updated 1/9/2006 10:38:03 AM ET 2006-01-09T15:38:03

Guest: Howard Fineman, Bob Edgar, Ellen Bourn

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

The new law restricting torture of terror detainees.  The president says the commander in chief can bypass it.  Three senators from his own party say otherwise.  Warner, McCain, Graham, Republicans versus the president.

Day four of, Don't call him Jack “Honest” Abramoff.  Why congressional wives may be the key to this scandal.

Some signs of improvement for the survivor of the mine disaster.  And the awful moment that led to all the broken hearts, on tape and now on the record.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what am I telling them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) 12, and they're bringing them out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And they're all alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As far as I know, (INAUDIBLE).

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Bright light of hope from a previous disaster, Noah, Elijah, and the six other dolphins who survived Katrina, who escaped their shattered aquarium.  Four months later, they're about to get a new home, and they're about to be in the middle of a new lawsuit?

And an exorcism for a celebrity's home, arranged by Madonna.

Thank goodness it's Friday.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

At the time, it looked like a president surrendering to reality, and the reality of overwhelming political opposition, December 15, Mr. Bush publicly acquiescing to Senate demands for a ban on the use of torture against terror detainees.  Now, it proves, privately, reserving at the same time to himself the right to ignore that ban when he felt like it.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, that revolution producing a firestorm of reaction from the senators who pushed for the ban, senators who happen to be members of the president's own party, “The Boston Globe” reporting that immediately after he had signed measure banning of torture of detainees into law, Mr. Bush quietly issued a rider reserving the right to bypass the law under his power as commander in chief.

That, as the bill's chief sponsor, Senator John McCain, outraged, to other Republicans on the same Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, joining McCain to condemn the president's act, Senators McCain and Warner issuing a joint statement.

“We believe,” they say, “the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation covering the treatment of detainees.  The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation.  Our committee intends, through strict oversight, to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law.”

That should make for some C-Span fireworks.  Sparks are already flying on Capitol Hill for another reason, the public just beginning to learn of a fight there to make Congressman Tom DeLay's time off as majority leader a permanent vacation.  The acting majority leader, Roy Blunt of Missouri, jockeying to keep the job, even though his rise in power is due in large part to Mr. DeLay.

Two more lawmakers circulating a petition to oust the Texan.  Moderate Republican Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, a hard-core fiscal conservative, Jeff Flake of Arizona leading that effort, the petition needing 50 signatures to force an election, the congressmen saying today they are already halfway to that total.

Political science looking more like the sweet science of boxing tonight, “Newsweek”'s chief political correspondent Howard Fineman joining us from ringside.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Do we need to totally rethink that photo-op of the president sitting next to John McCain in the Oval Office on December 15?  Sure, I'll sign your little measure outlawing the torture of detainees. 

Would you like me to make it out to anybody in particular?

FINEMAN:  Right.  Well, if there were thought balloons there, the one over George Bush's head might have said, Na-na-na-na-na, because he did everything but rip up the legislation with this so-called signing statement, which has become very fashionable with this president.

He signs legislation and then makes a statement, really, to the courts, or to himself, saying, I don't have to do what Congress tells me to do.

And I've talked to Senator Lindsey Graham repeatedly about this issue, the whole question of the torture ban and so on.  And guys like Graham and McCain and Warner take it very, very seriously, and obviously, because they're Republicans, it has more significance.

OLBERMANN:  Would Senators McCain and Warner in particular be this angry, though, about the torture ban waiver if it had not previously been revealed that the president had already given himself the right to waive going to court to, say, get permission for the NSA to spy domestically?  Are these things sort of sequential, or building upon one another?

FINEMAN:  Well, they're related.  In the case of McCain, he's very strong for executive authority.  That's why it's ironic here, very strong for powers for the commander in chief, very much a hawk on the war in Iraq, wants to give the president latitude in terms of strategy in fighting the war.

But I think people like McCain and Warner and Graham and many other members of Congress, in the Senate and House, Republican and Democrat, are worried that even though the president should have latitude in a time of war, this is a new and different time of war, a kind of endless murky war, in which the relationship between the presidency and the Congress needs to be redefined yet again.

So they're going to be arguing about it all spring.  It's going to come up in the Sam Alito confirmation hearings next week.  It's going to be one of the main arguments in this city all year.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, relative to the Abramoff scandal, there are two schools of thought on that, whether or not the Jack Abramoff deal, which is going to be another long-running soap opera, is good news or bad news for the White House.  Do you think—is the administration really benefiting because, you know, pick the number, 15 to 60 congressmen could be soaking up all those bad headlines around the country?

FINEMAN:  No, I don't think it benefits the White House in any way.  Because at least so far, even then, even though most of the American people in polls say, you know, A plague on both houses, we think Republicans and Democrats all operate this way.

That's true.  But most of the names in the headlines so far, and I think in the future, are going to be Republican names.

What's more, a lot of these Republican names and a lot of the Republican machinery of lobbying here in Washington, the so-called K Street crowd, a lot of that's Republican, and a lot of it's tied now to George W.  Bush, because the whole point of the Bush presidency, in terms of their attitude toward Washington, when they came in, it was, My way or the highway.  Everybody in town who wanted influence had to sign up with that Republican machine.

And to quote Scooter Libby in another context, you know, in the aspen trees, all the roots are connected.  Well, here all the roots are connected, and they all go to Karl Rove and George Bush, and Jack Abramoff was just a foot soldier in that army.

OLBERMANN:  To one of the other poles of that machine, the CONGRESSIONAL fight over the majority leader's post, is Tom DeLay done, or is this also going to be something that continues on into the spring and summer?

FINEMAN:  Well, you always want to beware of being definitive.  But I think that DeLay's not going to get his job back.  I think it's a question of who replaces him and when.  As you said in the setup, you know, Roy Blunt is maneuvering to be that replacement.  Yes, he was advanced by his relationship with DeLay, but Blunt has been very clever about building bridges to other parts of the Republican Party on the Hill.

I think what you're going to see is a contest between Blunt, as the sort of establishment candidate, and somebody like, perhaps, Mike Pence of Indiana, some other newer face.

And ironically, Newt Gingrich, who came to power as speaker as a reformer, throwing out the Democratic machine of a few years ago, is now counseling the rebels once again to try to clean house, with the backing of “The Wall Street Journal” editorial page.  That's why I think that DeLay is finished.

OLBERMANN:  Soon to come, Contract with America II.

FINEMAN:  That's right.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”'s Howard Fineman.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

FINEMAN:  You're welcome.

OLBERMANN:  And we hope to see you back here very soon, Howard.

FINEMAN:  OK, take care.

OLBERMANN:  That Abramoff scandal itself possibly kicked off by a jilted fiancee, if the political blog Raw Story is to be believed.  And now it seems, a group of Washington women who actually made it down the aisle may be in legal jeopardy because of it.

In addition to the luxury golf trips, the Super Bowl tickets, and the bundles of campaign cash, turns out Jack Abramoff was also compensating the wives of lawmakers handsomely for jobs requiring them to do not much.

Nice work if you can get it, and if the Justice Department does not get wind of it.

Details tonight from our chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff admits trying to bribe members of Congress to win favors by providing lavish golf trips, free meals at his restaurant, and money.

(on camera):  But now, investigators want to know if Abramoff was also trying to win influence with the spouses of congressmen in what investigators privately call the wives' club.

JAMES GRIMALDI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  We know the Justice Department is looking at flows of money to congressional spouses, including Christine DeLay, to see if they were in any way tied to specific acts or actions by lawmakers, including Tom DeLay.

O'DONNELL:  DeLay's attorney confirms to MSNBC that Christine DeLay worked for a lobbying firm run by former DeLay staffers with close ties to Jack Abramoff.  That firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, hired Christine DeLay and paid her $115,000 over three years to perform a special project, contacting members of Congress to find out their favorite charity.

DeLay's attorney said she's done nothing wrong.

Also facing scrutiny, the wife of Republican John Doolittle.  Abramoff's sham charity, the Capital Athletic Foundation, hired Doolittle's wife for fundraising.

FRED WERTHEIMER, CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM ADVOCATE:  This is a way of directly funneling money to the benefit of the lawmaker by providing it to the lawmaker's spouse.

O'DONNELL:  This week, Abramoff admitted to investigators he directed favors to a senior DeLay staffer, identified as Tony Rudy, now a lobbyist.  And court papers indicate those favors came in the form of cash, $50,000, to Tony Rudy's wife, Lisa Rudy, through a charity organization, all in what Abramoff now admits was one more way for him to carry out a bribe in hopes of winning legislative favors.

For COUNTDOWN, I'm Norah O'Donnell in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Sure is a good walker.

Jack Abramoff not only the (INAUDIBLE) -- not the only D.C. POWER player with the potential to take others down with him, with word today that a disgraced congressman is cooperating with feds in a separate investigation, sources telling “TIME” magazine that now former-congressman Duke Cunningham wore a wire to help gather evidence in a graft probe sometime between when he first agreed to cooperate, and his tearful announcement of his guilty plea on November 28.

The California Republican admitting that he took nearly $2.5 million in bribes, some of it in kind, in the form of a yacht, a Rolls Royce, and you cannot make this stuff up, an antique French commode.  Well, you never know when Napoleon Bonaparte may stop by for the evening.

Having added up the gifts given to Mr. Cunningham, we can put the COUNTDOWN calculator to further good use figuring out who got to do all the talking at yesterday's foreign policy roundtable at the White House.

As we reported, President Bush gathering a bipartisan group of 13 former secretaries of state and defense to discuss the war in Iraq.  And today, though, we learned the word “discuss” might not have been the most accurate term available, “The New York Times” reporting that Mr. Bush allowed only five to 10 minutes for the back-and-forth among the 13 men and women before herding them into the Oval Office for a group photo.

That means, on average, the former statesmen, stateswomen, were given 23 to 46 seconds each—each! -- to expound their views, that is, if President Bush did not interrupt, which, in the case of Clinton secretary of state Madeleine Albright, he apparently did.

Something else that does not seem to add up tonight, the president's continual claims that the NSA spying program is limited in scope, published accounts now putting the number of phone calls eavesdropped on at 500 a day.  Even at only, say, 46 seconds per phone call, holding him to the same limit he gave his guests yesterday, that would add up to more than six and a half hours of domestic spying a day.

More serious questions about time tonight in the response to the West Virginia mine explosion.  Should rescue teams have arrived sooner? 

And the tragedy as it unfolded through the 911 calls.

And as Israel's prime minister clings to life after further brain surgery, there are a lot of people wondering tonight if the televangelist Pat Robertson has a brain on which you could operate, after he said Sharon's stroke is punishment from God.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MNSBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A survivor of the Sago mine disaster showing some signs of improvement.  Randy McCloy is periodically opening his eyes.  Doctors say the inflammation that has imperiled his left lung probably occurred in the final hour before he was rescued, that only then he began to inhale large amounts of dust and gas.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, as the timeline of Mr. McCloy's injuries becomes clearer, so too does the timeline of the troubled rescue.

And separately, some perspective becomes clearer.

This is not to diminish what happened to the men in Tallmansville, West Virginia, or their families, exactly the opposite, in fact.  But it bears noting the national grief over the 12 dead there, grief that has lasted all week, a week that has seen 13 American servicemen killed in Iraq.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for thee.

The new information about the rescue now from Tom Costello.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tonight, as they drill to ventilate the mine so investigators can get inside, officials have released radio traffic of the first minutes of the disaster.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We're being informed that there are several men trapped inside.  We're going to need a lot of help.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO:  Six-thirty Monday morning, and the tiny Upshur County 911 center was suddenly in disaster mode.  Dispatchers immediately mobilized emergency crews, but the federal government's mine agency didn't receive a call from the company notifying it to mobilize its mine rescue teams until two hours later.

Federal regulations require immediate notification.  By the time the teams were assembled from across the state and ready to enter the mine, nearly 12 hours had passed.

(on camera):  The company says it notified state and federal authorities within 45 minutes, but sources say the investigators will look at that timeline, and whether a faster response could have made a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Time is the enemy and if you're going to successfully rescue miners from an underground setting.

COSTELLO:  Davit McAteer (ph) ran the government's Mine Safety Administration under President Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You never put the mine rescue team at risk of harm, and you ensure that that team has the best chance of getting in there and doing it in a proper and methodical and deliberate way.

COSTELLO:  And time was critical, because they first had to rebuild the ventilation channels inside the mine.  It took 40 hours to reach the miners.  Then the tragic miscommunication.  Word spread that 12 had survived.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They're all OK, I guess.  So I think we might be transporting them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I need 10 medic units.  Get me any available aircraft that can fly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK, and what am I telling them?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) 12, and they're bringing them out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And they're all alive?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As far as I (INAUDIBLE).

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO:  Two hours later, it became clear that only one survived.  Randal McCloy remains in a coma at a Pittsburgh hospital.  But his wife, Anna, remains hopeful.

ANNA MCCLOY, MINE SURVIVOR'S WIFE:  He was strong enough to pull through the 41 hours in the mines, he's strong enough to pull through this.

COSTELLO:  Tom Costello, NBC News, near Buchanan (ph), West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Controversy hitting NBC's prime time lineup tonight.  Jesus, appearing on the premier of “The Book of Daniel” series, has sparked protests and the yanking of the show in some cities, before anyone has seen the show.

And free from controversy but big on potential stupidity, we take yet another dip into the icy waters of Oddball.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We're back.  And for a brief moment tonight, we're going to try and do something completely different—different...

What?  It didn't arrive?  Not at all?

Never mind.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Habim (ph), China, for that city's annual festival of ice and snow.  Thousands traveling from near and far risking hypothermia to visit the week-long festival of sledding, tubing, tubing, and swimming in the largest ice hole in all of China.

Who you calling ice hole?

The main attraction has to be the enormous city of ice wit is majestic ice sculptures, the hall of ice, the slide, and the grand staircase of ice.  Yes, icy stairs.  In this country, we might put some salt on those just for safety, but what could possibly go wrong on icy stairs --  Ah, careful!

Dallas, Texas, speaking of things going wrong.  Today a $20 bill sold for more than $25,000.  Fetched.  All auctions fetch.  Why $25,000?  Because it's got a Del Monte banana sticker on it, and the collectors have gone nutty over it.  Thing is, the Treasury seal and the serial number are both printed on top of the banana sticker.  Means sticker got under the bill somewhere during the printing process in the U.S. Treasury, a building not known to have any monkeys.

It is the highest-priced flawed bill, but certainly not the first.  In the past, officials have seen a bill with a Band-Aid on it, Scotch tape, shards of wood.  One time half of a roast-beef sandwich with Russian dressing.

Also tonight, Ariel Sharon has needed a second emergency operation.  And as he clings to life, Pat Robertson decides the stroke is an all—an act of God.  We'll have the latest on the condition of the brains of both men.

And one of the few bright spots out of the Katrina tragedy is turning into a legal battle over where these dolphins should now live.

These stories ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, the three Warrenton sisters of St. Charles, Missouri.  They were all married last Wednesday.  Tracey, age 28, gave birth to a daughter.  Last Thursday, Tricia, age 31, gave birth to a son.  And last Friday, Jamie, age 24, gave birth to a girl.  Family members have no excuses for getting, forgetting these kids' birthdays.

We have two dumb criminals tonight.  Number two on the list, 23-year-old Richard (INAUDIBLE), would-be jewelry thief from Ada, Minnesota, allegedly stole a couple of diamond earrings that had been donated by Wimmer's (ph) Jewelry to a college fundraiser.  Wimmer's Jewelry.  He decided to find out how much they were worth, so he took the earrings to get a (INAUDIBLE) -- appraised at Wimmer's Jewelry.  Whoops.

Number one, Arlie Bichlmeier of Norfolk, Nebraska.  Police say he tried to hold up a bank yesterday, did not get any of the money, but witnesses could not help but get a good look at his vanity license plate.  And that's how police found him, because Mr. Bichlmeier's plate reads FIND ME.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He called him a very likable person, a delightful person to be with.  He even said he prayed with him personally.  But not even all that, according to Pat Robertson, could save Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from the wrath of God, delivered in the form of a massive stroke.

It earned Robertson last night's honors as our Worst Person in the World.  Tonight, it's part of our third story on the COUNTDOWN, one of several controversies over what is simply the least provable thing in the world, religious belief.  Robertson in a moment, first the latest on the prime minister's health, and after another emergency five-hour operation to stop bleeding in his brain overnight, Ariel Sharon, 77 years old and over 300 pounds, remains in stable but critical condition.  Doctors say there is some brain activity, it's unclear how much.  The prime minister might recover.  Although there has been improvement they will keep him in a medically induced coma until Sunday.  The former prime minister of Israel Ehud Barak told the BBC that Sharon is now in the final hours or days of his life.  The doctors don't necessarily agree with that. 

The man now technically in charge of Israel, deputy, now acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this morning, about Sharon's condition.  A conversation that presumably influenced her decision to cancel a planned trip to Australia and Indonesia in order to monitor events in the Middle East. 

And back to trying to monitor the ever ready to explain Mr. Robertson.  Today, as our correspondent Kevin Cork reports, his comments about Ariel Sharon sparked outrage across the globe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN CORKE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT(voice-over):  After Arial Sharon's second stroke in a month, televangelist Pat Robertson said his medical condition may have been punishment from above. 

PAT ROBERTSON, TELEVANGELIST:  He was dividing god's land.  And I would say woe to any prime minister who takes any course to appease the E.U., the United Nations, or the United States of America. 

CORKE:  Sharon has supported last summer's withdrawal of Jewish settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.  Robertson's comments drew a harsh rebuke from Jewish community leaders in the U.S.

JOHN FISHEL, PRES. JEWISH FEDERATION OF GREATER LOS ANGELES:  To make a statement that would, in any way, infer that the stroke that prime minister Ariel Sharon suffered was the result of some holy act is just inappropriate and outrageous. 

CORKE:  It's not the first time Robertson's raised the ire of critics.  In November, he took aim at tiny Dover, Pennsylvania, after voters rejected the school's decision to teach so-called “intelligent design.” 

ROBERTSON:  If there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to god, you just rejected him from your city.

CORKE:  In August, he called for the assassination of Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez. 

ROBERTSON:  We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. 

CORKE:  In the past, Robertson's angered Muslims by calling Islam “a scam, not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist.”  And once said Orlando could face “earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor” for flying gray pride flags. 

In a statement, Robertson called himself a lifelong supporter of Israel and expressed deep sadness over Sharon's illness, adding he was simply reminding viewers what the bible says about dividing Israel. 

Kevin Corke, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Can we just reset on this?  Your religious beliefs might be right, my religious beliefs might be right, our religious beliefs could all be wrong.  There are a lot of options here.  Seems as if it's no longer faith or belief who insists you and you alone are correct, it's just arrogance.  Which brings us to the premiere tonight of the NBC dramatic series “The Book of Daniel” or the nonpremiere depending on which city you live in.  It will not be carried by a number of NBC affiliates because a lot of people have already been offended.  Offended by a show they haven't seen yet.  Our correspondent is Chris Clacken (ph). 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We believe in one god.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over):  NBC's “The Book of Daniel” hasn't aired yet, but the protests certainly have. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not only has NBC stabbed the body of Christ in the heart, but they have twisted the blade. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In the series, Daniel is the pill-popping priest with frequent one on ones with Jesus because of his drug dealing daughter, a gay son, an alcoholic wife, and a flock that falters. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We need to talk. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Some Christians are taking offense. 

JOHANNA DAVIS, FT.  MYERS, FLORIDA:  That sounds disgusting.  I would not want to watch anything like that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And taking the offensive with emails and phone calls to NBC stations. 

ALLEN EAGLE, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION:  It almost seems like it's mocking Christianity. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Stations in Indiana and Arkansas have decided not to air it. 

RICK ROGALA, GM KARK:  You're really looking at a soap opera under the auspices of faith.  You know, that's a personal issue for people and we made it a decision to not air the program. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Others say they'll run it and let viewers decide for themselves. 

KELLY BARBOUR, PROG.  DR. TV ALABAMA:  Consensus was it was a pretty good show and that we shouldn't sensor it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don't take it to heart (UNINTELLIGIBLE), just relax.  Lighten up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The show's creator says “The Book of Daniel” is not a mockery about the faithful. 

JACK KENNY, “THE BOOK OF DANIEL” CREATOR:  This isn't about religion.  This is about a good man and his family.  His religion is second nature to him.  It's not a question of questioning his faith, he has absolute faith. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But Christian protesters are unconvinced. 

KELLY MCGINLEY, CHRISTIAN TALK SHOW HOST:  The Jesus that will be portrayed in this show will not be the Jesus of the bible.  Probably somewhat of the anti-Christ who will be a tolerant Jesus, he'll tolerate sin and bad behavior and you can still go to heaven. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On both sides of the argument, there's a call for heaven to help us. 

Chris Clacken (ph), NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And somehow you knew that even when it was pretty well established that there was no war on Christmas it would be replaced by a religious related war on something.  Let me call in Reverend Bob Edgar, the general secretary on the National Council of Churches.  A position that would seem to be more difficult with each passing day.  Thank you for your time to night, sir. 

REV. BOB EDGAR, DEPUTY SEC.  NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES:  It's good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let's talk about Mr.  Robertson, first.  When somebody swears in a particular way, we've all heard somebody else respond in those situations, do not use the lord's word in vain.  I was told by a biblical student that that admonition has been completely misunderstood.  That when the bible says do not use the name of thy lord god in vain it means don't be so presumptuous to claim god told you and only you what he thinks of something.  Firstly, is that true, secondly, is that not sort of a description of what Pat Robertson's doing here? 

EDGAR:  Well, I think that is true and I think Pat Robertson has shown, over the last several years, that he's gone a mile too far.  Fortunately, this time it's the first time that the administration has spoken out against what Pat has said.  When Pat called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela, you didn't hear the administration or members of Congress being that loud and that vocal against the far religious right.  There are a lot of people in the Evangelical community, who are good people, who would not use the kind of tone and language that he's used and particularly would not appreciate Pat Robertson being the voice of god in this kind of issue. 

Mr.  Sharon is ill, he needs our prayers, he needs our thoughts, he doesn't need the outrageous comments of Pat Robertson, who probably is making these statements to raise money for his ultraright-wing conservative Christian views.  And frankly, most Christians in the broad spectrum of theological positions would not agree with Pat Robertson, and in fact, would say he's gone too far. 

OLBERMANN:  Fact check me on this.  He defended this by saying that this is stated in the bible, don't divide god's land, but is he right about that?  And No.  2, is there anything in there that then says if you try to divide god's land, that god will strike you dead or give you heart failure, brain hemorrhage or whatever? 

EDGAR:  Keith, the world at the time of Jesus was centered around the Middle East.  I believe and many Christians believe that the whole earth is the holy land.  And there are biblical statements related to the people of Israel, but we believe in a Jesus who had come to say “blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of god” and who also said “what you've done to the least of these, our brothers and sisters, you've done unto me,” that Jesus cared not just about Israel, not just about a particular piece of land, but a larger community including Jews and gentiles and others.  So those of us who represent the middle or mainstream of Christian thought would not pick out a verse of bible.  In fact, as it relates to Israel and to Palestine, we would work for peace in that region, we would want a healthy state for Israel and a healthy state for the Palestinians, and we would not pray for the harm of any of their leaders.  We would hope that god would change their hearts and minds and get them passionately involved in peacemaking.  And that, I think, is much more appropriate than suggesting that god had something to do with this. 

We just went through, here in the United States, this terrible tragedy, mine tragedy.  Is Pat Robertson now saying that the 12 miners that died or the miner that's hanging on to dear life now in a hospital in Pittsburgh was somehow being punished by god?  That's the direction of Pat's comments and I think it's outrageous and wrong. 

OLBERMANN:  And what a good point that is, sir.  Which leads us into your description of Jesus just there, this new NBC series, “The Book of Daniel.”  surely it's controversial, but is it necessarily insulting muss or blasphemous, or exploitative? 

EDGAR:  Well, we haven't seen it yet.

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.

EDGAR:  And it's unusual for people to come out and oppose something.  I do want to remind your audience that we've had programs like “Joan of Arcadia,” we've had programs like “Touched by an Angel” and even in the play “Fiddler on the Roof,” you have a character by the name of Tevia who talks to god.  So it's not terrible to think that the culture in which we live needs to have a conversation with faithful religious leaders.  We would not want Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or any other revered religious leader to be mocked, but I think we have plenty of examples where they can be used in this kind of a setting. 

And I would point out that we know from a fact that Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish clergy, Muslim religious leaders are human beings who have family issues, so I think it's important for people to see it and then critique it.  And I'm sure that the faithful people of America are smart enough to make their own decisions.  Some of these shows like the program “Joan of Arcadia” people loved and for many years supported.  So I think the viewers ought to take a look at it.  If they don't like it, within weeks it'll be on the shelf someplace and some other show will come on.  And I would point out, too, that NBC has plenty of shows on their network that deal with the very same issues that are alleged to be dealt with in this particular show. 

OLBERMANN:  And I would point out that a lot of people went to go see those “Oh God” movies with George Burns in which the deity was portrayed with wearing a Banlon shirt. 

EDGAR:  I happened to like that movie a lot. 

OLBERMANN:  I did too.  The Reverend Bob Edgar, the general secretary of the National Council of Churches.  A great thanks for joining us tonight. 

EDGAR:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight they somehow survived Hurricane Katrina and the days spent out in the polluted sea and now the Gulfport dolphins find themselves at the center of a bitter custody battle.  A bitter battle at the Paltrow house over evil spirits, widely reported, but it turns out tonight 100 percent not true.  That's next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As Gulfport, Mississippi, struggles to return to normal, it will have to doing so without its famous fighting, fleeing dolphins.  The porpoise driven life when COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the tragic mess that was Katrina, there were eight small unmitigated happy stories, the dolphins that escaped.  At No.  2 on the COUNTDOWN tonight, they might have survived the hurricane and the flooding, but as our correspondent Kerry Sanders reports, these brilliant mammals may now have to try to survive the U.S. legal system. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This has been home for the last four months for Jackie, Elijah, and six other dolphins.  Living in tiny pools set up by U.S. Navy biologists at the Seabee base in Mississippi.  The eight captive dolphins washed out into the Gulf of Mexico when Hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in Mississippi last year.  For 10 days, their trainers, local deputy, and the federal government tracked and then rescued the wayward eight.  Since then, it's been cramped quarters.  Now moving day is just about here.  They're leading the country.  Next stop, the Bahamas to these open air tidal pools, at the Atlantis Resort of Paradise Island. 

TERI CORBETT, ATLANTIS DOLPHIN TRAINER:  It's just a fact that they need more space than this and sunshine and fresh air. 

SANDERS (on camera):  It would sound like a perfect ending to an incredible adventure for these guys, but not everybody's pleased with the idea of these dolphins coming to the Bahamas. 

MR. MOBY SOLANGI, INSTITUTE FOR MARINE MAMMAL STUDIES:  It was a remarkable feat to see these animals in the wild when they could have swam to the Bahamas, but they didn't.  They came to Gulfport and stayed in Gulfport, they came to their trainer and that's where they should say. 

SANDERS (voice-over):  Dr. Moby Solangi wants to rebuild here in Gulfport.  He owns a small strake in the Katrina eight and nine other dolphins evacuated before the hurricane.  But the majority owner has worked out an undisclosed financial deal with Atlantis to move all 17 to the Bahamas. 

FRANK MURRU, ATLANTIS CHIEF MARINE OFFICER:  As far as we're concerned they're moving to the finest facility we can build and it's home for them. 

SANDERS:  Their permanent home is still under construction, a dolphin park.  In this themed mythical underwater city, eventually, visitors will be allowed to interact with the dolphins like this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So they have about 88 teeth. 

SOLANGI:  There should be a transition.

SANDERS:  Back in Mississippi, Dr. Solangi considers this one more loss.  Without dolphins, they may not be able to rebuild the Oceanarium. 

SOLANGI:  Once they leave the country the go to a casino resort, they're not coming back.

SANDERS:  Kerry Sanders, NBC News, NASA, the Bahamas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The Bahamas where the dolphins will apparently remain.  Dr. Solangi filed a lawsuit, but after the National Marine Fisheries, the USDA, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife approved the move, so too this morning did a court. 

Speaking of legal action, that's how we begin our nightly splash in the pool of celebrity and entertainment news “Keeping Tabs.”  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rice may have written for when the one great score comes to write against your name he marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game. 

The hell with that says Martha Stewart.  Though her time in stir and even the days of house arrest and ankle monitoring bracelet are long passed, she had appealed her conviction for lying to investigators about those infamous ImClone stock sales.  Today the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York State issued a written ruling upholding her conviction and that of her former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic.  We're still awaiting the ruling of the third television court of appeals on whether or not she can get back her version of “The Apprentice.”  Maybe on UPN.

Tonight one of the great voices is gone, the singer Lou Rawls is dead.  Originally a gospel singer, he moved on to jazz, and rhythm and blues and finally in the late '60s a spoken word kind of singing now considered pre-rap when he tried more popish kind of music, things like “You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine,” his resonant broad voice sold millions of records.  Then he did commercials, most famously the tag line on the Budweiser beer spot, when you've said buzz wider, “When you've said Budweiser, you've said it all.”  At the height of his career he began to host annual telethons for the United Negro College Fund, raising more than $200 million in the process.  Lou Rawls who quit smoking in the early '60s was diagnosed last May with lung cancer.  He died this morning at the age of 72. 

Also tonight, that story from last night about Gwyneth Paltrow enlisting Kabbalah to exorcise her house of evil sprits, 100 percent not true.  That's ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for the Worst in the World. 

Bonze level, Nadine Nutley (ph), a teacher at Garden City High School in Kansas, our friends at Smokingun.com reporting that she is the ceremonial first teacher arrested in the new year for sleeping with one of her underaged students. 

The runner-up Judge Edward Cashman in Burlington, Vermont, and the state corrections department finding Mark Hewitt guilty of repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl over a period of four years starting when she was 10.  The department recommended and the judge agreed Hewitt is a low risk for committing a similar crime so he's been sentenced to 60 days in jail.  Days -- 60 days. 

But tonight's winner, the indescribable Rush Limbaugh, he has now defending the president bypassing the foreign intelligence surveillance courts to authorize those NSA wiretaps by explaining to his audience that it was one of those FISA court judges who wouldn't let the FBI examine the laptop of the so-called 21st hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui which perhaps might have allowed them to discover the 9/11 plot in the summer of 2001.  Of course, in fact, the FBI never even went to the court in that case, they never even asked a judge to let it read Moussaoui's computer.  The FBI's own lawyers decided the bureau did not have the right to examine the computer. 

A later investigation suggested the FBI lawyers were wrong and if they'd only gone to one of the FISA judges the judge would have granted access to Moussaoui's computer.  But of course that's not the kind of story Rush Limbaugh wants you to know, so he lied about it, told backwards.  Which is why listeners live in ignorance and why Rush Limbaugh is once again today's Worst Person in the World.  . 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Really famous people will tell you they're used to it.  They'll tell you they have to let the 99 out of 100 nonsensical news stories about themselves go past them.  If they didn't they'd have to have new full time jobs—denying everything.  Even in my own experience I literally only think about five percent of the stories I've read myself have been free of factual error of great or small dimension.  So, we try not to let absolute nonsense get on the air here.  Sometimes it slips through anyway. 

Our No.  1 story in the COUNTDOWN, I knew it sounded too good to be true, Gwyneth Paltrow did not hire people to give her house the real estate equivalent of an exorcism.  We mentioned it only in passing last night that the “London Daily Mail” had reported that the Oscar-winning actress had sought the help of a Kabbalah rabbi to rid her London home of negative energy.  She had reported her troubles to pal Madonna and Madonna had recommended the cleansing. 

“This is 100 percent false,” a spokesman for the actress has told MSNBC.com's Jennette Walls, “Paltrow does not feel her home has any bad energy and, in fact, feels that the house has wonderful energy and enjoys all the time she and her family spend there.  Also,” oh great, there's an also, “Gwyneth is not a follower of Kabbalah and therefore has not enlisted the help of a Kabbalah rabbi particularly since there is nothing to exorcise from the home.”

Of course, part of the reason the story slipped through the cracks is that there are people who do the otherworldly equivalent of “Extreme Makeover” home he edition.  One of them joins us now, Ellen Bourn is both a Kabbalaist and a medium and has, herself, been part of more than one dehauntings. 

Bourn, good evening, thanks for your time. 

ELLEN BOURN, KABBALIST, MEDIUM:  Oh, good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  How do you know when your house needs a dehaunting or when it's just bad wiring or the architect used to drink or something? 

BOURN:  Well, all those things can happen, too.  But frequently electronic things don't work right.  You may see a drapery moving and there is a breeze, but the window is not open or sometimes people feel strong temperature changes from place to place in the room that aren't accounted for by other aspects of things. 

OLBERMANN:  So, walk me, then, through the process.  Somebody says to you that's happening in high house, you agree with them.  What exactly what happens? 

BOURN:  Well, you'd have to see it.  I mean, I usually go to that person's home and make an assessment and see if those things are, in fact, happening.  Sometimes you can feel spirits there or see them. 

OLBERMANN:  And we analogize this to exorcism, that's a catholic rite.  Is this a process that's cousin to exorcism, is it something that defies religious classification?  Is it closer to being ecumenical then on to one faith than another? 

BOURN:  No, actually, there's a lot of protection rituals and house blessings that come in all sorts of religions.  An exorcism is more the idea when a negative spirit is within a person, and a protection ritual or a dehaunting is something that would come more with a piece of property or a home or a building. 

OLBERMANN:  So, what do you have to do?  How many people are involved?  What—to what degree can you describe what a dehaunting would look like if you were there watching it? 

BOURN:  Well, basically, there is different techniques of doing it.  You would go—you would open with a prayer, go through the rooms, say some sort of protective ritual, pass through each room of the house, and when you're ready to leave, the important thing is that you would leave the front door open because that's a way for the negative energy to leave and the higher energy to come in.  And sometimes when you're done—well, one time one what happened to me and when I was done the door was being held open with concrete construction bricks and the door shut itself while we were standing there. 

OLBERMANN:  That would be a good sign. 

BOURN:  Yes.  Or sometime a window will slam shut, a television will go on when no one is there to turn it on. 

OLBERMANN:  If you've got termites and the Orcin man comes by and you know he has done his job because you move back in and presto there are no more termites.  You mention the door slamming.  What's the long-term check on the dehaunting?  Do you have to go three months without any apparitions or temperature changes?  Do you have some sort of set follow up process here?  Is there a guarantee to it or what?

BOURN:  No, you hope it doesn't happen again and if it stops happening then you know it's successful. 

OLBERMANN:  And how many of these do you think are done in a year's time?  Because I don't think that a lot of people know about this. 

BOURN:  Well, how many are done in a year's timing?  A think a lot of people when they buy a home might ask a clergy person to come and bless their home before they move in it.  Maybe not done on such a grand scale, but I think it's actually quite common. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, how about the grand scale?  How often have you been actually involved in one of these at a home somewhere? 

BOURN:  Well, quite a few times actually, because one time there was a home being—an older home and it was being remodeled for the purpose of being used as a respite care place and the people wanted all the energy cleaned out of it which is when the door slammed.  Another time could be when somebody notices things that are moving in a home sometimes after a relative has passed over and it could be that that particular individual is trying to make communication with them.  They're not haunting them for a negative purpose, they're just trying to say hello and wish them a blessing. 

OLBERMANN:  And everybody just has to move because everybody's moving.  Ellen Bourn, medium and Kabbalist, thanks for your time tonight, and for describing the process for us. 

BOURN:  Oh, thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  That's COUNTDOWN, I'm Keith Olbermann, keep your knees loose.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now Rita Cosby, “Live and Direct” tonight from Miami.  Good evening, Rita.

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

END   

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