updated 3/29/2006 11:42:21 AM ET 2006-03-29T16:42:21

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Dana Milbank, Michael Schiavo, Skyler Bartels

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Tonight on COUNTDOWN, my interview with Michael Schiavo, his first on cable news.  The politicians made his life and his wife public targets.  Now he is targeting them.

I‘ll be back with Michael Schiavo later in this news hour, and for the full newscast again tomorrow night.

First, our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s headlines with Alison Stewart.

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

To shake up or not to shake up?  Not.  White House chief of staff Andy Card steps down, and his replacement is his former deputy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Simply rearranging the deck chairs on the “Titanic” by replacing one person with another isn‘t enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  So one Republican is leaving his job, others would like to keep theirs.  With midterm elections creeping up, can the GOP recharge and reboot?

Beware of the dangers lurking behind alternative spring break.  No, not girls gone wild.  It‘s a guy gone Wal-Mart.

And underwear for your iPod.  Fashion meets function, or TMI technology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Add a little bit of more fabric, you cut in a little pouch, and you can put your iPod right there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  OK, what‘s next?  Thongs for your keys?  Shudder to think.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m also thankful for (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And good evening, everybody.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

Well, if you want fries with that shakeup, well, you‘re only going to get the ‘taters.  Today, less of a shake and more of a shuffle from the Bush administration.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Andrew Card is out as chief of staff.  His former deputy, Josh Bolten, is in.  No need to call the moving vans.  Bolten has spent six years of service in the Bush White House, so you wouldn‘t really call him fresh blood.

The president announcing Mr. Card‘s resignation this morning.  His last day on the job will be April 14.  He gave a whole two weeks‘ notice, or got two weeks‘ notice.  Mr. Bush praised his old friend for his long hours.  They go way back to Texas.  And praised him for his contribution to the history books.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Andy Card has served me and our country in historic times—on a terrible day when America was attacked, during economic recession and recovery, through storms of unprecedented destructive power, in peace and in war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Mr. Card might want to leave the Katrina part off his resume.  It‘s just a thought.

As for what we know about the new guy, or the newish guy, Josh Bolten began as policy director of Bush 2000 campaign for president, serving next as Card‘s deputy, and most recently, as a budget director of the White House.  The president today explaining his decision to promote from within.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Josh is a creative policy thinker.  He‘s an expert on the budget and our economy.  He‘s respected by members of Congress from both parties.  He‘s a strong advocate for effective, accountable management in the federal government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Of course, there are those in both parties who would say that replacing one member of the president‘s inner circle with another is not the kind of radical change from which Mr. Bush might benefit, or at least Republicans who have to run for office in the future might benefit.

While it might be more balanced to run a Republican sound bite right now to make this point, using a capital-D Democrat, Senator Chuck Schumer, will make it so much more entertaining.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCHUMER:  First, I want to salute Andrew Card.  He‘s a good, strong public servant, and I wish him well in the future.

But simply changing a single position is not going to solve the White House‘s problems.  Simply rearranging the deck chairs on the “Titanic” by replacing one person with another isn‘t enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Time now to call in “Newsweek” White House correspondent Richard Wolffe.

Hi, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about timing for a minute.  President Bush has reportedly resisted the pressure to replace Andrew Card for a while now.  First of all, where is the pressure likely to have come from, and why the switcheroo now?

WOLFFE:  Well, the pressures come from all sides.  It‘s no secret to the White House how badly things have been going, and they‘re hearing it from members of Congress, from the president‘s own friends.  And, of course, there‘s a lot of internal rumor-mongering and gossiping that goes on.

Why now?  That‘s a good question.  You have to look at the date his resignation was submitted.  Andy Card talked to the president on March 8.  That wasn‘t just another day in the White House.  That was the day when the Dubai ports deal, the wheels came off that whole deal.

And Congress rebelled hugely.  The House Appropriations Committee voted the whole thing down.  And the compromise that the White House had been trying to build up really collapsed.  It was a signal failure, both for the administration, in terms of how the deal was processed, but also in the management of Congress.  And that‘s really what‘s been pushing this on.

STEWART:  There‘s something well known in politics as a fatigue factor.  In the real world we all call it just burnout.  So Andy Card, six years, he wants to go.  That‘s understandable.  But Josh Bolten has been there six years as well.  Why wouldn‘t Bolten have the same fatigue, or is the chief of staff its own special kind of crazy in the White House?

WOLFFE:  It is a particular circle in how (ph).  Andy Card was first in and last out, and he prided himself on that.  And everybody knew he was burnt out.  Now, I mean, to give him credit, he survived a very long time in a burnout job, and he‘s very dedicated, close to the president.  And really, there are few people that have bad things to say about Andy Card, a very decent guy and with a strong sense of public service.

Josh Bolten‘s a much smarter guy, but his hours haven‘t been as long.  Now, maybe five years of waking up at 4:00 in the morning will do something to his brain power.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the chief of staff as an influential position in this particular White House.  Has it been, as compared to previous administrations, and can it be with Karl Rove right there?

WOLFFE:  Well, there are lots of different models for how you work as chief of staff, and sometimes it‘s more of a partnership, and sometimes it‘s more of a staff position.  Andy Card has basically viewed it, as he said today in his comments in the Oval Office, as a staff position.

You‘re right to point that out, and about Karl Rove‘s influence.  It‘s not just Karl, of course, it‘s Vice President Dick Cheney too.  There are a number of other people who act as superadvisers, superchiefs of staff, and that‘s a problem for someone taking up the job now, and it was a problem for Andy Card.

STEWART:  As budget director, Bolten has a lot of experience dealing with Congress.  How will this help this president at this time?

WOLFFE:  Well, this is the most difficult relationship for the president, because it‘s not just members of Congress, of course, it‘s his own party.  The party‘s fracturing, it‘s looking for its own—to save its own skin in 2006 in the midterms.  The 2008 contenders are out there.

Josh has got a lot of experience in terms of the budget, but that doesn‘t mean to say he‘s been successful.  In fact, one of the worst track records for the administration is reining in spending.

Josh has some experience of that, but actually, Andy Card and Dick Cheney were brought in originally in 2000 as the experienced Washington hands.  So Josh has still got some way to go there.

STEWART:  And one final question.  You touched on this a little bit in

your first answer.  With all the things that have been problematic for this

White House, the war in Iraq, maybe Donald Rumsfeld should step down from -

there‘s trailers in a park somewhere that could be for Katrina victims. 

Michael Chertoff, maybe he would be a good person in the shakeup.

Why Andy Card, who seemed to have been so very loyal and always right there?

WOLFFE:  Well, he offered his head up, for a start.  And the political sort of pressure wasn‘t—it was easier to deal with the political pressure for Andy Card in terms of getting rid of him.

But the point about Andy is that he has his finger in everything.  Katrina, where Katrina failed was really the channel of communication up through the White House.  That was Andy Card‘s team.  So he blame—he bears some of the blame for all of these problems.  And again, look at how long he served.  It‘s only natural that it would be time for him to go.

STEWART:  “Newsweek” White House correspondent Richard Wolffe.  Thanks a lot, we appreciate it.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

STEWART:  If it looks like Republicans in Congress are more likely to stand up to President Bush lately, the calendar provides the surest clue why.  Tuesday, November 7, baby.  Midterm congressional elections are little more than seven months away, and here‘s the equation.  President Bush, plus decreasing poll numbers, equals Republican candidates keeping their distance.

The war in Iraq entering its fourth year, just one worry as Republicans face voters who may just remember how much they have contributed to the president‘s agenda.  But also at issue, whether or not the Democrats can capitalize on some voters‘ unease.

Our correspondent is Chip Reid.

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CHIP REID, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Facing an array of politically explosive issues, from immigration to war, Congress returned to Washington this week amid signs Republicans are increasingly worried about losing majority control.

In the Senate, where Republicans have a 55 to 45 edge, a takeover is now seen as unlikely, but not impossible.  And in the House, strategists from both parties say Democrats have a realistic shot at gaining the 15 seats they need to take control.

Republican sources tell NBC News more than two dozen House Republicans who recently took a media training course were despondent and pessimistic about the election.

BILL MCINTURFF, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  This is the first time a majority of people in this country have ever said they want a Democrat House since 1995.

REID:  House Democrats are targeting 17 Republican-held seats in Democratic-leaning states in the Northeast, hoping to make these five blue states bluer, just as Republicans made seven Southern states redder in 1994, when they won control of the House.

Not long ago, even Democrats were reluctant to predict victory.  But not any more.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I think the Democrats would clearly take back the House.  And I think we have a clear shot at the Senate.

REID:  And while most political analysts still say it‘s a long shot, Democrats say their central strategy is working, tying Republicans to an unpopular President Bush.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS:  All they do is rubber-stamp this president‘s policies, without a single question of why.  And then the only reason they‘re raising some questions now is because they‘re scared of being seen for what they‘ve done.

REID:  But the head of the House Republican Campaign Committee says a lot can change between now and November and argues the president‘s standing has little bearing on congressional elections.

REP. THOMAS REYNOLDS ®, NEW YORK:  It always gets back to local elections, local politics, and that‘s how we‘re going to win a Republican majority in 2006 again.

REID (on camera):  And while polls say voters don‘t think very highly of congressional Republicans, they also show serious concerns about Democrats, with voters unsure exactly what it is they stand for.

Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Two prominent figures from the Reagan era have died—

Caspar Weinberger, who served as President Reagan‘s secretary of defense, and Lyn Nofziger, a key strategist.  Both men became Reagan loyalists when he was the governor of California.

Caspar Weinberger first served under President Richard Nixon as his budget director, a role which earned him the nickname Cap the Knife.  Ironically, the man who slashed budgets could spend with the best of them.  As President Reagan‘s defense secretary, he presided over the biggest peacetime increase in the military budget in U.S. history.  Mr. Weinberg was also a key figure in the Iran-contra scandal but was ultimately pardoned by President Herbert Walker Bush in 1992.  Caspar Weinberger died of pneumonia.  He was 88 years old.

Lyn Nofziger also worked for both President Nixon and Reagan, an irreverent and fiercely loyal political adviser during Reagan‘s first year in office.  Nofziger was also a reporter and an editor for 16 years.  Lyn Nofziger died of cancer at the age of 81.

It was a year ago this week that images of protests outside the hospice caring for Terri Schiavo were beamed around the world.  Now in its first cable news interview, Michael Schiavo explains to Keith what was going through his mind as the crowds gathered and the attention grew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, TERRI SCHIAVO‘S HUSBAND:  Where were they for 15 years, all these friends and loved ones that stood there and said, Terri doesn‘t want to die, she‘s in there moving, she‘s talking to us?  When did you last visit Terri?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Keith talked with Michael about his pain and public turmoil.

And the very personal pain for the people who know Jack, Jack Abramoff.  On the eve of his sentencing, new letters surface pleading with the judge to see the good in Jack.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It used to be that if you were a Republican on Capitol Hill, lobbyist Jack Abramoff probably could have counted you among his friends.  But fraud and conspiracy convictions might leave a fellow a little lonely.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the good news for Mr. Abramoff on this eve of his sentencing.  Tonight, he still has pals, pen pals, really, 250 friends of Jack writing to the judge, asking for leniency.

The bad news, only one of them was a congressman.

Scores of Mr. Abramoff‘s friends, colleagues, and even relatives telling U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huff (ph) that the Jack they know should be given leniency because of his philanthropy, his faith, and his devotion to his family, if not for his hat.

And while only one of those letters is from a congressman, at least it‘s a really good letter.  Republican Dana Rohrabacher of California writing the Jack Abramoff he knows is a, quote, “far different Jack than the profit-seeking megalomaniac portrayed in the press,” end quote.  Rohrabacher adding that even though Abramoff, quote, “must pay the price for his wrongdoing, we hope the severity of his punishment will not prevent him from starting a new life after paying the price for his relatively recent misdeeds.”

The question, whether letters like Congressman Rohrabacher‘s will make any difference when Abramoff is sentenced in Miami tomorrow.

For more on that, and everything Jack, let‘s call in our friend Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Hi, Dana.

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

Evening, Alison.

STEWART:  Let‘s clarify things for folks.  The sentencing tomorrow isn‘t the only sentencing that Jack Abramoff will face, right?

MILBANK:  No, it‘s not.  In fact, this isn‘t even the important one.  This is involving the casino deal down in Florida.  The larger one in Washington comes later.

And largely, what we‘re looking at here, this letter-writing campaign is really symbolic.  We‘re talking about the difference between 70 months in prison down there, and 87 months.  We‘re fighting over about 17 months here.  And this all may be wiped out by what happens in Washington.

But really, this is sort of image rehabilitation, that Abramoff really feels that he did—he got a raw deal in the press.  But, of course, the press is just reporting what has been put out by the Justice Department and the Senate.  So they very much want to try to put a nice face on the man in the big Fedora.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about if those letters are actually going to influence this judge, or anyone.

MILBANK:  Well, I mean, some of it‘s kind of sad, because you have a 12-year-old (INAUDIBLE) -- I believe 16-year-old child writing.  It does reflect fairly well on him, because I think it was Truman who said, If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.  So he clearly has 250 dogs, at least, helping him out here.

The judge has fairly limited leeway, and there‘s another judge, and ultimately, the amount of time he spends in the pokey is going to be determined by how much he cooperates in the Justice Department‘s ongoing investigation.

STEWART:  Well, one of those dogs was elected, Congressman Rohrabacher  What do we know about that relationship?  Why would he put pen to paper, and put his name all over this?

MILBANK:  Well, they have a friendship, Rohrabacher says, going back 25 years.  It‘s a political friendship.  Rohrabacher has that best of all luxuries in politics, and that is, a safe seat, elected with 62 percent of the vote last time, very conservative district, he‘s a conservative Republican.

He has Abramoff ties.  He received money from him.  He went on one of these now-questionable trips to the Pacific with Abramoff.  But he has continued—the loyalty has continued to be seen in public, having dinner with him.  And I—you know, with so many people running the other way, there is something somewhat noble about that.

And, of course, that‘s because of his fine first name.

STEWART:  So as a --  Oh, very nice.  It‘s my middle name, by the way.

MILBANK:  Excellent.

STEWART:  What does he have to gain from it, the congressman?

MILBANK:  He has nothing to gain from this at all.  And that‘s why it‘s the rarest of events you will see in politics.  And it‘s a guy who is doing something to help a friend.  And there are articles even after the indictments came down that Rohrabacher was seen having dinner at Signatures, the now-closed restaurant owned by Abramoff.

So he‘s doing this as a show of support for an old friend.  And that‘s not a bad thing.

You know, if I could speak even in a personal sense, I haven‘t written any letters to judges, but not knowing all of the dealings that Abramoff had had, he was a good source, you‘d sit down and have lunch with him at Signatures or somewhere else, and a very charming man, and would invite people to his home for the holidays.

Now, of course, we don‘t know that he was involved in this massive fraud.

STEWART:  Dana Milbank of “The Washington Post,” thanks for joining us tonight.

MILBANK:  My pleasure.

STEWART:  Part of the Dana club.

This might sound like a sentence handed down by a judge, go live in Wal-Mart 24/7.  It wasn‘t punishment.  It‘s what one college student decided to do for spring break.  He‘ll explain it to us.

And the dashcam gods bless us again with more cool crash and smash ‘em.  Buckle your seat belts, look out for live wires.

Oddball‘s next.

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

Number three, the unknown and unarmed driver who got pulled over by New Zealand police for going 121 kilometers an hour, now, that‘s only 75 miles an hour.  But when I say he was unarmed, I mean he had no arms.  Police say he was using one foot on the gas and the other one to steer. 

Now, instead of being impressed, they charged him with dangerous driving. 

But at least he wasn‘t on a cell phone.

Number two, George Beane of Palmdale, California.  He says his bank account has been frozen after he used a debit card to buy two Whoppers and two Rodeo Cheeseburgers from his local Burger King last week.  Apparently the cashier at the drive-in must have been new, because instead of charging his card $4.33, she charged it $4,334.33.  It drained the account.

Three days later, he got a free meal from the King and a full refund, and all the little ketchup packages he could stuff in his pockets.  Mustard, too.

And number one, 3-year-old Devin Haskin of Austin, Minnesota.  He‘s the littlest—the latest little kid to find himself trapped inside one of those claw machine arcade games, this one at a local Godfather‘s Pizza.  His parents say they turned their back on him for just a few seconds, and he disappeared through prize hole.  He was stuck in there about 20 minutes before the firefighters ran out of quarters and just used the jaws of life to get him out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, pinch-hitting for Keith Olbermann while he enjoys a day off at spring training Florida.

And we‘ve reached the seventh-inning stretch of the COUNTDOWN, where we take a break from the real news of the day for a brief segment of the weird news, cool video, and dumb criminals.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Washington, D.C., where the latest in Apple accessories lets men make beautiful music in their pants, which I‘ve heard some men claim to do after one too many beers.  Thanks to the new iPod underwear from Universal Gear, it‘s nearly impossible now to tell if that guy on the subway is just fiddling with his clickwheels, or if he‘s some kind of pervert.  Designers are calling them Underoos for Adults, aimed mostly at athletes and others looking for a place to keep their tunes while working out.  However, downloading in your pants is not advisable.

To Peru for the ultimate accessory, the tricked-out casket.  A funeral home in Rima (ph) is displaying these works by international artists as part of an exhibition called “Pimp My Coffin.”  No, it‘s actually called “Dying with Art,” but frankly, I‘m sticking with “Pimp My Coffin.”

The work is a tribute to the traditions of the ancient Incas and offers the dead a colorful way to rest for eternity, plus, when future archeologists dig up (INAUDIBLE) in about 10,000 years, they‘ll think we were quite festive.

Finally to Whitehall, Ohio, for a very special nighttime car chase of the week, and usually these dashcam crashes in the dark leave something to b e desired.  But it worked to our advantage this time.  The guys in this car were suspected of stealing a man‘s wallet before leading cops in hot pursuit through the city streets.  But after a nudge from a police cruiser sent the car off the road and brought this chase to a shocking conclusion.

That was a transformer on top of a telephone pole they just hit, which fell, then exploded next to the car.  The driver was not hurt, and can be seen jumping out seconds before the transformer falls.  Police say they don‘t believe any of the other suspects were injured.  They don‘t believe it because they didn‘t catch them.  But they will.  And then they‘ll all be seeing sparks in the Big House.

Keith makes a return to the COUNTDOWN after the break.  More of the first interview ever conducted with Michael Schiavo after the death of his wife.  And how did this case garner the attention of a governor, Congress, a president, and the pope?  Is it all because of this videotape?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  How did that come to be on every television network on every television station in every television organization in the world?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Michael Schiavo with Keith Olbermann next, on why he became the center of a political firestorm, and what he‘s doing to exact political revenge.

That‘s next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Welcome back to COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart holding down the fort for Keith Olbermann.  Michael Richard Schiavo, he‘s been called an adulterer and murder.  He has received death threats for years and even had to organize his recent wedding under an assumed name.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, nearly one year after his wife‘s death, Michael Schiavo is telling his story in a new book and answering questions in his first cable news interview since the tragedy.  Explaining to Keith Olbermann exactly how he felt about his wife Terri and why he decided that it was time to let her go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m sure this there is going to be people see thing interview who don‘t listen or will not listen to what you say and will not give you a chance that no matter what you would say, no matter what evidence you would present, no matter what results were obtained in the autopsy, that there will be some people looking at the screen and forgive me for using this term, but will look at you still and say, that‘s a murderer.  How do you live your life when you know there are people who are going to make that conclusion about you without having anything to support it on?

MICHAEL SCHIAVO, DIRECTOR, TERRIPAC.ORG:  You know, I‘ve been called a murderer for many years now.  You kind of get used to it.  But I got a good family support.  I got a great wife now.  Great brothers.  You know, that‘s all I need.  You know, I can be a big boy and have broad shoulders and brush all that of.  And everybody is entitled to their opinion.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to go through the whole history again, as if you need to tell that story again.  But one thing I always thought has been left out of the equation from what I‘ve been able to tell from the history of your wife ice illness, there were extraordinary things that you did in the beginning that don‘t line up consistently with the idea that there was this evil man who was rushing to get his wife off life support later on.  Tell me about the first few months and years after the calamity befell Terri and your fundraising efforts and your career choice, tell me about those two things.

SCHIAVO:  Well, when Terri and I first married, I was a restaurant manager for many years and always wanted to get into the medical field.  Terri had the accident and in the beginning I raised a lot of money by selling hot dogs on St. Petersburg beach.  The community where I lived, we had social dances to help raise money.  And that was all towards getting Terri to California for an experimental surgery that would place an implant inside of her head that covered the top of her brain to help stimulate.

That procedure didn‘t work.  We raised money to get Terri into the Mediplex (ph) rehab center, which is very expensive.  These people deal with just brain injury trauma, spinal cord injuries.  Terri was there for about six months and the final outcome of that was they couldn‘t do anything more with Terri.

But I continued to fight.  I continued to give her rehabilitation.  The swallow studies that the A Schindlers say that I never done.  There were three swallow studies done.  They all were conclusive in saying that Terri is never going to be able to swallow, she‘ll continue to need the feeding tube.

I fought many, many, many years to help Terri.  And finally came to the conclusion this is not what Terri wanted and started my proceedings with that.

OLBERMANN:  In light of all that, I guess this is a kind of a philosophical question.  Before her death when we heard somebody involved in this, whether they knew what they were talking about, that they were related to her, that they were friends or it was just some of the protestors who were parked outside the hospice in that extraordinary scene last March and April, when they said Terri doesn‘t want to die, do you think really having been through the experience that you had where you didn‘t want to believe what the doctors were telling you, that this really was kind of a messed up version of the much more understandable and simple statement that you might feel in this situation, which is I don‘t want Terri to die?  Were people just refusing to face the reality of what her life had become?

SCHIAVO:  I think people were in denial.  Let me go back with some of these people that got on the camera saying Terri didn‘t want to die and the friends and family.  It just blew my mind that people were standing outside saying this stuff, that these people never even visited Terri in 15 years and all of a sudden they show up for the cameras saying this.  Where were they for 15 years?  All these friends and loved ones that stood there and said, Terri doesn‘t want to die, she‘s moving, she‘s talking to us.  When did you last visit Terri?

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to ask you to recap the entire experience, but what can you tell us about the final day?

SCHIAVO:  It was very hard.  It was very sad.  And in my book I‘ll get into it further.  And to this day it hurts.

OLBERMANN:  Was there this sense of releasing someone, was there the sense of fulfilling the wish that you have always said she had for those circumstances?

SCHIAVO:  Of course.  Of course.

OLBERMANN:  And for yourself, was there release then too?

SCHIAVO:  Yes.  It was a big sense of release.

OLBERMANN:  Let me wrap this up with a couple personal things.  You‘re married again?

SCHIAVO:  Yes, I am.

OLBERMANN:  Congratulations.

SCHIAVO:  Thank you very much, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How did you preserve that event without it being a tabloid affair, without it being helicopters overhead with cameras?

SCHIAVO:  It was hard, but we did it.  I guess when we went down to apply for our marriage license the day before, that‘s when it started hitting the news wire.

But we were pretty good at it.  We kept it quiet in our invitations, you know, they all knew, it was friends, family, loved ones, they all knew.  They were there to support us.  They came, we had a wonderful wedding.  It was beautiful.  My children were in it.

OLBERMANN:  And you even got a honeymoon?

SCHIAVO:  Yeah, about 10 of us, we all went to Vegas.

OLBERMANN:  Did you have to use an assumed name or is life not that .

SCHIAVO:  Everything we did for the wedding was under a different name.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  And I guess that‘s a legacy that unfortunately is going to be with you one way or another the rest of your life.

SCHIAVO:  Yes, it will be.  But you know something?  Terri was a beautiful woman.  And she‘ll always be with me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  More of Michael Schiavo‘s first cable news interview in over a year, including his views on this repeatedly played videotape of his wife from 2001, released by her parents, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, more of Keith Olbermann‘s first cable TV interview with Terri Schiavo‘s husband, Michael.  He continues to be angry over the way politicians treated his personal life and explains why he is now set up a political action committee in his wife‘s name to try and get some of those politicians out of office.  And trying to make sense of how his wife‘s condition and his decisions about her treatment became a national news story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Do you think you know why all this happened, can you sort of trace in your own mind the timeline by which Terri‘s life and your life became this political cause celebre, do you know why it happened?

SCHIAVO:  You know, to this day I still don‘t know why Terri and myself have become this political move.  This happens to people across this country every day.  Hundreds of feeding tubes are stopped every day.  The only thing I can think of is because the governor got involved here and he happens to be the brother of the president.  That‘s probably the only reason I can figure out why this all became political.

OLBERMANN:  Is this something to do with the media?  Is this that one piece of videotape that showed Terri‘s head moving and her eyes open?  In other words, I don‘t want to be grotesque and drudge all that up again for you, but if the videotape showed her eyes closed, would no one have ever known her name or your name in this context, do you think?

SCHIAVO:  I would tend to say yes.  If that video showed nothing, I‘m pretty sure this wouldn‘t have been to the point where it was.  But they showed that snippet of tape over and over again.  That‘s probably about two minutes of tape out of four hours.

OLBERMANN:  Never heard it explained.  Why did that tape come from, how did that come to be on every television network on every television station in every television organization in the world?

SCHIAVO:  That was illegally obtained by the Schindlers after the judge had told them—actually, had placed an order saying nobody is to video or tape or do anything of that manner with Terri and the Schindlers, during the second removal of the feeding tube, introduced this to the press.  And that‘s where that snippet of tape came from.

Also a lot of the tape was from the doctors‘ examinations also.  Where you see Dr. Cranford was sitting with the balloon.  That was from the—a lot of the tape came from the medical examinations from the doctors.

OLBERMANN:  I know it‘s asking you to step outside yourself and your personal pain and more than a decade of dealing with this on an everyday basis, but if you saw that tape and didn‘t know the story behind it or had not experienced it first hand, could you understand why people who were only seeing that tape would have drawn the conclusions that some of them did, that she was responsive, that this was not someone in the traditional vegetative state as laymen understood it, would you have been questioning if you had not known the whole back story?

SCHIAVO:  If I had not known the whole back story, I would probably have questioned it.  But then I would have done my homework and found out both sides.  I wouldn‘t pass judgment on a two-minute snippet of tape from the news.

OLBERMANN:  And I presume you would not have—if you were a doctor, you would not gotten up in front of the Senate and reached your conclusions based on that videotape or any other videotape that was presented to you?

SCHIAVO:  That‘s unfathomable that a doctor would do that.  It‘s just unquestionable that he stood up there and made that statement.  And then turns around and says, well, I didn‘t do it.  That‘s even more unbelievable.

This should not have happened, Keith.  These politicians should have not knocked on my door.  And I‘m sure you would feel the same way if it was you.  Sitting making a personal decision about your loved one in your own personal life, and you have these people that never even met you, never even knew you that all of a sudden are knocking on your door saying you can‘t do this.  It‘s not right.  This is America.

OLBERMANN:  But you say knocking on the door yet they didn‘t really knock on the door, they sort of just came through the wall, didn‘t they?

SCHIAVO:  Exactly.  That‘s a better statement.  No knocking.  They just walked right in.

OLBERMANN:  If they had knocked on the door—If literally one of them said I want to meet you and I want to come see her, what would you have said?

SCHIAVO:  Come on down.  I invited the president.  I invited Governor Bush.  Come down, meet me.  Come down and ask Terri, here, shake my hand, she wouldn‘t have done it.  Terri, can you look at me for a while and talk to me.  She wouldn‘t have done it.  The autopsy has proved that.

Terri was cortically blind.  Something that has been said in courts for years.  Dr. Cranford was the first neurologist to sit there and say she was cortically blind.  And the autopsy proved that.  Terri was blind.  Terri couldn‘t talk, she couldn‘t swallow.  The autopsy proved that.

Terri‘s brain was half the size of a normal brain.  That‘s how much it had shrunk.

OLBERMANN:  So now in the aftermath of all this, with the political action committee, you‘ll have to be in public to some degree.  Are you prepared for that?  Is it something you are now ready for, because obviously you have to the degree that was possible in the last year, year and a half, you have kept your privacy as much as anybody probably could under the circumstances.

SCHIAVO:  I‘m ready, willing, and going to forge ahead.  I‘m going to do this for Terri.  I‘m going to do it for everybody.  I‘m going to do it for every American in this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Keith‘s conversation with Michael Schiavo, a reminder, his book “Terri: The Truth” hitting bookstores yesterday.  Terri‘s family responding with their own book, out just today, “A Life That Matters.”

And a programming note, Terri Schindler-Schiavo‘s family, the entire Schindler family, will be interviewed tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  That is at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.

Finally, to the top of the COUNTDOWN, spring break generally looks like this.  But for one Iowa student, no beaches, no babes, he went in search of his own personal palooza, living it up at the Wal-Mart, round the clock retail fun.  That‘s ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  How do you decide to spend a break in South Padre Island, Texas?  He only need to travel about 1300 miles, Cancun, 1400 and Fort Lauderdale a mere 1600 miles and all the beer pong you can handle for a week.  But why travel all that distance when fun awaits you in the frozen food section?

Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, spring break, aisle six.  Most of Skyler Bartels‘ classmates hit the road for the traditional bacchanalian festivities of too much booze, bong hits and bikini clad sorority chicks like those ladies.  The Drake University sophomore writing major thought it would be cool to hang in the lawn and garden section of the country‘s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, spending his days watching DVDs, checking out the low, low prices and hiding from the overly friendly greeters, Bartels grand experiment, live an entire week in Wal-Mart.  It lasted about 41 hours before the 24-hour superstar security crew began to take notice of the extended stay guest.

Skyler Bartels, Wal-Mart shopper and squatter joins us now.  Skyler, thanks for being with us.

SKYLER BARTELS, SPENT 41 HOURS LIVING IN WAL-MART:  Thank you for having me.

STEWART:  I have to be Captain Obvious here with the first question. 

Why did you do this?

BARTELS:  The original intent was to see if there was any kind of documentary that could be done about it afterwards.  Like the McDonald‘s guy, “Super Size Me.”  This was a trial run to see if there was enough material, if it would be something people were interested in.  Kind of like to test the waters.

STEWART:  What do you think?  Is there a documentary in spending a week in Wal-Mart?

BARTELS:  There is definitely an interest.  If anything I‘ve learned in the past day and a half, here there are definitely people interested in the topic.  So I think full steam ahead if I get the chance.

STEWART:  Wal-Mart was not aware of your plan.  They didn‘t condone it, either, we should say that.  Did you tell anybody what you were planning on doing this spring break?

BARTELS:  Yeah.  My parents were involved in the planning process and the funding process.  My girlfriend knew about it and some key friends from home also.  But I didn‘t really want to tell a lot of people about it early on.

STEWART:  When you said, hey you know what, I‘m going to spend spring break in the Wal-Mart, what did your parents and more importantly, what did your girlfriend say?

BARTELS:  My parents were overly thrilled and eager to actually support me in it both as my parents and monetarily.

STEWART:  So they gave you the debit card?  Is that what you‘re telling me?

BARTELS:  Yeah.  They would put money in my account which later I would learn you can not take so much money out at a time or you can‘t use it at the same ATM too often or they freeze your could.  I went from a couple hundred to like $0.

STEWART:  So what did you do with yourself for 41 hours in the Wal-Mart?  Did you shake the Boggle sets?  What was going on?

BARTELS:  I hung out in the electronics department a lot.  They had some video game stuff set up there.  I played :Playstation and they had “Chicken Little” running 24-7.  Constant loop.

STEWART:  I‘m sorry.

BARTELS:  It wasn‘t too bad.  I hadn‘t seen it before.  I enjoyed it.

STEWART:  Now you have seen it a lot.

BARTELS:  I‘ve seen it plenty of times now.

STEWART:  So when did they start to get on to you that this guy has been here for a while?

BARTELS:  It was about at 41 hour mark.  It was the morning of what would have been day three, Tuesday.  I was exhausted, like I said.  My account had been frozen so I was broke, hungry and a little paranoid at the time.  I got four hours of sleep total out of the 41 which is not a good ratio.  There were some greeters up at the front of the store that I started to notice looking in my direction and pointing at me, talking.  At one point someone started questioning me.

How long had I been there?  Didn‘t I see you in such and such department five or six hours ago?  At which point the paranoia setting in, the lack of sleep.  I decided it was time.

STEWART:  Just because you were paranoid, it doesn‘t mean they were out to get you.

BARTELS:  That‘s true.

STEWART:  So one quick question.  What do people do in Des Moines at 2:00 a.m.?  You have a rear window into an amazing experience in the Wal-Mart.  What are people doing at 2:00 in the store?

BARTELS:  Buying DVD‘s and checking out the magazine section and wasting time.

STEWART:  Do you regret at all you didn‘t head to Cancun or Panama City or down to South Padre this spring break?

BARTELS:  Yeah, that‘s too loud for me in the end.

STEWART:  After this media tour, you have been on a lot of TV stations and the like.  What do you plan to do with the experience?

BARTELS:  I have been in talks with a couple of publishers, one in particular.  I‘m looking to maybe write something about it.

STEWART:  Skyler Bartels.  He has talks.  He‘ll soon have people. 

Thanks a lot for joining us.

BARTELS:  Yeah.  Thank you.

STEWART:  That does it for COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart.

We hand things over to Rita Cosby.  Keith will be back tomorrow.

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

END   

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