Guests: Richard Wolffe, Roger Cossack
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Heck of a—heck of a—heck of a something, Brownie. You know, you could help out here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: What do you want me to say?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Neither silenced or succored by the White House, the embattled former FEMA boss testifies about what really happened during Katrina, after which it may now be the embattled Homeland Security boss.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I frankly don‘t even remember having my picture taken with the guy. I don‘t know him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But Jack Abramoff remembers meeting Mr. Bush a dozen times, and being, he says, invited by the president to Crawford, Texas.
Another mass church poisoning. Three years ago in Maine, it was arsenic in the coffee, one dead. Now, in Connecticut, it‘s something in the grape juice, 40 sickened.
Did hockey‘s great one sicken you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAYNE GRETZKY: If you have any questions for people who are involved in this, you should contact them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Them, like his wife, the alleged $12,000-a-day gambler, and his assistant coach, the alleged bookmaker. He‘s on his way to Italy for the Olympics, and they are on their own.
Speaking of the Olympics, the athlete banned from these games for using Propecia. They are really splitting hairs here.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
It may yet prove to have been the tipping point in the history of the Bush administration, the response to Hurricane Katrina. But however history will judge its impact on George W. Bush, we know this, it was Michael Brown who took the immediate fall, thus, to some degree, insulating both Mr. Bush and the official standing between FEMA and the White House, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
It was Chertoff, after all, who confidently announced over the Labor Day weekend that, quote, “Louisiana is a city that is largely under water.”
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, testifying to the Senate today, Mr. Brown‘s reputation seemed to emerge from having been largely underwater, while Mr. Chertoff‘s and at least part of Mr. Bush‘s seemed to take on moisture, the hearings prefaced by new evidence from the paper trail, administration officials, you will recall, long claiming they were caught by surprise when they learned the day after the storm hit that the floodwaters were engulfing New Orleans, Senate Democrats today releasing a list of 28 e-mails and reports from government agencies on the day of the storm indicating the levees had been breached and that conditions were far worse than expected.
As reported in “The New York Times,” the e-mail to the chief of staff for Brown‘s boss, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, was time-stamped 9:27 p.m. And the first reports reached the White House before midnight, the White House today disputing that there have been any changes to the timeline. It said reports about the levee system the first day were conflicting, and yet, quoting press secretary Scott McClellan, “We knew full well the flooding that was going on.”
Because the president did not assert executive privilege, the White House today knew full well that Mr. Brown would be testifying to a Senate committee as a private citizen under oath. Mr. Heck of a Brown—heck of a job, rather, doing a heck of a job firing back, blaming his superiors for just about everything, and contradicting administration officials who claimed they were never told that the levees had been breached.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BROWN: I find it a little disingenuous that DHS would claim that they were not getting that information. So for them to now claim that we didn‘t have awareness of it, I think, is just baloney.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: How can you help us understand this enormous disconnect between what was happening on the ground, and the official reaction among many of the key leaders in Washington...
BROWN: It‘s my belief that had there been a report that said, Yes, we‘ve confirmed that a terrorist has blown up the 17th Street Canal levee, then everybody would have jumped all over that, and been trying to do everything they could.
SEN. NORMAN COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA: I‘m not sure what you understood. I‘m not sure you got it. I got tell you, the record, not FEMA‘s but the record, reflects that you didn‘t get it or you didn‘t, in writing or some way, make commands that would move people to do what has to be done until after it should have been done.
BROWN: Senator, with all due respect, what do you want me to say? I have admitted to mistakes publicly, I‘ve admitted to mistakes in hearings. What more, Senator Coleman, do you want from me?
COLEMAN: What I‘m saying, Mr. Brown, I‘m saying that, in fact, no leadership makes a difference. You didn‘t provide the leadership. Even with structural infirmities, strong leadership can overcome that, and clearly that wasn‘t the case here.
BROWN: Well, Senator, that‘s very easy for you to say sitting behind that dais.
SEN. MARK DAYTON (D-MN): Do you feel like you‘ve been sort of set up to be the scapegoat?
BROWN: Yes, sir.
COLEMAN: To be the fall guy?
BROWN: Yes, sir, I can‘t lie to you. But, yes, I feel that way.
COLEMAN: Do you feel like the administration has done that to you?
BROWN: I certainly feel somewhat abandoned.
COLEMAN: Hotels kicking people out, dying patients, and your response is, Thanks for the update. Anything I need to do to tweak?
BROWN: I‘m frankly getting sick and tired of these e-mails being taken out of context, with words like, What do I need to tweak? Because I need to know, Is there something else that I need to tweak? And that doesn‘t even include all of the other stuff that‘s going on, Senator.
So with all due respect, don‘t draw conclusions from an e mail.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: And did you tell Mr. Hagen (ph) in that phone call that New Orleans was flooding?
BROWN: I think I told him that we were realizing our worst nightmare, that everything that we had planned about, worried about, that FEMA, frankly, had worried about for 10 years, was coming true.
LIEBERMAN: Do you remember if you told him that the levees had broken?
BROWN: You know, being on a witness stand, I feel obligated to say that I don‘t recall specifically saying those words. But it was that, you know, New Orleans is flooding. It‘s the worst-case scenario.
LIEBERMAN: Right. And...
BROWN: And I knew that the logistics system in FEMA was broken, and that we couldn‘t do some of those things. I knew that and was desperately trying to fix it. All I can tell you, and all I can tell the country, is that those nights I would sit in my room crying sometimes, screaming, arguing, because I was as frustrated as the country.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Let‘s call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe, who does a heck of a job for us at all times.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: Thank
OLBERMANN: The president not asserting executive privilege before today‘s testimony, do we know if that was deliberate for some reason, or did the paperwork get lost in the mail along with all the contacts between FEMA and the White House right around the Katrina hurricane hit time?
WOLFFE: No, I think you can assume it was intentional, but it was intentional because, basically, Brownie had them over a barrel here. He had the e-mails. He was under pressure himself. He made it pretty clear he was going to talk no matter what they said.
And, you know, there—he is the classic disgruntled former employee here. He was fired, so he has every reason to go talk. And he made it clear he was going to do that.
OLBERMANN: Self-serving as his answers may have been at points, and they have been that way consistently since the time of the hurricane, was there merit to these answers today? These e-mails to the White House, to Homeland Security, appear in many respects very damning in both directions.
WOLFFE: Yes, absolutely. You know, and this is the incredible turn of events today, is that you start feeling sympathy for Brownie, but also his credibility, I think, was improved today, because he made it clear that he had direct communication with the White House, specifically Joe Hagen, Joe Hagen, deputy chief of staff. He was the senior guy. Andy Card, the real chief of staff, was actually on vacation in Maine. He was the point guy for the president.
And so these communications were going back and forth. As for the e-mail side of it, well, you know, the—he clearly did a good job of saying his own boss at DHS, specifically Chertoff, who will be coming up next week, was also in the loop. So the previous story was falling apart.
OLBERMANN: Senator Coleman‘s grilling of former secretary Brown, it sounded great, it sounded at points bipartisan. But was he buying into Brown‘s finger-pointing? Was he deflecting criticism away from the White House? What was that all about?
WOLFFE: Well, clearly, nobody has been listening to Scott McClellan, our philosopher, of course, who said that people shouldn‘t play the blame game, because Norm Coleman was playing the game blame—bane—blame game even—I can‘t even say it now—back at Brownie.
Look, Brown was doing a great job of saying other people were to blame. Coleman was putting in some balance there, obviously trying to undermine his own credibility.
You know, the “tweaking” thing is interesting here, because it was taken out of context. He was made to look stupid and belittled out of that. And, frankly, Brown has a decent response there. He was doing a lot of other stuff that wasn‘t captured in the e-mail.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Brown also asserted today that preparations for natural disasters have become, to quote him, “the stepchild within the Department of Homeland Security under terrorism.”
A close reading of the 2007 budget seems to bear that out. Within that section of the Homeland Security funding analysis, it says—what you‘re reading here on the screen. “Response to natural disasters, including catastrophic natural events such as Hurricane Katrina, does not fall within the definition of a homeland security activity.”
The question, obviously, Richard, why was FEMA folded into Homeland Security in the first place? How could the White House possibly refute any congressional effort now to remove it from Homeland Security, especially in the wake of what happened in New Orleans?
WOLFFE: Well, as a matter of politics, it can do it, because, frankly, Department of Homeland Security was foisted onto the White House. They didn‘t really want to do it anyway. And it‘s a creature of Congress.
So they can throw it back to Congress and say, Well, you helped make this mess, and you can‘t just undo it like this. You have to allow it to bed down.
You know, the bigger problem is that terrorism, you know, has sucked up all the oxygen inside the administration, and these natural disasters are a problem.
OLBERMANN: “Newsweek”‘s Richard Wolffe, as always, sir, great thanks, and great weekend to you.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: Here, the day‘s political news breaks off into two directions.
There‘s another scandal. President Bush may not remember Jack Abramoff, but Mr. Abramoff seems to remember him, and remember an invitation he offered to come see the Crawford ranch. That mess presently.
First, the other branch, FEMA‘s failures were by no means limited to those first few days after Katrina roared ashore. A damning new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office revealing that millions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted because of fraud, in large part because nobody at FEMA ever bothered to verify the identity of alleged victims.
An exclusive report tonight from our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers.
LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Even given the scope of this disaster and FEMA‘s need to get money to victims fast, experts say this report is damning. The Government Accountability Office found significant fraud and abuse.
Investigators studied more than 200 cases, and say in 70 percent of them, aid recipients gave bogus Social Security numbers, numbers which belonged to dead people, to someone else, or to no one at all. And when investigators checked out addresses given in these cases, about 40 percent were bogus, vacant lots or nonexistent apartments.
JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER FEMA REGIONAL DIRECTOR: What surprises me is the scope of the fraud, the magnitude of the fraud.
MYERS (on camera): The report says FEMA did nothing to verify the identity or address of hundreds of thousands of aid recipients. One individual managed to collect 18 emergency payments of $2,000 using the same name, 18 different Social Security numbers, and 12 bogus addresses.
COLLINS: What this tells me is that FEMA has no controls, and that millions of dollars are being wasted.
MYERS (voice-over): GAO also found that FEMA was in such disarray that almost half of those who received a $2,000 debit card got paid a second time.
None of this shocks evacuee Florence Lee Jackson. She fought for months to get the aid she deserved, but says she heard others talk of how easy it was to game the system.
FLORENCE LEE JACKSON, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: But if you had a name, a address, and a Social Security number, you got money. I call it free money.
MYERS: Investigators also found that some money was not exactly spent for essentials, but at a massage parlor, a casino, and at Condoms to Go.
Tonight, FEMA defended its performance, saying this was an emergency, many evacuees didn‘t have proper identification, and anyone who defrauded taxpayers will be prosecuted.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: Condoms to Go.
If FEMA seems to have not have known jack, the same may not be true for the president. An e-mail from Jack Abramoff about their dozen meetings, and the theory as to why Mr. Bush does not remember them.
And will any sports fan forget that Wayne Gretsky‘s last word about the gambling scandal that has touched his wife, his assistant coach, and his agent of 21 years amounted to, Everything‘s great. I‘ll be in Italy if you need me. Janet? Janet who?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Presidential memories are often prodigious things. Legendary is Richard Nixon, who, while still vice president, greeted the 1959 baseball team American League champion Chicago White Sox, recognizing 24 out of the 25 players by face alone.
When he came to the 25th and didn‘t know him, he said, You must be Joe Stanka (ph). Joe Stanka, a minor league pitcher just promoted from Sacramento who would appear in exactly two big-league ball games in his life, said, Yes, Mr. Vice President, I must be Joe Stanka.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the way disgraced D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff tells it, George W. Bush‘s memory may rival Nixon‘s.
The question is, who‘s the Stanka? At his press conference on January 26 of this year, the president said he does not know Abramoff, doesn‘t remember having had his picture taken with him. But in a series of e-mails to the national editor of “Washingtonian” magazine, Kim Eisler, Jack Abramoff says now they met nearly a dozen times, and not just at holiday party photo-ops.
In fact, Abramoff asserts he was even invited to the president‘s ranch in Texas. That would have been in August 2003. But he could not attend because he would have to travel on the Sabbath.
He questions the president‘s assertion that he doesn‘t remember meeting him at all, quoting, “He has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met. It was one if his trademarks, though of course he can‘t recall that he has a great memory. The guy saw me in almost a dozen settings, and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids. Perhaps he has forgotten everything. Who knows.”
Who knows, indeed. Perhaps MSNBC‘s David Shuster does. He joins us now from Washington.
Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: So is it possible that, while Abramoff seems to remember these presidential meetings with such clarity, that Mr. Bush truly has forgotten them? I mean, every president has aides who fill them in quickly, and almost surreptitiously, with the personal details before the flesh gets pressed to make it appear as if the president remembers everybody he‘s ever met.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: No, I don‘t think it‘s possible at all. I mean, look at Jack Abramoff‘s past. He lobbied George W. Bush when Bush was governor of Texas on an education issue. He gave $100,000 to the Bush campaign in 2000. He served on the Florida recount team. He served on the Bush transition team in 2000.
He‘s a longtime friend of Grover Norquist, the president‘s closest adviser outside the White House. Abramoff is a longtime friend of Karl Rove, the president‘s closest adviser inside of the White House.
Oh, and did I mention that Jack Abramoff‘s former personal assistant, Susan Ralston, is now Karl Rove‘s personal assistant, Susan Ralston?
I mean, it defies logic to anybody who knows this story for the president to say, I don‘t know him. It‘s possible, I suppose, that the president wants to forget him. But the betting here in Washington is that on this one, Jack Abramoff is the one that‘s telling the truth.
OLBERMANN: Maybe we found the Joe Stanka.
Are we ever going to figure out just how much contact that the president had with Abramoff? Or is this always going to be the he said-he said thing?
SHUSTER: Well, this is where the White House really doesn‘t have the cards to play. As long as they keep trying to say, We‘re not going to release these photographs. I mean, remember, Jack Abramoff has these photographs. He still has them.
And while the prosecutor may be telling him, Look, don‘t put out the evidence just yet, AT a certain point, according to friend of Jack Abramoff, he may sort of get pushed over the side by saying, Look, if people are going to say that I stink or they don‘t remember me and they‘re not friends with me, that instead of just showing some of the reporters these photographs, that maybe he will then release them.
And that‘s the one thing that Republicans on Capitol Hill are terrified of, and that is, if the White House releases the photographs now, at least they can do it on their terms. If Jack Abramoff or Jack Abramoff‘s friends release these photographs, then it‘s on Jack Abramoff‘s terms, and that‘s where it could be really embarrassing.
OLBERMANN: And it could be embarrassing also because, again today, the White House press secretary, Mr. McClellan, was asked about this, particularly the Abramoff e-mail, and he basically blew it off, saying that the president‘s previous comments about not knowing Abramoff still stood.
Do you ignore questions at one‘s press secretarial peril because of that wild card of the photos?
SHUSTER: Well, I think for Scott McClellan, he‘s got a history of knowing that sometimes things that he is told is not essentially accurate. I mean, just think back on the Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, and they‘re involved in the CIA leak case.
I think this is one of these situations where Jack Abramoff knows the truth, President Bush knows the truth, and Scott McClellan is sort of caught between them, perhaps not having seen the photographs himself, and, in fact, in some conversations with reporters, including this one, it seemed to me that McClellan has not seen these photographs, so he‘s relying on what other people tell him, and maybe that provides Scott McClellan some deniability.
But that can also lead to problems if, in fact, these photographs come out later, and if, in fact, Jack Abramoff did not see President Bush at just holiday parties.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, David, let‘s take a minute and clarify something we discussed here yesterday when it came out, the Scooter Libby statement that his superiors, plural, authorized him to disclose certain classified information to reporters. Obviously he reported directly, he was the chief of staff, to the vice president. Who would the other superiors be in that plural?
SHUSTER: Well, don‘t forget that Scooter Libby was also an adviser to President Bush, and so it‘s possible that that‘s a reference to President Bush. Scooter Libby was also part of the White House Iraq Group, which was this team that was assembled to try and sell Iraq war.
The person who headed that team was the president‘s chief of staff, Andy Card. Another person involved was Karl Rove. So it‘s quite possible that when he refers to superiors, maybe he is referring to the president, but to the instructions, perhaps, from Karl Rove or others who may be speaking on behalf of the president, or perhaps others who may be speaking on behalf of other people in the White House.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC‘s David Shuster. Great thanks, David. Have a good weekend.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith. You too.
OLBERMANN: Wayne Gretzky‘s wife stands by her man. Her husband, though, doesn‘t even mention her in his public statement. Both are in the middle of hockey‘s gambling scandal. But is either in the middle of any real legal jeopardy? We‘ll ask Roger Cossack.
And you are looking live at the world‘s biggest pie. Mmm, live pie.
Ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It was on this date in 1897 that Adolph Otis, the new publisher of “The New York Times,” decided to add a little motto and sales pitch to the front page of his daily. Thus, 109 years ago this morning, was born the paper‘s slogan, “All the News That‘s Fit to Print.” Little known, however, is that Ouch‘s second choice was a still-shorter phrase that conveyed a slightly different note, three words...
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in New Bremen, Ohio, where it‘s official. This is the biggest pie ever made. It‘s a 12-foot-wide, one-ton pumpkin pie actually baked last October. But the Guinness Book folks have just today given it the nod. For those unfamiliar with the judging process, apparently one guy from Guinness has to eat the whole thing. Took him four months. And today he announced, Yes, biggest pie ever.
To Erie, Pennsylvania. TV crews have for some reason pointed their cameras up at the old smokestack at the old Kohler (ph) Brewery, and constructed by laborers in the 1800s, it stood as a monument to the great bricklayers of Erie for more than a century, and -- Never mind. Twenty pounds of explosives brought the 155-foot- tall chimney crashing down. A healthcare center will be built in its place. Please join Oddball in the year 2166 for the demolition of the chimney from that joint.
Finally, to Miami, where one Brazilian artist has taken to the skies to create his latest masterpiece. Actually he‘s taken to the ground. The pilot took to the skies. The artist, Vic Munoz (ph), has—all he has is a radio and a dream, a dream to create, well, clouds, I guess. That one looks like a sandwich or something.
It‘s a one-day exhibit. The shapes then blew away, and then the pilot was escorted by police jets to a local airstrip on suspicion of distributing white powder all around south Florida. I made the last part up.
All the news that‘s fit to print, and much that wasn‘t fit to say, let alone print. Did the mayor of L.A. really talk about protecting our asses? We‘ll see if he‘s been inducted into COUNTDOWN‘s Political Bloopers Hall of Fame.
And blooper or serious trouble as the hockey gambling scandal continues. Are there potential legal pitfalls for Wayne Gretzky?
Those stories ahead.
But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Amber Efe, a dancer and instructor now teaching a course in New York‘s Times Square for women who want to learn how walk fast and forcefully wearing six-inch-tall stiletto high heels. The price, $20 for women. For men who just want to watch, $747.
Number two, Jesus Christ. His historical existence or nonexistence will not be decided by an Italian court. Luigi Cascioli had sued a local priest there, claiming that the unsupported contention that Christ really lived was a violation of several Italian laws. Today, another judge threw the case out.
And number one, Matthew Ray Mullins of (INAUDIBLE), Florida, pulled over while driving because of a missing taillight. Police smelled marijuana in the car. They searched it. They found a bag. They still smelled something, whereupon Mr. Mullins stated he also had a marijuana pipe hidden, according to the police report, wedged between his buttocks.
Talk about getting stoned out of your ass!
OLBERMANN: His beloved wife is accused of illegally betting up to $80,000.00 a week on football games and if she does not have a legal problem, it would seem she may have an addictive one. His assistant coach is charged with running the bookmaking operation through which she and others wagered as much as $1.7 million in just 39 days. Yet he‘s leaving the country. Our third story on the “Countdown”, Janet, Janet who? In a moment, the legal jeopardy, if any, for Wayne Gretzky and his wife Janet Jones as analyzed by attorney and commentary Roger Cossack.
First, the latest, hours after his wife issued a statement insisting she had never placed a bet on her husband‘s behalf; Wayne Gretzky spoke to the media and never even mentioned his wife. Only that everything was great and he was off to Italy to run the Canadian Olympic hockey team. First the spokesman for Mrs. The Great One had confirmed that Janet Jones Gretzky might be called before the grand jury in New Jersey‘s investigation of the sports wagering ring, insisted there has been no allegation that she violated any law and released these comments from her.
“At no time did I ever place a wager on my husband‘s behalf, other than the occasional horse race. My husband does not bet on any sports.” Then after his Phoenix Coyotes lost a five to one decision to Dallas, a bleary-eyed Gretzky said very little to reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLILP)
GRETZKY: First and foremost I‘m not going any where. I‘m still going to coach the Phoenix Coyotes. I have done nothing wrong or nothing that has to do with any sort of on the lines of betting. That‘s just never happened. I‘m going to Italy on Sunday, I‘m going to be with Team Canada, and be part of the Olympic games. And, thirdly, lastly, I‘ll say it one more time as I said the other night, I didn‘t bet, didn‘t happen. It‘s not going to happen, hasn‘t happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I‘m fortunate now to be able to call upon ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack. Good evening, Roger.
ROGER COSSACK, ESPN LEGAL ANALYST: Hi, Keith, how are you?
OLBERMANN: Anytime you hear a statement that is so thoroughly unblemished by facts or actual information you assume that the speaker is protecting somebody. Was Wayne Gretzky protecting himself there or his wife?
COSSACK: Well, I think the answer is probably both. The allegations are that it was Janet Jones Gretzky who was the better. And I suppose if you want to say that, you know who‘s the member of a conspiracy, the better is a member of a conspiracy, a gambling conspiracy, because without the better you don‘t have one. There‘s no allegations that Gretzky is a better or was a better, but I think the interesting part is it‘s clearly how they parsed these conversations with Gretzky saying, I didn‘t do anything and his wife saying, he didn‘t do anything, but not mentioning herself.
OLBERMANN: What his wife said, did she put herself at some legal risk in order to protect him? I mean in saying at no time did I ever place a wager on my husband‘s behalf, is she not implying to some degree or another, yeah I did place wagers that were not on my husband‘s behalf?
COSSACK: You know, Keith, there is a -- in law school in evidence here you‘re taught the theory of the negative pregnant. And the negative pregnant would be just like that. He didn‘t do anything, and then you leave it alone, but the implication is clearly that I might have. Instead of saying he didn‘t do anything and I didn‘t do anything. I think that it was good legal advice, because you know what, probably the allegations are that she was a better. I haven‘t heard any denials that she was a better and what she came out and said was, look, he‘s clean, I don‘t want to talk about me.
OLBERMANN: Then we come to the issue of whether or not he really is clean, if he has, Wayne Gretzky has any legal vulnerability here. There are reportedly these wiretaps in which he talks to his assistant coach Rick Tocchet who is the alleged head of this gambling ring and the topics are supposed to be, how do we protect ourselves if this gets out, how do we protect Janet if this gets out? Last night we had Barry Melrose on this program, he was Gretzky‘s coach in L.A., he‘s an ESPN hockey analyst, and he spoke to Gretzky yesterday. Listen to this, Roger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARRY MELROSE, ESPN HOCKEY ANALYST: All I want to know from Gretz is, is he involved? He told me today he wasn‘t, he said the only thing he‘s guilty of, Keith, is he was trying to protect his wife. And 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So, Roger, does Gretzky‘s possible legal jeopardy, does it come down to that fine line between saying, what can we do to protect Janet and ourselves if this comes out, and saying, don‘t talk about Janet?
COSSACK: Well, that‘s really the question. I can also tell you that our good buddy Barry Melrose is probably going to end up a witness in the grand jury because of what he just said on your show last night, but having put that aside for just a second, that‘s really the question. Did he say, oh my goodness, I hope that Janet‘s name and my name doesn‘t come out of this thing, it would really be embarrassing to me. Or did he say, listen, you may get called as a witness, you may get called as a grand juror witness, or you may get interviewed, don‘t mention our name. That‘s obstruction of justice.
The other one, well who wouldn‘t say, gee, you know this is embarrassing, I hope our name doesn‘t come up. That I don‘t think is, somewhere in between is usually what it come down on. But I can tell you that poor Mr. Melrose, probably because of his conversation with Gretzky, is going to get called in and asked what exactly Gretzky told him.
OLBERMANN: Oh, great. Last point, lost somewhere in all this, illegal gambling on sports not usually prosecuted, they only went after Pete Rose because he didn‘t report his winnings on his taxes. But it still is illegal everywhere except Nevada and this is an investigation into an illegal gambling ring. Is it possible that a big ticket gambler, and if you bet half a million in 39 days, that‘s big ticket. Is it possible somebody could get prosecuted like Janet Jones just for the wager?
COSSACK: You know, it‘s possible, but if you look historically at gambling enterprises, the better is usually never prosecuted. They usually come in, they get immunity to testify before the grand jury, they‘re really not interested in the better, they‘re more interested in the people who take the bets and make the money. You‘re right, this is a huge amount of money. But I think you hit it right on the head at the beginning. If this is true, this is a woman with a big-time gambling problem, but it would be highly unusual for her to be arrested and tried for making bets.
OLBERMANN: ESPN‘s legal analyst Roger Cossack, a pleasure to speak with you, sir. Thanks for your time and your insight.
COSSACK: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Whatever his role in the gambling mess, Wayne Gretzky is now taking it with him to the Winter Olympics in Italy where we join today‘s scandal already in progress, which would be laugh out loud funny if it did not involve the ruination of the dreams of a young American athlete.
U.S. skeleton slider Zach Lund banned from the Olympics for having used Propecia, the hair restoration drug, seriously. The skeleton, which is a scarier cousin to luge and bobsled. Lund, the world‘s number one ranked slider, and America‘s top hopeful for the gold. He has been using Propecia and was told by national and international sports federations for years that he could for his hair loss.
But it turns out Propecia is also being used as a chemical that hides or masks the use of steroids. Lund has repeatedly tested negative for those. No matter, this afternoon a court of arbitration for sport ruled that even though Lund was not trying to cheat, he had to be suspended for a year for trying to defeat his biggest rival, male pattern baldness. Lund today told us on the radio that in essence he thinks it‘s maybe just an excuse to get him out of the Olympics to let somebody else win.
And a positive test for Propecia in pro hockey showed up in a drug screen for Jose Theodore, goalie for the Montreal Canadiens. That caused the head of the hockey player‘s union to issue a statement defending the drug and defending the balding goalie. It is very clear that Jose Theodore is taking Propecia for the sole purpose of treating his hair loss.
Since Propecia is a prescription product that is banned as a masking agent, but can be approved in situations where it is prescribed for hair restoration purposes, players may apply for a therapeutic use exemption. Seriously, people are spending time and money debating this. And afterwards while the athletes may regain their hair, they will not evidently regain their eligibility.
Drug testing of a far different and a far more serious kind, communion at a church in Connecticut ends with 40 members of the congregation poisoned. And one of the political bloopers of the week, Liberty Tower, Library Tower, Scooter Libby tower, whatever. We‘ll stack that one up against the best political gaffs of all time ahead on “Countdown.”
First it was Maine and now Connecticut. Authorities looking into how church congregations wound up poisoned. And later, the mistakes and misstatements of the politicians, it is ok to cover your ass, but it‘s not ok to say that phrase in a speech. Best political bloopers ever ahead on “Countdown”.
It was in April, 2003, that the tiny farming community of New Sweden in Maine, population 621, was literally sickened by a strange and terrible crime. A parishioner at the Gustav Adolph Lutheran Church laced the congregational coffee with arsenic. One man died, 15 others fell ill and the suspected culprit eventually committed suicide.
Our number two story on the “Countdown” tonight, a second church congregation in New England has apparently also been poisoned, only this time a contaminant was in the grape juice. As correspondent Annie Rourke of our NBC affiliate “WVIT” reports, fortunately in this case nobody was seriously hurt.
ANNIE ROURKE, WVIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was supposed to just be Welch‘s Grape Juice like this bottle, brought at the local CVS in Darien. But 40 members of the Calvary Baptist Church quickly realized there was something else in there.
CAPT. FRED KOMM, DARIEN POLICE DEPARTMENT: We sent officers down there and sure enough they were in various stages of illness, burning throats, nausea, vomiting. We immediately called EMS to respond.
ROURKE: Three people were even sent to Stanford Hospital while police collected samples to send to the department of public health.
KOMM: If we can‘t specifically identify what was placed in the grape juice, but it was a foreign substance and it was something that actually, intentionally placed in there, so we have a criminal act at this point.
ROURKE: But we‘re told they do not believe that it was a mistake made at the Welch‘s company or at the CVS, who pulled all of their bottles off the shelves Monday just for safety‘s sake. The only tainted juice was the one found here, so this was no random act.
KOMM: Very unusual, we‘ve never encountered that here in Darien. According to the state department of health, there‘s been no other cases in the state.
ROURKE: But it is a close knit Baptist community with only 40 people in attendance and it is entirely unimaginable to the pastor that this might have been one of his own.
PASTOR TONY GIBSON, CALVARY BAPTIST CHURCH: I know everybody in the church. You know, I mean, we are all personally associated with one another. No one within our congregation would do that.
ROURKE: Now everyone involved has recovered, there were no life-threatening injuries, but of course the question now is, why would someone do this? Live in Darien, I‘m Annie Rourke, NBC News.
OLBERMANN: 130 miles to the northeast, the Boston suburb of Hopkinton still reeling from the murders of Rachel Entwistle and her nine month old daughter Lilly. A third member of the family, Neil Entwistle did not attend the funeral of his wife and daughter, he will return though, for his own trial. At a court in London today, Entwistle agreed to voluntarily waive extradition to the U.S. His lawyer says he is not guilty of killing them. He had returned to his home, found them murdered, in his grief he tried to kill himself, when he could not do that, he fled to his native England.
Much brighter family news leading off our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment stuff, “Keeping Tabs”, but looking at it from another angle. Some of our colleagues at ABC News are wondering if and when they‘ll ever see their network‘s choices to succeed the late Peter Jennings, actually co-anchoring “World News Tonight.”
Thirteen days after Bob Woodruff was seriously injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, ABC has announced that co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas is expecting her second child. Since Woodruff‘s injury she has been co-anchoring with Diane Sawyer or Charles Gibson. Now ABC will have to get a substitute for her during her maternity leave beginning late in the summer. To the surprise of many at ABC, Vargas and Woodruff were appointed to share the post instead of Gibson on December 5.
Whether or not satellite radio is the future for listeners it sure is heck is the present for some star broadcasters. First, half a billion plus for Howard Stern, now $55 million for 15 minutes of Oprah Winfrey. They will not be radio teammates, Stern got his money from Sirius Radio, Oprah go, or will get hers from its rival XM. She may be getting a higher hourly rate even than Stern. While the 24 hour a day “Oprah & Friends” channel will debut in September, she‘s only scheduled to appear once a week as the co-host of a half-hour show with the luckiest best friend in broadcasting, Gale King. Don‘t go working yourself to death, O. And don‘t let all that extra money throw you off balance either.
Time to compare the biggest political bloopers of all time to a few of those from this week, that‘s ahead. But first on the “Countdown‘s” list of today‘s nominees for “Worst Person in the World. The bronze, Kimberly Wynn Dasilva of Boston. FBI says the former strip club waitress believed herself mistreated by men, so she took some condoms, made them into potential mini bombs by filling them with drain cleaner and gasoline. She then mailed them to strip clubs and to a Boston TV station. Now I used to work for a Boston TV station, so although I would never condone exploding condom mailing, I believe I understand it.
Our runner-up tonight, Renee Cipriano. Six months ago she was the director of the Illinois EPA, fighting to tighten mercury pollution regulations for the state‘s utilities. Today she is a lobbyist for Ameren, owners of a bunch of Illinois power companies fighting to loosen mercury pollution regulations for the state‘s utilities. It‘s good to be flexible.
But tonight‘s winner is Mario Edney, municipal bus driver in the city of Philadelphia. Ralph Crandon he is not. Authorities say when a passenger complained Edney had bypassed her stop, he grabbed her, knocked her head into that pole next to the driver‘s seat, opened his front door and threw her out to the pavement. It does say you‘re not supposed to talk to the driver. Mario Edney, courteous, professional, willing to throw you under his own bus, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
It‘s not clear if the president was aware of the flap that ensued after he misidentified the name of the LA building he believes his government stopped terrorists from blowing up. Not even clear if he did know that his reaction would not be along the lines of “Liberty Tower, Library Tower, what the hell‘s the difference, nobody blew it up, right?” Still our number one story on the “Countdown” tonight it goes into the pile, somewhere near Adlai Stevenson saying circumcised, when he meant to say circumscribed. Somewhere next to the many mispronunciations of the name Schiavo, somewhere in the political blooper hall of fame.
We start with the latest inductee, the president yesterday.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe the intended target was Liberty Tower in Los Angeles, California.
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OLBERMANN: What‘s the diff? It‘s the U.S. Bank Tower now anyway. At least the mayor of Los Angeles though knew the correct previous name of his city‘s tallest building, even though it seems he wants greater coverage than just the protection of the library tower.
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MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, (D) LOS ANGELES: Engaged in every effort within our due diligence to protect our assets, to protect the Library Tower. There‘s no imminent threat to Los Angeles as we speak.
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OLBERMANN: Yes, if you listen to it off handedly, it sounds like his owner said, well you know what it sounded like he said. Give it a couple of replays though and you‘ll agree, he just said protect our assets, only with the soft “t”, typical of many native Angelinos. Although if Michael Brown was truthful in his testimony today, clearly the Department of Homeland Security has a budget for assets protection. So the president goes in, the mayor does not. The February 2006 induction‘s to “Countdown‘s” political blooper hall of fame.
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RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, I‘m pleased to tell you today that I have signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
(music playing): Let the eagle soar like she‘s never soared before.
From the rocky coast, to golden shore, let the mighty eagle soar.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Those close to Reagan say he genuinely likes Bush and appreciates his loyalty. Bush sometimes gets carried away expounding on his relationship with the president.
GEORGE BUSH, SR., FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We‘ve had triumphs, we made some mistakes, we‘ve had some sex—setbacks. Sometimes I feel like the—sometimes I felt like the javelin competitor, who won the coin toss and elected to receive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did Senator Obama do that Senator Kerry and other Democrats not do?
SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Why don‘t we just ask Osama bin Laden—ask Osama Obama—Obama what the—since he won by such a big amount. Seriously, Senator Obama is really unique and special. I don‘t know him terribly well.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Kennedy at the height of his popularity praised the Berliners gathered at city hall for standing up for the communists, words which still ring today.
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As a free man, I take pride in the words, (translation) “I am a jelly donut.”
HOWARD DEAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin, we‘re going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico. We‘re going to California and Texas and New York and we‘re going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we‘re going to Washington, D.C. to take back The White House. Yeaaagh!!
TERESA HEINZ KERRY: You said something I didn‘t say, now shove it.
BUSH: We had a discussion with our key members of the defense team about a variety of subjects. We talked about Iraq. We‘re making progress on the ground, we .
LYNDON B. JOHNSON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now another thing, the crotch, down where your (bleep) hang, is always a little too tight, because they cut me. See if you can‘t leave me about an inch from where the zipper (belch) ends. right under my. back to my (bleep).
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Bush returns to the issues debate after an embarrassing moment on the stomp Monday in front of an open microphone.
GEORGE W. BUSH: There‘s Adam Claymer, the major (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from the New York Times.
UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: We are continuing to monitor developments in Tokyo where this morning the president was taken ill. And there as you can see, he collapsed while seated at the banquet table.
DAN QUAYLE: Spell that again. Add one little bit on the end. There you go!
GEORGE W. BUSH: We have issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB-GYN‘s are not able to practice their love with women all across this country.
There is an old saying in Tennessee, I know it‘s in Texas, probably Tennessee that says, “fool me once, shame-on—shame on you? Fool me, can‘t get fooled again.”
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OLBERMANN: That‘s “Countdown” for this the 1016th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq. A reminder to join us again at midnight eastern, 11:00 PM central, 9:00 pacific, for the late edition of “Countdown”. Until then, a special presentation of “Lockup Inside Louisiana” is next. I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight, and good luck.
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