updated 3/22/2006 11:46:25 AM ET 2006-03-22T16:46:25

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Howard Fineman

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

Oh, here we go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Listen, every, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy.

The Iraqis took a look and decided not to go to civil war.

Excuse me, excuse me.  No president wants war.

Telling you what’s on my mind.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  Don’t hurt yourself.

President versus media, again.  Any credibility left, anyone? 

Buehler?  Buehler?

The prewar intelligence gets less intelligent still.  Our man in Iraq, he was Saddam’s foreign minister.  We were paying him a hundred grand a year.  He told us there was no biological weapons program, and we ignored him.

Hill versus Bill, their difference of opinions on the Dubai ports deal reveals a new deal at Chateau Clinton.  Who’s wearing the political pants in this family?  One guess.

Just park that tractor anywhere, pal.  No, it’s not “Dancing with the Stars” season two.  This is just how tough the entertainment business is in India.

And tonight’s story my producers are forcing me to cover, remaining charges dropped against Debra LaFave to spare the victim testifying.  But that’s not the news here.  It’s about her next possible career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA LAFAVE:  Right now I’m going through a class that’s online for journalism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, you want to be a reporter, until they make you cover you.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Yesterday, it was unscreened questions from unconvinced voters, and his almost perverse pride in having split the semantics the way Rutherford split the atom, about how he had been, quote, “very careful” never to say Saddam Hussein ordered the attacks on America, while any 6-year-old would have recognized that his administration had deliberately left exactly that impression.

Today, it was unscreened questions from previously unrecognized reporters, in particular Helen Thomas, in answer to which, the president insisted there is no civil war in Iraq, American troops will be there so long that a complete withdrawal will be an issue for future presidents, and that he was confident of victory there, and if he were not, I’d pull our troops out.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, any similarity to President Lyndon Johnson, circa 1967, is  purely coincidental.  Mr. Bush, taking questions from the media corps for the first time since January, arriving ready to defend his particular brand of wartime optimism, suggesting it will be years before all American troops return home from Iraq, and declaring that he is ready to stake his entire presidency upon what happens there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just after the 2004 election, you seem to have—you claimed a really enviable balance of political capital and a strong mandate.  Would you make that claim today?  Do you still have that?

BUSH:  I’d say I’m spending that capital on the war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that costing you elsewhere, then?

BUSH:  I don’t think so.  I just named a 12 -- I just named an agenda that, over the last 12 months, that was—would be, I suspect, if looked at objectively, say, Boy, they got a lot done.  And when if I’ll—I’d be glad to repeat them, if you’d like, which is...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), just curious.

BUSH:  Wait a minute.  Please, no hand gestures.  Social Security, yes, it didn’t get done.  Notice it wasn’t on the list.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Iraq’s interim prime minister said Sunday that violence is killing an average of 50 to 60 people a day, and that if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.  Do you agree with Mr.  Allawi that Iraq has fallen into civil war?

BUSH:  I do not.  There are other voices coming out of Iraq, by the way, other than Mr. Allawi, who I know, by the way, like, he’s a good fellow.  There’s no question that the enemy has tried to spread sectarian violence.  They use violence as a tool to do that, you know, they’re willing to kill innocent people.  The reports of bound Sunnis that were executed are horrific.  And it’s obviously something we’re going to have to deal with, and even more importantly, the Iraqis are going to have to deal with it.

Helen, after that brilliant performance at the Gridiron, I am...

HELEN THOMAS:  You’re going to be sorry.

BUSH:  Well, then, let me take it back.

THOMAS:  I’d like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime.  Yet every reason given, publicly, at least, has turned out not to be true.  My question is, why did you really want to go to war?

BUSH:  I think your premise, in all due respect to your question, and to you as a lifelong journalist, is that, you know, I didn’t want war.  To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.

THOMAS:  (INAUDIBLE)...

BUSH:  No, hold on for a second, please.

THOMAS:  (INAUDIBLE)...

BUSH:  Excuse me, excuse me.  No president wants war.  Everything you may have heard is that, but it’s just simply not true.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you feel that personally, you’ve ever gotten bad advice in the conduct of the war in Iraq, and do you believe Rumsfeld should resign?

BUSH:  No, I don’t believe he should resign.  I think he’s done a fine job of not only conducting two battles, Afghanistan and Iraq, but also transforming our military, which has been a very difficult job, inside the Pentagon.  Listen, every, every war plan looks good on paper until you meet the enemy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will there come a day, and I’m not asking you when, not asking for a timetable, will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

BUSH:  That, of course, is an objective, and that’ll be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So it won’t happen on your watch?

BUSH:  You mean a complete withdrawal?  That’s a timetable. 

(INAUDIBLE), I can only tell you that I will make decisions on force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  Sitting in that press room for today’s news conference, the Washington Post’s White House correspondent, Jim VandeHei.

Good evening, Jim.

JIM VANDEHEI, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s begin with the end of those highlights, that the decision about when there would be no more U.S. troops in Iraqi would seemingly, although he seemed to back away slightly at the end there, fall to future presidents.  Was that a significant concession?  Was it a slip of the tongue?  Did a bunch of Republican congressional candidates double over when they heard that?

VANDEHEI:  It was certainly an inadvertent public acknowledgment of everything that we’ve heard in private from White House officials.  I don’t hear from anyone that they think all U.S. troops will be out of there in two years, four years, and probably even beyond.

The president’s always been careful not to set timelines, but I did think that was one of the most striking things that we saw at this press event today.

OLBERMANN:  He is insistent on this, about the entire Iraq experience, he half-joked about spending his political capital on the war.  To your knowledge, from your vantage point, from your reporting, is there anybody around him telling him differently?  Is there any other voice inside the White House, even just in the role of contrarian?

VANDEHEI:  No, not at this point.  Essentially, a decision was made a few months ago that this entire presidency and its legacy is going to be built upon what happens in Iraq.  And essentially, they’ve pushed everything aside.  They talk very little about domestic issues.

And it’s really striking to think, 14 months ago, you had a president talking about having this huge vault of political capital that he was going to spend on reforming the Social Security system, reforming the tax code.

And now it’s basically a one-issue presidency.  It’s all about Iraq.  And I think their political justification, rationale for that would be that his popularity and his credibility seems to be very much tethered to the public’s view of Iraq.  And so he feels if he can get that right, that’s how you revive this presidency, and that’s how you restore his credibility.

OLBERMANN:  To that end, were those unscreened questions in Cleveland yesterday, and this first question from Helen Thomas in years today, was that part of a strategy in some way?  What was the -- (INAUDIBLE), was there a motive discernible to you?

VANDEHEI:  Oh, absolutely part of a White House offensive.  The idea here is to show the president taking those tough questions and taking it to the people, realizing that those audiences and that Helen Thomas is a liberal columnist who’s been very critical of Bush, are going to be critical of him, and that he’s willing to address those tough questions.

Remember, the president was criticized for so long for basically being disconnected from reality, always having happy talk, always portraying everything in the most optimistic terms.

Now he’s trying to calibrate that a little bit, at least give an acknowledgment to some of the tough things that are happening on the ground, but continue to try to give some sort of optimistic outlook on Iraq, because he has to somehow get the people, the American people, who are turning against him on Iraq, I must add, to get them at least believing that there’s a chance for the U.S. TO prevail here.

OLBERMANN:  One of the things that seems to be significant in the opposition to the war that has grown in the last six months to a year, year and a half, about the idea of the looseness, the vagueness of the military timetable there.

If there is really none that would least—we’re being told about, if nothing that those stories that broke late last year about there being significant troop withdrawals during this year is actually going to come to pass, is there a political timetable about Iraq?  Is the president trying to make something happen now, between now and maybe the third anniversary of the “Mission Accomplished” performance?

VANDEHEI:  I think they would obviously like to get troops home as quickly as possible.  I think the thing you need to watch for in the next couple of months is, what I see as sort of this collision developing between Republicans in Congress, who are going to be under a lot of pressure if things don’t change in Iraq to get the troops out, and President Bush, who is really—is shown over five years that when he decides to do something, he’s going to stick with it.

Even if the polls show that it’s unpopular, he clearly believes in the Iraqi mission.  He’s shown no signs whatsoever of caving in or giving in to critics who want to bring the troops home.

So I think that’s going to be a really interesting political dynamic in Washington.  But I don’t see any sign of a big withdrawal of troops anytime soon.  And the truth is, there’s no way to predict these things.

No one was really talking seriously about the civil war, you know, three or four months ago.  It was mostly talking about the insurgency.  So the insurgency has now morphed into this, you know, possible civil war.  And no one can tell what the next stage is here.

OLBERMANN:  One other point not related to Iraq directly, in any event, but it touches on that issue of resoluteness.  During the news conference, the president scoffed at the question that suggested he should shake up his staff.

But he gave kind of a hint that he might be willing to bring in a Washington insider to liaise with Congress.  Was that the first we’d heard of something like that from the White House?  Is there any indication of whether it was likely to happen, or that was just an off-the-cuff thought?

VANDEHEI:  At “The Washington Post,” we’ve reported it a couple of times, that he’s seriously thinking about bringing in a former lawmaker.  Not going to make a big difference.  I think they’re talking about bringing in a former senator or a House member, essentially just to soothe relations with Republicans on the Hill who feel like this is a White House who just does not understand Congress, is not sensitive to lawmakers’ needs.

But unless they’re really changing that core nucleus that’s made up the White House for the last five years, we’re talking Karl Rove, Andy Card, Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, you’re really not going to see a significant change in policy, because they’re all pretty much like-minded and share Bush’s philosophy.

OLBERMANN:  And that funnels into the White House v. candidates thing that we may see play out the next six months, in any event.

Jim VandeHei of “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, great thanks for your perspective and your time.

VANDEHEI:  Have a good evening.

OLBERMANN:  Thus with the latest “Newsweek” poll suggesting 65 percent of the public is dissatisfied with the president’s handling of the war, with the Pew Research poll reporting that just 45 percent of self-described conservatives still believe Mr. Bush is a conservative, with even the president himself kind of joking about how he’s spent his political capital on the war, there seemed to be only two questions left after Mr. Bush’s answers at the news conference today.

Who is still listening?  And how does the president think he’s going to increase their numbers?

Our chief Washington correspondent is Norah O’Donnell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

In the midst of an unpopular war, the president today got combative with the press.

BUSH:  To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.  No, hold on for a second, please.  Let—excuse me, excuse me...

O’DONNELL:  A new strategy, as the president suggested the insurgents are using the media.

BUSH:  They’re capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show.

O’DONNELL:  The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes.

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Well, it certainly is something that shores up his support among his conservative base.  There’s no question that conservatives are suspicious of the mainstream media...

O’DONNELL:  Americans are increasingly less confident of success in Iraq, but perhaps most stunning is, the drop in confidence is especially precipitous with the president’s base, a 12-point drop among Republicans, and a 10-point drop among conservatives.

BILL MCINTURFF, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  No matter what the president says, if events on the ground don’t match what he hopes to have happen, he’s, you know, these numbers about Iraq will continue to get softer or worse.

O’DONNELL:  And now, many of the country’s leading conservative intellectuals argue the war is a disaster.  William Buckley is considered the godfather of the conservative movement, but now calls the Iraq war “a failure.”

Neoconservative Francis Fukuyama says the Iraq war has left Mr. Bush’s foreign policy “in shambles.”

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, AUTHOR, “AMERICA AT THE CROSSROADS”:   Invading Iraq as a matter of spreading democracy, I—when you can’t handle the aftermath of that, and you can’t actually engineer a good solution, I think, is not terribly realistic.

O’DONNELL:  Columnist George Will calls Iraq, Iran, and North Korea more dangerous than they were in 2002.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some have suggested that the war is not winnable.  A few seem almost eager to conclude that the whole struggle is already lost.  But they’re wrong.  The only way to lose this fight is to quit.  And that is not an option.

O’DONNELL:  The president made clear again today, he’s convinced of victory, even as his advisers worry this war has cost Mr. Bush some support from his closest conservative allies.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Norah.

Also tonight, the ever-louder question, was this war really necessary?  A remarkable story of the information from the ultimate insider within Saddam Hussein’s government, and how the administration ignored it.

And Hillary Clinton did not ignore the disconnect between her stance on the Dubai ports mess and her husband’s.

The battling Clintons.  Hey, this is where I came in.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  At the current pace, somebody’s going to step in and simply declare that when we speak of American prewar intelligence, we are no longer permitted to use the word “intelligence.”

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the American spy inside Saddam Hussein government, the one the CIA was paying six figures, was insisting Saddam had no biological weapons program, and the administration simply ignored him.

Exclusive details tonight from our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He was Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister before the war, part of his inner circle.

NAJI SABRI, FORMER IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER:  Those aggressors are war criminals, colonialist war criminals...

MYERS:  But after Saddam fell, Naji Sabri was never arrested, nor included in the infamous deck of cards of wanted Iraqis.  Why?

Perhaps because sources tell NBC News that at the same time he denounced the U.S., Iraq’s foreign minister was a secret paid source of the CIA.  Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say Sabri provided the U.S. information on Saddam’s WMD that turned out to be more accurate than CIA estimates.

(on camera):  So why didn’t anyone listen?

(voice-over):  Retired general Wayne Downing is an NBC News analyst.

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING (RET.), NBC NEWS ANALYST:  I think it’s very significant that the CIA would have someone who could tell them what’s on the dictator’s mind.

MYERS (on camera):  So he was worth whatever we paid him.

DOWNING:  He was worth his weight in gold.

MYERS (voice-over):  Intelligence sources say the deal was brokered by the French in September 2002, and that Sabri was paid more than $100,000 through an intermediary.  Sabri may have thought he was working with the French, but some U.S. intelligence officials believe he knew it was the CIA.

The CIA questioned Sabri through a go-between about Saddam’s WMD capabilities.  On biological weapons, the CIA’s 2002 intelligence estimate said Saddam had an active R&D production and weaponization program for biological agents.

Intelligence sources say Sabri indicated Saddam had no significant weapons program.  Sabri was right.

On nuclear weapons, the CIA said if Saddam obtained enriched uranium, he could build a bomb in several months to a year.  Sabri man said Saddam desperately wanted a bomb, but would need more time than that.  Sabri was more accurate.

On chemical weapons, the CIA said Saddam had stockpiled as much as 500 metric tons of chemical warfare agents and had renewed production of deadly agents.  Sabri said Iraq had stockpiled weapons and had poison gas left over from the first Gulf War.  Both Sabri and the agency were wrong.

(on camera):  Intelligence sources say the CIA’s brief relationship with Sabri ended when the CIA, hoping for a public relation coup, pressured him to defect to the United States.  He refused.

(voice-over):  NBC News found Sabri teaching at a university in the Middle East, but for security reasons will not reveal his location.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The fact that he is there, that he was able to get out, live openly, like he is, says that, for some reason, he received some special status.

O’DONNELL (on camera):  From the United States?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  From the United States, yes.

O’DONNELL (voice-over):  Sabri repeatedly declined to be interviewed or to comment on this report.  So did the CIA. The CIA also would not say why it did not heed Sabri’s warnings that Saddam had less WMD than thought.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, a story my producers are forcing me to cover.  Yes, yes, the Florida sex teacher in court at a news conference, OK.  The real headline was pretty much ignored.  You will not believe what career she may want to try next, now that education hasn’t worked out so well for her.

And remember the famous COUNTDOWN bouncing bear of Montana?  Meet his cat cousin.  This cat is OK.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You can’t beat March 21 for entertainment.  Flo Ziegfeld, Ziegfeld’s Follies, Ziegfeld Girls, was born on March 21.  First big rock concert ever was staged by Alan Freed in Cleveland on March 21, 1952.  The Beatles played the Cavern Club in Liverpool for the first time on March 21.  And we’ve got an act for you tonight that makes Ziegfeld, Alan Freed, and the Beatles look like a bunch of Celine Dion impersonators.

Let’s play Oddball.

We begin in Gwalior (ph), where a family of India’s most amazing daredevil acrobats has gathered together, apparently in some guy’s backyard, for a festival of death-cheating stunts and feats of strength.  More than 16 people showed up to watch the Acrobat Brothers of the Maharastra jump through rings of fire, break rocks, and spin around really fast with bicycles tied to their heads.

I have very strong hair.  Live with it.

The brothers say they learned their craft from their forefathers, who performed such classics as, Dude, There’s a Tractor on My Back, for Indian royalty going back generations.  Let’s see the Beatles do that.

Now a story from the files of Weird Stuff We Found on the Internet.  You may have heard about Piper the cat, stuck 80 feet up in a South Carolina tree for almost eight days.  Well, today he came down.  He’ll be all right, folks.  He’s a cat.  He landed on his feet and ran away.  Efforts to coax him down from his perch have been unsuccessful for more than a week.  Turns out all the owners needed to do was to get a guy in a cherry-picker truck to go up there and scare the thing into jumping.

Should have tried this with David Blaine.

Piper seems to be healthy,  no worse for the wear.  But he will take a precautionary trip to the vet before heading off to India to perform with the Acrobat Brothers of the Maharastra.

And as long as we’re finding weird video clips on the Internets, we have an instant classic, a bit fuzzy, but we’re told it’s the controversial Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, greeting an alert uniformed female traffic officer before getting into his limo.  Leave us all hope that was just a guy who really looks exactly like the prime minister of Italy.  You know, at least our leaders keep that kind of thing behind closed Oval Office doors.

Absolutely no segue here.  None.  Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Has the senator effectively muzzled her husband, and if so, for why?

No muzzle today for Deb LaFave.  There’s another segue.  And here’s another story my producers are forcing me to cover, including her plans for her next career, and they constitute an official doozy.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Dr. Joshua Fogel of Brooklyn College.  He has conducted research on elderly female TV viewers.  He reports that those who say talk shows and soap operas are their favorite programs tend to score poorly on memory tests.  Yes, but doc, did you test to see if anticipating how the cliffhanger in the soap opera turns out next Monday might be extending their lives?

Number two, the equivalent of the SEC in China now trying to tamp down the latest ratings hit there, trying to reduce the promotion of philistinism in various adaptations of “American Idol,” including the big Chinese TV hit, “The Mongolian Cow Sour Yogurt Supergirl Contest.”  Perhaps if they just clarified whether it’s the yogurt or the supergal—girl that’s supposed to be the Mongolian cow, we’d all know what they were talking about.

Number one, Buff the dog, Williams, Arizona.  He tried but failed to unseat Ken Eaves (ph), the incumbent in the election for mayor of Williams, Arizona.  He and other write-in candidates pulled about a quarter of the votes.  We’re told Buff had run on a platform of friendliness and honesty and Snausages.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I always break out in hives at this time of year.  Late March 1998 was the time, the apogee of the Clinton/Lewinsky investigation.  The point I realized, at least, that we would keep covering them every day, even though there was only going to be actual news maybe twice a week. 

The third story on the COUNTDOWN.  With the ex-president and the possible future presidential candidate back in the news over a reported squabble, we checked the way-back machine.  Eight years today in the wake of Kathleen Willey’s appearance on “60 Minutes,” a “Newsweek” poll revealed that Mr. Clinton’s approval rating had plummeted, all the way down to 62 percent. 

On this March 21st, the “New York Daily News” citing multiple sources saying that Mr. Clinton has agreed to give Senator Clinton veto power over what he is planning to say or do in public anyway.  He knows it’s Hillary’s time now, says an adviser to both Clintons, who added Hillary has final say. 

This in the wake of the Dubai ports deal controversy when the former president was advising Dubai on how to leaven opposition, even while his wife was railing against the deal in the Senate.  Senator Clinton’s spokeswoman denies that Mr. Clinton’s comments have been a liability but confirms that Senator Clinton is the one in charge.

And Bill Clinton’s spokesman, Jay Carson, said, quote, “Anyone who says he is doing everything he can to help her get re-elected is absolutely right.”

Meanwhile, former Vice President Al Gore says he is not planning to be a candidate again, but during a speech yesterday on global warming, he said he would not entirely rule out a future in politics.  As it was then, so shall it be now.  Let’s call in “Newsweek” magazine’s chief political correspondent Howard Fineman.  Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This is where we came.

FINEMAN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Is it this Hillary veto power over Bill real or is it some more stage craft by the two of them or maybe both?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think it’s more of a fond wish on Hillary’s part perhaps.  I mean, talk about the way-back machine.  This is a soap opera of power that’s been going on for 32 years, ever since Hillary Clinton left Washington after serving on the Watergate committee staff and decided to drive down to Fayetteville, Arkansas to be with Bill Clinton.  And the story for her has always been, how do I get the benefits of being in the aura of Bill Clinton and being around this political genius without suffering the damage that can sometimes result?  This is just the latest example of it.  She doesn’t really have veto power over him.  Heck, he doesn’t really have veto power over himself.

OLBERMANN:  At the Coretta Scott King funeral last month, the former president deftly alluded to his wife as the possible future president.  He didn’t use those words, but he got the point across as usual. 

When she spoke immediately after him, as is suggested here, as you just suggested, she did not live up to that kind of standard.  Not many people can.  But is this not the subtext in the whole thing here, one that really can’t be resolved even if he were to clear everything he was going to do and say with her, that Ms. Clinton would be running for president but she still is going to be upstaged throughout the next two years by her husband?

FINEMAN:  I think if she manages to win the nomination and win the election, it’s going to be hard for her not to be upstaged when she puts her hand on the Bible, if that ever happens, just because Bill Clinton is the political genius that he is. 

And he brings lots of advantages to her.  He brings what she always refers to as our administration, which has a lot of good points to brag about, especially among Democrats.

He as a strategist, back-room strategist, he’s brilliant.  As an out front guy, you can’t top him, as he showed in the Coretta Scott King funeral oration that he gave.  He’s got lots of friends among fundraising people in the Democratic Party, and a lot of friends in the base that Hillary doesn’t always have.

Everybody assumes she’s got the base.  She doesn’t necessarily have it the way he does.  What the downsides for her are, is that she can be upstaged by him at any minute, that he’s a busy guy who’s got all kinds of charitable activities on or around the world, and business activities.

She knew he was making money out there in Dubai a few years ago.  What she didn’t know was that when the Dubai guys called, Bill Clinton picked up the phone.  The notion that he’s going to clear every phone call he makes as he is this globe-trotting personality, he’s going to clear every phone call with Hillary or her staff is ridiculous.  She’s got to live with it, she’s lived with it for 32 years.  I think she’ll continue doing so.

OLBERMANN:  Does she benefit, would she continue to benefit when he stumbles?  I mean, to the degree we saw that in 1998, as we too well remember, would that be true in this case or in cases like it. 

At least in terms of pure political opinion, she was on the right side in the Dubai ports mess and he was on the wrong side.  Did she benefit by seeing—just by virtually being independent from him?

FINEMAN:  No, I think in that case, I think the fact that he took those phone calls, and I talked to his people who insist that he wasn’t really strategizing with them, he wasn’t trying to help them, et cetera, et cetera, but all those denials not withstanding, it undercut the power of her critique in New York.

And she sort of stood down from the leadership of the anti-Dubai movement after he got visible on that.  I think it did hurt her a little bit.  This is going to be the ongoing story here.  Again, how does she benefit from the plus sides of Bill Clinton without suffering the damage that results sometimes?  That’s been the story.  It will continue to be the story with her all the way through. 

I think in a way, her ability to master that in public as well as private is every bit as big of a challenge to her as whomever she’s going to face in the primaries in 2008.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, briefly, Al Gore.  I haven’t reached a stage in my life where I’m going to consider—what is that, about 20-12, 2008 governor of Tennessee?

FINEMAN:  No, that means he hasn’t ruled it out this time around.  And I’ll tell you what, imagine Iowa in the late fall of 2007.  He was against the war, never voted for the war because he wasn’t around and was opposed to it.

On global warming, 20 years ahead of the rest of the world, now taking it seriously, got friends out there, is viewed as a guy who should have won.  I wouldn’t rule out him showing up in Iowa in the fall of ‘07.

OLBERMANN:  Fascinating.  “Newsweek’s” Howard Fineman.  As always, Sir, great, thanks.

FINEMAN:  You’re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the entertainment protest movement making a comeback of its own.  The evidence last night in New York, as witnessed by our own Monica Novotny.

And from teaching a student too much to learning how to beat a system and maybe learning how to start a new career, the nature of which you may not easily believe.  She’s ahead. 

But first your COUNTDOWN top three sound byes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON, SHOW HOST (voice-over):  But it’s the professors, the 101 most dangerous academics in America, and that’s just a short list of the 30, 40,000 of them.  They’re like termites that have worked into the woodwork of our academic society.  I mean, these guys are out and out communists.  They are radicals.  They are—you know, some of them are killers.  And they are...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She was dubbed the cell phone bandit for her brazen bank heists.  This, the only one of four robberies captured on surveillance video, shows 20-year-old Candice Martinez talking on the phone as she handed the teller a note demanding money.

CANDICE MARTINEZ, CELL PHONE BANDIT:  I didn’t believe it was possible to go into a bank with a note and they’d give you money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Authorities say Martinez and Williams used the money to buy designer handbags, a plasma T.V., a car and a $2,000 Chihuahua puppy they named Capone.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE NIGHT”:  And now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for a segment called George W. Bush inspiring our nation’s elderly. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  With more choices to choose from, you can better design a program that meets your needs.  People are signing up by the thousands.  They get lost or the doctor may not exactly understand what the other doctor is talking about.  Health savings accounts are a way to help small businesses be able to afford these.  If you’re poor, you’re going to get help from Medicaid.

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OLBERMANN:  It was three years ago last week that the lead singer of a not particularly political country pop crossover trio actually issued a formal apology to the president of the United States.  Natalie Maynes of The Dixie Chicks had said nothing to a British crowd more outlandish than, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” 

By this date in 2003, they were burning her CD’s in big piles.  Our number two story in THE COUNTDOWN, it was quite a come down for the entertainment protest movement, certainly in contrast to the days of Country Joe McDonald and the Fish, who sang in 1965, “It’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for.  Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.”  To say nothing of getting the audience to spell out words beginning with F. 

After last night’s gala in New York starring everybody from Moby to Cindy Sheehan, it’s safe to say the entertainment protest movement is back on its feet today.  Albeit not yet at the gimme an F level of Country Joe.  COUNTDOWN’S Monica Novotny was at that concert.  She joins us now.   

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That’s right.  They said it themselves.  Last night in New York, a group of artists and activists gathered in protest marking another anniversary, the third of the war in Iraq.  It’s something they hope never to have to do again. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We all know why we’re here, we know what we’ve got to do.  It’s three years too late, but we’re going to do it.  Starting right now. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Music with a message.  Bring them home now.  A sold out benefit concert for 3,000 fans featuring musicians, actors and activists.  The goal, getting the troops back to their families for good.  The headliners, Susan Sarandon.

SUSAN SARANDON, ACTRESS:  The war started three years ago on the pretense of a lie. 

NOVOTNY:  And activist Cindy Sheehan. 

Three years into the Iraq war, almost two years after her 24-year-old Army specialist son Casey was killed there, Sheehan pushing for the return of American troops now. 

But many critics say her activism has gone too far

CINDY SHEEHAN, ANTI-WAR ACTIVIST:  Well, I don’t understand pushing the envelope.  George Bush tore the envelope to shreds.  He came out and said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  He said there was a link to Saddam and al Qaeda. 

NOVOTNY:  The event, along with a custom designed postage stamp raising money for groups campaigning against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.  On board, REM’s Michael Stipe. 

MICHAEL STIPE, SINGER:  We have to do this more often, protest. 

NOVOTNY:  Moby

MOBY, ARTIST:  (SINGING) 

NOVOTNY:  And folk singer Steve Earl, happy for the opportunity to speak out. 

STEVE EARL, FOLK SINGER:  That’s our job, the idea artists are not able to comment on the seat we live in is an idea Dick Cheney thought up. 

NOVOTNY:  Also, a plan to extend their protests from music to the movies.  Sarandon and Sheehan are soon to be linked on film.  The actress in talks to portray the activist in an upcoming movie.

SARANDON:  It doesn’t interest me to play someone who walks in already a hero, what’s interesting is how each of us can be in choosing to have dignity and choosing not to compromise. 

SHEEHAN:  We’re going to try to get it out as fast as possible to get it to be another anti-war peace tool that we can use. 

NOVOTNY:  Activists and artists hoping this anniversary is the last. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need a war, we need a war, we need a war.  No we don’t.  Goodnight. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, in addition to the planned film with Sarandon, Sheehan is just finishing up her memoir and last night’s concert kicked off the national Bring ‘Em Home speaking tour, which will take her to 15 cities across the U.S. next month. 

OLBERMANN:  That was a peace symbol there, not a Mercedes logo?  Many thanks. 

An easy segue to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  Remember all the stuff about the character Chef leaving Comedy Central’s wildly popular “South Park.”  Scratch that.  He’s back in the mix sort of. 

Never missing an opportunity to cash in on controversy, the producers of the animated series have turned the series in a matter of days.  The title, “The Return of Chef.”  A spokesperson for Comedy Central saying tomorrow’s show will likely lampoon the latest controversy, but added somebody besides Isaac Hayes will probably be supplying Chef’s voice. 

Hayes quit the series over a planned re-air of an episode poking fun at his religion, scientology.  The network synopsis for this premier states, quote, “While Stan, Kile, Kenny and Cartman are thrilled to have their old friend back, they notice that something about Chef seems different.” 

Who are we guessing here is the new voice?  James Gandolfini.  And as to more familiar and more enduring animated voices, Fox has ordered two more season of “The Simpsons.”  It is already the longest-running comedy in TV history.  The renewal means the show will run through 2008, reaching its 19th season, which means Bart should be 29 by then.  It will celebrate its 400th episode even before that May, 2007. 

Creator Matt Groening said last year he wanted to make 366 episodes so there would be one for every day of the year, even for leap year. 

The main voices of the characters, including that of Dan Castalenetta, Nancy Cartwright and our main man, Harry Shearer, are expected to stay on.

And there is an apparent addition to the library of snarky political books.  No, not the eagerly awaited, “The Worst Person in the World and 119 More Strong Contenders” by whatshisname, coming this September with a more recent photo in it.

According to “Variety,” it’s a book due for release in September of 2007 by Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report.”  Says he’s been given a 7-figure deal by—did you say seven figures?  Last damn time I appear on his show for free. 

The last big question tonight, now that there will not be a Debra LaFave prison term, will there be a Debra LaFave news show?  That’s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN’s list of the day’s three nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

Pirate Annie is back.  She has titled her column criticizing all the attention paid to the arrest of former Bush domestic policy adviser Claude Allen, quote, “revenge of the queers,” unquote.  How would you like to try to be her lawyer at a sanity hearing? 

Runner-up tonight, Albert Colman, Jr..  Sixty-one-year-old substitute teacher will spend a year on probation after having reprimanded an 8-year-old by making him stand on a chair looping around his neck a piece of decorative string that was loosely attached to a light fixture, and then kicking the chair. 

Mr. Colman (ph) said, well, the string was never actually around the boy’s neck.  The state said, well, great.  You can’t be a teacher anymore. 

But tonight’s winner: The FBI.  Not for spying, not for eavesdropping, not for reading e-mail.  For not having e-mail.  The head of the bureau’s New York office says that a large number of his 2,000 employees do not have external e-mail accounts, the dot-gov address because, quote, “we just don’t have the money.” 

You got it.  Budget cutbacks on e-mail addresses.  Your e-mail they might have.  Their own?  Not so much!  Bean counters at the FBI, today’s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ladies, if you don’t mind, I would like to speak to the gentlemen in the room, if any.  In mea, you can stay—in fact, you might gain insight into what passes for our minds on this subject. 

It’s our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, and it’s another one my producers are forcing me to cover. 

Further charges have been dropped against Debra LaFave, the Florida teacher already convicted for having had sex with a 14-year-old student.  So she held a news conference.

Before we get to the bizarre logic behind this, that media coverage could do more damage to the victim in the case, so they just won’t have a trial—let’s address the subtext that no other newscast will address. 

Men watching this woman of striking physical appearance seem to react uniformly, that this is someone they would readily, ah, date.  A question, boys: If the sign around her neck wasn’t invisible, she really was wearing a sign that said “I am guaranteed to go nuts inside of three hours, and I might make a pass at your son or nephew,” would you really proceed?  Really?  OK, I tried. 

Now, back to the traffic accident/freak show/adolescent fantasy story that was done so much more artistically by Jennifer O’Neill in the movie “The Summer of ‘42.”  Debra LaFave in her own words, including some at the end that will shock you.  Yes, I do realize I’m talking about you being shocked by something said by a statutory rapist with long shimmering platinum hair. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA LAFAVE:  I would first like to thank my lawyer, John Fitzgibbons, for believing in me and my illness.  I appreciate how he fought to show mental illnesses are real, and how they could cause good people to do bad things. 

I also would like to thank my parents, my friends and my fiancé for their unconditional love and endless prayer.  The past two years have been hard on all parties involved.  I pray with all my heart that the young man and his family will be able to move on with their lives. 

Again, I offer my deepest apology. 

I have been undergoing extensive therapy, and believe it has helped me tremendously.  I would hope that all media outlets will let us all peacefully move on. 

I am very remorseful and I believe that I’m going through therapy and doing everything that I can possible to better myself for the community and society. 

I have a lot of things in my past that have unfortunately become public.  I am a strong Christian woman and I believe that God has a path for me, and this was just a bump in the road. 

I don’t see children, period.  That’s in my plea agreement.  Right now, my family and my friends are all that matter.  And as you can see, the room is full of media outlets.  I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter to me.  The people behind me are what matters to me. 

I know me.  My family knows me.  I know that I am a good person. 

I learned a lot through counseling.  Why it happened, I don’t know.  I mean, that’s a lifelong—I mean, I am going to be in therapy for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my life. 

I want the world to see that bipolar is real.  If anything, I am tired of the media.  I don’t think not one time has the media brought up the subject of my bipolar, and I challenge you to read a book or an article on bipolar illness. 

I believe that I—my mental illness had a lot to do with my actions, and for someone—I’ve gotten—my passion was teaching.  That’s taken away from me.  I’ve lost family and I’ve lost friends.  And as you can see, my face has been plastered on every Internet (INAUDIBLE), every news outlet, and that’s not easy.  It’s not easy feeling the guilt and the remorse, and having my own family suffer for my actions. 

My greatest regret would probably be the fact that I put this young man through this.  I mean, the media has totally taken it out of proportion, and he is suffering even more so by the media’s actions. 

Right now, I’m going through a class, like online, for journalism. 

QUESTION:  So after all this, you are going to be one of us? 

LAFAVE:  Yes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, in that last shocking revelation, there is perhaps the seed of a happy ending to all this.  Katie Couric can stay with our NBC family on “The Today Show,” and we can cut right to the chase over at Black Rock. 

This is “The CBS Evening News” with Debra LaFave. 

That’s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,055th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I’m Keith Olbermann.  Keep you knees loose.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, “LIVE & DIRECT.” 

Copy: 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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