:32:01

Guest: Dana Milbank, John Shibley

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

As the hours mount and the hopes decrease, the vigil continues unrelieved, unsupported by any hopeful developments, yet they wait still in West Virginia.

The guilty pleas from the lobbyist Jack Abramoff that may shake Washington, guilty of what the judge called corruption of public officials.  Why these will shake Washington the way the and NSA scandals never could.

Speaking of the NSA, the new book, “State of War.”  In it, how the CIA ignored its own spies‘ conclusions that Saddam Hussein had no nukes program.

And tonight‘s talking points.  Can we get an up-or-down vote on the 15 phrases and two words some academics want banned from the language because they‘re surreal, junk science, of no interest to a person of interest?  As they‘d say, breaking news, dawg.

And maybe the most disturbing story ever, the millionairess who married a dolphin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m just waiting for everyone to leave so we can have a private moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  She added, You don‘t know him like I do.  I can change him.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Tonight there is a report that if the president‘s telling the truth, and the NSA was only spying on incoming calls from al Qaeda, phones are ringing more frequently than at a Jerry Lewis telethon.

Also, the nation‘s capital is metaphorically quivering after the lobbyist of all lobbyists agreed to give up everybody he may have ever improperly tried to persuade.  But these are largely concepts, news necessitating nuance and reflection.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN is as nuanced and reflective as a kick to the ribs.  A rescue team inching closer to 13 miners tonight in West Virginia, but the odds still insist that when they get there, they will find a tragedy, not a miracle.

Our correspondent at Buchanan, West Virginia, is Tom Costello.

Tom, good evening.

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening to you.

They are hoping that they can reach the back of the mine by 10:30 or so Eastern time this evening.  And at this very moment, we were told, the governor of West Virginia should be meeting with family members with a late -- with the latest update.

We don‘t know what that update is, but he has been adamant through this process that he wants to make sure that they get the news from him, and that they‘re not hearing it through the rumor mill.  So he has been trying to give them updates on a regular basis.

And indeed, the news today has been very discouraging.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over):  The weather here reflected the mood of the people, as hopes dimmed that their loved ones would be found alive.

BEN HATFIELD, International COAL GROUP CEO:  We are clearly in a situation where we need a miracle.  But miracles happen.

COSTELLO:  Rescue teams have now advanced 11,200 feet into the mine, while above ground, they‘ve been drilling holes six inches across.

HATFIELD:  It continues to be our best guess as to where the crew may have accumulated and constructed a barricade structure.

COSTELLO:  At 5:38 this morning, the first drill broke through the mine below.  Crews above pounded on the drill bit and listened, but heard only silence.  Rescuers then dropped a camera and an air monitor, but it was bad news, dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide in the very spot they‘d hoped to find the miners.

So rescuers sent in a robot to survey the scene, but just 70 feet in, it got stuck.  At 6:50 a.m., crews tried drilling a second hole, but groundwater flooded in and slowed their progress.  Then at 2:00 p.m., a third hole.  So far, no signs of life.

HATFIELD:  In a perfect scenario, what would be there would be a safe crew of men that are—had barricaded themselves in, by some ingenious manner, managed to maintain a safe breathing environment.

COSTELLO:  As rescuers desperately sped up their efforts this afternoon, some families were asking questions about the mine‘s safety record, 180 violations over the last three federal inspections.

JOHN BENNETT, SON OF TRAPPED MINER:  I‘m past the point of being angry.  I‘ve asked my dad several times to leave this mine.

COSTELLO:  International Coal Group, which just bought the mine in November, says it had addressed many of the concerns.

HATFIELD:  We believed the mine was safe.  We employed top management people that are knowledgeable in the industry and experienced and skilled in their job.

COSTELLO:  But more than 36 hours after the explosion, the company says a miracle is what‘s needed now.

HATFIELD:  I‘ve never been involved with a mine disaster anywhere remotely approaching this magnitude.  This is a sad day for all of us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO:  Everyone here very shaken, Keith.  And still no word on what caused the explosion.  But here‘s what‘s interesting, inside, these rescue teams have seen no sign of fire, nothing charred, nothing melted, and the walls and the roof seem to be intact.  They have seen signs of combustion, of the force of combustion, in other words, pieces of the ventilation system knocked over from the force of the explosion.

But what they‘re really concerned about is this carbon monoxide gas may have, in fact, been lethal for these 13 miners.  And they‘re working their way toward them right now.

Back to you.

OLBERMANN:  Tom Costello, monitoring that ongoing rescue attempt in Buchanan, West Virginia.  Of course, Tom, if things change, we will be back to you immediately.  Thank you, Tom.

More on the families in a moment.  For more on the mechanics of the rescue effort, let‘s bring in Robert Hager, now NBC News analyst.

Thanks for your time tonight, Bob.

ROBERT HAGER, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The quote about a miracle there, you were in Pennsylvania in the mine in 2002, when a miracle did happen, when nine miners were found 77 hours after they were trapped.  But that was a flood, essentially, as opposed to an explosion, and explosion means, as Tom just intimated there, not just the trauma of an explosion, but also the potential depletion of oxygen.

Is there any hope that we might see a miracle in West Virginia?

HAGER:  Oh, You always have to say there‘s hope, until they‘re positive, till they find miners that are dead.  You always hope, you hope somehow that they could have survived the explosion, used this protective gear—they do carry protective gear—might give them about an hour or something, if they weren‘t stunned, if they were able to move, use that protective gear to cover up their faces, get enough oxygen to scramble their way to some safe pocket of (INAUDIBLE) -- of fresh air, back there behind the explosion.

But that‘s such a slim reed.  I mean, it really would take so many

things, that you‘ve got to be realistic about this situation.  And the

overriding factor is the levels of that carbon monoxide, the product of the

combustion.  So it didn‘t throw around a lot of debris, as Tom says.  The -

what it did do is put out this terrible poisonous gas at levels—deadly levels, three times the lethal dosage of carbon monoxide.

And for the miners now to have been in those conditions for nearly a day and a half, that‘s really is—I mean, that‘s what we‘re talking about here.  That‘s what makes this such a grim scenario.

OLBERMANN:  One of the details that apparently has gotten out in the last couple of hours to the families in one of the briefings, and we know there was a briefing going on within the last hour, was that the families were told that cinder-block walls deep in the mine had been knocked down.  Is there anything to infer from that regarding what happened?

HAGER:  Nah, just, only that‘s the force of the explosion that we were talking about.  There was not a lot of debris thrown around.  That they‘ve said over and over again.  These cinder block erections are to prevent the poisonous gases from getting through or from building up.  It‘s to direct fresh air around.

And so those are set up sporadically through the mine.  And then they have little curtains, which are cloth material, that run along those cinder blocks, and you can push those aside to make your way through.

So it‘s to set up blockages so that the methane levels aren‘t allowed to build up through the mine.  Those were—a lot of those were knocked down in the primary shaft.  And as the rescuers went in, in order to keep the fresh air coming in behind them, so you didn‘t have a double tragedy with the rescuers being (INAUDIBLE) overcome, they did have to rebuild those cinder block areas and the curtains behind them.

OLBERMANN:  But that also addresses this question of what happens if the rescue team gets to the miners, and they are still alive, or some of them are.  What would happen?  What would be at risk to get them out?  If they‘re alive, doesn‘t it mean risking some exposure of—by the survivors to this carbon monoxide that‘s presumably still sitting there around them, somewhere around where they are?

HAGER:  Not really, because I think for—they‘re doing it all by the rescuers now.  They‘re not—they‘ve decided not to drill any farther with those little shafts that were to bring fresh air in, for fear of causing some kind of structural failure in there.  And so they‘re depending on the rescuers at this point.

The rescuers wouldn‘t get into the area where the miners were unless the air was pure enough that they were OK getting in there.  And so if they got in there and they found miners that they could bring out, the conditions would be such that they could bring them out, and they‘d use protective breathing gear, just as a precaution, to assist them in that.

But I think without a lot of debris and blockage in that shaft, getting them out would not be the kind of problem that it was in Pennsylvania, when they brought those live miners up the little shaft.

OLBERMANN:  As we remember so well from your coverage of it.

NBC News analyst Robert Hager...

HAGER:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  ... great thanks for your insight tonight, sir.

As the hours tick by with no word from the Sago Mine, the families of the 13 men trapped underground banded together in hope and in prayer.

Our correspondent Lisa Daniels was with them as they waited for any sign of any good news.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  His was a long day for the families of the miners underground.  As the day wore on, the strain began to show on their faces.

CHRIS TOLER, SON OF TRAPPED MINER:  I‘m trying to think more of my mother right now, because the more I think about my father, the worse things get for me.  I‘m just trying to be there for my mom and my family right now.

DANIELS:  This church has always been the center of this community, and right now, the town of Buchanan leaning on it full force.

Virginia Moore‘s fiance, Terry Helms, is the mine crew fire boss.

VIRGINIA MOORE, FIANCEE OF TRAPPED MINER:  We have hope.  And until they tell us that they found them, and they‘re still alive, yes, our hope is still there, right on the edge.  We‘re waiting.

DANIELS:  There‘s been little outward emotion today.  The families gather in small groups, and it‘s the small gestures that help them avoid thinking about what‘s happening down there.

TOLER:  I know from experience, it‘s—he‘s bound to be pretty cold up in there right now.

DANIELS:  Virginia Moore is tied of reading faces.  She‘s forced to do it every time officials enter the church with more news.

MOORE:  Because you look at the expression on their face, and you think, Oh, gosh.

DANIELS (on camera):  But these family members know the danger from mining.  They learned it through their great-grandfathers, their grandfathers, and their fathers, all proud miners.

(voice-over):  So at a time like this, it‘s the town‘s prayers that keep them going, and the prayers of others.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And may God bless those who are trapped below the earth.

DANIELS:  So many people here focus on the Miracle Nine, the miners from that little town in Pennsylvania who somehow made it out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It really looked bad for them, and They were pushing 77 hours.

DANIELS:  For better or worse, that story taught the families here that hope is worth the pain.

Lisa Daniels, NBC News, Buchanan, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Updates on this story throughout this news hour.  And at the top of the hour, “RITA COSBY LIVE AND DIRECT” reporting tonight from Buchanan, West Virginia.

Also tonight, what the president said about the NSA spying, what the president said about the Iraq prewar intel, does not seem to match up at all with a book out just today by James Risen of “The New York Times.”

And an explosive plea deal rocking Washington.  Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleading guilty, and will now help prosecutors unravel a web of corruption on Capitol Hill, where all the congressmen are.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you already thought the administration‘s prewar Iraq intel was faith-based, you ain‘t seen nothing yet.  If you are buying the president‘s story that the only Americans the NSA were spying on were those who were getting international phone calls from al Qaeda, well, then, the terrorists must have more phone operators than your average telemarketing monolith.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN today, “State of War.”  It is a book, another book, about counterterrorism and the war and the Bush administration, but it stands out from the crowd because it is authored by “The New York Times” reporter who took the word “secret” out of the secret NSA spying program.

Our correspondent Andrea Mitchell has spoken with James Risen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Did the administration secretly eavesdrop without warrants on only a few enemies, as the president claimed on Sunday?

BUSH:  The NSA program is one that listens to a few numbers.

MITCHELL:  But “The New York Times” reporter who first broke the story two weeks ago says in a book out today, it was a lot bigger than that.

JAMES RISEN, AUTHOR, “STATE OF WAR”:  They were eavesdropping on roughly 500 people in the United States every day, for the past three or four years.  That adds up to potentially thousands of people.

MITCHELL:  James Risen writes that after 9/11, the administration got companies to route more international calls through the U.S. to make it easier for the NSA to spy on terrorists.

RISEN:  You could listen to all 250 million Americans, and that would be a very effective counterterrorism tool.  The question is, where is the balance between security and civil liberties?

MITCHELL:  Today, the White House again defended the spying.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  What we‘re talking about is looking at international calls involving known al Qaeda members or affiliated organizations.

MITCHELL:  In “State of War,” Risen also claims that before the Iraq war, the CIA recruited Iraqi Americans to go home and question relatives, all scientists, about Iraq‘s suspected weapons.  All reported no evidenced of WMD.

Risen says the CIA ignored their findings.

RISEN:  They believed anybody who told them there wasn‘t any WMD had to be lying.

MITCHELL:  Even more startling, Risen says the CIA had a major foulup in Iran.  In 2004, when a CIA officer mistakenly exposed America‘s entire spy network to inside Iran to a double agent.  U.S. officials deny that the spies were arrested or killed.

Now the Justice Department is investigating the leaks to Risen.

(on camera):  Would you go to jail to protect sources?

RISEN:  Well, I‘d rather not have to think about that right now.

MITCHELL:  Tonight, the CIA says there are serious inaccuracies in every chapter of the book, and it demonstrates a, quote, “unfathomable and sad disregard for U.S. national security.”

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No doubt something that some of the administration supporters or critics would say about the administration.

If you think all that is a problem, what about a woman marrying a dolphin?  How do we protect American society from this?

Speaking of crumbling societies, there‘s Donald Trump.  Rumors he‘d run for governor of New York, rumors he will address  ahead, you‘re fired, on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and as we do each evening at this time, we pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for a brief segment filled with strange people, often with weird animals, and unfortunately tonight, with strange people doing weird things with weird animals.

Let‘s play Oddball.

In Nepal, dozens of hopefuls gathered to battle for the title of fastest elephant in the world, an honor coveted nearly as strongly as is that of world‘s tallest Pygmy.  Eleven beasts making it to the final heat, charging through the 160-yard course at speeds approaching three miles per hour.

This will be a race won by a trunk.  And in the end, it was a pachyderm named Paraskas (ph) who clinched the title, finishing in under two minutes.  Five others tired and quit.  Two were disqualified for trampling spectators, the other three had to leave to participate in a game of Jumanji.  I made the last two parts up.

To Elat, Israel, where a lavish wedding was held.  The bride, British millionairess Sharon Tembler (ph), the groom, Cindy.  No, it‘s not a same-sex wedding.  In fact, it‘s not even a same-species wedding.  She married a dolphin, a male dolphin named Cindy.  Seriously.

She says they‘ve been dating for 15 years, and they finally decided to make it legal.  Plus, most of her stuff was already at his apartment.

It was a beautiful ceremony.  She recited her vows, he responded with a series of quick squeaks and clicks, and then she fed him some mackerel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It was everything I‘m (INAUDIBLE), just waiting for everyone to leave, so we can have a private moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And somewhere in Pennsylvania, there is a United States senator hyperventilating.

(INAUDIBLE) not far away, a contest to see which person looks most like his pet.  Studies have shown that people choose pets which look like they do.  The 10 contestants who showed up at a mall in Tel Aviv proved that those studies are crap.  Look at them.  They have two legs, the dogs have four legs.  They look nothing alike.

The big winner of the Look Like Your Dog contest was Pug, this one, and his dog, Pug.  They win a year‘s supply of dog food, which apparently they will split.

Only a cynic would say Jack Abramoff looks like a stool pigeon.  Why the superlobbyist‘s plea bargain could conceivably make jailbirds out of as many as 20 sitting congressmen.  Or sitting ducks.

And 100 years ago, there were not any food labels to read.  As of this week, they have to be written so that the anybody, anybody with a food allergy, can understand them.

These stories ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, another dumb criminal, this time in Ovratornia (ph), Sweden.  Broke into a house, stole a lot of stuff, including a cell phone.  Police called the cell phone.  The alleged perp not only answered the phone, he also forgot to hit End or Send or whatever you have to hit to turn it off.  Police heard him order a taxi.  Police heard him tell the driver where to go.  They were waiting for him when he got there.

Number two, Rhonnel Hearn, (INAUDIBLE) Washington Redskins football star Clinton Cortis (ph).  In a Sunday‘s Redskins game in Philadelphia, a woman fan of the hometown team allegedly threw beer at Ms. Hearn and her husband and their friends.  So she went over to the woman and punched her in the face.  Momma said, Knock you out.

Speaking of football, number one, Leone Margaret McKenney of Green Bay, Wisconsin.  She attended the last Green Bay Packers game of the season on Sunday, not unordinarily would this be a news story, even if she described the game as a humdinger, except it was Ms. McKenney‘s first Packers game ever, kind of odd, given that she‘s been a big Packers fan for years, that she‘s lived in Green Bay since 1947, and that she‘s 103 years ago old.

Must be a hell of a waiting list for tickets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is the chapter that Dale Carnegie left out, not quite anticipating the shadowy world of K Street lobbyists and the lawmakers who love them.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, how to make friends and influence people before turning state‘s evidence against those people, the Jack Abramoff story, one of the most prominent Republican lobbyists in Washington, making a surprise deal with federal prosecutors today.

Sometimes the bad guy wears a black hat, pleading guilty to corruption charges and agreeing to cooperate with the investigation.  He is going down, he‘s going down hard, but he is not going down alone.

Mr. Abramoff admitting in federal court that he tried to bribe members of Congress to win official favors for his clients, telling the judge, quote, “Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes.  I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I have wronged or caused to suffer.”

That could be a long list.  Mr. Abramoff with the potential to implicate up to 20 members of Congress.  In a moment, who they might be and the collateral damage, with Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post.”

But we begin with more on Abramoff himself and how he became one of the most influential powerbrokers in Washington.  Our correspondent David Shuster has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Jack Abramoff is just 47 years old and today he certainly looked like a character out of one of his favorite movies.  During Abramoff‘s rise to power, associates say the lobbyist often mimicked lines from the “Godfather,” including when Michael Corleone is asked by a crooked politician asked for a cut of the action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Senator, you can have my answer now if you‘d like. 

My offer is this, nothing.

SHUSTER:  The favorite scene is a reminder that Abramoff saw himself as a brash behind-the-scenes deal maker with influence, money and power.  During the 1980 presidential election Abramoff worked with Harvard‘s Grover Norquist, a future anti-tax crusader and together the college Republicans helped Reagan carry the state.

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.

SHUSTER:  Abramoff and Norquist then came to Washington, taking over the national College Republicans, where they were joined by Georgia‘s Ralph Reed, future leader of the Christian Coalition and current candidate for Georgia‘s lieutenant governor.  But in the early 1980s, the three infuriated national party leaders with a fundraising flop, prompting then RNC Chairman Rich Bond to banish them from GOP headquarters, saying, quote, “you can‘t be trusted.”

Abramoff then began running Citizens for America, a conservative grass roots organization.  He made frequent contact with Oliver North, the mastermind behind the Iran Contra scandal and helped North lobby Congress on behalf of the rebels in Nicaragua.

But this was only the beginning of Abramoff‘s career representing some of the world‘s most reviled groups and foreign political leaders.  Abramoff lobbied for Jonas Savimbi, a murderous Angolan dictator and Abramoff defended South Africa‘s apartheid government which paid him $1.5 million.

All the while Abramoff dabbled as a Hollywood producer, making two forgettable action films, “Red Scorpion” and its sequel.  But in 1994 Abramoff turned his focus back to Washington when Republicans, led Newt Gingrich swept into power in the House of Representatives.

Abramoff met and began working with Representative Tom DeLay, and in the late ‘90s, after figuring how to use lobbying money to take lawmakers and their staff on lavish trips, Abramoff began to bringing DeLay to the exclusive St. Andrews golf club in Scotland.

In 2000, Abramoff worked on the transition team of George W. Bush and after the president‘s inauguration, Abramoff befriended top officials in the Department of the Interior, which oversaw policies on Indian tribes.  Abramoff then convinced several tribes he had the power to keep the administration and Congress from taxing their casino money.  The tribes then paid Abramoff‘s firm over the course of three years more than $80 million.

But according to today‘s court documents he was running a fraudulent and criminal scheme.  He is charged with pocketing tens of millions of dollars and using other fees to bribe members of Congress and their staff.  The activities and gifts included luxury skyboxes at Washington sporting events, lavish travel and more golfing trips to St. Andrews.

Abramoff also put money into a variety of personal projects, including a sham think tank set up by his partner, Michael Scanlon, a former staffer to Tom DeLay.  The group was in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and was staffed by friends Scanlon made from his summer as a lifeguard.

In the midst of all of this, Abramoff probably showed contempt for the Indian tribes he and Scanlon were bilking, describing the Indian tribes in emails as “morons” and “troglodytes.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  (on camera):  Abramoff‘s plea deal today which should reduce his prison sentence to between nine and a half to 11 years comes in the wake of a plea deal reached by Michael Scanlon and others.  And it means instead of resembling “The Godfather‘s” suave Michael Corleone, Jack Abramoff now looks more like Freddy Five Angels, the guy who agreed to testify as a government witness.

Keith?

OLBERMANN:  MSBNBC‘s David Shuster.  Great thanks.

The fear on Capitol Hill, palpable tonight.  For more on the fallout that we‘re expecting, we‘re joined now about the “Washington Post” national political correspondent, the ever palpable Dana Milbank.  Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You were in that courtroom today.  Something like this has been a long time coming with Mr. Abramoff, but did we expect such an all-encompassing statement from him?

MILBANK:  I don‘t think we really did.  A lot of surprises today.  One was it looked like he had put on about 40 pounds.  So he‘s clearly feeling the stress here.  We were all thinking he was going to be the big fish in this investigation, that the Justice Department was really interest in him, now with this plea agreement, he is just going to be used as bait for the really big fish, which are officials in Congress, officials in the administration, staffers in Congress.  It now seems that this investigation could be with us for a while and take down an awful lot of people with us.

OLBERMANN:  So if he is not the big fish, who is most likely to be on that hook?  Is it Mr. DeLay, is it Congressman Ney of Ohio?  Who are the names floating around tonight?

MILBANK:  These filings are always very polite and they don‘t identify people.  They refer to a certain Representative Number 1, which we all know as Bob Ney, a Republican of Ohio.  He‘s apparently in a great deal of trouble here.  There‘s, according to sources of my colleagues, maybe half a dozen members of Congress that we‘re talking about.

And you can sort of trace a line, Ney being the most obviously and DeLay being perhaps the most elusive quarry for the Justice Department.  But it‘s very clear they have a lot of folks to work with, and the very fact that they‘d be willing to let Mr. Abramoff cop a plea would indicate that.

OLBERMANN:  As you mentioned, Mr. Delay would be the most elusive of the fish or the quarry, whatever metaphor we want to continue with, but right now what is the impact of this development today on DeLay‘s hopes of getting his position of getting his position as majority of the House back?

MILBANK:  Obviously, this doesn‘t help his situation, but this isn‘t really his most immediate or his biggest problem.  Basically Congress is on a holiday for the month of January, just because of Mr. Delay, so they didn‘t have to have had leadership race to replace him permanently.  They‘re out of town basically until the end of the month until the State of the Union.

The problem is they‘re trying to wait for his trial down in Texas to get out of the way, but that‘s being postponed so even this delay isn‘t helping him.  That is going to clearly not be resolved until next month.  They‘re going to have, it seems increasingly apparent, to make a permanent replacement.

OLBERMANN:  To Mr. Abramoff for a second here, it almost becomes incidental even though we‘ve decided he‘s not the big fish, if he is now facing officially up to 30 years in prison, $25 million in restitution, although as we‘ve just heard David say, it‘s more likely to be nine to 11 years served, what exactly did he get in that deal?  Nine to 11 served is a lot of time.

MILBANK:  I was wondering that as I watched this whole thing today. 

And I mean, he‘s lost his reputation, he‘s lost the two restaurants he had.  Walked over to Signatures today, where they made a mean roasted waloo (ph), that‘s completely out of business.  Presumably they had a whole lot more on him and could have locked him up for a much longer period of time.  Clearly he‘s not got a very good deal, but it‘s compared to what?

OLBERMANN:  And now a question that may be the softest and easiest asked of you in any context whatsoever, do we think that the Democrats will be ready to run with all this as a kind of subtext to the fall elections by any chance?

MILBANK:  I‘m sure it‘s crossed their mind.  Actually, Rah Emmanuel who‘s coordinating the House Democrats reelection efforts, forget about Scooter Libby, Iraq, we‘re really interested in Abramoff.  That‘s was before all of this occurred.  So clearly that‘s there.

The Republicans are going to come back and they will say correctly that Abramoff donated money to Democrats, as well.  They‘ll try to make it a pox on all their houses issue.  There‘s no doubt, however, that it‘s potentially very damaging to the party that‘s in power.

OLBERMANN:  And the race to give the money back.  Now that you‘ve mentioned the money.  Speaker Hastert has already turned back everything he ever got from Abramoff and I presume we see any Democrats who‘ve gotten any money will be doing that in the next few days?

MILBANK:  You‘ll see some of that.  Abramoff was a pioneer for Bush.  That means he raised more than $100,000.  The White House generally sticks to its guns on that one, but that will be a very interesting one to watch.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed it will.  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” filling us in on the fallout of the Abramoff story, including the closing of obviously one of your favorite restaurants, many thanks, sir.

MILBANK:  Thank you.

And speaking of food, just in time for the 100th anniversary of the most important event in American food history, new laws that will make it possible for you to read the label on your food before you receive your doctorate in chemistry.

And from improving labels to improving the language, how Michael Brown helped to get FEMA onto a list of words and phrases that one group say should be banned from our language.  That‘s ahead.  But first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three soundbites of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did he have the distance?  Oh.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  I mean he‘s a horrible character and it‘s unusual for me to use this language, but it‘s easy here, he‘s pled guilty to be a horrible character.  He‘s the kind of guy that comes to Capitol Hill with a tan, he‘s just been in Florida, he‘s got an expensive suit on.  He looks for young staffers and says do you want to live like I‘m living? 

Come have dinner with me tonight, we‘ll talk about your future.

He‘s Satan.  OK?

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST:  President Bush has been eavesdropping on domestic telephone calls.  There‘s been a lot of controversy about it.  Have you seen the commercial that‘s been running?  Watch.

ANNOUNCER:  As long as America remains at risk, the president vows to do everything possible to protect the American people.  That‘s why he‘s pleased to introduce the all new Terror Time Hotline.  Your source for the hottest terror chat.

Talk with exciting terrorists in your area about partying, turn-ons and kick-ass evil plots.  Plus every Friday we reveal the jihadi of the week.  It‘s Terror Time.

All calls monitored by the NSA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The centennial of the Pure Food and Drug Act is coming up this June 30th.  Before it was passed in 1906 the American consumer lived in an environment that was 100 percent caveat emptor, if it the beef you bought had other things in it, up to and including rat poison in it, tough.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, in 100 years the attitude has changed so much, that this week new laws mandating that the labels on our food be stripped of their scientific jargon.

As Janet Shamlian reports, it‘s so that those are who allergic to specific kinds of food don‘t have be to scientists to find out whether or not they‘re buying stuff they cannot safely eat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANET SHAMLIAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  If you have got a good allergy, these aisles can be a minefield.  One Corey Anderson has tiptoed through for all of his 13 years.

COREY ANDERSON, HAS ALLERGY:  I have a milk allergy, It‘s a severe milk allergy, so I can‘t have milk proteins or anything like that.

SHAMLIAN:  His mom bought nondairy cheese, believing it was safe to make him a sandwich, never suspecting a violation reaction at first bite.  Hives and swollen eyes.

ROSE BOCCIO, COREY‘S MOM:  When we checked with the manufacturer to find out why he had a reaction, it found out it had sodium caseinate and sodium caseinate is a milk protein.  At the time they didn‘t list milk anywhere on the label.

SHAMLIAN:  Starting with the new year the FDA requires language to describe whether products contain any of the eight foods responsible for most allergies.  Milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans.  For example, some baloney is injected with a broth containing a milk protein.

From now on, the ingredient label must include the word “milk.”

DR. DAVID THOELE, PEDIATRICIAN:  If you read every ingredient, which takes a while, but even if you take the time to read every single ingredient, it can be very, very confusing.

SHAMLIAN:  Pediatrician David Thoele and his daughter are both allergic to wheat.  They‘re optimistic about new labels with non-technical terms.

CLAIRE THOLE, ALLERGIC TO WHEAT:  It will just allow me to eat a lot of different things, newer thank that I‘m able to look at a glance.

SHAMLIAN:  For Thoele and others with food allergies, a trip to the grocery store feeling less like a roll of the dice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAMLIAN (on camera):  The catch is the new law applies only to products which are labeled after January 1.  So anything shipped before the New Year or existing product on store shelves can stay right where it is until its expiration date, and that could be a while.  Back to you.

OLBERMANN:  Janet Shamlian reporting from Chicago.  Great thanks.

We segue now to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” and on the question of will he or won‘t he, the Donald won‘t.  Talk about expiration dates.  This is not about taking bids to remodel his hair.

Mr. Trump telling the New York “Daily News” and the “New York Post” that he is not interested in running for government of New York.  Trump said a suggestion by State Senate Majority Joe Bruno was a great honor, but that, quote, “I‘m not going to run for governor because I‘m having too much fun doing what I‘m doing now.”

Trump also told the “Post” he will not rule out a future in politics. 

About his future, Trump will be 60 in June.

Well, heck, David Lee Roth is 51, not too late for him to launch a new career path, one that he hopes will make him king of all media, insomuch as his predecessor has decided to stick to one medium, pay radio.

The former Van Halen frontman started his gig today as Howard Stern‘s radio replacement.  Roth‘s first show beginning with a female voice saying, quote, “Welcome to David Lee Roth, prepare to feel filthy, ashamed and completely alive.”

But the broadcast itself was relatively tame.  Roth did, however, invite Stern to call him any time.  His launch on Sirius Satellite Radio, and yes, this is the one millionth free plug for it, is set for next Monday.

You think that switch is surreal?  Is it an accident that didn‘t have to happen?  If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you‘ve just used a phrase or term that a group wants banned from the English language.  They have a list, we will have a segment about it and breaking news next.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world.

Bronze, maybe we can just permanently bronze him.  The latest is a flat-out threat against columnists Frank Rich and editor Bill Keller of the “New York Times.”  He says the “Times” has been unfair in its coverage of the Bush White House.  Quoting him, again, “If they want to attack people personally, we‘re going to have to just show everybody about their lives.” 

Bill, nobody cares about their lives.  If people cared about the personal lives of people in newspaper or TV, you would be working the change booth at a video arcade by now.

The silver tonight, a former employee at the Honolulu Wal-Mart believed to be responsible for the tampering here, Rachel Camera (ph) says she bought an iPod at the store for her 13-year-old daughter and instead found inside the box a hunk of raw meat.  Lady, you want fries with that iPod?

But the winner, the Crown Plaza Hotel at the airport in Orlando.  Its manager booked two events over the weekend.  The hotel hosted the Clearwater Chargers and other soccer teams of boys 13 and under, some from Catholic schools.  It also hosted 200 members of a local swingers‘ association.  A middle-aged swingers‘ association, meeting for the New Year.  Parents say they had to explain to the kids why the swingers were dancing naked or kept changing partners.

Presumably, they also to have to remind the kids of soccer‘s first rule, don‘t touch anything with your hands.  The manager‘s of the Crown Plaza Airport Hotel in Orlando, Florida, today‘s worst persons in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The fear the language would be eroded by bad pronunciation and/or poisoning by dumb phrases and poor grammar is a deep-seeded one.  It was an episode of “Star Trek” called “Omega Glory” which featured survivors of your standard interstellar cataclysm that liked to chant meaningless syllables that turned out, only as the hour wore on, to be misremembered fragments of the Constitution of the United States.

Our number one story on THE COUNTDOWN.  There are people in this country right now working to make sure that this doesn‘t happen.  They are the word watchers from Lake Superior State University in Michigan, who for 30 year snow have compiled an annual list of words and phrases that has should be banned because of, quote, “misuse, overuse and general uselessness.”

Lake Superior State University his here!

If ever there was a place designed for reflection on language, you‘re looking at it.  The Lake Superior list has now passed 800 words or phrases.  Among those already banned “bipartisanship,” a term of political state of being.  Of course it may have become extinct long before it was banned four years ago.  Blog, the term banned last year as the “New Yorker” cartoon caption of the two dogs talking read.  “I had my own blog for awhile.  I decided to go back to just pointless incessant barking.”

In 1995, “jumbo shrimp” got thrown overboard.  Now we have 15 new phrases and two new words to get over.  It‘s “breaking news” 2006 list along with its co-compiler John Shibley.  Mr. Shibley, thanks for your time.

JOHN SHIBLEY, LAKE SUPERIOR STATE UNIVERSITY:  Good words to you.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks.  Let‘s go through as many of these as we can as quickly as we can starting with the one closest to our hearts here, breaking news.  I can‘t call it breaking news?  What do I call it?  Blockbuster?

SHIBLEY:  You just don‘t call it “wait for dinner.”  We can put it to an up or down vote.

OLBERMANN:  What‘s wrong with breaking news?

SHIBLEY:  A lot of our nominators seem to think superlative fatigue.  Used to be breaking news was a call in the middle of the night, space shuttle exploding, president being assassinated.  Now, as one nominator mentioned, it announces Katie Holmes pregnancy.

OLBERMANN:  Right now your appearance on this show is being identified as breaking news.  Just so there.

SHIBLEY:  I‘m a proud I could help with the breaking news category.

OLBERMANN:  Number two “talking points.”  It wipes Bill O‘Reilly off the air but why?

SHIBLEY:  It sort of buttonholes you into the party line so to speak.  You hear it a lot in meetings.  People bring it up and it means get into lock step.  Read along with me as we probably see on Bill O‘Reilly.

OLBERMANN:  Number three, person of interest.  I‘m assuming this is just the latest attempt by police to sound official the way they used to in my youth in New York say “the alleged perpetrator alighted from the vehicle.”

SHIBLEY:  This is a $5 phrase on a nickel errand.  Why not use “suspect?”

OLBERMANN:  Or “the guy?”

SHIBLEY:  The guy.

OLBERMANN:  Number four, an accident that didn‘t have to happen.  Which sounds good but when you think of the converse, it‘s obvious what‘s wrong here.

SHIBLEY:  Are three necessary accidents?

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps there are.  Number five, “97 percent fat free.” 

What‘s wrong with 97 percent fat free?

SHIBLEY:  It‘s not fat free.  It‘s three percent fat.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s a lot of fat when you think about it, in almost anything.

SHIBLEY:  Unmeasurable.

OLBERMANN:  Number six, “FEMA.”  You put FEMA on the list.  Why?

SHIBLEY:  People are just getting tired of hearing it.  You go anywhere in the world and they lump it in with New Orleans.  It‘s time to waive FEMA off into the sunset as far as overuse is concerned.

OLBERMANN:  We should start calling it Brownie‘s alma mater or something like that, I guess.

SHIBLEY:  Something that would form a new catch phrase, I suppose.

OLBERMANN:  Number seven, something from the current political fray, “up-or-down vote.”  Is that redundant because votes have to be up or down?  Or what did it do wrong?

SHIBLEY:  I‘ll tell you.  The original up-or-down vote was tossing a coin.  End of discussion.

OLBERMANN:  Number eight, “first time caller.”  This is not exactly a brand-new phrase here.  Callers to talk radio have been saying this since the ‘70s.  I guess I have to ask you and your college there or your group what took you so long on first time callers?

SHIBLEY:  It‘s a matter of it showing up on our tabulation.  I think a lot of listeners got tired of hearing about that introduction.

OLBERMANN:  And this just happened recently or has this been like one of the baseball Hall of Famers that doesn‘t get in until the 15th year of election?

SHIBLEY:  You hit it right on the nose.  That‘s been a contender for the last three years this year it finally made it.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure it‘s very proud.  Number nine, “hunker down.” 

Again, that‘s not a new phrase.  What‘s wrong with hunker down?

SHIBLEY:  It‘s overused.  It‘s used in politics.  It‘s used in disasters.  It‘s overused.  Which is why it shows up on our list.

OLBERMANN:  Number 10, we have something that sort of I guess moves into the—into colloquialism or slang, the word “dawg” as in the form of address, as in, “Hello dawg.”

SHIBLEY:  Hello Dawg is lumped into izzlespeak which was on last year‘s list.  It‘s pop culturalism seeping into daily speech.

OLBERMANN:  The sort of meteoric stuff that just didn‘t have staying power I guess.  Eleven, “git-er done.”  This is the catch phrase of Larry the Southern cliche.  Is it more than just that?

SHIBLEY:  I‘m told by our Canadian cameraman here that it‘s used in hockey here in Canada where I‘m coming to you from.  So it‘s universal in different idioms I suppose.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  I hadn‘t even heard that one.  Twelve, surreal.  Why surreal?

SHIBLEY:  Superlative fatigue.  Everything is surreal.  If everything is surreal, what‘s left to be surreal when you bump into surrealism?

OLBERMANN:  Thirteen is “junk science” but there is a lot of junk science out there.  What‘s wrong junk science?

SHIBLEY:  Well, it‘s not practiced by scientists.  You tend to hear a lot of politicians and pundits use “junk science” as a term rather than scientists.

OLBERMANN:  Fourteen, something else I‘ve never heard of.  “Community of learners.”  Who‘s called a community of learners?

SHIBLEY:  It‘s -- 31 times it shows up in our Web site.  I guess we‘re sending feedback and we‘re trying to call ourselves a university now.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s it.  Number 15, “designer breed.”  What‘s a designer breed?

SHIBLEY:  It‘s a mongrel.

OLBERMANN:  Number 16, “pass the savings onto you.”  Again, is that new or what?

SHIBLEY:  It joins the pantheon of marketing phrases.

OLBERMANN:  Well, the 17th one just for the record was “Holiday Tree” but we‘re out of time.  John Shibley of Lake Superior State University and it‘s community of learners there.  Great thanks, good luck thinning out the herd in ‘06.

SHIBLEY:  Than you.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.  Our MSNBC coverage continues with RITA COSBY LIVE AND DIRECT from West Virginia.  Good evening, Rita.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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