Guests: Gerald Posner, Azhar Usman, Barry Melrose
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
White House in crisis. The president says his government thwarted a terrorist plot against the tallest building in Los Angeles. But how come he got the name of the building wrong? And how come the mayor of L.A. says nobody told him the president was revealing this?
The CIA leak investigation roars back to life. Scooter Libby claimed
he had been authorized to reveal classified information, authorized by his
boss, the vice president. All of this reportedly in court documents filed
by special prosecutor Fitzgerald.
And heck of a threat, Brownie. The former FEMA boss writes the White House, if Mr. Bush does not pony up with a lawyer, Mr. Brown will tell Congress about his Katrina communications with Mr. Bush.
The Massachusetts murder, the other shoe finally drops. Police in England arrest the husband.
And it‘s not just the biggest sports gambling scandal since Pete Rose, it also centers on Hollywood starlet Janet Jones, Wayne Gretsky‘s wife, Janet Jones, who allegedly bet half a million dollars on football in 39 days, including five grand on whether the coin toss at the Super Bowl came up heads or tails.
She bet on the coin toss.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Sigmund Freud‘s theory about this was formerly called parapraxis, the idea that a slip of the tongue may be a mistake, but it is not an accident, that if you meant to say, What am I going to do about my life? and instead you say, What am I going to do about my wife? your wife may be a bigger problem than you want to admit.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the president of the United States revealing today for the first time ever details of a terrorist plot he claims the government disrupted, by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to crash another jet into the, quote, “Liberty Tower” in Los Angeles. But the name of the building was the Library Tower. And parapraxis insists that would be more than just a slip. It could be a revelation, it could be truth trying to escape, could be an obsession with the word “liberty,” or an inversion to the word “library.”
Psychological mumbo-jumbo? Maybe. Except the mayor of Los Angeles has now come out and said nobody warned him that Mr. Bush was going to make that speech, and scare the crap out of Los Angeles.
Liberty, in this case, fleeting. The tower to which Mr. Bush was referring, commonly referred to as the Library Tower, the White House taking the rare step of correcting the president‘s slip, whether it was Freudian or not.
Library? Didn‘t the first lady used to work in one?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We now know that in October 2001, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the September the 11th attacks, had already set in motion a plan to have terrorist operatives hijack an airplane using shoe bombs to breach the cockpit door and fly the plane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We believe the intended target was Liberty Tower in Los Angeles, California.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It‘s all academic now anyway. The place has since been renamed the U.S. Bank Tower, second-tallest building on the West Coast, sir.
As we mentioned, the mayor of L.A. blindsided by the president‘s remarks, saying that today was the first time all of the details about the plot were disclosed, even to him, and raising the eternal question, Why now?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: I think everybody‘s wondering, you know, well, it makes you wonder what the motivation was. But I don‘t want to speculate on what the motivation was, because that‘s something you should ask the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: For a reality check, time now to call in Gerald Posner, investigative journalist, author of “Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11.” And, we‘re glad to say, a frequent guest here on COUNTDOWN.
Good to talk to you again, sir.
GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, “WHY AMERICA SLEPT”: Good to talk to you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Was this a real plot, to your knowledge?
POSNER: I think it was a real plot in the sense that you had some fellows out in Southeast Asia, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would have loved to have flown more airliners into more American buildings. But it wasn‘t a plot that all of a sudden, like in “24,” they stopped on the eve of the execution of this plot taking place. It just happened to unravel, and the people were eventually arrested.
OLBERMANN: There‘s no overt reference in the president‘s speech about how the NSA spying played a role in uncovering this plot. But the implication is placed there, if by nothing else, by the nature of the current political debate. Any sense that NSA spying, or spying of any kind in this country, was at all involved in interfering with these plans?
POSNER: Not at all, Keith. As a matter of fact, I worked the phones today, and everybody told me pretty much the same thing. If this had been an instance in which the NSA spying had been involved, the president would have had this on, really on bright lights. We would have been hearing about it. It just wasn‘t the case.
OLBERMANN: I mentioned how rare it is for the White House to speak in more than just vague terms about plots of any kind, even the mayor of L.A. saying he did not know all the information that was in the speech today. He certainly did not know the speech was coming. Why did this speech occur? What was accomplished by it?
POSNER: What was accomplished by it, they‘re really trying to get built up, I think, for the PATRIOT Act. They‘re trying to pass more parts of the PATRIOT Act. And at the same time, I think they‘re are also looking at getting this scandal off of them, which is the NSA hearing scandal, something they‘re having trouble with.
OLBERMANN: Getting the name of the building wrong, obviously, we can go into it psychologically. But perhaps I could ask you, from a counterterror point of view, getting the name and the size of the dimensions of the building wrong in the speech about it, is that an accident? Is it irrelevant to this? What part does that play in all this?
POSNER: It‘s a typical Bushism. It‘s something I‘m not surprised with. This is a president who gets the details wrong sometimes, even when it comes to something as important as what the target might be in a possible terrorist attack on the West Coast of the United States. It‘s—
I just shake my head when I hear that happen.
OLBERMANN: The White House also saying today that it was able to disclose these plot details now because they no longer have intelligence value. Do you concur with that assessment?
POSNER: Boy, not at all. As a matter of fact, I‘ll tell you, I‘ve seen this game played by Democratic and Republican administrations. The Bush administration plays hardball with it all the time. When they decide that something doesn‘t have intelligence values, they release it for political purposes, as they did today. They want to get the PATRIOT Act through, and they want to make sure that they try to quell all this furor taking place over the NSA domestic spying routine.
So they say it has no value at all. But I‘ll tell you, everything else—they‘re still holding onto information from World War II. We can‘t get documents released on the Kennedy assassination. Yet here‘s the president disclosing details of what happened on 9/11 just a couple of years ago.
OLBERMANN: We have talked before, with deep sadness, about the politicizing of counterterror measures here. You have just put this into a political context. My stomach is queasy as I ask this. In the context of this today, and what you have seen, are we far enough removed from that component of the novel “1984,” the part where the government turns a kind of terror faucet on and off to scare the public into acquiescing to whatever it wants to do?
POSNER: Lookit, I‘m afraid we are, unfortunately, at that point, where—we are in a real war, there‘s no question about it. We have fundamentalists out there who would love to kill more innocent Americans in vast numbers. They‘d love to pull off a weapon of mass destruction attack.
But at the same time, the government is also very effective, the Bush administration, at using terror as a political weapon and making sure that it does turn on the fear spigot when it wants to and turn it off at other times.
Franklin Roosevelt did it, you know, six generations—six decades ago, after Pearl Harbor had been hit. Every time a Japanese sub would be spotted 200 miles off the coast of California, or a German sub somewhere out in the middle of the Atlantic, it would raise fears about another invasion taking place.
So administrations have done this. But the Bush administration does it relentlessly, and they do it very effectively.
OLBERMANN: I grew up listening to LBJ tell me that we might be bombed into the Stone Age tomorrow by the Russians. And it appears that half of the Russian weapons would never have gotten out of their silos.
So give me a final perception, a reality check on this. The overall threat to this country right now by these international terrorists is perceived by the administration as what, on a scale of one to 10? And perceived by you and others who look at this realistically as what on a scale of one to 10?
POSNER: I think the administration perceives it as a six to seven. Many of us who follow this view it right now as the threat to America is a two or three, with the potential, and I give this as a major caveat, Keith, there‘s a potential for a spike up at any moment, and that is, if, at some point, a successful small weapon of mass destruction can be used in this country, it will be used by the terrorists. That‘s the real potential threat. But that‘s a long-term threat. That could take place anywhere from now to literally the next 10 or 15 years.
Otherwise, the threat level, I think, is lower today than it has been in the last couple of years.
OLBERMANN: Investigative journalist and author Gerald Posner. As always, sir, especially in these circumstances, great thanks for your forthrightness, and great thanks for joining us.
POSNER: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: While the White House was busy disclosing the alleged L.A. plot, the questionable disclosure of classified information is at the heart of major new developments tonight in the CIA leak investigation, reports that Scooter Libby is planning to defend himself by saying his boss, the vice president of the United States, encouraged him to leak secrets to reporters.
Newly disclosed documents indicating that the vice president‘s former chief of staff already has testified that he was authorized by his superiors to disclose classified information to reporters in order to make the a case for war in Iraq, a former top CIA official telling NBC News that Mr. Cheney did not have the authority to unilaterally declassify intelligence information, a report in the “National Journal” claiming that filings by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald showed that Libby‘s lawyers had told the court his defense would based on the claim that the vice president had encouraged him to leak classified information.
Tonight, Mr. Libby‘s lawyer has denied that, quoting, “There is no truth at all to the story that Mr. Libby‘s lawyers have advised the court or the special counsel that he will raise a defense based on authorization by superiors. we do not know who reporters are relying on as sources for this story, but any such persons are neither knowledgeable nor authorized to speak for Mr. Libby‘s defense team.”
Let‘s bring in MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who has been following this story for us from Washington for months upon months.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Interestingly enough, that last statement from Mr. Libby‘s lawyers does not seem to say, Hey, Vice President Cheney did not tell Mr. Libby to leak information. Is that a correct read?
SHUSTER: Yes, that‘s right. I mean, the story that Vice President Cheney authorized Scooter Libby to leak, that stands. What Libby‘s legal team appears to be picking at is the speculation, or maybe innuendo, that Scooter Libby was going to offer some sort of formal defense based on Vice President Cheney.
But that‘s kind of a narrow reed to stand on, because everybody‘s been following this knows that Scooter Libby has not yet made any sort of formal motions filed with the court or formal notification.
And what everybody is reporting on tonight, Keith, including MSNBC, NBC, and the “National Journal,” at least in my reading, is this document right here. This is a document released by the court. It‘s a letter from Patrick Fitzgerald to Scooter Libby‘s legal team. And it says, “As we discussed during our telephone conversation, Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information to the press by his superiors.”
Presumably, that‘s a reference to Vice President Cheney. And none of that is being denied.
OLBERMANN: So what is the premise of this? Is this revelation, or this nonaccusation-accusation, is it designed as part of the attempt to get the case against Libby thrown out of court?
SHUSTER: Well, Keith, there are two things here. First of all, it may be sort of a strawman, and that is, you create something that hasn‘t happened yet, so you can knock it down and (INAUDIBLE) have everybody report, Oh, they‘re knocking it down.
But what‘s going on here is, there‘s a battle between the prosecutors and Scooter Libby‘s legal team over classified documents. Libby‘s legal team says that because the prosecutor won‘t turn over some documents, the defense has been thwarted. Prosecutor says, You‘re not entitled to the classified documents.
What Scooter Libby is suggesting, based on these conversations and the document that we have, and that everyone‘s reporting on, is that Scooter Libby‘s lawyer told the prosecutors, We‘re going to talk about Vice President Cheney. And because we‘re going to talk about Vice President Cheney, we need these classified documents related to Vice President Cheney.
And what this does is, if the prosecutor doesn‘t turn over these documents, then Libby can presumably go to the court and say, Look, my due process rights are being violated. I‘m not being given these documents related to Vice President Cheney, who‘s going to be a central role in this trial. So throw out the case.
But most legal experts say there‘s not a chance in the world that, based on this type of case, that the judge is going to buy that argument and actually throw out the case.
OLBERMANN: Until and unless a ruling comes in on that, though, Mr. Libby‘s not charged with leaking classified information. But if he‘s defending himself by saying, Well, he did, and saying the vice president told him to, because that‘s not really germane to this case, did he just throw the vice president of the United States under the proverbial bus?
SHUSTER: He might have, but in a sense, Keith, that what it appears that Scooter Libby is doing, and remember, his defense here has changed, originally he said that I heard the information from reporters, now it seems to be suggested by Scooter Libby that, Well, wait a second, everybody in the White House, including the vice president, was talking about this.
What Scooter Libby‘s going to try to do at trial, based on the documents that have been filed so far, is it appears that he‘s going to suggest to the jury, Look, everybody in the White House (INAUDIBLE) was talking about this. The vice president was talking about this. I was so busy, I can‘t remember.
And if the jury actually believes that this was innocent, because, A, the prosecutors did not charge Scooter Libby with espionage, or with mishandling classified documents, if the Libby legal team can convince the jury there‘s a sort of a gotcha charge, that they essentially gotcha, they got Scooter Libby based on sort of a technicality, as far as not remembering exactly what he said to reporters, then perhaps there‘s a chance for Scooter Libby to get off this.
But what‘s going to happen is, the judge is going to have to decide how much information about the vice president, how much information about the original leak, is germane to this. And prosecutors are going to say the only thing that matters in this case, the only thing that‘s going to make the difference between guilt or innocence is, did Scooter Libby tell the truth or not when he testified about his conversations with reporters?
And to that end, prosecutors are going to say, It doesn‘t matter what it—what Scooter Libby was discussing or what the vice president was telling him. It only matters whether he went to the grand jury and said the truth about how he learned this information.
OLBERMANN: And it all starts, the trial itself, just 11 months from now.
MSNBC‘s David Shuster, suit up. Many thanks.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, now he is Heck of a Surprise Brownie. In the wake of the Katrina debacle, is what he sent to the White House today, to Harriet Miers, a threat, or a plea?
And still the controversy over the Muhammad political cartoons grows.
Trying to tamp it down there, trying to keep it away from here.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The popular quote is, Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It is actually a paraphrase of something written by the British playwright William Congreve in 1697, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” So it was changed once.
In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, let‘s change it again, Hell hath no fury like a Brownie scorned. On Monday of this week, former FEMA chief Michael Brown‘s attorney wrote the White House, threatening to reveal Mr. Brown‘s communications with the president about the Katrina disaster unless the president cooperates.
Blackmail is an ugly word. But is it an applicable one here?
To help us try to figure out what‘s going on, I‘m joined now by MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.
Good evening, Norah.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: And good evening to you, Keith.
Well, tonight Michael Brown is indicating he is ready to tell all, and reveal previously private conversations with the president and White House officials in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina.
Now, Brown, who the president famously nicknamed Brownie, resigned under fire last year. Tomorrow, he is set to testify on Capitol Hill. And in a letter to the White House this week, Brown‘s lawyer said he wants guidance from the White House and legal support, or else.
His lawyer writes, quote, “Unless there is specific direction otherwise from the president, including an assurance the president will provide a legal defense to Mr. Brown if he refuses to testify as to these matters, Mr. Brown will testify, if asked, about particular communications.”
Now, as of tonight, the White House has not yet responded, but it has indicated that it may still. This bipartisan committee on Capitol Hill, led by Senator Susan Collins, is demanding the White House provide more information from the executive branch about what led to the government‘s slow response to Katrina. Now, the White House says they turned over 15,000 pages and defends withholding some of the information by claiming privilege.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: If people give me advice, and they‘re forced to disclose that advice, it means the next time an issue comes up, I might not be able to get unvarnished advice from my advisers. And that‘s just the way it works. But we‘ve given, we‘ve given thousands of pages of documents over for people to analyze.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does that include Michael Brown?
BUSH: Pardon me?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) Michael Brown?
BUSH: People who give me advice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: Well, Democrats insist the White House is stonewalling the Senate‘s investigation. And tonight, they are frankly (INAUDIBLE) salivating at the prospect that Brown may spill the beans tomorrow in public. Tonight, Brown‘s attorney tells MSNBC that his client believes that he is now a private citizen, and he will have more information tomorrow, if the White House does not invoke privilege.
Now, Brown has told this committee he thinks that some of FEMA‘s problems are a result of the merger with Homeland Security back in 2003. In an interview, Brown admits some responsibility, saying he wished that he had quit FEMA earlier, or told other officials that what was going on at FEMA was, quote, “nuts,” Keith.
OLBERMANN: Briefly, Norah, any idea what these communications between Mr. Brown and Mr. Bush might be?
O‘DONNELL: Well, I asked the attorney if they have brought piles of e-mails or other documents. The lawyer says he has not. But it could include conversations that Brown had with White House officials, top White House officials, including Andy Card and other officials who were intimately involved in the early response, that Brown has not been able to talk about previously.
OLBERMANN: Oops. MSNBC‘s Washington correspondent, chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell. Thank you, Norah.
O‘DONNELL: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: So join me again tomorrow for the D.C. drama as it continues. Will Michael Brown turn on the president? Or will the president leave Brownie half-baked? All the breaking news, blockbuster details, live, live, live on COUNTDOWN, 8:00 and midnight Eastern tomorrow.
We haven‘t heard the president say, Heck of a job, Hughesie, about the efforts of the official charged with battling for the hearts and minds of the Arab world in the current cartoon crisis. Why has Karen Hughes been missing in action?
And missing no more, Neil Entwistle finally under arrest for the murders of his wife and baby girl.
Details when COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: Breaking news! MSNBC has learned that CNN has stopped calling last night‘s false alarm at the Senate Russell Office Building “breaking news.” Rode that phony nerve agent horse a long way, huh, boys?
OK, let‘s stop crapping around. Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Tazewell (ph) County, Illinois, on the farm of Mrs. Barbara Opper (ph). Ms. Opper is shown off her baby goat, born February 7, with a perfectly shaped heart on its back. She‘s named him Love.
(singing): The Love Goat, exciting and new...
Opper says she believes Love is a Valentine from beyond sent by her late husband. He died nine years ago, but while they were married, she says he bought her a Valentine‘s gift every year on February 7, a week early, just to make the rest of us look bad, I guess. The Love Goat has a twin sister who‘s been named Susan Love. No heart on her back, just what appears to be ringworm.
And in with the old, out with the new? Here‘s the new Ken. After two years away from Barbie, the little plastic man is back, sporting a kind of new effeminate bad-boy look, I guess is what you‘d call that. World‘s media on hand as Hasbro officials showed off Ken‘s new sculpted chin and rock-hard lower ab.
Hey, whoa, whoa, there, careful there, buddy. See, now you‘ve gone and made Barbie uncomfortable.
First it was the picture, then the investigation. Now Britney Spears responds to all the allegations about her parenting skills.
And the gambling scandal rocking hockey. Wayne Gretsky‘s wife accused of being the best customer of a betting ring, and wiretaps that allegedly recorded Gretsky acknowledging his wife‘s roll.
Those stories ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Alajandro Blanco, head of the Spanish Olympic Committee. The Winter Games have not even started yet in Turin, and Spain has already lost. Mr. Blanco says the Spanish team‘s luggage has yet to turn up at the Olympic Village.
Number two, the Coast Guard repair unit in San Francisco. If you‘re watching, your guys in charge of the foghorn at the Coast Guard pier in Monterey, they really need your help. It got foggy Monday, so they switched the horn on, and now they can‘t shut it off. It‘s been sounding every couple of—Whee-unnhh! -- minutes since.
Number one, the unnamed burglar who has hit three homes recently in Washington County, Pennsylvania. They say he doesn‘t steal anything really valuable, but he tries out each of the computers, and he eats the food, and then he tries on the clothes, until he finds some that are just right.
You know, this is reminding me of some story I once heard. Goldie Hawn? Golden oldies? Something like that there.
OLBERMANN: The international cartoon controversy has become a cartoon of reality. The suggestion today that violence in the Muslim community is not an appropriate response itself drawing an angry response from a leader of Hezbollah. Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, trying to get a handle on this and trying to get a handle on what the administration said was its efforts to get handle on the hearts and minds of Arab world. Did not Mr. Bush put Karen Hughes in charge of that? Where has she been on this?
The latest on that and the continuing protests from Andrea Mitchell.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: In at the Tehran today, protesters stoned the British embassy as Iranian soldiers stood and watched. Throughout the Muslim world they turn a holy day into massive demonstrations against Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Mohammed including one depicting his turban as a bomb.
From Jakarta to Capetown, Karachi to Beirut, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators expressed anger at the West, including the United States. In the Lebanese capital, the Hezbollah leader told the crowd, “Let George Bush and the arrogant world know that if we have to we will defend our Prophet with our blood, not our voices.”
At the Vatican, Laura Bush discussed the crisis with the people.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I hope that every government including the governments in the Middle East will speak out and call for an end to the violence.
MITCHELL: Now the U.S. is accusing Iran and Syria of fanning the protest.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT: Things like burning down embassies don‘t happen by accident in Damascus.
MITCHELL: State Department official Karen Hughes in charge of rebutting anti-American propaganda.
Hughes last fall.
KAREN HUGHES, STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And we have to be much more rapid and nimble in responding to rumors and outright lies and disinformation.
MITCHELL: Tonight, this State Department war room is monitoring how Arab media including blogs are reporting the cartoon crisis. But is that enough?
LEE HAMILTON, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: The United States is trying but I think there‘s a lot more that has to be done.
MITCHELL (on camera): As the protest spread, tonight U.S. officials are keeping their response low key to avoid enflaming the Muslim world. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: This all starts with political comment. Satire. It could be vaguely described at least in intent as humor. Earlier I spoke to someone who could help us try to figure this out.
OLBERMANN: Joining me now to try to help figure this out, Azhar Usman, a Chicago lawyer who is also a stand-up comedian. Thanks for your time tonight.
AZHAR USMAN, MUSLIM AMERICAN COMIC: Thanks for having me.
OLBERMANN: We are not going to try to do jokes about this, obviously, but you do humor on collisions between the two cultures. What do you think is going on here?
USMAN: Well, a lot is going on here. I mean, the first thing I should start out saying from the outset that I am a lawyer. Most of your viewers have probably never seen someone like me smile before. So if you are ready, it might crack your TV screen. Here it goes.
OLBERMANN: Like anybody else smiling.
USMAN: Yeah. That‘s right. It‘s a fiasco. It‘s turned into something that‘s spiraling out of control. I don‘t think anybody intended it to get out of hand. It‘s one of those unfortunate things where I think there‘s ideologues sort of on both sides that fueling the fire and fanning the flames and they want to see this thing continue to grow and spiral because it sort of underscores this thesis of the clash of civilization.
It‘s the West versus the big bad Muslims and the world of Islam when in reality I think the vast majority of people on earth, good decent people on both sides are looking at this saying the cartoons are probably offensive and insulting and it would have been better to avoid airing them, but at the same time this response is completely out of proportion to the underlying offense. And it‘s really unfortunate that it‘s gotten so out of control.
OLBERMANN: We have had very little outrage in the U.S. which is a fortunate thing, but am I right, do you think, too, that the subtexts in the protests in the Muslim world, some of them at least suggest that America is still partly or mostly to blame for what happened here?
It‘s one of those things where a defeated group of people that feel like the underdog will grab at any chance they can to strike back at the oppressors. And in this case it‘s no secret that the United States of America is not particularly popular in the Muslim world right now. And I often tell people, I have got to tell you, I enjoy traveling overseas in the comedy act. Because in America I‘m just used to people hating me for being a Muslim. So it‘s kind of nice to finally be hated just for being an American.
OLBERMANN: Brings variety to the experience.
USMAN: That‘s right.
OLBERMANN: It is ironic - the whole thing is a little ironic, isn‘t it, one of our stories last night is about how conservative commentators thought it was blasphemous that politics and criticism of the administration was brought into the funeral service for Coretta Scott King and some of the same commentators, some of the same people cannot understand what the world Muslim world is so honked off about. Isn‘t that a little - the juxtaposition is amazing, isn‘t it?
USMAN: Absolutely. It‘s part of the absurdity of the postmodern world. Nothing is sacred anymore. So you can find a Muslim terrorist who is literally murdering people, claiming to do it in the name of God because human life is no longer even sacred to that person and at the same time so called proponents of freedom and free speech want to talk about freedom of expression and freedom speech yet we find a situation like this Coretta Scott King funeral service where people are up in arms when people want to exercise that freedom of speech.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, this issue as microcosm, as you suggested, for the bigger question, anybody who portrays Mohammed should be beheaded. And there are some Westerners who say, freedom of the press trumps everything including respect for what you believe, sorry. If those two things are true as cultures, do we have any chance of peaceful co-existence?
USMAN: I think that‘s the point. I don‘t think either of those statements is a true statement of what‘s going on. I don‘t think this whole affair is really about religion or freedom of expression. It‘s about identity politics, it‘s about a group of people, Muslims, in this case, feeling like they are the underdog. Ignorance has really become the real enemy here. We need to fight ignorance by waging peace in this troubled world.
OLBERMANN: And we‘ll try this, maybe, for a change. You believe what you want to believe and I‘ll believe what you want to believe and we‘ll fight for each ear other‘s right to do it.
Muslim American comedian .
USMAN: By the way, that‘s a verse from the Koran, Keith. You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe and hey, we‘ll make it work.
OLBERMANN: And it‘s also the Beastie Boys. The comedian and lawyer and I guess as of tonight commentator Azhar Usman, it‘s been a pleasure, thanks.
USMAN: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Another video has surface tonight of the kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll, the first since January 30. It was broadcast today on a private TV channel in Kuwait. For the first time Ms. Carroll is heard speaking. She seems to be composed. She said she was fine but asked that those who saw the tape, quote, “to please just do whatever they want as quickly as possible.”
She marks the date of the recording as February 2, that would be a week ago. Carroll was abducted just over a month ago in Baghdad. Her abductors had said they would kill her on the 20th of January.
Also tonight, an arrest in the murder of a Massachusetts woman and her infant. And a ghastly new theory of the crime.
And Britney Spears has responded to charges that she was driving a car with her infant in her lap, not in his car seat when COUNTDOWN continues.
OLBERMANN: Ultimately none of it will ever make sense. But police in Massachusetts and in England have finally given us something to help us understand the nightmare that unfolded in a home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts on January 20th. Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the husband who did not attend the funerals of his murdered wife and daughter has been arrested. As Michelle Franzen reports, what may have been his plan for three deaths, not two, has been revealed.
MICHELLE FRANZEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Husband, father, and now murder suspect. Neil Entwistle was taken into custody Thursday in London after prosecutors issued an arrest and extradition warrant for him for the murders of his wife and baby.
MARTHA COAKLEY, MIDDLESEX COUNTY D.A.: With the assistance of the Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police extradition unit he was placed under arrest without incident at a subway stop in London.
FRANZEN: Authorities say Entwistle fled to his native England following the murders in January. Prosecutors alleged Entwistle shot his wife and nine month old daughter Lilian in their Hopkinton home outside of Boston using a gun obtained from his father-in-law‘s collection. An attorney for Rachel Entwistle said they are heart broken over the deaths and arrest.
JOE FLAHERTY, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF RACHEL ENTWISTLE: Neil was a trusted husband and father and it is incomprehensible how that love and trust was betrayed in the ultimate act of violence.
FRANZEN: The district attorney said evidence taken from the couple‘s home revealed a man with mounting debt from failed businesses who was out of work and desperate enough to kill his family and maybe himself.
COAKLEY: We believe possibly that this was intended to be a murder-suicide, but we can not confirm that.
FRANZEN: Entwistle had been staying at his parents‘ home in England and did not return for his wife and daughter‘s funeral services. Now a judge in England will decide if and when Entwistle will be extradited to face murder charges. Michelle Franzen, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: No easy segue then, into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” Britney Spears has finally coughed up something other than an excuse in the continuing saga of her four-month old son getting a ride in her lap. Spears telling “Access Hollywood,” quote, “I made a mistake. And so it is what it is, I guess.” Beautifully spoken.
She repeats she did this because the paparazzi had scared her. No word on whether she will address that there was a car seat in the back of her vehicle, X-17, the agency that took the mother of year snap shots were taken in, quote, “a very peaceful context.”
For the first time in broadcasting history, a sportscaster has been traded for a rabbit. ESPN revealing today it was compensated when it released obligations announcer Al Michaels from his obligations to do for “Monday Night Football” for that network so he could join to us do “Sunday Night Football” for NBC Sports. But that will cost us.
NBC Sports honcho Dick Ebersol gave ESPN rights to televise some of NBC‘s coverage of the Ryder Cup golf tournament, he gave ESPN additional use of NBC highlights from the Olympics and other NBC televised sports events in exchange for Michaels, NBC Universal gave back to the Disney Company the rights to the 1927 cartoon series “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.”
Walt Disney himself had produced the Oswald cartoons for Universal and they would not sell him the rights. He created anew character that he called Mickey Mouse. Al Michaels for “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.”
It‘s not the first time a sports announcer has been traded. In 1948 the Brooklyn Dodgers acquired play by play announcer Ernie Harwell for the then minor league team in Atlanta for a catcher named Cliff Dapper, who became Atlanta‘s manager. And more than seven years ago, trader Dick Ebersol sold some other sportscaster to Fox for a million dollars. I wonder whatever happened to that guy?
At least I got traded for money, not a rabbit. Speaking of money, how could you bet up to a half million dollars of it in 39 days without your husband finding out? That question at the heart of a burgeoning scandal that could claim the greatest name in hockey history and his actress wife.
That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”
Bronze tonight, Fox News Channel. This morning after the president‘s tale about breaking up a terror plot to destroy the Library Tower in L.A., Fox illustrated its coverage by showing clips from the 1996 movie “Independence Day” which stimulated the destruction of the tower by intergalactic aliens. If you are going to whore out your channel to scare people on the president‘s behalf, at least save the “Independence Day” clips when he claims he‘s been eavesdropping on terrorist calls from outer space.
Tonight‘s runner up, this yutz. Glen Beck again. After former President Carter‘s eulogy at the Coretta Scott King funeral, Beck announced on his radio show, quote, “Is there is a bigger waste of skin than Jimmy Carter?” unquote. Beck is the guy to whom CNN just gave a TV show claiming he will conduct a “conversation, not a confrontation.” Punt now.
But he winners, back to the other guys. At Mrs. King‘s funeral, after Reverend Lowery made his remarks that we now know there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, those in attendance gave him a 23 second standing ovation. When Fox News Channel ran the tape of Lowery‘s remark it cut the applause to nine seconds and then Fox commentator Morton Kondracke came on said, “The crowd did not go as wild as it sounded as though it did at the time and as various people had represented.” He was surprised there was not more applause after they edited out the applause. Come on! It‘s journalism. Look it up in a dictionary. Fox News Channel. Today‘s worst persons in the world.
OLBERMANN: In its theoretical worst case scenario form it‘s a sports gambling scandal that could claim hockey‘s most favorite player and his Hollywood actress wife and a dozen star players, maybe more. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the Great One in the great deal of trouble. Ice immortal Wayne Gretzky, his assistant in his role as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes accused of managing an illegal sports betting operation with the possible cooperation of organized crime from New Jersey. His wife, the “Flamingo Kid” star Janet Jones Gretzky accused of betting up to half a million dollars on football games in a six week span, even accused of having bet 5,000 on whether the coin toss at last Sunday‘s Super Bowl would come up heads or tails.
His team‘s general manager, Mike Barnett, who had been his agent for 21 years also allegedly placing the Super Bowl bet through the ring. That reported tonight by espn.com and Gretzky himself allegedly heard in wiretapped conversations talking with that accused assistant coach about his wife‘s purported gambling. In a moment the insight of one of hockey‘s greatest commentators the man who coached Wayne Gretzky with the L.A. Kings, Barry Melrose. First, the story so far, dammit Janet, from our correspondent Michael Okwu.
ANNOUNCER: Gretzky shoots, he scores.
MICHAEL OKWU, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wayne Gretzky is hockey‘s equivalent of Michael Jordan, his super star image sealed by his marriage to actress Janet Jones. But now the Great One and his wife are facing scandal.
Gretzky is coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. They are charging his assistant formal NHL player Rick Tocchet (ph) with financing an illegal multimillion dollar gambling ring in New Jersey.
(on camera): During investigation which authorities called Operation Slapshot, officials uncovered close to $2 million in bets. So far there is no evidence that any of those bets involved hockey games. But a half dozen NHL players and Janet Jones, Gretzky‘s wife, are among the alleged betters.
(voice-over): Asked if his wife bet illegally Gretzky said .
WAYNE GRETZKY, FORMER HOCKEY PLAYER: I don‘t know. You would have to ask her that.
OKWU: The investigation is bad publicity for the NHL, still reeling from last year‘s player‘s strike. And for Gretzky as he prepares to coach Canada‘s Olympic hockey team. Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: Correction, no player‘s strikem there was a lockout last year by the owners. As promised, we are joined by on old colleague and friend, Barry Melrose, coach of the L.A. Kings in the Gretzky era and since then hockey analyst for ESPN. Barry it would be a pleasure but for the topic, thanks for coming on.
BARRY MELROSE, ESPN HOCKEY ANALYST: My pleasure, Keith. Long time no see.
OLBERMANN: This is such a mess if you could lock Wayne Gretzky and Janet Gretzky in a room, what more would you want to know from them about this?
MELROSE: All I want to know from Gretz is he involved? He told me today he wasn‘t. He said the only thing is he guilty of, Keith, trying to protect his wife in the wiretap that you just mentioned in the story said that, that he was talking with Tocchet about how to keep Janet‘s name out of this. So, everybody I talked to says that he wasn‘t involved. He said he is not involved. I have known him for a long time. I am biased, of course. He is my friend. But, you know, I believe him. So, until someone proves that he was involved, I will take Wayne at his word and hopefully that is the truth.
OLBERMANN: I think we are all, to some degree, biased in their favor.
Wayne Gretzky and Janet Jones are two of the best liked people in sports. But anybody who knew them in L.A. knew the story that a few weeks before his marriage, she came to him and said I‘m several years older than I told you I was. And he was supposed to have been very hurt, very surprised but he forgave her and went on with the wedding. They‘ve lived more or less happily ever since.
I‘m only mentioning that to ask this question in that context. Between Janet‘s purported gambling and Rick Tocchet‘s alleged involvement, Wayne seems to be in the cross hairs here is it possible that he really could not have known about any of this until the thing was about to break open?
MELROSE: Well, certainly, Keith, in a dress room, you have got Super Bowl pools, the six finals of 64 for the college basketball. Even today Barry Smith, the assistant coach in phoenix said he knew Rick Tocchet was betting on football but, you know, that‘s 90 percent of Americans bet on football. That‘s not right. It‘s not saying it‘s right and I‘m not condoning what they did but let‘s face it some of the top rated shows on ESPN and Fox and everything else is poker.
Evidence kid now knows how to play Texas hold ‘em poker. So we not are being naive that they don‘t place bets. The big question with me is did they bet on hockey? Did they hurt the integrity of our sport? Did they leave themselves open to influence, sports by other people. Those are the big questions as far as I‘m concerned.
If it‘s proven that these guys in this circle, whoever they are bet on hockey or gave inside information on those people that bet on hockey, I think the book should be thrown at them. I think they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But, you know, as bad as it sounds, if it was just football and baseball, yes, Rick Tocchet formed a sports bet, Rick Tocchet is going to have to pay a price for that. But I really think people will forgive the hockey players that just casually and recreationally bet on basketball and football.
OLBERMANN: Give me your assessment on where this is going on hockey. Obviously, as you said there is no rules in the NHL forbidding gambling on other sports just about whether you bet on your own sport. Obviously in baseball, 17 years ago, it wound up with Pete Rose getting banned for life is it conceivable that it could happen to Wayne Gretzky?
MELROSE: Yeah. If Wayne is found to have known about this and was involved, certainly, that could be the case. The same thing with Rick Tocchet. Rick Tocchet is a Hall of Fame player.
Only two players have scored 400 goals and 2,500 penalty minutes Rick Tocchet and Patty Verbeek. Rick would probably be one of the guys that would be suspended for a long period of time by the NHL. So, you know, what I‘m hoping is the worse case scenario is Gretz wasn‘t involved at all and these players that are going to be named and there are going to be big players named in the NHL in the next few weeks or the next few months when this comes to fruition, they are going to be embarrassed but, again, I think we can get over it as long as hockey wasn‘t involved and the influence of hockey betting wasn‘t involved.
OLBERMANN: We hate to be rooting for the outcome of a particular news story but I think people are rooting for what you just described. Barry Melrose the hockey analyst for ESPN, former NHL player, coach. Many thanks, old friend.
MELROSE: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Our MSNBC coverage continues next with RITA COSBY LIVE AND DIRECT. And that‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,015 day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.
I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.
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