updated 3/28/2006 10:17:46 AM ET 2006-03-28T15:17:46

Guests: Howard Fineman, Michael Schiavo

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

Guests in name only.  Thousands more take to the nation‘s streets as the fate of 11 million undocumented immigrants seems about to force a showdown in the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:   A temporary worker program is vital to securing our border.

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OLBERMANN:  And how does the church fit into all this?  To quote a bumper sticker, “What would Jesus do?”  To quote a Democrat, he‘d probably have been criminalized by now.

Worst fears confirmed.

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BUSH:  Excuse me.  Excuse me.  No president wants war.

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OLBERMANN:  That‘s not what a newly discovered memo from January 2003 suggests.  Details of a long-rumored conversation verified by NBC News, President Bush and Tony Blair in the White House five days before Colin Powell‘s address to the U.N., planning to provoke war with Saddam Hussein, even to assassinate him.

Michael Schiavo‘s first cable news interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHAIVO:  I don‘t think I‘m really out there to politicize. 

I‘m out there to hold these people accountable.

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OLBERMANN:  A year after his wife‘s death, he vows to unseat the politicians who made her private ordeal a national circus.

A different kind of PATRIOT Act.  The underdog Patriots of George Mason advance to college basketball‘s final four.  But would they have even played the game had a player died in practice hours before tip-off?  A death before an auto race didn‘t even slow them down.

And the 100 sexiest women in the world, as picked by “FHM” magazine and special celebrity judge, Silvio Berlusconi.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from Tampa, Florida.

“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” America‘s open invitation to the world facing a major rewrite tonight, as lawmakers in the Senate wrestle with controversial proposals that would radically alter the lives of the 11 million immigrants already living illegally in this country, and millions more who might never get that far.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it has been periodic, episodic, since long before Emma Lazarus wrote those immortal words carved into the base of the Statue of Liberty, which might now better read, Come on in, but close the door behind you, the complex, emotional debate over the path to citizenship in this country having already spilled into the streets in a massive and dramatic fashion that thousands continued today, moving next to Capitol Hill, a groundswell of protests against an attempt by Republicans in Congress to punish those who are illegal immigrants and those who would merely help them.

Incredibly, most of those protesting at the Capitol, at least 200 members of the clergy, who would find themselves on the wrong side of the law literally, not just in terms of conscience, should the legislation pass, massive rallies over the weekend attracting crowds that have surprised their—even their organizers, half a million in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, tens of thousands in Phoenix and elsewhere, the protests kicked off last week by Latino high school students walking out of class en masse out of concern for their future and that of their families, the outrage nationwide over a bill passed by Republicans in the House in December that would not only make it a felony to be in the U.S. without proper documentation, but also a federal crime to aid those immigrants in any way, Senator Hillary Clinton saying of the bill last week that it would, quote, “literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself.”

It was against that backdrop that Senator Clinton‘s colleagues today took up the hot potato and almost immediately decided to drop it, the Judiciary Committee adopting an amendment by Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin that would protect church and charitable groups, as well as any individuals, from criminal prosecution for offering immigrants things like food, shelter, or medical care, the president going to bat for his own pet immigration project, a controversial guest worker program, attending a naturalization ceremony for 30 would-be citizens, introducing his newest voting bloc to presidential rhetoric.

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BUSH:  The immigration debate should be conducted in a civil and dignified way.  No one should play on people‘s fears or try to pit neighbors against each other.

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OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s chief political correspondent, Howard Fineman.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Just leave the Democrats out of this for a second.  How big a fight is this merely among Republicans?  How many sub-Republican Parties have different vested interest in this, and how could they possibly reach a compromise?

FINEMAN:  It‘s a big fight within the Republican Party big tent.  You got George Bush, who really cares about this, who believes he‘s on the side of justice and Hispanics, having come up as governor of Texas, something he came into office wanting to do.  You have the American business community, which wants as large a labor pool as it can get its hands on.  And you have John McCain, who‘s out there leading a sort of reform wing trying to craft a compromise.

On the other side, you have the rejectionist front, if you will, Republicans based in the House, but also a lot of them in the Senate, who say, No, we‘ve got to guard the borders more, we‘ve got to criminalize the presence of illegals here, because they are, that is, the Republicans, responding to the Republican base coming into a midterm election.  And that Republican base, as indeed majority of Americans, are very concerned about illegal immigration.

OLBERMANN:  But part of the Republican base also touches on this idea of the what-would-Jesus-do factor.  Is this going to be the tipping point here?  Is there some moment at which the religious right is going to realize that in one sense, it is attacking the religious right?

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s the most fascinating development in this whole thing, because you have the Catholic Church, which has been in the middle of American politics on the abortion issue, being appealed to for another aspect of its teaching, which is the social justice teaching, very, very strong tradition in the Catholic Church and, indeed, in every religious group.

And it‘s the Democrats, for a change, who are trying to ally themselves with the devout, and saying, Look, it‘s the social mission of this church, of any church, of any religious group, to take care of the poor and the people who can‘t take care of themselves.  Very strong, very powerful, and indeed, something that can undercut the Republicans in Congress with their own base.

Interestingly, though, the president is on the side of the angels on this one, but he‘s going to be fighting with his own party about it.

OLBERMANN:  Many of those Latino teenagers, who are American citizens where their parents are not, a huge, hugely influential potential voting bloc in the decades to come, (INAUDIBLE) again, tipping points, that could turn the entire demographics of politics in this country apart, turn it over on its head.  Are they the prize contained within this crisis?

FINEMAN:  I think so, because Karl Rove and George Bush have spent their entire careers trying to curry favor with Latino voters, bring them into the Republican Party.  The last election, the last presidential election, more than four in 10 young Latinos tended to vote Republican.  In other words, the strongest vote for the Republican Party in the Bush ticket in the last presidential election was among younger Latino voters.

This bill, if it goes through in its harshest form, which would deny, which would criminalize presence of immigrants here, which would deny the existence of a guest worker program and so on, that threatens, I think, and I think a lot of Republican strategists worry about this, threatens to cost George Bush and Karl Rove all the progress they‘ve worked so hard to achieve within the Republican Party among Hispanic voters.

OLBERMANN:  Howard, many of the protests over the weekend had numbers of participants that exceeded events during the Vietnam era.  How did we not see this coming?  How did the politicians not see this coming?

FINEMAN:  How do we never see anything coming, Keith?  How did we not see George Mason?  I mean, I think if you looked at the numbers, you would understand, because it‘s not just the 11 or 12 million illegals that are here.  It‘s the fact that those lives touch other lives in immigrant communities.

We‘re talking probably about a community of 25 or 30 million people, for whom this is of immediate life-and-death concern.  It‘s not surprising that this turnout would be there, if you think about it now, and also the fact that you‘ve got kids worried about their parents.

OLBERMANN:  Nice to see the democracy working in some places. 

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

FINEMAN:  You‘re welcome.

OLBERMANN:  It was only last week that President Bush could be heard in the tone of voice that might be the verbal equivalent of wagging the finger.  “No president wants war,” he said.

Tonight, more evidence to suggest, at least in his case, that might not have been true.  A secret prewar memo documenting an Oval Office meeting between Mr. Bush and his British counterpart, Tony Blair, long on the political table in England, now verified here.

It reveals the two were determined to go to war six weeks before invading Iraq, Mr. Bush, certain that war was, quote, “inevitable,” Mr.  Blair‘s chief foreign policy adviser at the time writing in the memo, quote, “Our diplomatic strategy had to be arranged around the military planning.  The start date for the military campaign was now penciled in for 10 March.”

Never mind that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had yet to address the United Nations for a second resolution condemning Iraq, one that, of course, the administration failed to secure.

Let‘s call in chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who has been following this story from Washington.

Andrea, good evening.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The president‘s critics were saying then that the war was a fait accompli, the U.N. presentation, all the diplomacy, virtually a sham.  Did this document, to any degree, confirm that timeline and that criticism?

MITCHELL:  Well, it certainly confirms that timeline.  Now, we should point out that there was a previous memo, also British, the so-called Downing Street memo, which reflected the reporting of another British official back the previous summer, which said to the British officials that, after a visit to Washington, that it was very clear that George Bush was set on going to war.

So there had been earlier reporting in the last year or so that there were war decisions being made six months in advance.  This clearly, though, does indicate that, at that meeting in the White House with Tony Blair, January 31, ‘03, five days before Colin Powell was going to the United Nations, that this really a military planning session, and that whether or not they found weapons of mass destruction, whether or not Saddam Hussein turned anything over, whether or not there was further action by the U.N., none of that was going to matter.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed, if there was an alternative to allied military action, to use that old familiar term, the memo suggests that the—Mr.  Bush, at least, might have been looking for ways to provoke Saddam Hussein into starting the shooting.  Is that correct?

MITCHELL:  Well, one of the most provocative things—and that‘s the right word to use, I think, for this, in this memo is the—David Manning, the now British ambassador, formerly national security adviser to Tony Blair, present at the meeting, saying that at one point, President Bush suggested painting a reconnaissance plane, a spy plane, an American U-2, in U.N. colors, hoping to provoke Saddam Hussein to fire at it, so that then they could justify invading.

OLBERMANN:  Is there anything in that memo, or anything previously from the Downing Street memos or any of the other paperwork that has come out of these series of meetings between Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair in ‘02 and ‘03, that suggests that either of them had an appreciation, had even a glimmer of just how difficult the aftermath of what they intended to do in Iraq might be?

MITCHELL:  Well, that‘s where this memo is really illustrative, because, in particular, Tony Blair asks about the aftermath, and Condi Rice steps to the plate at the meeting.  She was then national security adviser, and she says that they‘ve done a lot of planning on that.  Well, actually, the State Department had done a lot of planning on it.

But 10 days earlier, all that work had been taken away, and she had acquiesced in the decision by the White House to put Don Rumsfeld and the Pentagon in charge of postwar planning, and nobody read the thousands of pages that State Department analysts had written about it.

And, in fact, the president then comes forward at the meeting, according to Manning‘s memo, which has not bee contradicted by anyone, it was confirmed to me today by more than one source.  And the president steps forward and says that it was going to be basically easy.  The whole implication of his comments was that it was going to be quick, that it would be decisive.

And, of course, the march to Baghdad was.  But they did not anticipate the insurgency, did not anticipate how difficult it was going to be.  And Blair went along with Bush on all of it.

OLBERMANN:  Right about the war, wrong about the fight.  If nobody is contradicting the existence and the validity of this memo, is the White House saying anything today, tonight, about the conflict between what the memo says, and what was said in the news conference that they held that very afternoon?

MITCHELL:  Yes, they say there was no conflict.  And you have to admit, (INAUDIBLE) acknowledge, that in the actual words said at that news conference, they were telegraphing their hand pretty well.  They were at the time trying also to warn Saddam Hussein, and warn the allies, and let everyone know just how dire it was, because this was, you know, part of the poker game that they were playing.

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.  Great thanks for staying late with us tonight, Andrea.

MITCHELL:  You bet.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Take care.

Also tonight, what does it matter who runs our seaports if terrorists could run a truck through the security holes in our seaports?  An NBC News exclusive tonight, the secret government study that shows terrorists could still smuggle weapons of mass destruction into the country via the ports.

And not Jackie Mason, not Mason Adams.  March madness brings us one of the most unlikeliest teams ever in basketball‘s final four, George Mason.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  The port of Tampa is the 12th largest in this country.  It dominates this city‘s economy, it handles roughly 50 million tons of cargo a year, and the averages say 60 percent of what comes through here is never screened for nuclear material.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, if the controversy over the Dubai ports deal touched something visceral and emotional here and around the country, the exclusive report tonight from our chief investigative correspondent, Lisa Myers, will resonate with something more terrifying, undercover investigators successfully smuggling radiological materials into the country through these ports, enough to build two dirty bombs.

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LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  A key line of defense, the Port of Long Beach, California, busiest in the nation, 4.5 million shipping containers pass through each year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Want to take a reading on the indicator.

MYERS:  These big radiation portal monitors scan some but not all containers as they leave the port for traces of nuclear or radiological material.

But four and a half years after 9/11, Senate investigators say only 39 percent of all containers entering the U.S. are screened for nuclear material.  Many ports, including the third largest, Miami, still have only handheld detection devices of little value.

SEN. NORM COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA:  We still have massive blind spots in our ability to prevent nuclear material from being smuggled in this country.

MYERS:  And Senator Norm Coleman says the Department of Homeland Security still is not moving nearly fast enough.

This report, by the Government Accountability Office, concludes DHS is two years behind schedule in installing radiation monitors in ports, and not likely to have them all done even by 2009.  DHS has made more progress installing detection equipment at the borders, but here, investigators found another hole in the system.

(on camera):  Senator Coleman tells NBC News that undercover GAO investigators were able to bring enough radioactive material into the U.S.  to make two dirty bombs, penetrating both the northern and southern borders.

(voice-over):  Monitors detected the radiological material, but undercover agents produced fake papers and got the material in.

COLEMAN:  They were able to use counterfeit documents that they got off a basic program on a computer.

MYERS:  DHS officials say they are now looking at how to plug that hole.  But they insist significant progress has been made toward securing ports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And we feel that at seaports, that we‘re going to have a very suitable defense by the end of 2007.

MYERS:  A top expert says that‘s an illusion, that the new radiation monitors aren‘t enough.

STEPHEN FLYNN, PORT SECURITY EXPERT:  They‘re not enough because they still can‘t help us find a nuclear weapon, and they can‘t help us find highly enriched uranium.

MYERS:  Experts say that without added technology and much greater urgency, Americans will remain vulnerable to this very real threat.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And in every city in our country, over our collective shoulders, probably for decades to come, lingers the cold, silent shadow of September 11.

It got a little colder, a little closer today, that when Zacarias Moussaoui told us of the rest of the plan, at least as he understood it, at least as he wanted a Virginia courtroom to understand it, one to whom he has alternately insisted he was one of the masterminds and denied he was any part of it.

Today he said he was supposed to fly a fifth plane into the White House on 9/11 with the help of the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid.  Moussaoui also said he was aware of the plan to destroy the World Trade Center, that he misled and lied to investigators upon his arrest in August 2001 so that the attacks could still be carried out.

He has already pleaded guilty to the 9/11 charges.  This trial determines his sentence, life or death.

Reid, you‘ll remember, was arrested in December 2001.  He had tried to light a bomb rigged to his shoes on an American Airlines flight bound for Miami from Paris.  He failed, then other passengers detained him.  It was never explained why he simply did not go into, say, the lavatory and light the bomb in private there.

Also tonight, that which keeps us from running into the streets screaming sometimes.  Who‘s da bomb among celebrity women?  Someone has knocked Angelina Jolie off the top of the charts.  There‘s still time for you to bet on whom.

And who‘s the prettiest chicken in the henhouse?  Wait.  Didn‘t I just say it‘s no longer Angelina Jo --  Oh, literally?  A chicken beauty contest.  Oh, here we go.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Julian Glover turned 71 today.  You‘ve seen him.  If the character was stodgy or obtuse, then British, the odds are pretty good he played it.  Best, perhaps, in the most underrated sci-fi film of all time, “Five Million Years to Earth,” where he‘s the Army colonel too full of himself to realize that the thing discovered in the subway (INAUDIBLE) excavation isn‘t a bomb, but a prehistoric Martian spaceship carrying back surgically altered apes, all of them carrying the collective memory of the devil.

OK, I‘m giving away far too much of the plot here.  Happy birthday, Julian Glover.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin here in the official Oddball state of Florida with the big annual Miami-Dade County Fair Chicken Beauty Contest.  Dozens of south Florida‘s most fetching fowl on hand, shampooed, blow-dried, and looking for the title of Miss Bird Flu 2006.  Just kidding about the flu part.

It was just like a real beauty pageant, the contestants even kept in the same kinds of cages that they use for Miss America.  But the winner here didn‘t take the crown for looking best in a swimsuit, nor for twirling a silly baton.  Oh, no, apparently she was sleeping with one of the judges.

Checking Oddball traffic, you‘re going to want to avoid Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn for, say, the next couple of days, as crews do a little a pothole repair, the driver of an SUV managing to escape just seconds before her truck was swallowed up by a sinkhole caused by a water main break.  Officials say the truck landed on a gas main, an electrical box, and possibly Jimmy Hoffa.  But all three were shut down safely.

And underneath was this prehistoric Martian spaceship with surgically altered apes that...

Ehh.

Finally, to Davis, California, for another inspirational story of a skydiving granny.  Anne Jensen (ph) certainly doesn‘t look 80.  Apparently she doesn‘t feel 80 either.  Guys, have we checked?  Maybe she‘s not really 80.  Well, what does it matter, at least until she sues us.  She jumped and landed safely, but of course, there is only room on this show for one skydiving grandma anyway.  Unless you can top this, I don‘t care how old you or anybody else pretends to be.

From grandmothers going out the escape hatch, to college basketball brackets going out the window.  George Mason University had never won a game in an NCAA basketball tournament.  Now the school finds itself in the final four.

And from triumph to tragedy, a deadly crash at the racetrack yesterday.  Why did the race still go on?

Details on both of these stories ahead.

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

Number three, Tom DeLay.  Ah, what‘s next?  Now he‘s had his license to carry a concealed weapon revoked by the Texas State Department of Public Safety.  It‘s the law there.  If you‘ve been indicted for a felony, well, they can take your gat away for you.

Number two, Sonia Goldstein of Saugus (ph), California.  She says she got a recruitment letter from the U.S. Marine Corps asking her to consider joining up.  It said life in the Marines would test her physical and mental abilities beyond anything you‘ve ever known, and that her unique language skills would be very useful.  Strange, she says, because she only speaks English.  And, by the way, she‘s 78 years old and needs a walker to get around.

Number one, an unknown donor to VH1 television for every $25 donation to a Hurricane Katrina fund, the cable net would play the video of your choice on the air.  For $35,000, you could program an entire hour, which one gentleman did, a full two hours, or hour, rather, of two videos, the German and English versions of “Ninety-Nine Red Balloons” by Nina.

Now, how much does it cost for you—us to get you to stop playing the damn thing?

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OLBERMANN:  To hear the basketball expert Dick Vitale explained it, it‘s a matter of parity P-A-R-I-T-Y.  To read him explain it on the closed captioning on ESPN, something gets lost in translation, the word is spelled P-A-R-O-D-Y.  Parody.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN.  Perhaps tonight, with George Mason University number one in your hearts, but probably not on any of your final four in any of your brackets, among the NCAA surviving quartet, it could be parity, or it could be parody depending on your viewpoint and your bracket.

Correspondent Kevin Cork has the story of the little college that could.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By George!  The dream is alive!

KEVIN CORK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Forget the glass slipper, this Cinderella is sporting high tops and just crashed college basketball‘s biggest party. 

JAMAR BUTLER, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY:  When that final buzzer went off, I mean, that was just pure joy, indescribable joy. 

CORK:  Joy for little known George Mason University after the 11th seeded Patriots knocked off top seed and tourney favorite Connecticut to reach the Final Four. 

TONY SKINN, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY:  We weren‘t supposed to beat Michigan State, we beat them.  We weren‘t supposed to beat North Carolina.  We beat them.  We definitely wasn‘t supposed to be UConn.  So, I think we‘ll stick to the script.

CORK:  Experts may not have predicted the victory, but students at the suburban Washington D.C. school certainly known how to react. 

JIM LARRANAGA, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY:  Just look around.  It‘s creates school spirit.  And that‘s what counts.  That‘s what it‘s all about.  Feeling like are you part of something bigger than yourself. 

CORK:  And wins don‘t get much bigger than this, until, of course, next weekend. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Kevin Cork, great thanks. 

Joining me now, the college basketball writer of the Associated Press, Jim O‘Connell.  Jim, thanks for your time tonight.

JIM O‘CONNELL, AP:  Oh.  Good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Going back to where we started in this segment.  Vitale says the success of a George Mason or other, quote, unquote small schools, in the tournament owns to parity, the big stars left the big schools early for the pros.  The George Maysons kept their teams intact for years at a stretch.  Is that a good enough explanation? 

O‘CONNELL:  It‘s part of it.  It‘s something that‘s been going on for a long time that you look back to when Penn made it in the Final Four as a 9th seed in the Ivy League.  And then you get into the ‘80‘s when Rick Majaris (ph) had teams like Ball State going, and they would scare people into the second weekend and then you get to Gonzaga became the first of the mid-majors to really get there, then they lost to Connecticut in the round of eight.  Kent State did it a couple years ago.  So it‘s been a progression of everybody going a little bit further.

George Mason took it that one step further.  And I think when you look at the whole bracket you can kind of throw the numbers out after the first day.  And it gets together and we see these teams are all pretty even.  And it used to be that it was unheard of for a four team to beat a three and now the only one that‘s sacrosanct anymore is one and 16. 

So, yeah, the playing field is evened out for a bunch of reasons.  And the obvious ones are reduction of scholarships and the NBA taking players early.

OLBERMANN:  The upsets, of course, are the charm of the opening games of the tournament.  They have been for as long as they‘ve had the tournament.  But is it a good thing or a bad thing for college basketball as a sport, as a TV attraction, as a business, to have a George Mason, to have one of the mid majors in the Final Four? 

O‘CONNELL:  Oh, it‘s definitely good.  You know, you always want to change things.  And we have had different teams in the Final Four for the last few years.  There haven‘t been many repeaters.  You know, it‘s different teams every year.  And you want a team like George Mason.  It‘s such a great story. 

But I think that college basketball kind of has a ceiling in who pays attention to it.  It‘s not going to be that all of a sudden the casual sports fan is going to come running over.  They want to see either a team they know like Duke or a great story like George Mason.  In between, no matter how good the teams are, they‘re kind of staying away from it.  And they want to wait for the big story either way.  This is the one they‘ve all been waiting for this weekend. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  And to this team in particular as it has adopted, I guess, by every fan who does not have a rooting interest or a betting interest in one of the other schools, George Mason beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, UConn.  It certainly can‘t be called a fluke through that point.  But what does the semi-final against Florida look like? 

O‘CONNELL:  It‘s going to be a different opponent like they have had every time.  You know, Michigan State they outrebounded one of the best rebounding teams in basketball.  They went against North Carolina, the really good young team that had had such a great close to the season.  Wichita State, they really controlled them the entire game.  And then UConn, they took UConn‘s best hit, came back and took it again.  And now with Florida, it‘s going to be a different kind of team, a team that‘s going to try to make them run more, do things differently.  But George Mason is one of those teams that does what it does well.  And it‘s not going to change.  You‘re going to have to change to try to beat them. 

OLBERMANN:  So, ultimately here, going into this—what, the first time in in 26 years that there is no No. 1.  Three of the No. 1-seeded teams lost over the weekend.  Duke had already lost LUS.  Who is favored next weekend? 

O‘CONNELL:  I think it‘s Florida and LSU both right now.  I think UCLA is struggling offensively.  So, you have to give the nod to LSU.  They‘ve been playing so well.   That front court of Glenn Davis and Tarence Thomas has been tremendous.

And on the other side, I think everybody is going to say, well, the run has to end someplace for George Mason.  Florida is playing so well right now.  They‘ve won nine in a row.  But again, they‘re a young team.  If you look at this game and break it down, it‘s the young guys, four sophomore for Florida against the older team from George Mason.  But I think Florida and LSU are the favorites, right now.  And probably Florida a little bit from all the experts are leading with them. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, but everyone wants to see George Mason at least in the final.  Jim O‘Connell, the college basketball expert of the Associated Press.  Great pleasure to have you on the program. 

O‘CONNELL:  Thanks a lot. 

OLBERMANN:  Lost in the celebrations of course at George Mason was a sports tragedy here in Florida that begged the question, is this really like show business?  Must the game always go on? 

It was the opening of the Indy car racing season in Miami, a gruesome spectacle, a broadside crash just two minutes into the last practice before the race itself yesterday.  The car with Ed Carpenter went into a spin, bounced off the wall, the slid toward the inside of the track.  And only five seconds later Paul Dana‘s car slammed into the rear of Carpenters at 175 miles an hour. 

There was warning of the danger, but Dana may have been prevented from passing Carpenter, because of another car to his right.  Carpenter sustained no major injures, was hospitalized overnight, but Dana was dead.  Yet the race began as scheduled just hours after the crash. 

What would have happened had a basketball player died in warm-ups hours before one of those Elite Eight games yesterday?  Or during one of the games?  Would the game have gone on as scheduled?  There is an answer to some degree in precedent.  At the 1990 West Coast Tournament Championship, Loyola Marymount start Hank Gathers collapsed and died of heart failure with 13 minutes to play in the first half of the game. 

Before Gathers fate was even known, the game had been suspended, ultimately it was canceled, never completed.  We are apparently willing to play on when death comes hidden inside bullets with wheels, not when it has an unavoidably human face.  The most Paul Dana got was that the other two drivers employed by the same racing team did not compete in the race yesterday. 

He was 30-years-old. 

Also tonight, the pastor‘s wife in court accused of killing her husband.  The latest from Tennessee amid dark rumors of an awful and concealed nightmare life at home. 

And another family drama that is still playing out a year after the death of Terri Schiavo, her husband still facing off against again her family and now taking on the politicians who put them all under the spotlight.  The first cable news interview with Michael Schiavo ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Were you looking for it, you would find it in the seventh paragraph of the Associated Press report, friends have described the Winklers as a happy couple with no outward signs of discord.  Somewhere off to the side of the tragedy and the horror of a husband‘s murder by his own wife, there is a small patch of frustration over that cliche.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a preacher‘s wife confesses to his shooting death, amid dark rumors that the discord and the unhappiness were there.  The only thing absent were those outward signs.  Our correspondent in Selmer, Tennessee is Ron Mott.  Ron, good evening.

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you.  Those who came to the courthouse today to find answers about why this popular minister is dead didn‘t get those answers today.  Police say they know why Mary Winkler killed her husband, but they aren‘t offering any more than that. 

Mary Winkler‘s lawyer says there may be some mitigating factors here that will reduce this to an accident when all is said and done.  Of course, this is fueling speculation about what could have driven a preacher‘s wife to murder? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MOTT (voice-over):  At the Fourth Street Church of Christ in Selmer, Tennessee, signs of spring, church members planting flowers, changing light bulbs, sprucing up, fulfilling their young minister‘s wishes. 

JOHN FOOTE, CHURCH MEMBER:  This is something he wanted, this is something that we all wanted.  And it‘s sad that he‘s not here with us. 

MOTT:  The leader of this congregation for a little over a year, 31-year-old Matthew Winkler enjoyed a devoted and growing following.  He and his wife Mary moved their family in February of last year from McMinneville (ph), Tennessee where he was a youth pastor.  Last Wednesday night, Matthew Winkler was found shot to death in the bedroom of their church-owned home.

Mary and the girls were gone.  When police caught up with her 24 hours later in Orange Beach, Alabama, 350 miles away, they say she confessed. 

Her attorney, Steve Farese. 

STEVE FARESE, MARY WINKLER‘S ATTORNEY:  I am not at that point where I would be willing to concede that this was an event that was planned, or was an event that was meant to be.  And you know, where I grew up, there was an old saying that saying something doesn‘t necessarily make it so. 

MOTT:  Farese told NBC News his client will plead not guilty.  That she and her husband were involved in a, quote, dangerous situation.  And she may have run thinking no one would believe her. 

Investigators say Mary and Matthews‘ children were in the home at the time of the shooting. 

BETTY WILKERSON, CHURCH SECRETARY:  Well I‘m stunned, I‘m shocked, but I‘m not making any judgments.  That‘s not my place to judge.  I‘ll leave it up to the court system and the final judgment to God. 

MOTT:  But how could such violence rip apart what many believed was a strong, loving Christian marriage and family?  One official ruled out infidelity as a reason, though would not comment on whether abuse played a role, leading those who thought they knew the family well in search of clues to explain the unthinkable. 

PAM KILLINGWORTH, CHURCH MEMBER:  The older girl, Patricia, when they did their prayer circle she had mentioned, you know, we‘ll pray for my family. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MOTT:  Patricia and her two siblings are in the care tonight of their paternal grandparents.  As I speak, there is a wake underway for Matthew Winkler is scheduled to be buried tomorrow.  And Mary Winkler is back here in court on Thursday—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Ron Mott at Selmer, Tennessee.  An extraordinary story.

Great thanks. 

Of course no segue even imaginable to our nightly round up of entertainment and celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

And the results are in, though, readers of the men‘s magazine “FHM” have voted to reveal this year‘s 100 sexiest women in the world.  Like people read it. 

Coming in at number 5, Keira Knightley of “Pride and Prejudice” fame.  Number four, the soon to be divorcee Jessica Simpson.  Number three, actress Jessica Alba.  The runner up, the pregnant United Nations goodwill ambassador, Angelina Jolie.  She was number one last year.  And the new winner, star of “Match Point” and “Lost in Translation,” 21-year-old Scarlett Johansson.  She says she would like to thank all the readers of “FHM” magazine for the huge compliment.  Readers.  Um-hmm.  National Enquirer has more readers. 

We‘re now learning that Demi Moore is pregnant with Aston Kutcher‘s baby.  An insider telling that tabloid 43-year-old Moore took a home pregnancy test before having the results confirmed by a doctor.  Moore‘s spokesman denying she‘s due for a fourth time.  Demi Moore has three daughters with ex-husband and fellow actor Bruce Willis.  It is reported that Moore‘s children refer to Kutcher as M.O.D., meaning, my other dad. 

Also tonight, in his first cable interview since his wife died, a year ago this Friday, Michael Schiavo forms a political action committee, writes a new book, and prepares inevitably for more controversy over what he‘s saying right now. 

That‘s next.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s list of today‘s three nominees for worst person in the world.

The bronze, Sean Hanson of Spokane, Washington, indicted in election day dirty tricks scheme by Republicans in New Hampshire in 2002.  Hanson is accused of using his telemarketing company to bombard the Democratic get out the vote offices with hundreds of hang-up phone calls in an attempt to effect the outcome of the election there.

Tonight‘s runner up, the Washington State Board of Tourism getting some criticism over it‘s new campaign slogan, “say Wa.”  As in, say Washington.  Developing the idea took 18 months, involved a 32 member brand development task-force with a budget of almost $450,000 and an I.Q.  totaling 78. 

But our winner, Jerome Corsi, author of the infamous swift boat book “Unfit for Command.”  He has admitted now to lifting research and information and seemingly entire passages from the column of another conservative columnist Debbie Schlussel.  The admission comes after Schlussel complained about plagiarism and posted Corsi‘s WorldNetDaily column side by side with her original.  Jerome Corsi, himself, evidently the captain of a none too swift boat.  And today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One year ago today, the Florida supreme court rejected a last minute appeal from Terri Schiavo‘s parents to have her feeding tube reinserted.  Two more appeals were rejected.  And finally on March 31, a year ago this Friday, Terri Schiavo died with only her husband by her side. 

Her case had spent eight years, 40 different court cases and the intervention of Florida‘s governor, members of Congress, even the president.  Now in our No. 1 story, tonight, the unexpected commemoration, the almost reclusive husband becomes a political activist and an author.  Michael Schiavo‘s book, “Terri: The Truth” reached stores today.  Her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, released they‘re own book, a life that matters tomorrow. 

They still insist she was not profoundly brain damaged when she died, they disagree with autopsy results that showed her clearly blind with a brain that was profoundly atrophied. 

In his first cable news interview, Michael Schiavo joined me for 30 minutes of conversation, much of it painful, some of it political, all of it personal.  We will be bringing you his comment tonight and tomorrow.  They will doubtless spark reaction and criticism.  That criticism must doubtless begin with those other authors, his former in-laws.  And what he thought of them. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The people who opposed your position on this clearly politicized Terri‘s life and Terri‘s death.  Do they not now have an opportunity to come back and say ah ha, now Michael Schiavo is also politicizing her life and her death? 

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI.ORG:  I don‘t think I am out there to politicize, I‘m out there to hold these people accountable. 

These people should not have done what they had done.  Would you—I mean, any American, you look at the polls, 80 percent, 87 percent of the people disagreed with what these politicians did.  They walked into somebody‘s personal lives and took over. 

Then you have Tom DeLay making the same decision for his father.  I‘m not understanding that point.  You know, two weeks prior to Terri dying or the feeding tube even being removed, they never even knew who Terri Schiavo was. 

OLBERMANN:  Was that the breaking point on this for you?  I think for a lot of outside observers, myself included, the moment that this seemed to leave the world of ordinary politics, or even of ordinary rationality was the moment when senator after senator and congressman after congressman got up on television, on CSPAN, on the networks in front of the nation and were doing the traditional hand ringing at them telling their interpretations of your story and your wife‘s story.  And very few of them knew how to pronounce your last name.  Her last name.  Was that it for you? 

SCHIAVO:  You know, when this is happening, my major concern was Terri.  It did make me angry hearing these people talk about my personal life when they didn‘t even know us.  They didn‘t—as you say, they didn‘t even know how to say my name. 

I invited Governor Bush, I invited President Bush to come see Terri.  Come talk with me, come hear our side.  They never showed up.  Governor Bush was 20 minutes away from Terri on a certain day and never stopped by to see her.  We tried to get in touch with them, nobody ever wanted to listen to our side.  So, now it‘s my turn to start speaking out. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you think that some of the politicians were sincere, but mistaken as opposed to merely trying to make an opportunity for themselves out of this or make an opportunity for certain aspect of the political spectrum?  Was there anybody in this who was just sincerely mistaken?

SCHIAVO:  I don‘t think anybody was sincerely mistaken.  I think Bill Frist, if you look at him now, I think he is trying to back track and use the Terri Schiavo case to win more votes, because he knows he was wrong. 

He should have never opened his mouth.  He diagnosed—he‘s a doctor.  He diagnosed a patient from watching an hour‘s worth of tape.  But the he says he does it.  He didn‘t do that.  It‘s not true. 

Look at Tom DeLay.  He used Terri to hide behind his own problems.  He used Terri as a front. 

OLBERMANN:  And for her parents, for the Schindlers, was it wishful thinking?  Or what happened with their approach in those final days and weeks? 

SCHIAVO:  I think the Schindlers got caught up in the right to life movement.  I believe they have sold their souls to these people.  I do believe that her mother understands.  I do believe her mother knew that this was Terri‘s wish. 

But her mother was kind of controlled.  So, as far as the rest of the Schindlers, I mean, if you look at her sister and brother before the media showed up, I think I can count on one hand in the last 10 years that Bobby ever visited Terri. 

Suzanne, I don‘t think she ever visited Terri. 

I mean, Terri—When Bobby walked into the nursing home prior to Woodside, they had to ask him for identification because they didn‘t know who he was.  And to stand out there and say the things he said just blew my mind. 

OLBERMANN:  What changed them in your opinion?  What—was there guilt that motivated them at that point?  You say that your former in-laws had sold their souls to those—to the activists.  Was that—what made this all happen this way inside them do you think? 

SCHIAVO:  I believe that they have been fed so much information through the Randall Terry‘s of the world, through the coalitions, the right to life coalitions, they were just inundate with this stuff and fed them power and gave them power to do what they were doing.

Like I said, with their father, I don‘t want to get into any back stabbing or anything like that, but a little greed with him.  I believe her that mother, like I said, who really knew that this was Terri‘s wish.  If you can watch Terri‘s mother throughout that whole proceeding, especially at the end when she made her speeches, you can tell that she was told what to say. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Much more on the personal nature of the family battle, more of my interview Michael Schiavo here tomorrow night 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m. Pacific.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, 1061st day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  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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