updated 2/24/2006 10:13:30 AM ET 2006-02-24T15:13:30

Guest: Dana Milbank, Michael Weisskopf, Micahel Sangiacomo

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

Dubai debate dilemma delayed.  Karl Rove says control of the six key U.S. ports does not have to pass immediately to the controversial company owned by the United Arab Emirates.

What did Patrick Fitzgerald know, and when did he know it?  Lots, and quickly, say the lawyers for Scooter Libby.  Their latest filing that the special prosecutor knew within months of his appointment who leaked Valerie Plame's name.  They want the indictment of Libby thrown out.

Hope in Iraq thrown out, for the moment at least.  Well over 100 killed today in sectarian violence.  Is it now civil war?  Is it now everything Mr. Bush's critics warned him it could become?

Also, the Supreme Court test will come from South Dakota, that state bans abortions.

The great ATM Robbery, $70 million stolen.  There has been an arrest.

And the new option as you debate whether to heat your home with oil or gas.  How about heating it with dogdoo?  At least we're admitting it when the news is full of crap.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Definition of terms, first.  Rove is the presidential brain, not what freelance longshoreman do when go from port to port seeking work.  Delay does not mean the former majority leader in the House, but rather breathing space, and Dubai is the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and not the other word in the Beatles song, “You Say Goodbye and I Say Hello.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the headline to which these terms apply, Karl Rove saying President Bush would accept a delay in the Dubai Ports World deal.  The first crack in the president's wall in the ports management crisis broke late this afternoon.  Karl Rove in a radio interview was asked whether the president would be OK with a slight delay in the transfer.  He said yes, then he qualified it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, SENIOR BUSH AIDE:  Look, there are some hurdles, regulatory hurdles that they, this still needs to go through on the British side as well, that are going to be concluded next week.  There's no requirement that it close, you know, immediately after that.

But our interest is in making certain that members of Congress have full information about it, and that, we're convinced, will give them a level of comfort with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president made no mention of possibly backing down, or stalling, merely reiterating his hope that more knowledge would make the whole problem go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   More people learn about the transaction that has been scrutinized and approved by my government, the more they'll be comforted that our ports will be secure.

Port security in the United States will be run by Customs, U.S.  Customs, and the United States Coast Guard.  The management of some ports, which heretofore has been managed by a foreign company, will be managed by another company from a foreign land.

And so I, people don't need to worry about security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Capitol Hill, though, not letting his government off the hook, the Senate Armed Services Committee today holding its first hearing into the deal.  It quizzed officials on the links between the United Arab Emirates and pre-9/11 terror, and asked why even senior administration officials, including the president, had not been alerted to the Dubai deal, Senator Carl Levin going so far as to ask if the administration ignored the law on extending an investigation into the transaction, Levin questioning whether anyone who reviewed the deal was worried about national security, to which the deputy secretary of the Treasury pointed out...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT KIMMITT, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY:  This is not a political point, because I don't think we do the country a justice when we politicize national security.  And I'm not saying that you're intending to, but in the last five years of the previous Democratic administration, there were 21 foreign-government-owned cases, not one went to investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, that's pre-9/11 thinking.

Away from the Capitol, the drumbeat for a delay or an investigation into the port deal continued unabated, Senator Bill Frist, at home in Nashville, Tennessee, sounding like anything but an ally to Mr. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  The American people today are vulnerable.  Since 9/11, they still feel vulnerable today, and I think for good reason.  It is absolutely incumbent upon us, who represent Tennesseans and people around this great nation, that we do everything possible to ensure their safety, their security.

And I think we have a long way to go in terms of our ports.  And that is why I have requested to the president to put a pause, to postpone a consummation of the deal because of this feeling of vulnerability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Though Senator Frist's voting record suggests he has not always felt so strongly about this vulnerability, and neither has his fellow concerned Republican, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.  Over the past three years, each of them voted against three measures that would have, among other things, increased funding for port security.  They also voted in favor of tabling three other motions that included appropriations for port security.

Day seven of this political catfight, let's call in Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Dubai, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Explain Karl Rove hinting at a delay, if not a stall, on conservative radio, while the president keeps playing the veto card.  Is it good cop, bad cop?

MILBANK:  Yes.  Well, there's two issues going on here.  One is, he is reaching out, potentially, to solve one problem.  And that is this immediate issue of the United Arab Emirates company.

But the Democrats see a winning political issue here, and they're determined to press it.  Hillary Clinton today was saying she wants to introduce legislation that would ban any state-owned company from anywhere operating a port in the United States.

So that will give this issue, conceivably, much more room, put Republicans in the position of having to vote for or against that, the president in the position of having to veto that.  So they think they can keep this going a good while after this particular issue.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, they—this could turn the political gravity off for quite a while in many areas.

This comment from the deputy Treasury secretary, Mr. Kimmitt, pointing out that 21 other foreign-government-owned cases never got reviewed under the Clinton administration.  It seems relevant, but the critics, both the Democrats and the Republicans alike, could, as I just did, come back at him with the literal truth here, that that's pre-9/11 thinking, right?

MILBANK:  Well, that's exactly what Hillary Clinton was doing in this hearing today.  I was up there on the Hill.  Senator Warner was trying to have the—a sensible hearing.  It took on this awkward sort of thing when you had Teddy Kennedy calling Bush soft on terrorism, you had officials from the Pentagon saying, We need to be kind to our allies.

But there's no question that this has a lot of extended legs for the Democrats.

OLBERMANN:  And certainly something that happened last night, did that, or at least was reported last night, adds to that.  The Associated Press had this story that the administration essentially made a secret deal with this company, with Dubai Ports World, the company would agree to give up records on demand about foreign operational direction of its business at the U.S. ports.

Does that not imply that the government has, or at least the administration has, security concerns pertaining particularly to this deal?

MILBANK:  Well, it does.  And see, here's the issue is, it was

mandatory for the administration to have a 45-day review if this

transaction could affect national security.  So by putting in all these

special provisions, they have tacitly acknowledged that it could, and there

·         but yet did not have the 45-day review.

So that gets them into some legal trouble.  And even Senator Warner today was saying, Well, I have my doubts.  It seems to be—it looks, at least, as if the administration was in this case circumventing or avoiding the law.

They say, yes, the Clinton administration did this too.  The fact of the matter is, 25 of these cases since the law started in 1992 have gone to the 45-day period.  So they're going to find out why others have, and why this one didn't.

OLBERMANN:  The possible ramifications, say, for Senators Frist and Santorum, I sort of outlined those.  They're (INAUDIBLE).  Is there a silver lining in here for Republicans, because the Dubai deal might give them, some of them, a chance to distance themselves, to whatever degree they want to, from the president, relating to the fall elections, without looking like they are soft on terror?

MILBANK:  It couldn't be much a silver lining, just because people tend to blame the Republicans for whatever they're going to blame the administration for in the first case.

What you really have going on here is a case of rough justice.  The facts of the case are somewhat murky, the administration can make a very good case.  But just as the president four years ago was saying that people who didn't agree with him on the Department of Homeland Security didn't care about the security of the American people, the Democrats can go out with this kind of line now.  And, in fact, Clinton today was saying that—accusing the administration of having the pre-9/11 mindset.

So they're—they see this as a rough justice, a way of getting even for some cheap shots that were taken at them in the past.

OLBERMANN:  It is an extraordinary role reversal on all sides.

“The Washington Post”'s Dana Milbank.  As always, sir, great thanks for joining us tonight.

MILBANK:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Only something as emotionally charged as the port security issue could have buried this breaking news from the CIA leak investigation, an extraordinary move by Scooter Libby's lawyers to get the case thrown out, the defense now asking the judge to dismiss this case in its entirety, contending that Patrick Fitzgerald was illegally appointed as a special prosecutor.

According to court filings this afternoon, Mr. Libby's lawyers say that because Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed by the Justice Department and not by the president with consent of the Senate, his role is actually unconstitutional.

They also are contending that Fitzgerald knew who disclosed Valerie Plame's name and covert status to the columnist Robert Novak within two months of beginning his investigation, and thus, say Libby's lawyers, Fitzgerald should have ended his inquiry there instead of pursuing other charges against their client.

They're also contending, quote, “Charges against Libby for any unlawful disclosure were off the table for lack of evidence long ago.”

MSNBC's David Shuster has kept his hawklike gaze on this story since it began.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The whole investigation is illegal.  Is there any weight to that?

SHUSTER:  No.  I mean, defense lawyers will acknowledge that a motion to dismiss is a long shot, and it's probably even more of a long shot as Scooter Libby's relying on the idea that a judge might find that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald somehow not lawfully appointed.

I mean, this is settled law.  This goes back to Nixon versus the United States, U.S. vs. Nixon, when the Supreme Court noted that the attorney general has been given power by Congress to litigate on behalf of the United States, that the attorney general has the power to appoint subordinates, including special counsels, and that the executive branch is bound by special counsels.

The other thing that's worth pointing out is, in the filing today, Scooter Libby's lawyers told the judge that the judge may have to request that the Justice Department turn over a secret letter that the acting attorney general wrote to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

The problem is that the letter is actually not secret.  In fact, we found it right here off of the Justice Department Web site.  We printed it out.  It's right there for everybody to see.  And as a result, this probably proves that perhaps Scooter Libby's team is much more successful raising money for him off of the Internet than actually using the Internet to find information that's already in the public domain.

OLBERMANN:  We can't find this any --  Oh, here it is.

The revelation that Fitzgerald knew who disclosed Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak two months into his probe, obviously that's the—

(INAUDIBLE) if there is a salacious quality to it, that's the salacious headline.  But if that's the case, why do the rest of us still not know exactly who was the leaker?

SHUSTER:  Well, we know part of what Novak has testified to, and that the indictment against Scooter Libby said that Scooter Libby spoke with official A, and official A revealed that he had talked to Robert Novak about Valerie Plame/Valerie Wilson.  And we know from Karl Rove's lawyers that, in fact, Karl Rove is official A.  But Novak has said there was a second source.  In an early column, Novak describes as “no partisan gunslinger.”  And so the mystery has remained about the second source, in part because some of the grand jury transcripts, some of the information about Bob Novak's interviews with the FBI, that remains under seal, that at a certain point, we will find out who this second source presumably was.

OLBERMANN:  So Libby's side says Fitzgerald knows who the second source was.  Does anybody else say he knows that?  What does Fitzgerald say about that?

SHUSTER:  Well, Fitzgerald's team says it's largely irrelevant.  I mean, the point is that it doesn't really matter who was talking to Bob Novak.  This is not about who was talking to Bob Novak and when.  Certain information was learned early on in the investigation.  Fitzgerald is saying, Look, I didn't have any idea that Scooter Libby was involved in leaking this information until we got the journalists, other journalists, to testify.

And so that's why Patrick Fitzgerald is saying, This case must go forward.  And again, the case is not about who Robert Novak was talking to, it's about whether Scooter Libby testified truthfully to the grand jury and to the FBI when he said that he learned information from reporters, not that reporters learned information from him.

OLBERMANN:  You mention the journalists, the defense also contending now that Fitzgerald should never involved journalists in this case because, let me quote this, “There is a public interest in avoiding confrontations between the government and the press.”

Now, are they referring to this country, or some other country?

SHUSTER:  Yes, Keith, that's why tomorrow's hearing is going to be so much fun for all of us who get to cover this, because it'll literally take seconds for the judge  to dismiss on these motions that have been filed.  And I suppose that Scooter Libby was really concerned about avoiding confrontations between reporters and the government maybe last week, when Vice President Cheney had shot somebody in the face and didn't want to tell the national media about it for a few days.  Maybe Scooter Libby could have stepped in and said, You know, let's avoid this little confrontation.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE), I mean, there's nobody in any place on the political spectrum who would say that we've been trying to avoid confrontations between the media and the government for these last umpteen years.

MSNBC's David Shuster, have fun at the hearing.  Many thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith, appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, South Dakota passes a law banning virtually all abortions.  Is the clock officially running to get Roe v. Wade back in front of this Supreme Court?  Pete Williams will join us.

And after the destruction of a Shiite mosque, brutal sectarian violence erupts in Iraq.  If it is not the civil war that the president's critics warned him against, what can be done to stop it?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Tuesday, before the coloring was dry on justice Samuel Alito's new robes, the Supreme Court announced it would hear a case that could restrict late-term abortions.  That will apparently be only the opening act in the showdown both sides have anticipated ever since Roe v.  Wade was reaffirmed in 1992.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one state has now banned virtually all abortions, even those in the aftermath of incest or rape.  Do not pass go, do not collect compromise, go directly to the high court.

Lawmakers in South Dakota, voting to outlaw all abortions except where the life of the mother is at stake, they did not include any other exceptions, not even for non-life-threatening health considerations for the pregnant woman.

South Dakota then, on the verge of becoming the first state in 14 years to directly challenge Roe v. Wade.  But the measure may be enacted without ever actually becoming law.  The governor of that state, Mike Rounds, a longtime opponent of abortion, has said he will look favorably on the abortion ban, but if he signs it, the Planned Parenthood organization is expected to immediately challenge it.

The bill's final wording still to be reconciled between the South Dakota legislature's house and senate, but it includes a five-year prison term for any doctor performing an abortion where that one life-or-death bar has not been reached.

Joining me now, our NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams.

Good evening, Pete.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  We made the Monopoly analogy a little bit ago, do not pass go.  How quickly could this wind up before the court?  Or is there a scenario in which it would not wind up before the court?

WILLIAMS:  I think it would definitely wind up on the Supreme Court's doorstep, probably take a year, a year and a half.  The expectation would be that South Dakota would lose in the federal courts, because they are in theory bound by the Supreme Court's decision on abortion.  And this would obviously violate those holdings.  So I'm sure it will come to the Supreme Court.  Whether the court would take it, though, is a separate question.

OLBERMANN:  Would—to that separate question, would the South Dakota law be too draconian, too isolated to produce the kind of suit that the court would want?  Is there anything to this idea that other states would have to pass similar legislation first, so there's a grouping?

WILLIAMS:  My guess is that it doesn't really matter precisely how the South Dakota law is worded.  Whether it is less, as you say, less draconian than it is now, whether it's slightly broader, slightly narrower.  It just seems unlikely that, at this point, the U.S. Supreme Court wants to take the case, and wants to look at Roe v. Wade again.

There are some legal scholars who would say that it's unlikely for this reason, the—you know, the court obviously makes legal decisions, but it can read the newspapers too, and it would just seem perhaps to be too political for the court to reach right out as soon as the first state strikes down abortion in its state and say, Yes, we're spoiling for that fight.

So I think it's unlikely.  As to your question of whether there would have to be a critical mass of other states doing similar things, perhaps.  But it doesn't seem likely that the first one out of the box would be the one that the Supreme Court would take.  As a matter of fact, I would say it's very unlikely.

OLBERMANN:  So I, let's spin this into the future, with the same makeup of the court, and at some point, whether it's the South Dakota case or a series of them or some other state's (INAUDIBLE) important case finally coming to the court, do the—do we have a good, solid idea of the individual scouting reports here?  I mean, it's been oversimplified, hasn't it, as Alito replaces O'Connor, is Alito really a deciding vote the other way now?

WILLIAMS:  Well, let's assume that Alito is going to vote differently than Justice O'Connor did.  The court was six to three in favor of Roe v.  Wade before that change.  That still leaves it five to four in favor of Roe v. Wade.  So even if Samuel Alito and John Roberts, who replaced William Rehnquist, if they both vote the way their opponents in their hearings expect them to vote, that still leaves a majority of the court for Roe v.  Wade.

OLBERMANN:  Ultimately, for all the Sturm und Drang during the Roberts and Alito confirmation hearings, did we get anything to hang our hats on, about how they would vote on an late-term abortion case or on Roe v. Wade round three, if you will?

WILLIAMS:  If you did, then they didn't do what they intended to do, which was not answer the question about how they would vote on Roe v. Wade.  What they both sort of said is more or less along these lines.  We think Roe v. Wade is a settled—or not settled precedent, but it is entitled to respect as a precedent.  But there's no such thing as an ironclad precedent that you can't change in the future.

And that's about as far as they went.  How they would vote, I don't know.  We could be surprised.  We often are surprised.  Senator Arlen Specter often likes to point out that people thought David Souter would also vote one way, and he's turned out to vote with the supporters of Roe v. Wade.  So we don't know.  But if we assume that they vote to overturn it, that's still only five—only four votes.  It's not enough to overturn it.

OLBERMANN:  And, as you point out, the Supreme Court may surprise us in the largest way, with after all this political fight in the last year, simply refusing to involve itself in a case that's so hotly political until it cools down a little bit.

WILLIAMS:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  Our NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams, staying late with us tonight in the wake of the South Dakota legislation.  Great thanks, Pete.  Always good to talk to you.

WILLIAMS:  Yes, sir.  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, yesterday it was the mosque bombing.  Today the lid seems to have blown off in Iraq.  Was this what the president was warned against?  What do we do now?

And it is a Hollywood script come to life, armed gangs pulling off one of the biggest bank heists in history.  Two suspects are in custody, but perhaps $75 million is still missing.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You've seen the video 14 billion times.  The volatile basketball coach Bobby Knight, angered by what he thought was jaundiced refereeing during his Indiana team's loss to Purdue, throwing a plastic chair across the basketball court, just missing the Purdue player at the foul line, Steve Reed (ph).  Today's the anniversary.  It happened on February 23, 1985.

In tribute to Coach Knight's restraint and professionalism, let's play Oddball.

And we begin with another Oddball In Depth report on feline obesity.  You may remember this fat load from the other night, 33 pounds, 31-inch waistline.  There's really only one way to describe him, slim.  Especially when you meet Sam here from Atlanta, Georgia, who is perfectly circular.  At 45 pounds, Sam is so fat he has seven other cats orbiting him.

Unlike that other cat, Sam's owner says this one eats just one cup of dried catfood a day.  Of course, the one cup of catfood is big enough that the contract to operate it was just sold to the Dubai Ports World company.

To Jerusalem, where the giraffe population boom has forced officials at the Biblical Zoo to take drastic measures.  They've begun giving the animals birth control.  Apparently the giraffe abstinence initiative was a complete and utter failure.  The contraceptive is given to the females only, and it's administered how?  By dart.

But remember, you male giraffes, you're still exposing yourself to every giraffe your partner has ever giraffed with, and every giraffe each of those giraffes has giraffed, et cetera.

On the other hand, necking is still OK.

Finally, we bring you another installment in our award-winning series, Weird Stuff We Found on the Internets.  And in tonight's episode, we learn why it's so important to be aware of our surroundings when videotaping ourselves weightlifting.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mama!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To quote the great philosopher Homer J.  Simpson, It's funny 'cause I don't know him.

All right, maybe he's not a genius, nor, perhaps, is the producer who talked me into covering this story.  Dogdoo.  Is it the key to breaking our energy dependence on foreign oil?  We'll have the latest poop.

And not unlike the plot of a recent Harrison Ford film, a family kidnapped, the father forced to facilitate a $75 million robbery in England.

That story ahead but first here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number tree, Stuart Brody and Tillmann Kruger, professors of universities in England and Switzerland have completed a scientific study in sex.  It measures the release of prolactin the hormone that provides the feeling of - umm—satisfaction.  They found that four times as much of that hormone shows up after sex with a partner than after sex without one.  You know, when you're practicing.  They offered no stat on how much prolactin they got while conducting studies about prolactin.

Number two, Christopher Glenn, one of the giants of network radio news, 35 years with CBS, formerly on the Saturday morning news for the kids segment in the news most recently as anchor of the “World Tonight” and the “World News Roundup.”  He has retired as of today.

Number one, Chad Cordero, the young relief pitcher of the Washington Nationals who has put all the players who aren't playing in the upcoming World Baseball Classic to shame.  “Being able to play for the USA,” he says, “is something you never have the chance to do again.”  Cordero has asthma.  He's been using an inhaler for 19 years since he was five.  But the inhaler is a drug banned by the World Baseball Classic because it contains a steroid.  So to make sure he could still play for his country, two months ago he stopped using his inhaler.  When he has an asthma attack, he has been toughing it out.  You, sir, are a role model.

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OLBERMANN:  It was the president's first secretary of state Colin Powell who brought up the Pottery Barn rule warning the president about the real consequences of invading or unseating Saddam Hussein even if it was for the better destabilizing Iraq.  Mr. Powell told Mr.  Bush, you break it, you own it.  Our third story on COUNTDOWN, Secretary Powell was of course, mistaken, Pottery Barn has no such rule.  And now the administration and the sizable portion of the population assumed he was mistaken about the implications.

After the destruction of the Shiite Golden Mosque in Samarra yesterday there were still some doubts.  After the religious retribution today by Shia against Sunni, there are few.  Colin Powell was right.  As Mike Boettcher reports from Baghdad, tonight at best, Iraq teeters on the edge of civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BOETTCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Here lie 47 of today's dead.  Sunni and Shiite pulled off a bus and shot to death after attending a peace rally.  The most dramatic event in a chaotic period of violence in Iraq.  It came a day after attackers destroyed one of Shia Islam's holiest sidelines.  Iraq was on full alert but the death toll and tensions rose and U.S. hopes that Iraq could form a national unity sunk.

In retaliation, scores of Sunni mosques have been attacked.  One hundred eighty four by the count of one Sunni religious group.  Among those killed, Atwar Badja (ph) a popular reporter in the Arab world who worked for the satellite channel al Arabiya.  President Bush accused insurgents of trying to spark this civil war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Understand that this bombing is intended to create civil strife.  That the act was an evil act.

BOETTCHER:  Across Iraq again today tens of thousands of Shiites took to the streets.  Their religious leaders have urged restraint but attacking a holy site was just too much for many.

“They have crossed a red line,” said this protester.  “They have attacked the heart of the Shiites.”

U.S. military commanders blame the attack on the group al Qaeda in Iraq.

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ:  The insurgents' objective is to derail the democratic process and discredit the Iraqi government.

BOETTCHER:  If al Qaeda did this, its plan is working.  Iraq's Sunnis have announced they have pulled out of talks to form a government of national unity and an enraged Shiite population continues to talk of revenge.

(on camera):  The tension on Baghdad's streets is palpable.  Thursdays are normally very busy, but today fewer people ventured out.

(voice-over):  And tonight an entire nation is in virtual lockdown.  A night and day curfew was ordered and hardly a soul is on the street.  Mike Boettcher, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now senior correspondent for “Time Magazine,” Michael Weisskopf.  Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF:  You're welcome, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let me come right to the point, is it indeed civil war right now in Iraq?

WEISSKOPF:  Well, it's verging on it.  And it's one of the great nightmares our policymakers have had since the beginning of this ordeal.  One, of course, was urban warfare and that has broken out for about two years now and even the worse nightmare appears to be upon us.

OLBERMANN:  The president was quick to invoke the term insurgents.  We heard the general refer to al Qaeda in Iraq.  But its apparent from the reactions of the Sunni and Shias that they don't necessarily perceive it in those terms.  Whatever begat all this, if we try to blame this on the insurgency and see it in terms of insurgent action are we missing the big picture about how deep the religious rifts are in the country?

WEISSKOPF:  Of course, Keith, nobody has taken responsibility for this act and it may well have been Mr. Zarqawi or al Qaeda in Iraq, however, at this point what you've got are ordinary Shia, those who've shown great self control up until now in trying to hold together some form of national unity.  In the rare position for Shia in Iraq of holding control and, they're about to lose it simply by losing that self-control.

OLBERMANN:  Michael, let's come back to Colin Powell and the apocryphal Pottery Barn rule.  Did we break it?  Have we bought it?  And what do we do with it?

WEISSKOPF:  There's no question we broke it.  The moment we walked into Iraq three years ago next month we broke what was enforced stability through terror and the thinking was it took a tyrant like Saddam to hold together these disparate elements.  We haven't even heard from the Kurds at this point and they are of course a restive minority as well and have shown great self control as well.

But indeed this was a country that was held together through a tyrant and when that tyrant was gone, so did the stability.

OLBERMANN:  And what do we do having supposedly spent the last—most of the last three years trying to establish local government, trying to broker an accord between the two major, the three major religious and, if you will, ethnic groups.  What do we do at this point?

WEISSKOPF:  This, Keith, is a crossroads question for policymakers in Washington.  If American troops insert themselves in the middle of this battle we're likely to be carved up by both sides.  If we stay on the sidelines we're likely to see three years of effort go down the drain simply through this kind of sectarian violence.  It shows the fragility of those elections which were just a couple months and were heralded by those who saw a new democracy coming.

OLBERMANN:  So ultimately, Michael, at this point draw some conclusions for me.  Is this scenario basically the worst case scenario about which the president was warned before going into Iraq?  Or are we just near it?  Are we already in it?  What is our relative closeness?

WEISSKOPF:  The next 24, 48 hours are really important, particularly tomorrow.  Traditionally Fridays are the big prayer day in Muslim countries, often a place for rallying of support.  The fact that there's a daytime curfew will keep worshipers away from the mosques.  That can only help matters.  If things cool down we will have looked into the eye of the beast and maybe walked away at least for the present time.  Again, this thing could be a snowball that keeps on going.  The next 24, 48 hours will be critical.

OLBERMANN:  “Time Magazine's” Michael Weisskopf who knows Iraq very well.  Great thanks for your perspective and time tonight.

WEISSKOPF:  You're welcome, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The bold and daring crime pulled off in Great Britain.  A type of heist that is the stuff of legend.  How a massive robbery, $75 million, perhaps, went down and arrests today.

And a heist of a different color.  First James Frey, got his public flogging from Oprah Winfrey.  Now more bad news for the man who put the fiction back into nonfiction.  Details next but first here are COUNTDOWN's top three soundbites of this day.

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OLBERMANN:  On August 6, 1963 a gang of 20 men and women commandeered the mail train going from Glasgow, Scotland to London, England.  Without drawing any weapons worse than a lead pipe they managed to steal in today's money the equivalent of about $100 million.  It was the Great Train Robbery and when British authorities made their first arrest just nine days after the heist the world's breath was figuratively taken by the swiftness of the break in the case.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, yesterday another gang stole about $75 million from an ATM depot in the British county of Kent.  These people had guns but the police had surveillance cameras and within 24 hours there had been arrests in this case.

However, it's unclear how involved the police believe the man and woman they arrested are and they would be permitted to rest tonight before being interrogated in the morning.  The crime itself recounted for us now from London by our correspondent Jim Maceda.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It is the stuff the Hollywood films.  Kidnappers disguised as police abduct a cash depot manager and his family then drive the manager to one of the largest cash depots for ATM machines in Britain, tying up a staff of 15.

And hour later, a seven ton truck drives off into the night with up to 40 million pound sterling, about $70 million making the robbery Britain's biggest every cash heist.  Stunning the real police, who see an inside job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This was clearly a robbery that was planned in detail over time.

MACEDA:  And it dwarfs other infamous heists.  Like the $40 million from Northern Bank in Belfast in 2004, allegedly carried out by the IRA or the legendary Great Train Robbery of 1963 where the gang hid $4 million in bank notes for years.  But almost $70 million in bills?

JEFFREY ROBINSON, AUTHOR, “THE LAUNDRY MEN”:  They'll have a real problem hiding it and keeping it from other bad guys.

MACEDA (on camera):  But already this robbery has all the necessary ingredients to have a Blockbuster target.  A daring target.  The bad guys get way.  Insurance covers the loss and no one's physically hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (inaudible).  Unbelievable.

CHARLES SHOEBRIDGE, FORMER SCOTLAND YARD OFFICER:  I think the public and the police to some extent have a respect for a job well done.

MACEDA (voice-over):  But as British police launch a nationwide man hunt, they hope that despite its Hollywood story line, this heist will prove to be anything but the perfect crime.  Jim Maceda, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Only a cynic would suggest that the segue from a $75 million robbery to the news of the disgraced author James Frey as smooth as silk, so let's be cynical.  He's the lead to our nightly roundup of entertainment and celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.”  Frey's representatives announcing today that the remainder of his deal with Penguin Publishing has been canceled.  There are supposed to be two more books.  One can only imagine what kind of march of the penguin Oprah would have made him do after those two books.

“A Million Little Pieces” still raking in millions of big bucks. 

Sitting at number two on the “New York Times” paperback bestseller list.  His second book is in fifth place on the hard cover list.  Both are still considered nonfiction.

At least he's taking it well, not like he's punched anybody in the mouth or anything but Joe Pesci allegedly did.  Prosecutors in Palm Beach County, California, deciding not to press charges against the actor after a fan accused him of having taken a swing and connecting outside a Boca Raton Juice Bar.  Twenty-four year old Juan Carlos Montenegro claiming he originally ran into the actor outside a Circuit City, shook his hand, then went inside to purchase a camera in order to pose a shot with the “Goodfellas” star.

When Pesci said no, Montenegro took a picture anyway.  And he claims Pesci went “all downtown” on him.  Again, for the record he's not funny.  He's not a clown.  He's not here to amuse you.

As a comic observed, we picked up a dog's droppings for them.  Did we lose a war or something?  How what we pick up might help us win a war on foreign energy dependency.  First, speaking of crap, time for COUNTDOWN list of today's three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The bronze goes to H. Lee Scott Jr., chief executive of the ever-popular Wal-Mart company.  In what he thought was a secure online chat with company managers, one of them asked why the largest company in the planet cannot offer some type of medical retirement benefits.  Mr. Scott explains how costly that would be and then said the manager was disloyal and might want to look for a new job.

The runner up, Rush Limbaugh, complaining about a story that noted Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now only one woman on the Supreme Court.  He said if she didn't like it, she should resign, and then he added, quote, “besides David Souter's a girl.  Everybody knows that, what's the big deal.  And I'm talking about attitudinally here folks.”  Unquote.

But the winner.  It's two in a row for Ted Baxter.  On the “Today Show,” for God's sake, he said people who favored a quick or immediate withdraw to Iraq were, quote, “pinheads” and compared them to those who wanted to appease Adolf Hitler.  Now he says that our role in Iraq, quote, “the only solution to this is hand over everything to the Iraqis as fast as humanly possible because we can't control these crazy people,” unquote.  Bill, now you know how you're employers feel.  Bill O'Reilly, today's worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally to the top of the COUNTDOWN in this latest story which my producers are most definitely forcing me to cover to which I would like to dedicate to them and the rest of the staff.  Tonight's number one story is also about number two.  Alternative and renewable energy, the cornerstone of the president's State of the Union address.  America is addicted to oil, he said, the best way to break this addiction is through technology.

Well, if you thought the concept or the speech or even the speaker might have been full of crap, you had no idea.  Consider the city of San Francisco.  It's more than Tony Bennett's heart that was left here.  Nearly four percent of the non business garbage, refuse, waste is animal waste.  Officials there are asking Norcal Waste, the company responsible for keeping the Bay Area clean to find a way to not just recycle it, but to in fact convert it into energy.  Methane gas which can in terms heat homes and generate electricity via dog doo.

A white House insider has already given this initiative his particular seal of approval as you see right here.

Yes, we are talking about research that could someday result in somebody being able to say we are running on hybrid right there, 70 percent coal, 20 percent electric and 10 percent dog doo.  I doubt he ever envisioned being interviewed on national TV as the man heading project poop, but here we are nonetheless with Michael Sangiacomo, the president and CEO of Norcal Waste.  Thank you for your time this evening.

MICHAEL SANGIACOMO, PRESIDENT/CEO, NORCAL WASTE:  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  We have energy companies involved in this, recycling concerns, government bureaucracy and droppings all involved in story.  In all the correspondence, all the conversation, what terms do everybody use to avoid the giggling like what I'm doing now?

SANGIACOMO:  They have come up with a couple of things.  Like animal by products is the favored one.

OLBERMANN:  Excellent.  That's a good one.  How does it work, how much

·         and if it's going to be an impact, how much animal byproduct do you need?

SANGIACOMO:  This is a very early stage pilot program at this point.  We are going to run a pilot program in a couple of dog parks here in the city and try to collect some material and run it through a digester and see what we can learn from it.  We have been doing something like this with food waste for a number of years which is why there is so much—such a high percentage of dog waste in the remaining waste because a lot of the thing that is most people seem to have left have been taken out in the City of San Francisco.

OLBERMANN:  Interesting.  There are commercial dairy farms that have converted waste into power and off and on through the centuries it's been used for kind of crude heating and such, but can this work on a municipal level?  Are you expecting that kind of result that some day we will have the poop-powered metropolis?  I'm sorry for even asking the question.

SANGIACOMO:  It can certainly contribute, we think, something to that.  We have in San Francisco about 120,000 then dogs registered.  We are going to put - we are not going to go collect poop at every house, but try to put containers and biodegradable bags to pick up animal waste in the parks that are most popular for dog runs.  And run that material through fairly small digesters to learn what we can get out of it.

OLBERMANN:  As bizarre, even as gross as it might sound, we are up to

·         according to one account I read today -- 10 million-tons of dog and cat waste a year in the country.  Are we really in essence, on a serious part of this, really facing kind of a choice here, turn it into fuel or get buried under it?

SANGIACOMO:  If you think country-wide, 10,00 -tons a year and 6,500 or so tons a day.  It's not a huge amount spread around the country, but there concerns people have about bacteria that's in that material.  If we just leave it on the street, does it get in the ground water and does it contaminate thing that is shouldn't get contaminated with it.  And if there is a way to collect it in a way that's reasonable that doesn't cost whole a lot of money and turn it into something of value, it makes sense to see.

OLBERMANN:  And you mentioned food waste and animal by product and other things that might be in the ordinary trash of today.  Is it something that might make up something in the future in which we are talking about a wait up to power most of the city?  Is it powering homes or is there a utopian idea that it might be anything more than a contributory factor to the electricity or energy for a city?

SANGIACOMO:  It can help contribute a little way, but what I envision some day possibly happening is small scale digesters being put in individual homes much like we have homes with solar panels on them that help reduce the amount of outside energy that runs everything we do in our homes.

And a small scale digester could take food waste out of our kitchens and animal waste and turn it into a methane that can be converted to gas for a stove or can be used to generate electricity to do other things in the home.  I think that's certainly in the area of the possible as this kind of technology develops.

OLBERMANN:  Good luck with it.  Michael Sangiacomo, the president of Norcal Waste.

SANGIACOMO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That certainly would bring a new meaning to that familiar phrase from the power companies.  Expect brownouts.

That's COUNTDOWN, for this, the 1,029 since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I'm Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with RITA COSBY LIVE AND DIRECT.

Good evening, Rita.

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

END   

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

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