updated 3/13/2006 11:00:30 AM ET 2006-03-13T16:00:30

Guests: Mike Allen, Phil Rogers, Michael Musto

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

The beginnings of a dictatorship?  Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor actually talked about the beginnings of a dictatorship here in America?  A dictatorship, D-I-C-T-A-T-O-R-ship?  A dictatorship, did you say?  Justice O‘Connor‘s remarkable speech.

And remarkable poll numbers.  Nearly seven out of 10 of us think the country‘s headed in the wrong direction.

Dictatorship, huh?

The GOP presidential combine.  The hopeful meet the faithful in Tennessee, as the race for ‘08 begins in earnest.

Bonds, Barry Bonds, continued.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARRY BONDS:  Hey, idiot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The accused steroid user now saying he‘d like to join Team USA in the world baseball classic.

Oh, here we go, more stories my producers are forcing me to cover.  What did George Clooney have to do with Terri Hatcher‘s revelation that she was molested?  And Scientologists, angry that John Travolta will wear a dress in “Hairspray,” when they had no problem with “Look Who‘s Talking Too”?

And ever felt like it was a bear-eat-bear world, and you were wearing a baby seal helmet?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from Tampa, Florida.

Dictatorship.  Not Dick Cheney, dic-tatorship.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s one thing for us to throw around references to what seem to be details from George Orwell‘s novel “1984” springing to life, thanks to post-9/11 thinking.

It‘s quite another when the same kind of comments come from a just-retired justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at a major American institution of learning on the subject of political interference in judicial decision making, and the subject of dictatorship, or at least its earliest embryonic form, Sandra Day O‘Connor making those remarks in a speech recorded neither on video- nor publicly on audiotape at Georgetown University.

According to National Public Radio, she told the assembly there that “It takes a lot of degeneration before a country falls into dictatorship, but we should avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings.”

Wait, there‘s more.  And there‘s a name, as recapped by NPR.  O‘Connor also said, “Attacks on the judiciary by some Republican leaders pose a direct threat to our constitutional freedoms.  I am against judicial reforms driven by nakedly partisan reasoning.  We must be ever-vigilant against those who would strong-arm the judiciary into adopting their preferred policies.”

Those last remarks appear to refer specifically to the former House minority leader, Tom DeLay.  O‘Connor did not mention his name, but quoted his attacks on judges at meetings last year of Justice Sunday, the conservative Christian group to which DeLay vented after the Terri Schiavo rulings.

The retired justice pulled no punches.  She noted that interference with an independent judiciary, not unlike that attempted by Mr. DeLay and other Republicans, had allowed dictatorship to flourish in countries formerly subjected to communist rule.

Those specifics might be a little strong for the average American, but not the general point.  Sixty-seven percent of those polled by the Associated Press saying the country is on the wrong track, only 30 percent now thinking we are headed in the right direction, the man in charge of the direction and the country not faring much better in the same poll.

Sixty percent say they disapprove of the job Mr. Bush is doing, 37 percent approve, the lowest rating in the AP poll during Mr. Bush‘s presidency.  Not that such numbers bother him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You have to believe in what you‘re doing, see?  You have to believe in certain principles and beliefs.  And you can‘t let the public opinion polls and focus groups want cause you abandon what you believe and become the reason for making decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, Mike Allen, the White House correspondent for “TIME” magazine.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

MIKE ALLEN, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  Happy Friday, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The poll numbers are old news.  I don‘t think the president or his critics seem to think they‘re going to go much differently, or certainly not going to get much better, although the president seemed kind of honked off by the question there.  But what Justice O‘Connor said, surely that is as remarkable a speech as has been given, at least this year.  Where‘s the coverage?  Where‘s the outrage?

ALLEN:  Oh, Keith, I‘m so glad that you picked up on this, and I think now that you‘ve called attention to it, it‘s going to launch 1,000 op-eds, because there was very little coverage of this today.  A chief justice, any justice, as you know, chooses their words very carefully.  And Justice O‘Connor, former justice, well knew the ripples that this would cause.

And Nina Totenberg of NPR, who covered this speech and provided the only public record of it so far, said that at some points, Justice O‘Connor‘s voice was dripping with sarcasm.

And so I think what you‘re going to see here is, even people who are traditionally in the president‘s corner, and, as you know, the justice was a Republican legislator appointed by President Reagan, nominated by President Reagan, are concerned about some of the more, let‘s say—I was going to say extreme, but that—you don‘t want to say that, but some of the vociferous Republican statements.

And Nina Totenberg sort of decoded the speech, and pointed out, as you did, that the House majority—former House majority leader Tom DeLay had made some of these statements, Senator John Cornyn of Texas had made some other ones.  And Justice O‘Connor pointed out that death threats against judges have increased.  And you quoted that passage where she‘s concerned about judicial reforms driven by ideology.

And that seems to point a finger at some of the statements that the president has made.

So this is a reminder that the Republican Party, at this moment, is many parties.  And these concerns about civil liberties and freedom of expression are something that I think people running this fall, and certainly the candidates who are running in ‘08, you‘re going to get to them later in your show, are going to be asked about and are going to have to answer for.

OLBERMANN:  She might as well have accused Tom DeLay of trying to alter checks and balances in the Constitution, what she said there.  But what I‘m wondering here is, do you think—would she have discussed the political ramifications of this with anybody in advance?  Would this have been kind of a stalking horse speech for more moderate people inside the Republican Party?

ALLEN:  You know, that‘s an interesting question, Keith, that I hadn‘t thought about.  You know, when you‘re Justice O‘Connor, you can pretty well say what you want.  You don‘t need to run it by anyone.  But I think that we can assume that this reflects a certain point of view, people, maybe, who are her friends, people who are talked to.

What was interesting about this was, clearly, these were feelings that had been bottled up in Justice O‘Connor.  She waited until she got off the bench to talk about them.  These remarks had been made when she was on the bench.  And I think it‘s sort of a leading indicator, Keith, of what we‘re going to be seeing as people who are maybe now in public life, maybe people who are now in high-level positions, as they become freer to talk, may express reservations about some of what has been done.

And the judicial issue has been used very aggressively by Republicans to gin up their people.  I mean, Keith, surprisingly, when the president speaks at fundraisers, other Republican officials, it always amazes me that judges are one of the biggest applause line, because it‘s a little abstract to you and me, but going down to the county courthouse level, the appointment of judges is always very political.

And this is a way that Republicans can get things done even after they don‘t have the White House.  Or even if you‘re in a situation, as you‘re pointing out now, where the president doesn‘t (INAUDIBLE) have a lot of mojo, by having judges that they‘ve appointed that are congruent with their beliefs, they can still get parts of their agenda made into public policy.

OLBERMANN:  Wait, this might have an effect on Republicans and conservatives, Mike.  What about liberals and Democrats?  If they hear a former Supreme Court justice use, apparently use the word “dictatorship” twice in a speech talking about this country, them‘s fighting words.  What do the—the party, the loyal opposition try to do with it?

ALLEN:  Oh, Keith, I think that‘s very astute.  And that‘s why, you know, I mentioned, I think this will launch a lot of columns.  I think we have to pause here and make it clear to viewers who follow the supreme—individual Supreme Court justices somewhat elliptically, that Justice O‘Connor has been a more moderate Republican to the degree that she remained a Republican.  That‘s why people talked about her as a swing vote, that‘s why her seat was so important.

And so it‘s not as if, you know, one of the president‘s own was turning on him.  And I think that she took one of the—some of the more extreme statements and seized on them.  These weren‘t necessarily representative of views that these lawmakers gave all the time.

OLBERMANN:  The White House correspondent of “TIME” magazine, Mike Allen.  Great thanks for joining us tonight, help us work on the O‘Connor story.

ALLEN:  Happy weekend, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And to you.

In Memphis, Tennessee, meanwhile, it‘s the opening salvos of the upcoming election, not 2006, 2008, six contenders for the Republican ticket gathering there this weekend to cut their teeth on thousands of activists at the GOP‘s Southern Regional Leadership Conference.

They are Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Senator John McCain, Senator George Allen, Senator Sam Brownback, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, each making the rounds and making speeches to try to garner support for his potential candidacy, and to get, perhaps, an indicator of their chances in a straw poll tomorrow.

More on that in a moment with David Shuster on site.

First, a political ad for a Republican contender in this year‘s elections, Vernon Robinson, running for the 13th District out of North Carolina.  His commercial, up on his Web site, has now been pulled down.  It is unclear whether or not it had been put out on the airwaves.

We‘ll let it speak for itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, TV COMMERCIAL)

ANNOUNCER:   If you‘re a conservative Republican, watching the news these days can make you feel as though you are in the twilight zone.

Americans are under attack from Islamic extremists in every corner of the world.  Homosexuals are mocking holy matrimony, and the lesbians and feminists are attacking everything sacred.

Liberal judges have completely rewritten the Constitution.  You can burn the American flag and kill a million babies a year, but can‘t post the 10 Commandments or say “God” in public.  Seven out of every 10 black children are born out of wedlock, and Jackson and Sharpton claim the answer is racial quotas.

And the aliens are here, but they didn‘t come in a spaceship.  They came across our unguarded Mexican border by the millions.

VERNON ROBINSON:  I‘m Vernon Robinson.  If you send me to Congress, I‘ll send that back to the twilight zone.  I approve of this message and of traditional American values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m putting $5 down on the idea that might just be a spoof.  We‘ll find out.

Joining me now, MSNBC‘s David Shuster from the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, with many of the activists for the GOP‘s Southern Regional Leadership Conference there.

David, thanks for your time tonight.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, here we go again.  We‘ll revise the old joke about the Democratic firing squad, the one that lines up in a circle.  Justice O‘Connor‘s speech, but firstly, that ad we just saw, does it suggest we have a Republican circular firing squad?  Does it suggest a tone for the midterm elections?

SHUSTER:  Well, it certainly suggests, Keith, that, I mean, both sides, Democrats and Republicans, feel so strongly and the passions are running so high in this post-9/11 era.  I think what was going on in this case, though, you‘re looking at Vernon Robinson, who is—he is not the incumbent.  He is challenging the incumbent.  And I think what sometimes happens is that these people who are—think that they‘re worthy of running for Congress or whatever for the first time tend to cross the line.

And clearly, as you mentioned, that was taken down.

But the thing about it is that the Democratic seat is considered relatively safe, so maybe in some strange way, Vernon Robinson thought he was just sort of attempting things and trying to cross a line in order to generate some attention.  But most Republicans that we‘ve talked to say that that ad was just totally inappropriate.

OLBERMANN:  And it was a lousy Rod Sterling impression.

Talk about overshadowing a scheduled event, has there been any reaction there to this Justice O‘Connor dictatorship speech?  I mean, she might as well have called out Tom DeLay or hit him with a dueling glove or something.

SHUSTER:  Well, we talked to a couple of political advisers tonight about Justice O‘Connor, and they say, Well, nobody at this particular event is really paying that much attention, and Justice O‘Connor can say whatever she wants, but she‘s no longer on the Supreme Court, so nobody‘s going to listen to her anyway.  That was one of the choice words from one of the political advisers.

But as far as Tom DeLay is concerned, it‘s so interesting, Keith, because down in the area where you can buy the trinkets, there are some T-shirts that simply say, that have Tom DeLay‘s mug shot from when he was indicted, and it says, “Tom DeLay, Don‘t Mess with The Hammer.”

Well, we asked the person selling these T-shirts, Are people buying up the buttons and the T-shirts?  And somebody said—and the person said, No, they‘re not buying these at all, perhaps an anecdotal sign that even Republicans here in the South, the mid-South, aren‘t that happy with TOM DeLay and realize that somebody like Tom DeLay and the perception about the Republican Party being corrupt, that could really hurt a lot of Republicans, including a lot of these state chairs that are here at this particular conference this weekend.

OLBERMANN:  Pick up some of those for me.  I collect stuff like that. 

I still have my—“The ‘I‘ in—“

SHUSTER:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  “—The ‘I‘ in ‘Nixon‘ Stands for Integrity” button.  I still have that one.

To the little clambake that you‘re at, what does it mean?  Are the candidates for sale?  Are the groups kicking their tires?  What‘s the process?

SHUSTER:  Well, the process is, the six candidates you mentioned earlier, they‘re all giving speeches this weekend.  There are 1,800 delegates, mostly party activists, party organizers from 35 different states.  And this is their opportunity to report back to their states and say, Look, here are the speeches we liked, here are the candidates that disappointed us.

And this comes at a time when the candidates are trying to build up their statewide organizations across the country two years in advance of the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primaries, and all the state (INAUDIBLE).  So it does have some significance.

As far as the straw poll that was conducted, John McCain suggests that anybody who wants to vote for him ought to vote for George W. Bush.  That is seen as a slap in the face of Bill Frist, because 40 percent of the delegates here are from Tennessee, and Bill First is why they expected to win the straw poll.  So there‘s always some political intrigue, even with this conference so far in advance of the primary season.

OLBERMANN:  Where‘s Rudy Giuliani, David?

SHUSTER:  Well, Rudy Giuliani, a couple people have suggested, simply is not ready to formally suggest that he wants to run for president.  And a number of politicians have suggested, and the Republican activists have said, once people know that Rudy Giuliani supports abortion rights, he supports gun control, he supports gay rights, that he is not going to win over a lot of people in this audience.  He may be a great speaker.  A lot of people find him very energetic.

But there seems to be an indication that Giuliani doesn‘t want to test the waters with the diehards, at least just yet.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster at the Southern Regional Leadership Conference for the GOP.  Many thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And more reporting by David and by Chris Matthews from Memphis in a special live Saturday edition of “HARDBALL,” “Picking the Next President,” 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific, tomorrow here on MSNBC.

Tonight, Tampa, prime example of the further fallout from the failed Dubai ports deal.  What it means for the president‘s political capital, what it means for foreign capital.  Will there be a chilling effect on overseas investment in this country?

Then, is baseball about to give Barry Bonds its version of the big chill?  Is a suspension looming for the accused all-time steroid champ?  The breaking news ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To turn the cliche on its head, along with every silver lining, there still is a cloud.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, when Dubai Ports World announced it would voluntarily hand over operations in all U.S. ports to an American entity, Congress got what it wanted. Not addressed, the possible blowback from the Arab countries seeing signs of xenophobia in the whole affair.

The president said as much today, not that his bully pulpit has been much of an influence place for this issue thus far.  For Mr. Bush, a standoff with Congress has been averted, but what remains is his political standing, diminished and still sliding.

Our correspondent is David Gregory.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  One day after the ports deal collapsed, the president spoke out, telling a meeting of newspaper editors he thinks Congress got it wrong.  Dubai Ports World was not a security threat.  Worse, Mr. Bush argued, the episode would send a bad signal to Arab allies.

BUSH:  In order to win the war on terror, we have got to strengthen our relationships and friendships with moderate Arab countries in the Middle East.

GREGORY:  It‘s an argument the country‘s top military commander in the Middle East, himself an Arab-American, made this week on Capitol Hill.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  That really comes down to Arab and Muslim bashing that was totally unnecessary.

GREGORY:  And today, the administration was worried about the potential financial backlash from the United Arab Emirates, America‘s third-largest trading partner in the Middle East.

JOHN SNOW, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY:  We don‘t want to be isolationists, we don‘t want to turn our backs on the rest of the world.

GREGORY:  Yet for now, nothing looms larger than the political fallout for the president, whose standing continues to erode.  And it‘s not just the ports deal, but his embattled Iraq policy.  That AP survey found that 77 percent of those polled think civil war is likely.

Democrats angling for advantage in the midterm elections see an opening.

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  The reality is, people no longer trust George Bush and the Republicans to deal with national security to the extent they did before, and they increasingly trust Democrats.  That puts us in a much stronger position going into ‘06.

GREGORY:  Sensing that, congressional Republicans defied the president‘s veto threat over ports and won, which some feel reflects panic among the GOP rank and file.

VIN WEBER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  There is a great tendency on the part of the president‘s party to think when you get into political difficulty, the thing to do is separate yourself from the president...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory reporting for us.

One foreign deal we hope Congress never gets in the way of, us bringing you the best of international television.  Well, best is a relative term.

You remember the unfortunate ladies with pork chops strapped to their heads?  The Japanese producers have struck again in a new and equally terrifying way.

And this just in from China, pandas playing in the snow.  From the

official Chinese state-run news agency, this quote from the deputy premier

Awwww.

Details on this breaking international story next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was on this date in 1951 that the first head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, reportedly turned down an exciting new job opportunity, commissioner of major league basketball.

In light of the Barry Bonds story today, think of how much time that kind of thing would save now.

And on that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin, once again, in the bizarre and always disturbing world of Japanese television, and the gang from Morning Musume (ph).  Yes, the folks who brought you young girls in a lizard tank with pork chops strapped to their heads, tonight bringing us a new instant classic, young girl in a polar bear tank with a baby seal on her head, sort of.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (speaks in Japanese)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (speaks in Japanese)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (speaks in Japanese)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (speaks in Japanese)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In 10 years, Japanese sociologists will be studying the long-term emotional damage suffered by the stars of that show.  But in the meantime, it sure does put the high in hi-larious.

And in China, once again, we‘re hearing that there‘s this panda bear shortage.  But the video evidence is clear, the place is lousy with them.  We‘re back at the panda kindergarten again in Chung-Du (ph) City.  No real news to report since the last time we visited, just this new video, which was described by a producer today as television crack.

Yes, like the rest of TV is good for you.

Anyway, enjoy your fix, you junkie.  Awww, awww.  Awwww!

OK, that‘s enough of that crap.

That first one was free.  From now on, it‘s going to cost you.

What will it cost this man?  Barry Bonds, steroids, and suspensions, to say nothing of a call for the commissioner to punish Bonds and then resign.

And John Travolta performing as a woman.  Guess who‘s not happy the actor is playing dress-up?  It starts with “Science” and ends in “tology.”

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, April Martinez of Salem, Oregon.  She bought a pinata for her son‘s birthday but was surprised when the boy swung the stick to break it open.  Instead of candy, out poured dozens of photos of scantily clad men and women in compromising positions.  Well, the pinata is supposed to contain prizes.

Number two, Jose Manuel Pinheiro of the Portuguese company Renova (ph) International.  His new brainstorm to target the hip and trendy market in Lisbon, red toilet paper.  Red toilet paper.  Mr. Pinheiro says, quote, “It is a red that makes a huge impact, like a Ferrari.”  So when you hear that outbreak of clientele at public restrooms there screaming in terror, you‘ll know whose fault it is.

Number one, someone at the Reuters news service who released a photo of Dick Cheney on the wire, cropped in such a way that it seems to contain a very subtle message.  Can you spot it?  To reverse our earlier comment, Dick Cheney, not dictatorship.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Barry Bonds quoted in the  “San Francisco Chronicle” newspaper today talking about  the steroid scandal  that has been dogging him all week.  In fact, all of his recent career, saying, “I don‘t know.  I haven‘t shot anyone else so that‘s pretty good.  I haven‘t killed anyone.  I haven‘t gone psycho.”

Our third story on “The Countdown,” I‘ve heard of road rage but this is ridiculous.   Mr. Bonds and the subject of his mental state perhaps up for discussion now over the chance that he reported blew to come clean two years ago.  And  what happens as a result of missing that chance.

And to that chance, a reporter from the “Chicago Tribune” who reported in it a moment.

First, today‘s roundup.  Bonds spending time in the outfield this morning after bashing several batting several batting practice homeruns, one of which almost hit a moving truck.   He appeared relaxed as he joked around with Willie Mays, his godfather—and took a photo with three generations of the Griffey‘s, on hand for Team USA‘s afternoon match up against South Africa, perhaps fueling  discussions that Binds was  thinking about of joining that team.

U.S. manager, Buck Martinez says he‘s not aware of any of that and even if he was, the rules allow substitutions only in the event of an injury, and almost everybody on the team is OK.

Bonds made a few comments about the sunny day today.  Replied to the inevitable retirement question, saying, “I don‘t know what keeps  me coming back.   The first and the 15th or something.  I pay child support, y‘all.  I got to have a job.”

But was he thinking about keeping that  job two years ago when he was reportedly approached by baseball commissioner, Bud Selig, who had an olive branch of sorts, saying, in essence to that olive branch, no thanks?

The “Chicago Tribune” according to highly placed Major League Baseball sources, “Selig extended a vague offer of leniency to Bonds if he had anything he wished to admit, including possible acts of perjury.”  In his testimony to the Balco grand jury, he told Bonds the consequences would be much worse if he professed innocence and later was revealed as a steroid user.

Joining me now, the gentleman that broke that story, national baseball columnist of the “Chicago Tribune”, Phil Rogers.

Phil, thanks for your time tonight.

PHIL ROGERS, BASEBALL COLUMNIST, “CHICAGO TIMES”:  Happy to do it, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You reported this yesterday.  Anything new on it or further  action between Bud Selig and   Barry Bonds?

ROGERS:  Not that I‘m aware of, Keith.   And actually, to be correct, I reported that  two years ago as it was  happening in spring training shortly after the Balco grand  jury testimony was leaked.  Major League Baseball was  worried about a perjury charge that far back.  And that was when Selig approached Bonds.   It was reported at that time.  

OLBERMANN:  Was this to be a get out of   jail free card?  Is that a far characterization? 

ROGERS:  I don‘t know about a get out  of jail free card but the way it was termed to me was if   things came up later, it would   be much worse.

I think Major League Baseball clearly wanted to help him do damage

control and do whatever they could  to manage the problems that  this

high-profile player was  having, and came away from that   being told that

no, there‘s no problems.   You‘re not going to find any   surprises along

the way. 

OLBERMANN:  I posed this question last  night to the previous

commissioner of baseball, Ray Vincent (ph), if Commissioner Selig

might think this lowered the bar, if  he, indeed, had this meeting for what

baseball would have to prove   now before acting against Bonds

Is it in theory here that he could  be, whether they have him on steroids or there is enough  evidence on steroids that Bonds  could in some way be suspended for fibbing  to the commissioner?

                ROGERS:  No, I don‘t think he would be   suspended for fibbing to the 

commissioner but if there ever   going to be a feeling of giving  a guy

the benefit of the doubt   it would probably be gone  because he did not

disclose  anything at that point in time.

You know, I think, when you talk about a  suspension, I think you are

talking about integrity of the   game issues, which is what Bud  Selig has

hammered in the drug testing argument.  As a commissioner he‘s become

stronger and   stronger.

                And I just think, if you let this guy go out and play,  doesn‘t that

raise the same  integrity of the game issues? 

OLBERMANN:  Integrity of the game  probably at its paramount being its record and historical  comparisons and obviously steroids and the use of  steroids by various players  will screw that up in major  areas.

But as it pertains to the  pursuit of the homerun record,   is there implication  in what you have heard that  they might be trying to move quickly to suspend bonds or absent against Bonds or to act against him?  Or is this going to be a drawn  out process like we saw with Pete Rose 17 years ago? 

ROGERS:  I think I have a difference in viewpoint than most reporters

on that case.  I think there‘s no way there   will be a suspension at this

point.  Bud Selig acts very  deliberately.   The fact he‘s sitting so

close   to Babe Ruth opening day is  approaching in a hurry.

                I think his hand is forced a   little bit, Bud Selig‘s hand.   And I

think—I don‘t know there‘s anything  that can be done before opening day, but I don‘t rule it out.   It‘s what I‘m being told he‘s  strongly considering. 

You know and if you listen to what Bud is saying, he‘s saying he‘s

going   to review the situation and  have a comment at the  appropriate

time.   I think in this case we could  look at sooner rather than   later. 

OLBERMANN:  In terms of time do we have  any idea what he might be considering in terms of the length of the suspension?

ROGERS:  I think if he‘s suspended it‘s going to be a long  suspension.   You have a 50 game suspension  for the first violation of steroids,  and I think you have a case  here—I also think—and I  know Major League Baseball would be anticipating a legal  challenge and a suspension that  might be overturned.  But I think  you would not get a slap on the  wrist at this point.  I think one year would be in   play.  

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if you‘re going to get a legal  challenge, you might

as well   play the game to win and go for  the longer suspension.

                Phil Rogers of the “Chicago  Tribune” who did such a good job on  this

story and broke it.

We appreciate your time here   tonight, sir.  

ROGERS: Thank you very much.  

OLBERMANN:  Barry Bonds could be  finished but is Conan O‘Brien Finnish?  This entertainer and his trip to meet his look-alike, the president of Finland.  The trip uncensored and  straight from the horse‘s mouth, so to speak.

And the online security breech that allegedly revealed personal information on millions of Internet porn  viewers.  More Internet porn stories, details ahead.  “Countdown” continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Conan O‘Brien and the  president of Finland trading

places?   And a potential sigh of relief from online porn users.  We‘re at

least hoping that‘s what that sound was.  Also John Travolta in a   dress

with Michael Musto.   All ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s become common place for  contenders in presidential races to make appearances on   late night TV shows.  It could help.

Now, the number two story in our “Countdown” tonight, how the host of one of these  shows actually influenced  an election of President Tarja Halonen of  Finland.

The talk show host in question,  Conan O‘Brien, and the twist, Mr.  O‘Brien has gone there, to  Finland, after President Halonen won a second term.  As for his rock star reception there and why he either helped or sank the  reelection.

Back to headquarters and “Countdown‘s” Monica Novotny.

Good evening, Monica.  

MONICA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

It‘s hard to believe but  Conan O‘Brien has the power to  influence presidential politics  in Finland, home to five   million Finns, most of whom Conan will  tell you are also fans.  

That‘s Conan O‘Brien at the  finish line.  After a long hard winter spent campaigning for the Nordic counties newly reelected president, who happens to look  just like him. 

NOVOTNY:  Were you concerned with the   fact that you looked like a woman?

CONAN O‘BRIEN, HOST, “CONAN O‘BRIEN”:  No.  I got that a lot in high school.   I never worried about that.   I‘m comfortable with the fact that as a man I‘m a very   attractive woman.  

NOVOTNY:  Something he realized last  year after an audience member pointed out the physical similarities between O‘Brien and Tarja Halonen, Finland‘s first  female leader.

Their resemblance inspiring the late night host to endorse the 62-year-old Halonen in her bid for election.  Running campaign ads on his show, which also airs on a Finnish cable TV station.

Last week, Conan‘s hard work paid off; with Halonen winning a second six-year term. 

She won by a narrow margin. 

O‘BRIEN:  Yes? 

NOVOTNY:  Was that thanks to you?  

O‘BRIEN:  We don‘t know if I helped  her or hurt her.  I like to think I helped her.  But I could have almost cost her that election.  The important thing is I had an  impact.   I‘m an a very egotistical man. 

NOVOTNY:  Still, Finn fans invited Conan via video to visit.

He flew 4,000 miles to Helsinki, finally meeting and  congratulating his doppelganger.  

When you met in person, was it like looking in a  mirror? 

O‘BRIEN:  Exactly like looking in a mirror. In fact, both Tarja and I were stunned  when we first saw each other at the presidential palace.   I put up my hand and she put up her hand and we did  that mirror game for a while.  

NOVOTNY:  After which he campaigned   for his own cabinet post.  Then it was time for a victory  lap in Lapland.  But Conan couldn‘t leave without  preaching to his choir.  

O‘BRIEN: I think that part went well.   I‘m told towards the end, it evolved into a limerick.  I don‘t know what I said after  that.   I think I blacked out.

NOVOTNY:  And hopefully that‘s where this Finnish  story ends.  

O‘BRIEN:  I really believe that, if I had lured her into a room, knocked her unconscious, put on her glasses, I could  have ruled Finland for six  weeks and no one would have  known. 

NOVOTNY:  Have anyone checked that you‘re not an imposter.  That you‘re not actually doing that?

O‘BRIEN:  This interview is over.  All right?

NOVOTNY:  Now, there are some in Finland who were not pleased with Conan‘s campaign.  But the president certainly seemed appreciative.   She visited with him for 15 minutes and gave him few troll dolls and a T-shirt.  You can see the entire hour of  fun from Finland tonight on “Late Night” on NBC.  Keith—

OLBERMANN:  “Countdown‘s Monica Novotny, nearly as tall as Conan O‘Brien as it turns out.

Many thanks.

NOVOTNY:  Cheating there.

OLBERMANN:   An easy segue then into our nightly  round up of celebrity and entertainment  news, keeping tabs, a lot of guys dressed as women.  Michael Jackson‘s Neverland Ranch has been effectively turned into never  more.

The state of California barred workers from the ranch yesterday, fined Mr. Jackson $69,000, $1,000 each for each of it‘s 69 employees.  The reason?  Worker‘s comp  insurance had lapsed as of   January 10, according to the regulators.

The stop order came after an employee complained that a co-worker had been injured.  Meanwhile, 47 of the   workers said they have not been paid.

The investigation into that ongoing.  And animals on the 24-acre ranch will now  be cared for by animal welfare agencies until the worker‘s comp problem is resolves, if ever it is.   Mr..  Jackson has been living in  Bahrain since his child molestation trial ended last year.

What about the orangutans?  Won‘t somebody think of the orangutans?

                An important update to our  number one story from last   night.  We

told you that a list of more than 17 million names and   corresponding

personal   information circulating on the web was reported as having been

stolen from online payment   processing company, Ibill.

That company‘s president, Gary Spanake (ph) spokesman  with us this afternoon.   The company has cross-referenced the stolen list with its client database.   And it didn‘t come from them.   That‘s good news for Ibill, but bad   news still for the millions of online porn users who had some shortness of breath yesterday.  Largest audience all day yesterday for that segment.  All day.

America‘s news viewers telling us.   More updates on Internet porn.

In the interim you‘ll have to settle for  this.  It‘s my pleasure to tell you I‘m the guest Sunday on Brian Lamb‘s superb interview series Q&A on C-Span. 

That‘s a picture of me, not Brian. 

Best prepared interviewer in media, Brian is.   An hour of us might be a little much.  This Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m., right before my favorite TV reality show  C-span‘s coverage of British  prime minister‘ question time.

Maybe Brian‘s next guest will Wafah Dufour.  Don‘t recognize the name?

Well, officially she‘s Wafah Dufour bin Laden.

Michael Musto next on whether a reality show starring Osama‘s niece will be a hit or will inspire protest marches.

But first, time for “Countdowns” list for today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world.

The Bronze, Brandon Wilcox, a 25-year-old Arizona man arrested for DWI, after he crashed his  car into two curbs, abandoned it on the side of the road, walked home where police found him passed  out with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.  Nothing too unusual about that except he is himself an Albuquerque police  officer and the car he crashed   was his police cruiser.

Tonight‘s runner up, another peace  officer.  Deputy James Pruitt of Galveston, Texas, giving his 13-year-old nephew an unauthorized tour of the county jail and decided he‘s teach  the kid a lesson about his behavior so  he locked him in a jail cell with an  accused murderer.

What was that lesson? Uncle Jim is an idiot.

But tonight‘s winner, Oh, Ted Baxter again.  Taking a break from threatening radio callers about me to instead threaten Iran.   “You know,” he said, “in a sane world every country would unite  against Iran and blow it off  the face of the earth.  That would be the sane thing to do.”

Which, of course, is how the Iranians think about us, and we think they‘re nuts.  Sane.  Now that‘s one fellow Mr. O‘Reilly has apparently never met.

“Bill O‘Reilly, now and forever, today‘s worst person in the  world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tony Curtis really made his movie career dressed as a woman.  Dustin Hoffman restarted his.  Michael Cain‘s done it, to say nothing of J. Edgar Hoover.

Two J. Edgar Hoover references in one news cast.

Our number one story, despite the glittering success of dudes look like ladies.  Some folks are reportedly unhappy at the prospects of John Travolta so attired.  Yes, still more stories my producers are forcing me to cover.

The second most famous Scientologist in the world recently signed to play Edna Turnblad, in a remake of either the 1988 John Waters film or the 2002 Broadway hit, Hairspray.  The role previously made famous by two opening gay men would apparently not sit well with Scientology founder L.  Ron Hubbard, who one wrote of gays, quote, “No social order will survive which does not remove these people form its midst.”

The comments of Michael Musto in just a moment.

Bringing us to the bin Laden reality TV series.  This bin Laden, Osama‘s niece, Wafah Dufour bin Laden, whose father is the half-brother of the unfortunately more recognizable member of the family.

She has signed to do a reality series about her life and her quest for celebrity rather than perhaps infamy.

The executive producer of the series, the same woman that brought us “Growing Up Gotti.”

Let‘s call on Village Voice columnist Michael Musto in hopes of salvaging all this.

It‘s always good to talk to you, Michael.

MICHAEL MUSTO, COLUMNIST, VILLAGE VOICE:  Wafah Dufour bin Laden, spelled differently than her infamous uncle, incidentally.  And she actually dropped the bin Laden part, but its conveniently been resurrected here for a January photo spread in GQ, and now to promote this reality series.

I mean could this result in marches of protest in the street or am I over estimating the American TV public taste? 

MUSTO:  By any name this smells.  Though it‘s not as appalling as the fact that Hitler‘s niece is going to be America‘s top next model.  She is very cute except for the mustache, that gets in the way.

But look, Wafah, whatever her name is, she is actually a sweet regular girl with a dream.  She is just an everyday actress-model/my uncle tried to blow off the world kind of gal.  She‘s not responsible for every black sheep in her family.  We all have a whacky uncle.

But I think the producers are to blame.  They are to be held responsible for glorifying someone who is only famous because she is related to the biggest weenie in history.  And if she weren‘t, let‘s face it, she would be scrubbing toilets at Shrouts (ph) or something.  I am not watching this.  All right, I will. 

OLBERMANN:  Not dressed like that she is scrubbing toilets.  Speaking of oddly attired perhaps women, John Travolta playing Edna Turnblad.

Harvey Fierstein played it on Broadway.  Divine, the famous drag queen played it in the film.  This what, what, huh, what, huh?

MUSTO:  This is Vinny Barbarino.  Right now, he‘s Winnie Barbarino. 

They should call movie Look who‘s talking.

This is a tragedy in the Broadway circles, which I happen to frequent. 

Harvey Fierstein owned that role.  Even, Harvey Weinstein owned that role.

John Travolta, I must give credit, did one on once on Saturday nightlife a pretty decent drag routine.  But I find it poetic after years of dodging rumors and pushing the wife in front of cameras, he is going give me the dress and the heels.  This sweat hog is turning into a sow.

OLBERMANN:  What happens if he peeves off Scientology?  What happens if he gets on the wrong side of Tom Cruise?

MUSTO:  I think this will be a regular war of the worlds and scientology will get peeved.  If there is a battlefield and I have every confidence there will be.  If we top the get back at him, make sure he is aboard. Because that‘s a real stink bomb.

As for Tom, if John is as cute in drag as we anticipate and if he‘s even cuter than Katie, I think Tom will think damn, I went for the wrong dame.  He only looks pregnant. 

OLBERMANN:  I want to get your take on the latest Terri Hatcher development.  I waited my entire career to say that phrase.  The latest take on Terri Hatcher development.

MUSTO:  It‘s all led to this moment. 

OLBERMANN:  Apparently, she revealed the story about past sexual abuse because of a recent heart break brought up all those bad feelings and the “New York Post” is reporting, although its been denied by the rep, that the recent heartbreaker was George Clooney? Could it that more intricate? 

MUSTO:  And you thought Wafah bin Laden had bad relatives.  I thought George Clooney was also up for Edna role in Hairspray.   Am I wrong?  More likely it was Marcia Cross who seduced and abandoned Terri Hatcher.  But whoever it was, and Lord know its could be any number of people.  I think it‘s a great idea when two people break up and you run to the cops and convict a child molester.

OLBERMANN:  That is a good idea.

MUSTO:  It helps society along.

OLBERMANN:  But on the other hand it suggests now there was some truth to that John Stewart joke made at the Oscars.  It may not have been funny, but it proves that the Clooney dates all ends with him saying good night and good luck. 

MUSTO:  Yes, maybe John Stewart wasn‘t wasn‘t so bad after all.  No, he was..  I think saying “good night, and good luck” would be better than “Syriana”.  They would say what? 

OLBERMANN:  Do you mean Sayonara?

MUSTO:  Yes, that‘s more like it.  Or he should probably say intolerable cruelty.  That was the title of his comedy about very vicious divorce.  Co-staring, I believe John Travolta. 

OLBERMANN:  And Terri Hatcher and bringing this up and getting this publicity, that couldn‘t have been a career move.  It could?

MUSTO:  I don‘t think that‘s a positive career move.  I actually applaud what she did.  She does have a book coming out and this is not mentioned.  I do want her to go immediately to Neverland and blow the whistle on other such offenders if any there might be. 

OLBERMANN:  And look out for the orangutans there.

The one and only Michel Musto.  It‘s always great.  Thanks.

MUSTO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s “Countdown” for this the 1044th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.

A reminder to join us at midnight eastern 11 p.m. Central and 9 Pacific for the late edition of “Countdown.” 

Until then, a special presentation of “Lock up inside San Quentin.”

I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

I‘ll be back from vacation Monday.  I‘d like to thank me for filling in for me.  And thanks to the crack staff for its efforts while I‘ve been in absentia.

Keep your knees lose.  Good night and Good luck.

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

END   

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