updated 4/12/2006 11:48:40 AM ET 2006-04-12T15:48:40

Guests: Dana Milbank, Carl Walz

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

Pennsylvania 1600.  Phone calls to the White House from a Republican operative convicted of phone jamming Democrats in 2002, on and leading up to the date of the election.  Two dozen innocent calls, or evidence the Bush White House may have helped obstruct a free and fair election?

What‘s the plan for Iran?  What if we threw a war, and nobody showed up?  Nuclear or not, President Bush‘s designs for that country, and why he may have a tough time selling them.

The Lodi terror trial.  Well, there was an arrest in Lodi, California. 

There‘s definitely a trial.  The terror part?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These individuals had no more to do with terrorism than a man in the moon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Put out a bulletin on that man in the moon guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By the end of the day, we‘re going to find, you know, the next Michael Jordan of the sport.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The agony, the ecstasy, and the end of the day cliche.  The 2006 Rock, Paper, Scissor championship.  Good old rock.  Nothing beats rock, dope (ph).

And the other way to beat rock, blow it up, blow it up real good.  The NASA plan to blast a hole in the moon.

And this fancy animation.  Your tax dollars in action.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

United States of America versus I. Lewis Libby, and United States of America versus James Tobin, two very different legal cases with an apparent common thread, that of a White House determined to win at any cost.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, another week, another political scandal.  This time, a Republican scheme to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting on election day, one that has now been tied directly to the Bush White House.

This man, Republican campaign operative James Tobin, recently convicted for his role in a phone-jamming operation, in which a telemarketing firm was hired to repeatedly call and hang up on a Democratic get-out-the-vote center in New Hampshire on election day 2002.

Victory that day going to Republican Senator John Sununu, defeating Democrat Jeanne Shaheen 41 percent to 46 percent, in what was expected to have been a close race.

How exactly was the White House involved?  Records showing that Mr.  Tobin, who was in charge of the scheme, made more than two dozen calls to the White House within a three-day period around the election, just as the jamming operation was finalized, carried out, and, lastly, shut down.

Some might call that Nixonian, the Watergate parallels to the CIA leak investigation having already been drawn by none other than Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York accusing President Bush of declassifying national security information for political purposes.  Going way out on a limb there, huh, Senator?

She even invoked the name Richard Nixon before quickly backing off, Senator Clinton telling Bloomberg News, quote, “Presidents should know not to go too far.  We saw it with Richard Nixon, claiming national security to break into Daniel Elsberg‘s psychiatrist‘s office, to break into the National Democratic Committee.

“Well, here we have a president, at least giving an implicit go-ahead-

“ the reporter then interrupting to ask if Mrs. Clinton was saying the CIA leak case was an analogous to what Nixon did, Mrs. Clinton replying, “We don‘t know, but we do know that for political purposes and to protect decision makers,” or “decisions and decision makers, material was declassified,” the reporter asking this time if Mrs. Clinton was convinced that her husband never engaged in any similar leaks, to which she replied, “Not that I‘m aware of.  Look, everybody leaks.”

No, the title of that book was, “Everyone Poops.”

On that note, I‘d like to call in “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank.

Good evening, Dana.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s work backwards.  Let‘s start with Senator Clinton and Nixonian.  It‘s not as if this same analogy has not occurred to anyone else previously, but is saying it to a reporter the smart way to go for a potential Democratic presidential candidate who also happens to be the former first lady?

MILBANK:  Not necessarily, and it‘s tricky business.  Now, as you point out, Hillary‘s not the first one.  In fact, Russ Feingold, who has this censure bill in Congress, had a whole hearing on this before the Judiciary Committee, where John Dean, a sometime guest on your show, was there drawing this explicit comparison with Nixon in other areas.

You know, there‘s something interesting about the—you know, how far you can go with this.  And I think this is why Clinton backed off a bit.  We asked in “The Washington Post” poll that was just out yesterday, where people were on censure and on impeachment.  (INAUDIBLE) impeachment, they were two to one against it.  So I think a lot of Democrat candidates are realizing their base is pretty stirred up, but the general population isn‘t necessarily.  So you got to be careful when you start throwing around the N-word.

OLBERMANN:  This other N-word, New Hampshire, 2002, (INAUDIBLE)...

MILBANK:  You can throw that one around all the time.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I can throw this around.  And we‘re going to for a couple of minutes here.  If the prosecutor in the phone center jamming case does not need the White House phone calls in order to convict this man Tobin and two others, and so as a result we never find out who received the calls at the White House, is this likely ever to touch the president?

MILBANK:  It‘ll be tricky, because any evidence is circumstantial.  As my colleagues understand it, the phone number that he was calling is really sort of a general number for the political affairs shop.

Now, we know from this case, and I know from a lot of angry e-mails I‘ve received from Mr. Tobin, that he‘s a bit of a creepy fellow.  But it‘s very hard to make a case, unless there‘s recorded phone conversations or e-mails, that the White House had anything to do with the jamming.

OLBERMANN:  Does this perhaps wind up, politically speaking, anyway, as being part of a cumulative effect here, a drip, drip, drip, or maybe a leak, leak, leak?  Is the president on the verge of losing whatever chance remains to reclaim some of the final three years for his agenda?

MILBANK:  Well, we‘re probably at sort of the Franco-is-still-dead point here, that there have been so many of these things that at least, as we‘ve discussed before, in terms of any domestic agenda, that‘s pretty well shot right now, barring some extraordinary victory for the Republicans in November.

So this just compounds that.  And, you know, we have the president still sitting there in the 30s.  He can‘t get much done with or without Mr.  Tobin‘s rapid dialing.

OLBERMANN:  One change with the president that I think we could probably say has happened, Dana, yesterday, he said he could not comment on that CIA leak investigation, or the declassification.  And then he commented on it enough to explain he was simply freeing truth from its surly bonds.  For him on these things, he‘s been talking a lot.  He talked about the DeLay case briefly.  Are his Republicans pleased with his newfound gift of gab on these matters?

MILBANK:  You know, I sort of characterize his answer as a combination, a hybrid between a no comment and a  non sequitur.  He goes out and says, Yes, we authorized this National Intelligence Estimate to be declassified.  Now that is, of course, true, but irrelevant to the larger picture, which is that Scooter Libby was leaking before this particular document was released.

But at any rate, the president has been noticeably unforthcoming on this but is feeling very free, in fact, he‘s been taking hour-and-a-half-long events, so he can take question after question.  I give him a little credit yesterday.  He was taking it from university students, who were pretty tough on him.

It could give some (inaudible) to the Republicans up on the Hill, but they‘ve got, you know, once again, much more to worry about than whether the president‘s going to wax philosophic about Medicare.

MILBANK:  As Shakespeare wrote, “This way lies madness.”

Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, great thanks for your time.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Arguably, the largest scandal looming over the White House is the CIA leak investigation, last week‘s filing by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald pitching President Bush into the crosshairs of the nearly three-year-old controversy.  And guess what?  Tomorrow is expected to bring another big filing in the case, this time from Lewis Scooter Libby‘s defense team.

Let‘s call in correspondent David Shuster, who has been following this story right along for us from Washington.

Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What is in tomorrow‘s expected court filing?  Do we know?  Do we know if it‘s going to shed any more light on the Bush-told-me-to-do-it allegations from Mr. Libby?

SHUSTER:  Well, we know the outlines of what we‘re expecting tomorrow, and that is that this is all a fight over documents.  Scooter Libby wants a lot of administration documents to show that he was—had a lot of things on his mind back in December of 2003.  Patrick Fitzgerald says these documents are irrelevant to whether Scooter Libby lied to the grand jury.

And in the course of Patrick Fitzgerald‘s filing, that‘s where he said that the president authorized Scooter Libby to leak.  And by the way, the White House was engaged in this sort of widespread effort to punish Joe Wilson.  And the idea being that if you‘re trying to punish somebody, it‘s not that far a reach to conclude, well, you‘d leak information about their wife working at the CIA.

Scooter Libby, we‘re anticipating, will say, Look, there was an obsession over Joe Wilson, but it was simply an effort that was part and parcel of the administration effort at the time to figure out where things went wrong with the weapons of mass destruction.  Why wasn‘t the intelligence correct about Iraq?

And if there was an effort focused on Joe Wilson, it was simply to discredit him, to show people that, Look, Joe Wilson was not sent to Niger by the vice president.  The vice president did not see his report.  And maybe the wife, who works at the CIA,  was involved in setting this up, although that‘s not a claim that‘s been proven.

But in any case, the idea, from Scooter Libby‘s camp, is that the status of Valerie Plame was a peripheral issue to all of this.

OLBERMANN:  Conventional wisdom has had it that the longer that we wait for the Libby trial itself, the more that benefits the president.  But now, the focus seems squarely on certainly on Mr. Bush and certainly Mr.  Cheney.  A new court filing, basically one a week.  Could the wait be just as bad, if not worse, as the trial itself would be, from the president‘s point of view?

SHUSTER:  Well, I would look at two terms of wait.  I mean, there are going to be a number of weeks where there are going to be documents filed and information, there are going to be a number of weeks where not a lot is heard from the CIA leak case.

But the potential for news, the gravity of the news, is still there, because there‘s still so much we don‘t know.  We don‘t know a lot about what Vice President Cheney advised Scooter Libby on the occasions when they talked about Valerie Plame.  We don‘t know what the vice president told President Bush.  We don‘t know if, at any point, those two officials talked about Valerie Plame.

And as this information starts to come up, and we presume that some of these answers are already in the hands of Patrick Fitzgerald for all the grand jury testimony,  as that heavy information starts to come out, that‘s where the news is going to be, and you‘re going to see the headlines continue for week after week, when some of these blockbusters, if there are blockbusters, if they start coming out in some of these pretrial motions.

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, the same subject we discussed last night when we discussed this, this topic.  Is there anything likely to be included in this filing tomorrow that does a better job of connecting those still-invisible dots between the declassifying of the NIE, and specifically the idea of outing Valerie Plame?

SHUSTER:  I don‘t think so, Keith.  I mean, I think we may get some more information from Scooter Libby‘s camp about what Scooter Libby knew, if anything, about conversations between the president and vice president, and how did that motivate Scooter Libby to take the actions that he did?  But I‘m not sure—I mean, Scooter Libby‘s camp is sticking to their idea that it—this came up, Scooter Libby heard about Valerie Plame‘s status from reporters.  It was not Scooter Libby who told the reporters.

They‘re sort of locked in by Scooter Libby‘s grand jury testimony.  The one out they may have is, they may say, Look, Scooter Libby made mistakes at the grand jury.  They were innocent mistakes.  They were not intentional.  He had so much on this mind, and maybe it just sort of slipped out that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.

But again, the focus we‘re expecting to hear from Scooter Libby in the documents tomorrow is this idea that Scooter Libby was focused on a lot of other things, other than the fact that Valerie Plame was a covert operative.  And if that information came out, it was just one small piece of everything else that Scooter Libby was focused on.

OLBERMANN:  Just a big oops, just say, just say, Oops, and get out, as they said in “The Producers.”

SHUSTER:  That‘s right, we‘ll see how—we‘ll see what the judge and the jury think about it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, MSNBC‘s David Shuster.  Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A high-stakes game of chicken with Iran also escalating tonight.  But does the president have any political stakes with which to play any hand against Iran‘s nuclear program?

And heck of a surprise, Brownie.  After the Katrina debacle of last September, try to guess his least likely possible next job in the least likely place.

Check your answers next, here on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  See if this rings a distant bell.  It‘s a defiant regime, it‘s isolating itself from the world.  It‘s part of the axis of evil.  It‘s the subject of administration statements about consulting the international community and working with the U.N. and the Security Council, and looking at diplomatic solutions.  It‘s the subject of reports that behind closed doors, our president has already started military planning, that he refers to the country‘s leader as potential Hitler, that he believes regime change could be his legacy.

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, Iran, the other I-country.  But even if all that is true this time, does Mr. Bush have any political street cred left to do anything about it?

Iraq‘s leaders—or Iran‘s leaders escalated matters today by declaring that, yes, they have successfully enriched uranium, and, yes, they plan to keep their nuclear program, but just for technology for electricity, insists the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  The U.S. and several European allies strongly suspect that Iran is, in fact, pursuing the bomb, but as of yet, there‘s no concrete proof of clandestine weapon building.

Regardless, Seymour Hersh reporting in the latest issue of “The New Yorker” that the administration here has stepped up stealth military operations in Iran, and is planning for the possibility of a major air attack.

What about the possibility that the president will be viewed as the Bush who cried wolf?

For that, we turn to “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.

Good evening, Howard.

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

OLBERMANN:  Fifty-eight percent in the “Washington Post” poll, 58 percent say Iraq wasn‘t worth it.  How could Mr. Bush possibly pull off anything more than staring daggers at anybody else, even if it is Iran?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s very difficult, because he‘s hemmed in politically, militarily, economically, almost every conceivable way.  But looking at the politics of it, the American people have now pretty much concluded that going war in Iraq was a mistake.  That‘s what the polls show.  They don‘t believe it‘s made us safer.  They‘re not sure by any means it was worth the half a trillion dollars, not to mention the thousands of lives lost and 15,000 or more people injured.

So it‘s going to be a very tough sell.  Ironically, Iran is probably a stronger case, in the—but the president spent his chips on the wrong I-country.

OLBERMANN:  What about the international politics of the equation?  I mean, there‘s more tangible evidence, as you point out, that paints Iran badly than there was about Iraq in 2002, 2003.  Could the administration actually persuade other nations to join them in some sort of military action?  Or is the capital all spent there too?

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s kind of paradoxical.  He has a lot more diplomatic support this time.  The Europeans are genuinely worried and are working in concert with the Americans on this.  But because there‘s more diplomatic cooperation so far, I think more is going to be required.  And also, the world, as well as America, is so skeptical of our motives and our good sense that it‘s going to really take a united world through the United Nations if we‘re going to do it.

There‘s no way to go it alone.  Don‘t forget, when we went to Iraq, it was that much closer to 9/11.  We had had a successful and they (ph), what looked like a very successful job completed up to that point in Afghanistan.  The president was being lauded, and his group was being lauded for their military skill and so forth.

You have to put yourself back in that mindset.  That mindset is completely gone.  We‘d have a lot more proving to do, and a lot more diplomacy to do, and it‘s not there at this point.

OLBERMANN:  Even if nothing ultimately happens militarily, or even seriously, in terms of saber-rattling, the stuff in between now and that point seems to be laid with troubles and minefields for the president.  The newspaper “New York Newsday” pointed out today that the president said he had no Iraq war plans on his desk in May 2002.

Now we know he had planning that had been under way for six months by that point.  Given that history, what kind of credibility does he bring to a statement that includes the dismissal of the Sy Hersh report about military options against Iran as wild speculation?

FINEMAN:  Well, the short answer is, very little, very little credibility.  And, you know, I know some military people I‘ve talked to about this.  We all know our retired general friends and forth.  I mean, my sense of the Sy Hersh report—first of all, Sy Hersh is a bunker-buster in and of himself.  He knows the people over there at the Pentagon.  The real—the question isn‘t whether they told him all that stuff.  Of course they did.  The question is, why?

My sense is this.  One-third of the story is a story about the real planning that‘s going on that includes at least theorizing about the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Iran.  One-third of it is leaks designed to try to scare the Iranians into negotiating.  And I think the other third of it is a lot of people in and around the Pentagon and the CIA, present and former, who are trying to scare the American people into becoming alarmed about the possibility that we may have another war on our hands.

I don‘t think the planning is as specific or as far along the track as we now know it was in Iraq, but I don‘t think it‘s a complete fantasy either.

OLBERMANN:  Our stealth operations, though, at least politically, might be down to off-the-record saber-rattling.  That‘s how we are now.

“Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman.  Great thanks, sir.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  One more political note tonight, again proving the bromide that news is stranger than fiction.  NBC News has confirmed that St.  Bernard Parish in New Orleans is in negotiations to hire a consultant to help maximize federal aid in the continuing aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

You will never believe who.

Right, Michael Brown, Heckuva-Job Brownie, the embattled head of FEMA during the parish‘s nightmare last September.  Brown‘s reputation has rebounded somewhat in the wake of the release of tapes of the FEMA video conferences before and during the storm.  But as a Louisiana state senator pointed out, even if Brown‘s consulting firm is the right one to squeeze the most money out of the feds, his name kind of has a negative connotation in New Orleans.

You think?

Then again, if St. Bernard‘s leaders do hire him, they can trot out and prove yet another clich’, any port in a storm.

If the parish can‘t decide what to do in the normal way, they can always settle it with a good, old-fashioned game of Rock, Paper, and Scissors.  The schoolyard game gets a TV deal and an international controversy.

Speaking of international controversies, 9-year-old bullfighters. 

Ole.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One hundred and eight years ago today, President William McKinley asked Congress to declare war on Spain, largely because the Spanish had blown up the U.S. Navy troop ship “The Maine.”  Much later turned out “The Maine” had blown up by accident from all the gunpowder stored aboard.  Bad prewar intel, I guess.  We‘ll try to make up for that by celebrating Spain‘s main contribution to international culture, the bullfight.

Let‘s play Oddball.

This appears to be the bullfighting pee-wee league, and we‘re not in Spain, rather in Mexico City.  That‘s 9-year-old Rafita Mirabel (ph), Mexico‘s youngest matador.  Aw, isn‘t he just the cutest thing you ever—look out.  Well, that shouldn‘t hurt much.

But he‘ll be all right, folks.  Rafita is an old pro by now.  He‘s already fought more than two dozen bulls in his short career.  Isn‘t it encouraging to see the youths getting involved in this cruel and brutal blood sport?  But Rafita‘s fights are slightly different than those of the adults.  He‘s got a cute little red cape, he fights cute little calves instead of full-grown bulls.  And at the end of the fight, a grown-up takes care of that unseemly business of delivering the death blow to the wounded animal.

It‘s just so cute, I can‘t stand it.

To Lillehammer, site of the 1992 Winter Olympics, where we find video of 245 Norwegians on a slippery plastic sheet.  And we didn‘t even have to go to one of those dirty Web sites to get it.  It was a record-setting run down a snowy mountainside by a bunch of people with 1,000 square feet of polyethylene, and nothing better to do.

Spring is a long way away.  Two hundred and forty-five people got on the big plastic sheet and slid down the hill for the new Norwegian plastic sheet snow-sliding record, shattering the previous record of 166.  Afterwards, they all got together to discuss moving somewhere warmer.

Also tonight, it was believed to be a sinister terror plot unfolding in the heart of California wine country.  But now the case is reportedly falling apart.

Speaking of falling apart, for why does NASA want to blow up part of the moon?  Don‘t we need the moon?  Did somebody tell Mr. Bush there‘s WMD on the moon?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Bob Sheppard, the venerable venerated public address announcer at Yankee Stadium in New York.  He dislocated his artificial hip while leaning over to remove a Band-Aid.  He‘s fine, but he missed opening day at the big ball yard in the Bronx, the first opener he hasn‘t been to since 1950.  1950!

Number two, Chris Morris, master distiller of the Woodford Reserve.  He‘ll be serving up special mint juleps at this year‘s Kentucky Derby, just $1,000 each.  The julep is served in a 24-caret gold cup, made with mint from Morocco, sugar from the South Pacific, ice from the Arctic Circle.  Commander Scott‘s polar expedition died for your mint julep.

And number one, Richard Hatch, the guy who won a million dollars on the reality show “Survivor” and hoped the IRS did not see him doing it.  Jailed pending sentencing on tax evasion charges, Hatch, of course, walked around naked on a beach on national TV, but marshals say he‘s been placed in solitary confinement for his own protection.  The guess here is, he‘s hoping none of the inmates saw the show either.

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OLBERMANN:  It was touted as a key arrest in the war on terror, an Al Qaeda cell thwarted in Lodi, California.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, while a jury prepares to decide the fate of the men accused of plotting attacks against America, correspondent Lisa Myers reports that the case against them looks at best wobbly and at worst, irretrievably lost. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the heart of California wine country last summer, a stunning announcement—a trained Al Qaeda sleeper sell in Lodi, ready to attack inside the U.S.

KEITH SLOTTER, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Various individuals connected to Al Qaeda have been operating in the Lodi area. 

MYERS:  The FBI raided this home and arrested two Pakistani-Americans, 22-year-old Hamid Hayat, charged with attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan.  His father, Umar Hayat, charged with lying about his son‘s training.  Today, their trial is almost over and some argue the case is weak. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was embarrassed looking at it.  I‘m embarrassed today. 

MYERS:  Jim Wedik (ph), a respected 34-year veteran for the FBI is now working for the defense.  He says the case is seriously flawed and there‘s no evidence the Hayats were planning any attacks. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These individuals had no more to do with terrorism than the man on the moon. 

MYERS:  Critics say the case is problematic.  The government‘s star witness, informant Naseem Khan, has credibility problems.  The FBI paid the informant $230,000 over four years to spy on members of this Lodi mosque.  Khan shocked the courtroom when he testified that he actually saw Osama bin Laden‘s No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri, in Lodi in 1999.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Totally ludicrous. 

MYERS:  Prosecutors had to admit that was probably not true. 

(on camera):  Another issue, videotaped confessions by the two men who speak broken English, appear contradictory, confusing, even bizarre.  The son admitted attending an Al Qaeda camp but could not describe it or even pinpoint which country it was in. 

(voice-over):  The father described a camp where terrorists wore “Ninja-Turtle Masks” and practiced pole-vaulting underground.  The government never produced any independent evidence that the son actually attended a terrorist camp.

JOHN BECKMAN, FORMER LODI MAYOR:  I was hoping that the FBI would make an arrest and make such a big deal out of this, that there would be more evidence, more of a case there. 

MYERS:  Prosecutors insist their case is solid, noting there are hours of secretly-taped conversations and that both men did confess.  A jury is about to decide whether that‘s enough. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  On the other side of the country, another jury is reading

or hearing arguments that the only person charged in this country for 9/11 should be put to death.  Government prosecutors putting forth dozens of witnesses and family members of victims, their stories are so emotional that the judge has already cautioned prosecution that the impact could give grounds for overturning a death penalty on appeal.  But the jury isn‘t only hearing from the living victims of 9/11.  Tomorrow, government lawyers will play the cockpit tapes from Flight 93.  And as Pete Williams reports, jurors have already heard from some of the thousands of people who died here in New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  High up in the south tower at the World Trade Center, minutes after it was hit by the second hijacked plane, a woman placed a frantic call to 911 pleading for help. 

MELISSA DOI, 9/11 VICTIM:  I‘m on the 83rd floor. 

WILLIAMS:  Melissa Doi, a manager at a financial services company, was having trouble seeing through all the smoke. 

DOI:  There‘s no one here yet and the floor is completely engulfed. 

We‘re on the floor and we can‘t breathe and it‘s very, very, very hot. 

OPERATOR:  Ma‘am, listen.  Stay with us.  Everybody is coming, everybody knows.  Everybody knows what happened, OK? 

DOI:  I‘m going to die, aren‘t I? 

OPERATOR:  No, no, no, no. 

DOI:  I‘m going to die.

OPERATOR:  Ma‘am, Ma‘am, Ma‘am, say your prayers.  I already did that.

DOI:  Can you stay on the line with me, please. 

OPERATOR:  Yes, Ma‘am, I‘m going to stay with you.

DOI:  I feel like I‘m dying. 

WILLIAMS:  Twenty-two floors above here, Kevin Cosgrove was making his own 911 calls. 

KEVIN COSGROVE, 9/11 VICTIM:  There are two of us in the is office. 

We‘re not ready to die, but it‘s getting bad. 

OPERATOR:  I understand, sir.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I‘m trying to let them know where you are.

COSGROVE:  I can barely breathe now.  I can‘t see.

OPERATOR:  OK, please try to hang in there.  I‘m going to stay with you.

WILLIAMS:   Firefighters managed to reach the 78th floor, but moments later, the tower collapsed, killing everyone inside. 

Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That we have not all recovered from 9/11 can be proven, any hour of any day in this city and many others.  But that storm things are back to normal can be found deep inside a disturbing story unfolding right now at Ground Zero.  Some of us have exactly the same kind of emotional tin ear that we had on 9/10.  New York‘s port authority is taking down the cross, the twisted steel beams found in the rubble of the world trade center on September 13.  It is going to go into storage in a hanger at JFK Airport.  Out of sight and out of mind.  Why?  Construction at its current location at Ground Zero, say authorities, might impact the cross. 

Fortunately, the other end of the emotional spectrum can be found in

New York‘s eastern tip, two years after its creator fought a major

corporation in order to preserve his vision of a memorial to 9/11 victims -

Tribute Park is complete. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny reported this story originally for us, and joins us with the latest and positive details.  Monica, good evening. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.  Two years ago we reported on the David and Goliath-type story of Patrick Clark, sued by a large drugstore chain after he criticized them for failing to remove a large billboard sign hanging over a sacred plot of land.  Clark did not lose everything.  He beat their lawsuit, but his real work was just beginning. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PATRICK CLARK, ARTIST:  Well, we won the case.  It was a tremendous weight off my shoulders because it meant I could keep working and go ahead and complete the park which was, you know, the vision of an artist. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  What once was an eyesore, now a sight for sore eyes.  All after two years and one hefty lawsuit.  Artist Patrick Clark‘s battle over Tribute Park started with what was over it, literally.  This billboard, currently a welcome sign, but intended to display oversized ads, shining down on what residents of this New York City suburb considered a very special plot of land. 

CLARK:  Yeah, I consider it sacred ground.  And on September 11 when the building started smoking, people started gathering in the park.  A lot of people watched the whole process right from here. 

NOVOTNY:  Not, he thought, a spot for a large ad.  Because for Clark, like so many others, this was personal. 

CLARK:  The owner of shop was a firefighter was killed in tower one. 

We were friends for 17 years. 

NOVOTNY:  Eric Allen from Squad 18, whose friendship inspired Clark to help turn the muddy site into a memorial park.  But when the drugstore chain put up the billboard refused to take it down, Clark fired it back, paying for his own ad in a local paper. 

CLARK:  The cotton ball mercenaries without a soul.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Was it obnoxious?

CLARK:  Well, in a creative way.  Yeah, it‘s sort of obnoxious. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Those words landed Clark in a fight for his livelihood when the corporate giant went after the little guy for defamation. 

CHRIS DUNN, NYCALU:  And there‘s no question this is David and Goliath.  He had the great misfortune of criticizing a large corporation that had a very thin skin and apparently a lot of money to spend on lawyers. 

NOVOTNY:  After almost a year, David met Goliath in court and with the help of the New York chapter of the ACLU, the power of one won.

DUNN:  The judge did two things, she dismissed the lawsuit brought by Duane Reade.  At the same time, she ruled that Patrick Clark could recover damages. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  So it really is a work of art. 

WILLIAMS:  Yeah, well, it‘s—yeah, definitely, I would say so. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Now, two years later, the terms of the defamation settlement remain confidential.  But thanks to lawyers uncovering building codes, though the sign remains, it cannot display ads.  For the artist, that compromise worked.  His dream in the name of his friend Eric, finally complete. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  What do you think Eric would think today? 

WILLIAMS:  I think he‘s probably happy to see that we stood up against all the struggles and got it done and got it done well. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Mr.  Clark says that in addition to being a tribute to those friends and neighbors lost on September 11, that stained glass dome now also, for him, represents the importance of freedom of speech—Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, great thanks. 

Also tonight, the championship of—I‘m trying to find something for which there is no world‘s championship—the world‘s championship of loofahs maybe?  Maybe.  But there is one for Rock, Paper, Scissors.  And one of the people in this picture has not only stayed proud as a peacock but just reupped.  See if you can guess which one.  WE won‘t have to ask the question, “Where in the world is Matt Lauer, this morning.”  COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  News about rocks.  An international dispute over Rock, Paper, Scissors.  No joke.  And why NASA is planning to attack the moon. 

Now, you‘d thought you‘d heard more about that - NASA attacking the for now, wouldn‘t you?  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s the most primitive pastime in the world.  All you need is your hand to play.  No, not that.  Keep your mind out of the gutter.  Form your hand into a fist and you have a rock, spread it out and it‘s paper, and a sideways peace sign turns it into scissors.  Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, if they could try pro dodgeball and televise a poker tournament every 45 minutes, why not?  The American Rock, Paper, Scissors Championships in Vegas.  And as our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports, it sounds like kid‘s stuff until you hear about the arguments over the purity of the game. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  You‘d hardly know it, but these folks flocked to Las Vegas in all their flamboyant finery this weekend to play the ancient sport of Rock, Paper, Scissors. 

MATTI LESHEM, LEAGUE CO-COMMISSIONER:  It was played by caveman and it was then—at that time known as rock, rock, rock. 

ANDREW GOLDER, LEAGUE CO-COMMISSIONER:  Which was tough because most matches ended in a tie or death by exhaustion. 

TIBBLES:  A simple hand game used to settle scores.  And where, as most school kids today will tell you, rock smashes scissors, scissor cut paper, and paper covers rock.  But this is no schoolyard. 

GOLDER:  By the end of the day, we‘re going to find, you know, the next Michael Jordan of the sport. 

TIBBLES:  This is the U.S. Rock, Paper, Scissors Championships in all its glory.  A fancy ring, fancy ring girls, and a $50,000 grand prize. 

LESHEM:  Our goal was simply to take it to the next level and to make ate professional sport. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Scissors beats paper.

TIBBLES:  But just north of the board in Toronto, Rock, Paper, Scissors purists are horrified. 

DOUGLAS WALKER, WORLD RPS SOCIETY:  They‘re a bunch of knuckle draggers. 

TIBBLES:  Douglas Walker manages the World RPS Society and they think the crass Americans have hijacked their beloved game. 

WALKER:  You know, they are appealing to the sort of Neanderthals, the bottom feeders of this sport. 

TIBBLES:  Walker agrees to a quick showdown with yours truly.  But no 50 grand on the line here, instead the loser has to take out his daughter‘s dirty diapers. 

(on camera):  I knew you were going to do that.

(voice-over):  But more on that later.  Back in Vegas, the Americans scoff at their Canadian critics. 

LESHEM:  We‘re going to take them on and we‘re going to show them that, as in all things, Americans prevail over Canadians. 

TIBBLES:  And it‘s one, two, three, throw your move.  The winner, Dave McGill of Nebraska. 

LESHEM:  You know that we petitioned the Olympic committee for Beijing, right?

TIBBLES:  Imagine this guy on Wheatie‘s box?  Meanwhile, remember the armchair showdown with the rival from Canada?  Beginner‘s luck prevails. 

WALKER:  Hey, that was two out of the three. 

TIBBLES:  And it‘s the long, humiliating walk to the diaper walk to the garbage can.  In this case, losing stinks. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Toronto.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Right.  You just saw a freeze frame of some action from Rock, Paper and Scissors.  You watch, though, CBS will pick it up as a live series and guess who gets to host it?  That‘s another segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  Yes it‘s the nightly Katie cheap shot.  Her soon to be ex-partner sparing us all that, in terms of him, anyway.  Matt Lauer signing a new contract that will keep him up bright and early for the next five years.  It is reported the new deal will reportedly net him $13 million a year, about what La Couric is to get from the bloodshot eye.  Meredith Vieira slated to co-host alongside Matt Lauer starting in September and then going on forever, well into 2011, anyway. 

Thirteen mill a year sounds like big money until you hear allegations that a guy tried to extort $5 million from Jennifer Lopez after having been married to her.  The actress and singer has filed suit against her ex-husband, saying Ojani Noa tried to hold her up for five very, very large.  His price for not publishing a tell-all book about the couples doomed and short-lived marriage.  She wants a restrain order against publication saying the book would be a direct violation of a confidentiality agreement from a settlement last year when Noa sued Lopez after he was fired from her Pasadena restaurant. 

The two married in 1997.  The couple had met at a Miami restaurant where Noa worked as a busboy.  The marriage ended in a divorce a year later.  No truth that the tell-all book was simply going to be a clipping album full of the reviews of the movie “Gigli.” 

Can the moon file a restraining order against NASA?  Why are we sending a rocket there to blow a little hole in it?  That‘s ahead, but first, time for today‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the “Worst Person in the World.”

No. 3, Mr.  Mrs. Richard Mellon Scaife, the estranged wife of that guy, you know, Mr. Right-wing conspiracy.  She‘s in trouble with the law for the second time in five months accused of assaulting three of her husband‘s employees in a desperate attack—an effort to recover her dog, whom hubby, she says, had taken from her home the day before.  Oh heck, why are we making her the nominee?  After all, she‘s been married to Richard Mellon Scaife, it‘s surprising she only attacked three of his employees. 

Tonight‘s runner-up, Brit Hume of FOX News, wherever he might be on this immigration debate.  Can you abide by somebody‘s characterizing yesterday‘s nationwide peaceful protests by immigrants the way he did?  A quote, “a repellant spectacle?”  Hey pal, I‘ve seen your newscast.  You‘re skating on thin ice when you call something else a “repellant spectacle.” 

But tonight‘s winner is James Snyder and Mary Jo Jensen of Waterloo, Iowa, under arrest tonight for submitting the obituary of her son to the local newspaper.  The 17-year-old boy is not dead, he‘s not even sick.  But pair had taken a lot of time off from their jobs at Tyson‘s Foods in Waterloo telling their bosses that the boy was dying.  They are charged with having made up a story about her own son dying to get a couple of days off from work.

James Snyder and Mary Jo Jensen today‘s “Worst Persons in the World!”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Box office records suggest that almost nobody saw the Guy Pierce remake of the move “The Time Machine” in 2002.  Clearly, absolutely nobody at NASA saw it or they would have remembered that life on earth was destroyed in the movie with promoters tried blow holes in the moon in order to build condos there and the moon broke up into a billion pieces and fell on people and stuff. 

Our No. 1 story tonight, NASA‘s next voyage to blow a hole in the moon, or maybe just to make this cool animation.  NASA says it wants to ram a spacecraft the size of an SUV near the moon‘s south pole.  Orbiting craft would then collect data by flying through the resultant 40-mile-high plume of debris.  What are they looking for?  Ice.  Hey, there‘s ice down the hall next to the elevator!

With evidence of hydrogen around the lunar pole, the assumption is there may also be water.  If there is water, you can split the H2O and make rocket fuel, oxygen for breathing, water for drinking, paving the way for a manned base on the moon. 

Condos, I knew it! Somebody call Guy Pierce.  He must remember that plot point from the movie “The Time Machine.”

In the interim, joining us for a more serious explanation, former astronaut, now NASA‘s director of exhortation, Carl Walz.

I thank you for your time tonight, sir.

CARL WALZ, FORMER ASTRONAUT:  You bet, Keith.  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  I assume there is no realistic chance of repeating what happened in that movie, right?  Just because we could see this happen from earth via a telescopes does not mean that just hitting the moon with a small spacecraft could endanger it. 

WALZ:  No, in fact, when you look at the moon, you can see the multitude of craters from much bigger impacts.  So, you know, we‘re making a small dent in the moon to try to determine whether or not there‘s really water there. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, NASA has previously tried to impact the lunar surface.  The Lunar Prospector in 1999, not much has happened.  Why will this time be different?  What didn‘t happen in ‘99? 

WALZ:  Well, in ‘99, the Lunar Prospector Mission was not a dedicated mission.  That was—it was the end of the Lunar Prospector, and as you could see in the animation, it was sort of a low angle, a grazing angle and it didn‘t have the dedicated observation that we will have with the Sheppard‘s spacecraft, the LCROSS spacecraft that will follow in the upper stage.  So the upper stage is going to impact at a fairly high angle, he‘ll get a lot of kinetic energy put into the moon that will generate a lot of what we hope is water ice and plume that then the Sheppard spacecraft can observe and then after that, we also have the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is the primary payload of this mission.  And that will be orbiting as well.  And we‘ll observe.  So, we‘ll have a lot of dedicated capability to look at these impacts. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s your first mission to the moon in three decades.  What have we learned in those 30 years to think that there‘s a chance of finding water or ice?  And is this the really only way to tell at this point? 

WALZ:  Well, we have—of course, when we landed on the moon in the 1960s and ‘70s, we were along the equatorial rejoins and we don‘t believe there‘s any water there.  Most of the water is at the lunar poles and we didn‘t no go there with our human missions.  And then when Clementine and Lunar Prospector, they made indirect observations that indicated that there might be water in the form of ice at the poles.  Now, this mission will give us definitive data to prove that there‘s water in the form of ice there. 

OLBERMANN:  If all goes well, but you don‘t find any trace ice or water, is that it for lunar missions?  Is this, in effect, the moon‘s last chance? 

WALZ:  No. There is a possibility that we may not find water on this try.  We‘re going to do our best to target the spacecraft, but there are other sources of oxygen on the moon from lunar (INAUDIBLE), it‘s harder to get that oxygen out.  We plan to look at those opportunities as well.  This is one of the things—it‘s the easiest for us to extract as we attempt to live off the land. 

OLBERMANN:  And apart from what we could do with any water that we found there, what‘s other implication of finding—confirming that there was water—or is water or ice on the moon? 

WALZ:  Well, as you mentioned in the intro, with—by finding this water, the water, of course, we—you know, for humans you can drink it, you can turn it into oxygen to breathe, water, again, if you collect enough of the oxygen can be used as part of your rocket fuel.  So, it opens up a lot of opportunities to reduce the amount of mass that you have to bring to the moon and that will overall save us mass so we can send more things to the moon. 

OLBERMANN:  Carl Walz of NASA thanks for joining us.  No condos.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for the 1,076 day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby “Live and Direct.” 

Good evening, Rita.

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

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