updated 4/25/2006 1:29:47 PM ET 2006-04-25T17:29:47

Guests: Melissa Boyle Mahle, Ken Bazinett, Stingray

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

Move over, Otto Preminger.  Move over, Arnold Schwarzenegger.  We have a new Mr. Freeze.  The president‘s latest poll number, a nice even 32.

But it‘s the vice president who should be iced.  The major American newspaper which editorialized that Mr. Cheney should resign.

CIA, Central Infighting Agency.  In the wake of the officer ousted for revealing the secret American gulag, the former head of the CIA in Europe saying it wasn‘t the prewar intel that failed, it was the prewar policy.

What policy can you come up with if gas prices keep going through the roof?  Alienate your party as it calls for windfall profit taxes?  Alienate your real base, the oil bidness?

Speaking of aliens, Tom Cruise on bringing up baby, the B&B system, he says.  She does the breast feeding, he does the burping.  Thank goodness he‘s got that straight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

TOM CRUISE:  You‘re glib.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the Elvis crisis.  The bid to license Presley impersonators.  Will they be forced into some other lines of work?  Could this be a solution to the cash drain at the pumps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Elvis just wants to pump your gas today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I went over about four cents on your gasoline.

Forty dollars and four cents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

Like everything else involving secrets and intelligence and the Bush administration in the last five years, it all seemed cut and dried.  Someone leaked secret information to the media, including details of Soviet gulags repurposed as CIA prisons in Eastern Europe.  The agency investigated, gave out lie detector tests, and caught the leaker.  She confessed, she was fired.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, like weapons of mass destruction and uranium in Niger and everything else, the whole story has now turned on its head.

Mary McCarthy says she has leaked nothing.  The accused leaker, a deputy of the agency‘s inspector general, categorically denying that she ever leaked classified information to the media, saying she never even had access to the information she allegedly leaked, and a defense source saying she specifically did not flunk that part of her polygraph test that asked whether she was the one who leaked information on secret prisons to Dana Priest of “The Washington Post.”

Which means someone isn‘t telling the truth here, and in big capital letters.  Either Mary McCarthy did leak, as the CIA claims, or she didn‘t, as her lawyer says.

This news broken by NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, who joins us now from Washington.

Andrea, thanks for joining us again.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  You bet.  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  This completely contradicts everything from last week, particularly the CIA‘s announcement, in effect, We got her.  Is she claiming she was a scapegoat?  What‘s going on here?

MITCHELL:  Well, she is claiming, through her attorney, that she did not leak classified information.  She is acknowledging she did have unauthorized contacts with reporters.

So the CIA is now saying they stand by their statement of last week, that an unidentified officer, because they never, in observance of the Privacy Act, they never identified even the gender of whoever it was who was being fired, that an unidentified officer was fired, and was fired for unauthorized contacts with reporters, with the media.  No dispute there, and McCarthy is acknowledging that.

And for disclosing classified information.  That‘s the essence of the dispute.  She says she didn‘t.  They say this unidentified officer, whom we have identified from other sources and now from her own admission, is indeed Mary McCarthy.  So that‘s the dispute.

OLBERMANN:  If she did not leak classified information, how could her interaction with reporters be considered unauthorized?  Is any interaction with reporters unauthorized unless you have something in writing from your boss?

MITCHELL:  That is correct.  There is no dispute over whether or not it is improper, perhaps not illegal, but improper, against the rules, at the CIA to have contacts with reporters, that you don‘t then tell your bosses about.  You can have contact if it‘s approved by the higher-up.

So it‘s a firing offense, but no one can ever recall anyone being fired for this.  And there‘s this other personal detail that she was due to retire, she announced her retirement as of February 7.  It was basically her last day.  But she told them she was retiring because she had gone to law school, passed the bar in November, and wanted to pursue an entirely different career in family law, specializing in adoptions.

At the CIA, you can‘t just say, I‘m quitting.  There is an exit period where you are sort of debriefed, you go through all sorts of legal procedures.  Her last day was due to be April 30, which, of course, is Sunday.  They fired her a week in advance.

OLBERMANN:  So you can—and I know this from my own professional experience, you can be fired after you have already quit.  There is, in fact, this mechanism in place.  But does it not support her theory that—or her—what would be behind her claim that scapegoating might not be an inappropriate term here?

MITCHELL:  Well, she hasn‘t said that, but some of her friends are saying that, that, look, Porter Goss and the CIA want to serve up a lesson that leaks are really serious and that they‘ve got to be stopped.  And frankly, people within the CIA, even critics of administration‘s prewar intelligence and all the rest, former and current CIA  officers, say that leaks are terrible, and that no one should leak national security.  They take an oath not to do that.

She says she didn‘t do that.  The CIA is saying she did, or whoever this unnamed person is, of unknown gender, whom they won‘t name, did do exactly that.  So they want to send a message out, now they‘ve found someone who was about to retire, and they‘re sending a very tough message.  The bottom line is that no one is going to have the courage or the stupidity (INAUDIBLE), however you put it, or the, I don‘t know, the will to talk to reporters from now on.  I mean, very few people will, because they can see right now, from this example, what can happen to you.

OLBERMANN:  But that CIA message that you mentioned, didn‘t it just become a CIA mixed message, that the—having lunch with a reporter is the same as giving secrets to a reporter?  Is that not going to turn what the purpose of this was, to some degree, up on its head?

MITCHELL:  Ah, well, what is the purpose?  The purpose is, don‘t even have lunch with reporters.  The purpose is, don‘t have dinner with reporters.  Don‘t pick up the phone if a reporter is calling.  Doesn‘t matter what you say, you‘re not supposed to have a contact with reporters without telling the higher-ups.

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, great reporting.

MITCHELL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:   And great thanks, again.

So what is going on here?  And just importantly, how will people inside the CIA perceive what‘s going on here? T his, of course, all reads like a page from the Richard Nixon playbook, not just the traditional CIA polygraph you take when you‘re hired and then every five years thereafter.  Special one-shot polygraphs, which the agency claims caught Mary McCarthy as the officer feeding “The Washington Post.”

President Nixon said on July 24, 1971, at what he thought was the height of his leaking problem, polygraphs for everybody on the NSC staff, probably about 400 or 500 at State, and two, 500 at defense and 200 or 300 at CIA.

According to an intelligence official talking to NBC News, Mary McCarthy of the inspector general‘s office and all CIA employees got a message from new director Porter Goss in January announcing the, quote, “exceptional,” unquote, polygraphs, in hopes of finding out how info about news of the secret prisons in Europe and elsewhere, and the renditions of terrorist suspects and the like, had been popping up in the papers.

To prove no one was above this investigation, director Goss, his deputy vice admiral, Albert Calend (ph), and other top CIA brass all volunteering to be among the first to take this intensive polygraph, as did Inspector General John Helgerson (ph), even though he is an independent watchdog and could only be dismissed by the White House.

Now inside the CIA, metaphorically speaking, I‘m joined by Melissa Boyle Mahle, a former CIA field officer and author of “Denial and Deception” An Insider‘s View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11.”

Thanks for your time.

MELISSA BOYLE MAHLE, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, who was part of that 1971 plan to sweep the agencies with lie detector tests, said last week that maybe the biggest surprise in this story that we weren‘t noticing was that a leaker, any leaker, got caught.

But now we have Ms. McCarthy‘s denial that she failed that part of the test, denial that she was doing anything but retiring and was (INAUDIBLE)-- she didn‘t say it, as Andrea Mitchell pointed out, but all her friends have said she‘s the scapegoat here.

About the truth here, there seems to be not a lot of middle ground.  Who do we give the benefit of the doubt to, Ms. McCarthy, or the CIA?

MAHLE:  Well, I think this is just very unclear, as you said.  And this was a single-issue focused polygraph meant to find the leakers.  And, you know, the first day that Porter Goss came over to the CIA, leaking has been an issue.  He has made it an issue, because he—there were some leaks right when he first (INAUDIBLE) when—moved over to the CIA.

So I think that in some respect, if anybody‘s showing any sensitivity on contacts with the media, they‘re going to be targeted at this point.

OLBERMANN:  Extrapolate for me, assuming that the CIA did not completely change in the time after you left it, what would have—what must have these polygraphs done to morale and productivity?  There have been reports that—Andrea mentioned them, of a sense of morale being lifted, and a lot of the polarized groups within the agency being unified.  Would those reports be true, in your estimation, and would they now be blown out of the water by what Mary McCarthy‘s saying tonight?

MAHLE:  Well, within the CIA, there‘s a very strong ethic about—against leaking, that you are entrusted with classified information, and it is your responsibility to protect it and to not share it with those that are not authorized to have it.

So to have somebody come in and say, No, we‘re really going to enforce this, that is—will strengthen morale within the organization.  But on the flip side of that is, when you have a witch hunt being conducted, and that‘s what people were calling this, was a witch hunt, looking for the voice that leaked the information on renditions and secret prisons and all of that, employees feel targeted, and they don‘t like that.  And it adds to other discontents that are already going on within the building.

OLBERMANN:  Was the gravity turned off at the beginning and throughout the Valerie Plame story?  In other words, to the employees at the CIA, You have to be secret about us, but, by the way, we don‘t necessarily have to be secret about you or your life or your livelihood or your family?

MAHLE:  When your cover is blown as a secret officer, as a clandestine officer, you take that seriously.  And everybody in the organization also takes that seriously, because everybody‘s charged with protecting that cover.  So within the agency, there is no such thing as a good leak.  And everybody looks at that pretty much through the same optic.  Leaks are bad.  Nobody supports it.  And if you are caught leaking, you‘re—not only are you going to get fired and lose your security clearance, but you‘re going to lose the respect of your colleagues.

OLBERMANN:  What does the bureau do now?  Do we have to have another round of polygraphs to tell who‘s telling the truth about Mary McCarthy?  Is there any time left for spying at the CIA?

MAHLE:  Well, certainly they‘re caught up with a lot of in-house problems.  But, you know, as—if there‘s going to be a Department of Justice investigation, and then, you know, (INAUDIBLE), indictments and all of that, the CIA is going to have to be able to produce hard evidence.  And if Miss McCarthy says that she had problems with a polygraph, that‘s not grounds for a criminal prosecution.  Has to be beyond that, has to be based on admissions or other hard tangible evidence.

So I think the CIA is going to have to prove its case.  But meanwhile, Miss McCarthy‘s out of a job.

OLBERMANN:  Do you buy, finally, the use of the word “scapegoat” in her case?  You used the word (INAUDIBLE) the phrase “witch hunt” being thrown around CIA.  Is “scapegoat” going to be the word thrown around the way—the office and the agency in the days to come?

MAHLE:  I‘m sure it will be.  But I think at the end of the day, we‘re really going to have to wait to see what kind of evidence emerges in this case.  If somebody inside the CIA has leaked information on CIA operations that caused those operations to be shut down, they should be held accountable for those—for that leak.

OLBERMANN:  And Mary McCarthy now telling us, through her attorneys, that she wasn‘t that person.

Former CIA field officer, author of “Denial and Deception” Melissa Boyle Mahle, with her perspective on Mary McCarthy‘s startling denial that she leaked anything to anybody.  Great thanks for joining us.

MAHLE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also today, the big chill officially hitting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  The newest approval poll number is out.  Any lower, and the president freezes solid.

This, after “The L.A. Times” says it‘s time for the vice president to get out.

Meantime, gas prices heat up.  How many in the GOP are painting the White House into another political corner?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If things get any worse for President Bush, his second term will no longer need reenergizing, it will need defrosting.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, an approval rating so anemic it has hit the freezing mark.  The good news, at least we‘re talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius.  Only 32 percent of those surveyed by Opinion Research for CNN still approving of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president.  That is less than one-third.  This time last year, Americans were almost evenly split, approval 48 percent, disapproval 49 percent.

No specific question about Vice President Dick Cheney in this latest polling, “The Los Angeles Times” suggesting in an editorial that extreme makeover, White House edition, should include sending Mr. Cheney into early retirement.  The panel‘s explanation, quote, “Throwing Cheney overboard would be an implicit repudiation of the excessively hawkish foreign policy with which the vice president, even more than Rumsfeld, has been associated,” “The Times” adding that Mr. Rumsfeld should go too.

The president‘s entire prewar posse under fire amid new, incredibly specific charges that it cherry-picked the intelligence about Iraq, a former top official at the CIA telling CBS News on Sunday that he saw firsthand how the White House promoted the evidence it liked and flat out ignored the evidence it did not, even when a member of Saddam Hussein‘s inner circle made a deal to reveal Iraq‘s military secrets to the CIA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES,” CBS)

ED BRADLEY, CBS NEWS:  And what did this high-level source tell you?

TYLER DRUMHELLER, FORMER CIA OFFICIAL:  He told us they had no active weapons of mass destruction program.

BRADLEY:  So in the fall of 2002, before going to war, we had it on good authority, from a source within Saddam‘s inner circle, that he didn‘t have an active program for weapons of mass destruction?

DRUMHELLER:  Yes.

BRADLEY:  There‘s no doubt in your mind about it.

DRUMHELLER:  No doubt in my mind at all, no.

BRADLEY:  It directly contradicts, though, what the president and his staff were telling us.

DRUMHELLER:  The policy was set that the war in Iraq was coming, and they were looking for intelligence to fit into the policy, to justify the policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This just in.

The White House responding in a statement, “The president‘s convictions about Saddam Hussein‘s possession of WMD were based on the collective judgment of the intelligence community at the time.  Bipartisan investigations found no evidence of political pressure to influence the prewar intelligence assessment of Iraq‘s weapons programs.”

Well, that‘s not probably entirely true.

And since when has anything on Capitol Hill been bipartisan anyway?

For more on all the charges and what their impact might be, time now to call in our analyst, Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, thanks for joining us.

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

OLBERMANN:  Tyler Drumheller there, not your average low-level operative guy, until last year the top man in Europe for the CIA, head of covert operations there, how potentially damaging are those charges, the ones he‘s now making, against the White House?

FINEMAN:  Well, sadly for the White House, the president‘s credibility on this issue has already been damaged almost beyond further damage.  It‘s like Winston Churchill talking about a bombing campaign where he wanted to make the rubble bounce.

The fact is, most of the American people have gotten the picture of a president who was looking at flimsy evidence of weapons of mass destruction and ignored weapons—ignored evidence to the contrary.

That‘s one reason why the president‘s approval rating is where you show it to be in that latest poll.

But I think the more damaging long-term effect here is as the president considers what to do about Iran, because whatever assertions we‘re making, or the American presidency is going to make, about what Iran has or might have any day now, is going to be viewed with extreme skepticism by the American people, because of further evidence of the kind that Drumheller brought forth the other night.

OLBERMANN:  Long ago, someone mentioned the cry-wolf prospect in cases where things were wrong in Iraq—

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  ... and we might be in that exact situation.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  But now, this thing from the “The L.A. Times,” not that it‘s ever going to happen, but the early retirement they suggested for Vice President Cheney, for health problems, like the health of his approval, would that help the White House, or would it hurt it?  Would it help the Democrats, or would it hurt them?

FINEMAN:  Well, you know, you‘ll know that the president has agreed with the “The L.A. Times” when he invites Cheney out for a long jog.

But I think—I—you know, the question would be, with whom would you replace Dick Cheney?  I mean, Laura Bush is available, I suppose.  She‘s the only one in the inner circle with an approval rating above 50 or 60 percent.  The other one would be Condi Rice.  But Condi Rice is also now, and has been really, part and parcel of the same policy that has made Cheney so unpopular, even though Condi Rice is personally popular, she‘s part of the group that brought us this war.

You saw her in that picture there from down in Crawford, Texas.

So, I mean, Dick Cheney has an approval rating in another recent poll of 18 percent.  So he is way below freezing.  He is Mr. Freeze.  I can never remember any president or vice presidential figure with that low an approval rating.  That‘s approaching absolute zero.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s Jefferson Davis numbers.

Bob Dole was the name that the “The L.A. Times” suggested.  I‘ve got another one.  If you‘re going to go with Bob Dole, I‘m going to go with Abe Lincoln, that would be my guess.

But let me switch topics here, about Andrea Mitchell‘s report about Mary McCarthy denying she leaked any information to “The Washington Post, or that that part of the polygraph test...

FINEMAN:  (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  ... she says she did not fail it.  There will have to be political fallout to this.  It‘s obviously going to confuse the situation.  What is the fallout going to be?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think the fallout it is going to be reopening the never-ending, but somewhat subtle, warfare between the CIA, on the one hand, and the vice president‘s office and the neocons on the other.

This war has been going on since before Iraq.  That‘s what all of this contention has been about.  The bureaucracy within the CIA has been fighting back.  It has continued to fight back.  As some of your other guests have said, morale is boosted when a leaker is caught, unless the leaker isn‘t really the leaker, unless it looks like the leaker is being drummed out as an excuse.

And so many people within the CIA were opposed to the war in Iraq, thought George Tenet, the head of the CIA at the time, caved in to pressure from the president and the neocons, that that war is going on.  The American people don‘t follow every jot and tittle of it, but they get the sense that the government and the country doesn‘t speak with one voice on this very important matter, and that‘s also damaging to the president‘s credibility.

OLBERMANN:  I think you now have one more name on the list, Joe Wilson, number one, Valerie Plame, number two, Mary McCarthy, number three.

FINEMAN:  (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see how it turns out.

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

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, for the third time in less than two years, terrorists have successfully targeted a popular tourist resort in Egypt, three separate explosions rocking the town of Dahab EARLY Monday evening local time, the bombs detonating in a busy marketplace, a police station, and in a popular hotel.  At least 22 people are dead there, up to 150 more wounded, including three Americans, Egypt‘s president condemning the bombings as wicked acts of terror.  Still no word, though, on exactly which terror group is responsible.

Also today, pressure plus time, geologically speaking, equals gas.  But high gas prices plus time equals political disaster.  Can an oil-beholden president do anything about pain and outrage at the pumps?

You could always turn to that fallback they use in Greece, it‘s holy rocket war time.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Monday was the anniversary of the day actress Shirley MacLaine was born in 1934, and 1586, and, of course, 225 B.C.

With her in mind, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin with our annual trip to the island of Hios (ph), where it must be Greek Orthodox Easter, because these guys are rocket crazy.  Every year, the population of this village locks up its homes, runs for cover, as the two main churches on the island celebrate the resurrection of their lord by blasting the crap out of each other with pyrotechnics.

It‘s all in good fun, and hardly anyone gets hurt, badly.  Masses are even held inside the churches during the event.  And please let us remember to pray the roof does not catch fire.

In Germany, where something smells in the city of Cologne, ha ha ha.  It‘s not some guy wearing too much Pierre Cardin lotion.  It‘s the garbage art outside the Cologne Cathedral.  The trash people, 1,000 lifesize sculptures built of nothing but filth, rubbish, chopped-up pieces of Pristo‘s Gates (ph), and other assorted stinkables.  The garbage army stands in formation as a statement on the dangers of environmental something-or-other.

Artist H.H. Schultz has displayed his art all over the world.  It will be in Cologne until next month, then Santiago, Chile, and finally New York, where it will be dumped into the waters off of 57th Street.

Speaking of dumping, Tom Cruise giving out way too much info on what the new baby does.  The breast-feeding, the burping, the diaper --  Check, please.

And our continuing series on the secular attack on Elvis.  Could some impersonator Elvi be out of work because of a merciless corporate takeover of the image of the King?  And what you can do about it.

Details on those stories ahead.

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

Number three, 23-year-old Jason Carter of Tryon (ph), Georgia.  He‘s hospitalized with a serious back injury.  He jumped a waterfall at DeSoto Falls in Alabama.  It was a 150-foot drop.  What he jumped into was less than 10 foot deep.  Not a suicide attempt, as judged by his remarks to his friend before he leaped, “Hey, watch this.”

Number two, Ralph Schomisch, a police spokesman in Koblenz in Germany, after they had arrested a woman for driving across country with her dead mother in the back seat of her car, which violates a number of laws, there or here.  Herr Schomisch said, “The corpse was on the back seat without a seat belt,” which, in this case, didn‘t really matter.  Sorry.  Sorry I stopped short, Mom.

Number one, Dawn Poirer of Pinellas County, Florida.  She was out boating on the Swannee River near Gainesville when one of the fish decided to stop by and say hello.  Authorities say a fish leaped from he river and hit Miss Poirer in the face  But wait, there‘s more.  The fish also did a thousands dollars worth of damage to the boat.  What was it?  The Loch Ness Monster?  Nope, it was a sturgeon, a three-foot sturgeon.  A sturgeon, airborne for the very first time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In warning motorists over the weekend that it was going to be a tough summer, it possibly did not occur to the president that he was looking into a mirror.  Major American cities can drown, we can lose thousands in Iraq, and administration can treat the Bill of Rights like the contents of a suggestion box.  But nothing and nobody can drive a president‘s popularity or his party‘s hope through the floor faster than astronomical high gas prices. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Republicans on Capitol Hill are calling for windfall profit taxes against oil companies, while Republicans at the White House happen to be the most strongly connected in history to Big Oil. 

But as David Gregory reports, politically that makes this summer more combustible than a leak at a Chevron station run by a chain smoker. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is going to look like a normal car.

DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  In California this weekend, the president touted new technology designed one day to wean America off of foreign oil. 

But what about high gas prices here and now? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES:  When that price of gasoline goes up, it hurts working people.  It hurts our small businesses.  And it‘s a serious problem that we‘ve got to do something about. 

GREGORY:  America‘s spring sticker shock at the gas pump has created new anxiety for the White House and Republicans trying to hold onto Congress. 

The war in Iraq has done enough damage to the president‘s political standing, but now rising gas prices are fueling new concerns over pocketbook issues. 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  What they‘re mad about is the fact that they hear people say the economy is growing, and they don‘t feel it, because of gas prices, because wages for many workers are not going up. 

GREGORY:  Democrats running for Congress like John Cranley in southern Ohio are using gas prices to bash the Republican stewardship of the country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Until we break the Republican lock on Congress, which has, you know, been bought out by the oil and gas companies, we‘re not going to change. 

GREGORY:  A new Gallup poll shows that fuel costs now rank third among the public‘s top concern.  At 11 percent, it‘s the high left anxiety on the topic if five years.  The survey also finds that gas prices even outpace the public‘s concern about terrorism. 

Experts say even though fuel costs are bound to become an election-year issue, there is enough blame to go around. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think we‘ve gone through a long period of complacency about energy prices, thinking that those problems were over, and it went off the political agenda, and it also went off the agenda of motorists when they brought new cars.

GREGORY (on camera):  The president and members of Congress are going to be talking a lot about fighting price gouging and taking on the oil companies, but in the short-term, experts say, the reality is there is very little elected officials can do about these prices at the pump. 

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  For more on the impact of rising gas prices on the various political pumps, I‘m joined by Ken Bazinett, White House correspondent of “The New York Daily News.”

Ken, thanks for your time.

KEN BAZINETT, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  The latest polling, as David mentioned here, behind Iraq and immigration, this is the highest ranked issue among Americans.  it‘s higher than the economy.  It‘s higher than dissatisfaction with the government.  It‘s such an issue that Arlen Specter and other Republicans called for investigations, maybe a windfall profits tax.  What does the president do about it? 

BAZINETT:  Well, I think we‘ll see the president revisit part of his State of the Union Address, in which he talks about really the future.  I think David Gregory‘s report was, you know, pretty much right on the money, that there isn‘t much that the president can do in the short term.  I think he‘ll talk about renewable energy, alternative fuels, again, probably revisit the line that we have to do something about our addiction to oil. 

And I think more than anything else, he‘ll try to change the subject.  I think you‘ll hear the president talk quite a bit about the things that are going well in the economy. 

But again, whether or not that means anything to, you know, the person who pulls up to the pump and gets that sticker shock, you know, when he or she goes to fill the tank, I think that‘s another thing that he has to really deal with at this point. 

OLBERMANN:  And in particular, relevant to his background, is he in, to use the cliche, the rock and a hard place on this?  I mean, with his own business background, with the vice president‘s background on oil, can they really slap around to any degree the oil industry? 

BAZINETT:  Well, I think that they possibly can.  You know, the one thing they could do is listen to, you know, Chuck Schumer‘s repeated call to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, for instance, and that would create, obviously, more supply to met the demand.  The question is would they do that.  The likelihood of that, I think, very low. 

The biggest problem for this White House is that the Democrats have had some success exploiting the relationship.  You know, they paint President Bush as an oilman.  He certainly was in that business.  They paint Vice President Cheney as a big energy exec.  Of course, he headed Halliburton, and that is a company well-known for its energy endeavors.  So I think that this is something that, I think, Karl Rove and others are going to have to deal with on behalf of the president as we go toward the midterm election.

OLBERMANN:  But what is the shelf life like on the collective voters‘ memory on this particular issue?  did the gas crisis of 1979 really hurt Jimmy Carter decisively in 1980?  Then if gas prices plummet in September, would the Republicans still be held accountable in November? 

BAZINETT:  I think we know about this sort of built-in phenomena as we come up to the three holidays, Memorial Day, the 4th of July and of course Labor Day, where you see a price spike, it seems, you know, annually for those three holidays.  I think really what‘s going to come down to is, how high does it go?  Because as we all have seen in the past, as the price of gasoline goes up, it never really comes back down to that same level that it had been before.  And if that‘s the case, I think that there will be, you know, a real sort of petroleum hangover that the Republicans may have to deal with in November. 

OLBERMANN:  Ken Bazinett of “The New York Daily News,” great.  Thanks for your time. 

BAZINETT:  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Also today, Mr. Bush learned some bad summer vacation news of his own.  Nevermind oil, he can‘t get no satisfaction, nor a resort suite, because they gave it to Mick Jagger first. 

But always too much room for us in Tom Cruise‘s personal life.  Baby details.  Here we go.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In nearly all parts of the country, the trees are green, the birds are back, the pollen is sticking to your membranes.  The reality is inescapable now: We are once again on the verge of “Tom Cruise tells us more than we need to know” season. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, consider the timeline.  Last May 23rd, it was, he was jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey‘s couch, once or twice, or 20 times too much for our comfort.  Last June 19th, it was, he was lecturing the idiot in London who squirted him with water, one or twice, or 20 times too much for our comfort.  Last June 24th, he proclaimed Matt Lauer glib, once or twice, or 20 times too much for our comfort.

The latest baby is born.  The latest movie promotional tour is under way in Rome, and our correspondent Hoda Kotb is the latest to have suffered from telling us more than we need to know once or twice, or 20 times too much for our own comfort. 

HODA KOTB, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hey, Keith.

A lot of people weren‘t sure he‘d actually make it here to Rome because of the baby and all, but he did turn up, and so did the fans, tens of thousand of fans actually.  They crammed the piazzas.  They all had those little cell phone cameras.  They were clicking pictures.  They were all getting autographs.  Tom Cruise really did come to play. 

This is the first stop on his promotion tour, and some people worried it would be the only stop in Europe, because of the baby.  But then again, what better promotion than the baby. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR:  I have my daughter, newborn, and, you know, I don‘t want to leave her, you know, and Kate.  I wasn‘t going to come, and then Kate said, you know, go, go.  You‘ve got—the whole cast and the world premiere here, and so I‘m here.  And I‘ll be here for a few hours, and then I‘m going to get back on a plane and I‘m going to go home to Kate and Suri.

As you all know, you just can‘t—you find words hard to express what it‘s like.  It is sublime, and you know, I looked at Kate, and my admiration and love and respect for her, although I didn‘t even think it could get more, became more. 

With the diapers?  yes, how do I survive with the diapers?  I have to tell you...

QUESTION:  Have you ever changed her? 

CRUISE:  Have I ever—all the—I changed her first.  I change diapers all the time.  You know, I actually—I have to tell you, I love it.  We‘ve got a whole system worked out, OK?  she does the—it‘s the B&B, she does the breast-feeding, and I do the burping and changing the diapers.  It‘s teamwork.  It‘s fun. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOTB:  It is no wonder that he came to this spot to kick things off internationally.  Rome does have a lot of significance to Tom Cruise.  It‘s where they shot some key scenes in “Mission Impossible III.”  It‘s also the spot where he introduced us to his amore, Katie Holmes, a year ago on the red carpet. 

Back to you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Hoda Kotb on Cruise watch in Rome for us.  Great, thanks.  And a late development in the TomKat movement.  You know how he said he‘d only about there a few hours before flying back to be with his wife and child.  He changed his mind apparently, going to Paris and London now, and will not be returning home until Wednesday.  Rather early to have been eliminated from that father of the year derby, isn‘t it? 

And easy segue then into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news.  Keeping tabs, Charlie Sheen‘s non-reconciliation with his estranged wife now coming down to a restraining orders.  Pay attention, Mr. Cruise, this could be a quick glimpse of your future.  A Los Angeles judge issuing a temporary restraining order against Sheen.  He must stay 300 feet away from his wife, Denise Richards, and their two children, except during supervised visits.  Mrs. Richards, who filed for divorce last month, alleged in court papers that Mr. Sheen pushed her, and threatened her and her parents.  Mr. Sheen alleged that she had attending counseling to decide custody issues.  Transcripts of phone messages that Mr. Sheen left on Mrs. Richards answering part of her evidence at Friday‘s hearing, and the judge also granted Mr. Sheen‘s request that he and Richards be allowed to record conversations of and with each other. 

Another celebrity dispute: Mick Jagger versus President Bush?  In advance of a June summit in Austria, the president‘s aides had contacted the luxurious Imperial Hotel in Vienna to book the royal suite.  It has served as the presidential digs of John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan the first President Bush, but the entire floor had already been reserved by this guy and the Rolling Stones. 

And when the White House asked Mick Jagger to free it up, he refused, according to the newspaper “The Sun.”  One source telling that tabloid, quote, “Bush‘s people seem to be under the impression that they would just hand over the suites.  But there was no way Mick was going to do that. 

Others who can‘t get no satisfaction, will Elvis impersonators have to get licenses to do their thing?  Don‘t be cruel.  That‘s next. 

But first, time for “Countdown” latest three nominees for worst three persons in the world.  The bronze goes to—Bill, you‘re just not trying anymore, are you?  He says now that about Iraq and the generals criticism of Don Rumsfeld, quote, “I have to go on what my military analysts, people paid by Fox News, say to me.  I can‘t base my opinion on anything else.”  Like the guy, Colonel Hunt, who mocked the idea that there weren‘t enough armored vehicles in Iraq, or Oliver North, who said Saddam Hussein would be killed within three days of any invasion by his own people.  Or Colonel McGinnis, who said that the reality is we‘re not going to see thousands of American deaths.  Those guys?  Those geniuses. 

Tonight‘s runner-up, this hurts.  It‘s one of my friends, Keith Hernandez the New York Mets baseball announcer, former first baseman, should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He saw a woman in the dugout of the San Diego Padres during the game yesterday and said, on the air, “I won‘t say women belong in the kitchen, but they don‘t belong in the dugout.  I think this is a man‘s game, and I feel strongly about it.”  She was one of the Padres team trainers.  You‘d think differently about that, Keith, if your back went out suddenly. 

But the winner, Ben and Jerry‘s Ice Cream.  They have evidently run out of flavor names that are both creative and not controversial.  The newest flavor, based on an ale and stout drink, quote, “black and tan,” unquote.  The Irish, Irish-Americans and even many in England are horrified.  The Black and Tan‘s were the extralegal military police recruited by the British in Ireland as the troubles came to the fore in the ‘20s.  This is quite Brownshirt flavor ice cream, or Gestapo crunch?  You get the idea.  Ben and Jerry‘s ice cream, today‘s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Five years running, the highest earning dead celebrity has been Elvis Presley, unless you count Tom Cruise.  Now the man, who has in essence become the new owner of Elvis Presley‘s image has suggested that all those impersonating the King could be dethroned.  So it was easy to name billionaire Robert Sillerman, the bronze winner among last Wednesday‘s worst persons in the world, our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.  One of those 30,000 Elvis impersonators responds presently.  Surprise, he says, in part, thank you very much.  As for Mr. Sillerman, the owner of “American Idol” as well, he now owns another kind of American idol, the real thing, the King. 

He paid $114 million for an 85 percent stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises, which controls Elvis‘ name and likeness, as well as Graceland.  Mr. Sillerman could now license those Elvis tribute artists, most of whom who have had free, unfettered use of the King‘s image from the Presley family.  Sillerman plans an interactive Elvis exhibit and cabaret show in Las Vegas.  he is shutting down the Elvis-o-rama there in October.

As for the 30,000 Elvis troopers, Mr. Sillerman said, quote, “If we were going to do a show that was based on Elvis impersonators, then obviously it wouldn‘t make sense to have unauthorized Elvis impersonators. 

As promised now, I‘m joined by Stingray, AKA Elvis‘s own self. 

Thanks for your time.

STINGRAY, ELVIS IMPERSONATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  After 30 years of the King living on through a bottomless number of willing vehicles, there might be an Elvis purge?  Is that just? 

STINGRAY:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t know that there is going to be one.  I guess we‘ll just have to wait and see. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you think anybody needs weeding out?  Are there too many? 

STINGRAY:  No, I think there‘s room for everybody.  Elvis, you know, was greatest entertainer of all time.  So there is big a demand for people to do his shows, and there‘s you know, hospitals to visit and things that of that nature, and I‘ve done them, USO.  I went down and visited with the troops down there, and there‘s thing that everybody can do.  I think there is plenty of room for everybody to do it.

OLBERMANN:  How long have you been at it? 

STINGRAY:  Twelve years. 

OLBERMANN:  If this is any crackdown, if there is any kind of shortening of the staffs here, and for some reason, that line of demarcation comes below you rather than above you, can you give us a sampling of what you do? 

STINGRAY:  I surely can, absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  Feel free. 

STINGRAY (singing):  To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to wrong where the brave dare not go.  For the right, the unrightable wrong, to be better far than you are, to try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star.  This is my chance to follow that star no matter how hopeless no matter how far, and fight for the right without (INAUDIBLE), to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause, and I know if I‘ll only be true to this glorious quest, that my heart...

(APPLAUSE)

OLBERMANN:  Brilliant.  One thing we learned here.  As much as you might think it‘s a presence on stage in its entirety, you can do it inside a very small window, right, as long as you have the voice and the facial expressions? 

STINGRAY:  I hope so.  That‘s the way it came across. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it did.  I‘m just saying, that was a different kind of perspective, because everyone is used to the whole routine. 

STINGRAY:  Sure, being on the stage with a band and—absolutely. 

OLBERMANN:  So was that the most requested song, by the way? 

STINGRAY:  You know, I don‘t know if it‘s the most requested, but it‘s a great song he recorded in Vegas and Madison Square Garden, and we‘re in New York.  I thought it was good song to do.  “Suspicious Minds” is a big one, but you know, there so many great ones that, you know, everybody wants to hear their favorite, and everybody has different favorites.  So it‘s tough to say. 

OLBERMANN:  On this Mr. Sillerman, in the Las Vegas tribute show, have you been in contact with him?  Would you want to work that sort of thing? 

STINGRAY:  I mean, who wouldn‘t want to work for—you know, this man is a brilliant entrepreneur in the entertainment industry.  I would welcome the opportunity.  I‘d love to audition for him, absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  Now apparently he‘s got no control over impersonators in Europe.  If he does crackdown, will we see a sort of mass Elvis flight, the expatriates in Paris, like Gertrude Stein, or as one of the other artists suggested, could this be the dawn of the Elvis speakeasy in this country? 

STINGRAY:  Well, I couldn‘t go that far.  I‘m sure that, you know, that‘s not going to be the case, but we have to wait and see.  But I don‘t think people will be fleeing the country. 

OLBERMANN:  What happens, seriously, if there were royalties involved, and it look like this man has become brilliant by knowing when to charge royalties and when not, would that knockout most of the people in the profession? 

STINGRAY:  Well, I don‘t know if he wants to knockout the people in the profession, because obviously he knows that Elvis was such a great icon, that a lot of people want to see him, there‘s a big demand for him.  If there wasn‘t a demand, you couldn‘t have this many people doing it.  And, again, there are good ones and bad ones, but there is room for everybody as long as your heart is in the right place.  And you know, I think there‘s room for everybody.

OLBERMANN:  Last question, do you know yet from your 12 years in the field there, are there more people who think he faked his death and is still alive, or more people who think they can reach him through a medium? 

STINGRAY:  Well, that‘s a good question.  I think that was, again, you know, the magnitude of this man worldwide.  People just don‘t want to accept that he‘s gone, and that‘s why you heard all of those stories about, you know, sightings and he faked his death, because you know, people didn‘t want to believe he was gone, because he touched so many people. 

OLBERMANN:  And 30,000 artists still portraying the man.  Stingray, the man, the legend, the Elvis, thanks for your time tonight.

STINGRAY:  Thank you, sir.  Thank you for having me. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks you very much.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,089th day this since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Goodnight and good luck.

Our next NBC coverage continues now with Joe Scarborough and the view from “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”

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

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