updated 5/2/2006 10:48:32 AM ET 2006-05-02T14:48:32

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Charlie Savage, Dana Milbank

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

A turning point, says President Bush, three years after he declared, Mission Accomplished.  Those many who disagree with both statements may have an unlikely new leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  I don‘t think we had enough force there at that time to impose order, and that‘s what we were responsible for, because when you have taken out a government, a regime, then you become responsible for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And how much of this country is the president responsible for?  The count of laws passed by Congress to which he said, I don‘t think so, 750.  Mission accomplished, indeed.

The new Bush twins at the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner, but the lookalike takes second place to the Big Giant Head twin, who mentions the P-word.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT:  We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in reality.  And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Attendees say the president stopped smiling about halfway through.

The immigration protests, did they have the impact the protesters hoped for?

And at the Supreme Court, did Anna Nicole Smith have the impact she hoped for?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Justice Thomas, that‘s not appropriate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Shut up, rookie.

It‘s Puppet Theater time.

And what a Rush.  Random drug testing ordered for comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Now he can whiz all over himself instead of everybody else.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, are we taking Clintons here on the first roll?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

For quite a while, it was assumed historians would mark May 1 in the first decade of the 21st century as the anniversary of the day in 2003 when President Bush declared “mission accomplished.”

Now it looks more like it will be remembered as the day in 2005 when the Downing Street memo was revealed.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, a new and remarkably better-known former general becoming the latest from that alumni association to say his warnings about Iraq were ignored by the White House.

He‘s the only one who was also secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell.  His strongest on-camera comments yet in a moment.

First, the president marking Monday‘s milestone with a notable absence of flight suit, hailing the formation of a new government in Iraq as a turning point, while cautioning that there are going to be more tough days ahead, all of which you might have thought would have preceded an accomplished mission statement.

All in all, today was a far cry from what Mr. Bush was saying 1,096 days ago, declaring then that the worst of the fighting was over.

Hardly.  Then, 139 American soldiers had been killed.  Now, it is 2,401.  Then, insurgent attacks per day, eight.  Now, 75.  Then, the number of insurgents, 5,000.  Now, 15,000 to 20,000.

The former secretary of state, meantime, telling a British interview that he warned the administration before the invasion that more troops would be needed in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

POWELL:  I had raised directly with General Franks, and with Secretary Rumsfeld, and in front of the president, the size of the force that was going in.  But I‘m the secretary of state, not the secretary of defense or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  And the president‘s military advisers felt that the size of the force was adequate.  And they may still feel that, years later.  Some of us don‘t.  I don‘t.  And I have said that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The current secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, responding, “I don‘t remember specifically what Secretary Powell may be referring to, but I‘m quite certain that there were lots of discussions about how best to fulfill the mission that we went into Iraq.  And I have no doubt that all of this was taken into consideration.  But that when it came down to it, the president listens to his military advisers, who were to execute the plan.”

Military planning being something with which General Powell had absolutely no experience, obviously.

Dealing with the fallout falling to the president‘s new chief of staff, Josh Bolten, heard saying over the weekend that the White House is now trying to get its mojo back.  To that end, no longer televising most or all of the daily press briefing, an idea that Mr. Bolten feels is worth considering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY “)

JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  It‘s worth considering.  I think that will be Tony Snow‘s first test to see what kind of power player he really is, and whether he‘s able to establish the right kind of relationship with the press that we need going forward.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST:  Well, you say worth considering.  Would that be something that you think would improve relations with the press, or hurt them?

BOLTEN:  My guess is, in the short run, it would hurt them.  The judgment would be, as we do in all things, is look at the long run, and see whether it‘s helpful in the long run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Translation, when the news isn‘t good, stop the news.

Time now to call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s senior White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe.

Thanks for your time, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Very good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Until or unless things improve in Iraq, or unless other war-related milestones do not crop up, how difficult is it going to be for the White House, to use Mr. Bolten‘s term, to get its mojo back?

WOLFFE:  Iraq, gas prices, it‘s no secret those two factors are driving all their poll numbers down, and the administration has known it for a long time.  What‘s interesting now is, I think you‘re seeing the start of a kind of different debate in Washington.  Maybe people are thinking about ‘06 or ‘08, the different elections.

But Joe Biden today, senator, the Democratic senior figure on the Foreign Relations Committee, talking about a third way, a different—a proposal short of withdrawal and obviously different from the president‘s staying-the-course plan.

(INAUDIBLE) you‘re just seeing different ideas crop up here as people look to the future and say, Can it be done differently?

OLBERMANN:  And now we have Mr. Powell‘s ideas spoken in a way that perhaps, or at least a venue that he hadn‘t used.  Before, it‘s no secret that there was bad blood between the White House and the former secretary.  But he was the guy who made the case to the U.N. in February of 2003.

WOLFFE:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  Were his comments damaging or embarrassing?  Could they be written off because he was culpable, at least in the sense of being the presenter of the case on an international forum?

WOLFFE:  Well, yes, it goes more than that, actually.  For a start, of course, it‘s politically damaging in the sense that people still care about the run-up to war.  I think a lot of people, to be honest, are thinking about how to get out of Iraq more than how we got into Iraq.

But Secretary Powell made his comments pretty clear to those of us who followed him pretty closely in the run-up to war.  He had a back channel to uniformed officials at the Department of Defense.  He was talking constantly about troop levels, about the postwar planning.

And, as he said, he was making those comments clear to the administration.  I don‘t know why Condi Rice is sort of suggesting she couldn‘t recall anything, because he was an open dissenter, both on the means for going to war, the military levels.

And remember, by the way, the whole point of transformation, of having a light force going into Iraq, was to overturn the so-called Powell doctrine, the idea that they needed overwhelming force to go into battle.  And of course that was Colin Powell‘s doctrine.

OLBERMANN:  That went well.  This seems like a trivial thing in comparison to talk about the third anniversary of the “Mission Accomplished” speech, and then talk about whether or not the press sessions, the daily briefings by the new press secretary, should still be televised.

But (INAUDIBLE) obviously, if they‘re not televised, there‘s a whole different mechanic to the process of getting news out of the White House.  Are, are, is, is it a throwaway thought, or are Josh Bolten and Tony Snow thinking of doing more than merely considering putting the end of the live TV briefings?  I mean, Mr. McCurry, President Clinton‘s press secretary, said it was the biggest mistake he‘d ever made.

WOLFFE:  Right, and I think press secretaries would readily agree with that.

The question is, how do you do away with it now?  And I know from talking to White house officials, they‘re looking at the whole range of their contacts with the media, how to improve them.  You know, the briefing sucks up a lot of time in terms of preparation, as well as the question, is anyone watching anymore?

So they are trying to figure out how to do it better, how to do it differently.  I honestly am very skeptical that they could do this, because all it would mean is, Tony Snow would have to be out there on the North Lawn talking to the cameras all day.  TV is still going to be the best way to get their message out, whether they like it or not.

So if they don‘t brief—if they don‘t televise the briefing, they‘re going to have to do it in front of the cameras.

OLBERMANN:  The other option, televise just the answers, not the questions.

“Newsweek”‘s Richard Wolffe.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  Beyond the war in Iraq, or even the war on terrorism, new evidence showing that Mr. Bush‘s most aggressive legacy might remain his war on Congress, a remarkable compilation being reported now that the chief executive has now given the legislative branch the figurative finger more than 750 times since taking office, by reserving the right to ignore any law that he believes is unconstitutional.

Certainly, it might have looked as if the president was agreeing to faithfully execute bills he was signing into law, what I believe is what is written in the Constitution.  But quietly, after the cameras had gone, he was instead issuing so-called signing statements, more than 750 of them, asserting his belief that the laws in question encroached on presidential power.

Among those laws that Mr. Bush has said he can ignore, military rules and regulations, affirmative action provisions, whistleblower protections, and such as that like.

Calculating that staggering number of signing statements the work of “Boston Globe” Washington correspondent Charlie Savage, who‘s been kind enough to join us now.

Welcome back, sir.

CHARLIE SAVAGE, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “THE BOSTON GLOBE”:  Nice to be back, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  With the signing statements or the PATRIOT Act renewal, the ban, military ban on torture, it seemed as if an argument could have been made for preserving the wartime powers of the president.  That certainly can be argued.  But there was something there to discuss.

But in some of these cases, whistleblower protections, nuclear regulatory officials, and what—the war has nothing to do with that, does it?

SAVAGE:  That‘s right, Keith.  There‘s the—in the domestic spying program scandal last year, which continues, the torture ban waiver that he asserted, and more recently, the—his assertion that he could ignore the oversight provisions of the PATRIOT Act.

The common theme in all those was, I‘m the commander in chief, we‘re at war.  No matter that the Constitution gives all kinds of war-making powers to Congress, really, these laws don‘t apply when we‘re at war, because I have to protect the national security.

But what I found when I went back and read all these documents, which no one has paid attention to in the media or in Congress for the last five years, is that Bush‘s claims that he can ignore and defy laws that he thinks, under his own interpretation of the Constitution, are unconstitutional, has gone well beyond anything to do with national security.

Certainly the military and spy agencies have a lot to do with these laws that he‘s saying he doesn‘t have to obey, but there‘s many others that have to do with giving information to Congress, protecting whistleblowers who want to bring government wrongdoing to the attention of Congress, affirmative action, which has nothing to do with national security at all, or even his own interpretation of his own powers, but rather his interpretation of the, you know, the equal protection clause of the amendment, which is—the Supreme Court has been quite clear about.

Those programs are OK as long as there‘s not quotas.  But he‘s still flagging these as things that the executive branch is going to take a second look at, even though it‘s written into the law that he just signed.

OLBERMANN:  Give us a ballpark figure on context here, on how often these signing statements have been issued.  Is it one in every 20 bills he‘s signed, one in every 10?  What is it?

SAVAGE:  It‘s about one in every 10 bill.  But that‘s a little misleading, because some bills are huge, and have many, many new laws in them, and others are a paragraph long.

OLBERMANN:  Is there precedent among previous presidents, previous administrations?  Is this president the first one to have done this on a large scale, or the first to have done it at all?

SAVAGE:  In one sense, there is precedent.  It goes way back in history, occasionally a president will sign a large bill and say, I think that this one provision is unconstitutional, I‘m not going to enforce it.  Occasionally, they issued signing statements to that effect.

Starting in the mid-‘80s with the Reagan administration, they started issuing these more frequently.  Bush I issued them, a couple hundred of them over four years.  Clinton issued about 140 over eight years.  Bush now 750.

So in the sense that no one has ever done this, (INAUDIBLE) people have done this before.  But in two senses, this is completely unprecedented.  One is this, the frequency.  No one has ever done it this often.  And second is the aggression of the claims being made in them.  It‘s one thing to challenge a law that is clearly unconstitutional because it fit the mold that the Supreme Court has said is unconstitutional, such as, you have to get permission from just a committee, not the full vote of Congress, before you do something.  Everyone knows that‘s unconstitutional, Congress writes them in anyway.

Bush is going well beyond that.  He‘s saying that Congress can pass no law that gives any executive branch official the power to act independently of his control, even though Congress has done that going back to the ‘30s, and the Supreme Court has always upheld it.

He‘s saying that even though Congress has overwhelmingly passed an absolute ban on torturing detainees, and the Constitution says they get to set the rules for captured enemies, he can override that.

And so in terms of frequency and aggression, this is unprecedented.

OLBERMANN:  Charlie Savage of “The Boston Globe.”  Thank you for your reporting, thank you for your time.

SAVAGE:  Thank you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  The president might want to expand his powers so that he doesn‘t have to go to the White House Correspondents Dinner anymore.  Why Comedy Central‘s Stephen Colbert will not be replacing Fox on those Air Force One TVs.

And A Day Without Immigrants, a day of rallies by many of the country‘s recent immigrants.  And an unexpected outcome at at least one of the mass protests.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Six years ago, in a labor protest that they hoped would redefine where they stood with their employers, nearly all the baseball umpires submitted their simultaneous resignations.  To which their employers, who unbeknownst to the union had for years secretly dreamt of finding some way to get rid of the older and more highly paid umpires, responded with a grateful, OK.

The union broke apart.  Many of the umpires never regained their jobs.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, on the National Day Without Immigrants, the only immediate practical impact on the nonimmigrant community was a surprise from Southern California.  Morning and early evening rush-hour traffic was reported extraordinarily light on the following major freeways, the 405, the 10, the 605, the 101, the 5, the 710, the 105, the 170, the 60, the 210, the 134, the 2, the 118, and the 91.

There were a couple of hot spots on the 110.

The question was thus raised, if, like in the situation with those umpires, the premise of the nationwide boycott had been completely thought out.

Whatever the actual impact, as Lester Holt reports for us now from New York City‘s Union Square, the visual impression was astounding.

Lester?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

We‘ve been watching these protests around the country since March, borne, of course, over the initial anger over a threatened crackdown on illegal immigration.  They‘ve certainly touched more cities now.  They‘ve grown in size.  And they‘ve become more organized.  But the question remains, what effect will all this have?

(voice-over):  Keeping up the pressure, the numbers today as big, if not bigger, than earlier marches, as organizers raised the stakes, many of the protesters heeding a call to flex their economic muscle by staying off the job and out of the stores.

From Sacramento...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I took my day off and I said, you know, I got to back up my brothers.

HOLT:  ... to Washington.

MARA VERHEYDEN-HILLARD:  I‘m out here today like everyone else.  We‘re not shopping.  We‘re not buying.  And we‘re all out here to have a very clear message.

HOLT:  The uneven effects of the boycott felt from Main Street to Churchill Downs.

PAUL MCGEE:  From what I‘d heard, there was going to be some walkouts today.  So, as it turns out, I did, I did have four no-shows.

HOLT:  In New Orleans, where illegal immigrants have found abundant work since Katrina, protesters were out to remind the community and the country of their value.

In New York, protesters and supporters formed a human chain linking the plight of illegal immigrants with the larger issue of workers‘ rights, something organizers hope resonates with immigrants and nonimmigrants alike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m working.  I‘m a community organizer.  And I‘m here because we—I know that we need a change, and that‘s why I‘m here supporting our people, our society.

HOLT:  But the question over whether illegal immigrants should have rights is one many American workers remain unsure of.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It kind of upsets me, yes, it does.

HOLT (on camera):  Why is that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, because there‘s a lot of people that want to be American citizens, but they got to go through the right channels.

HOLT (voice-over):  Even supporters of greater immigrant rights are weighing whether the protests could provoke a backlash.

JAIME CONTRERAS, NATIONAL CAPITAL IMMIGRATION COALITION:  We think that the American people are generous people, and they will understand that this is one of the ways that people can express their rights under the Constitution, to express discontent with something that‘s happening in Congress.

HOLT:  Snapshots of today‘s protests from around the country, meantime, remind us this national debate is also in many ways a local issue.

RON ALLEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Ron Allen in Denver, where police estimate the crowd at more than 75,000, making this perhaps the largest political rally in this state‘s history.

(voice-over):  A march some two miles long ended in front of the state capitol.  Many workers said they decided to take the day off.  Some schools reported 70 percent absentee rates.

KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Kevin Tibbles in Chicago.  What is different about this city is, they call Chicago the City of Neighborhoods, many of them ethnic neighborhoods.  And today, they have all come together to march as one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got family here.  I have to be legal, you know. 

I cannot do driver‘s license.  I got nothing.

ALLEN (on camera):  Why did you decide to march today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s the American dream, and everybody loves the American dream.

JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Jennifer London in downtown Los Angeles.  A passionate but peaceful crowd of thousands filled the streets outside City Hall.

(voice-over):  They shouted, “Viva America!” and, “We can make it happen.”

AMIR MIRMOTAHARI, IRANIAN IMMIGRANT:  Immigration for this country is vital to the country‘s social fabric, its economy.

HOLT (voice-over):  While supporters of amnesty and open borders are quick to note we are a nation of immigrants, these demonstrators in Colorado today remind us that not all of us came from somewhere else.

(on camera):  And Keith, too early to measure the economic impact of today‘s boycott, but anecdotally, a number of businesses around the country had to shut their doors because of a lack of employees.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Lester Holt in New York‘s Union Square.  Great thanks.

Here, crowds are trying to define what is it to be an American. 

There, crowds trying to define which is the biggest sausage in the world. 

Yes, I need 4,000 pounds of relish to go.

And also for the history books, May 1, the day all nine Supreme Court justices stand up for the rights of a Playmate.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The late Joseph Heller was born on May 21, 1893.  If you don‘t know who he is or what he wrote, perhaps you can‘t fully appreciate the point of this segment.  It was (INAUDIBLE) he who wrote the, perhaps the only 100 percent cynical and satirical novel in history, “Catch 22,” which was supposed to be “Catch 18,” but there was another book coming out that year called “Milla (ph) 18,” so they changed it, as cynical a move as anything in the book itself.

In Mr. Heller‘s memory, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Caracas, Venezuela, where an out-of-control drunk man on a motorcycle is wreaking havocs on the street.  Wait a second, that‘s World Motorcycle Stunt Champion Chris Pfeiffer (ph).  Give him a big hand, everybody, Chris Pfeiffer.  Pfeiffer fascinated the fans with a fantastic display of high-flying acrobatics, before tragically crashing into a (INAUDIBLE) of (INAUDIBLE).

Something broke on me here.

But the real attraction in Venezuela this week, the International Championships of Kite Surfing.  Hooray, kite surfing!  The top 60 of the world‘s 73 kite surfers were on hand on Cochi (ph) Island to battle for the title of world champ.  Unfortunately, the event had to be called early due to wind conditions.  Too much wind for kite surfing.  Well, that‘s pretty lame.

Meanwhile, get a load of this guy‘s huge sausage, longest in the world right there, 82 feet.  It‘s a chorizo (ph), grilled in one piece for more than four hours outside this restaurant in Kirslia (ph), in Israel.  Chef Bernardo Malahovic (ph) says the 60-pound monster is the longest sausage in the world.  He did not wait around for the “Guinness Book,” though, he served it to passers-by.  The Guinness people, though, could probably (INAUDIBLE), because after this meal, I‘m sure there‘ll be some records broken there too.

Finally, h she is, Mrs. Komodo Dragon.  Actually, Sungai (ph) is a Miss Komodo Dragon, and that‘s what got the folks at the London zoo all perplexed at the moment.  She was shipped there from France to meet her new male dragon mate.  First thing Sungai did when she arrived on her flight, she laid a bunch of eggs, four little baby dragons.  Zoo officials have no idea how she got pregnant.  She had not been in contact with a male Komodo dragon in more than two years.  They think this is either a case of parthenogenesis, which means she fertilized herself, or some little lizard has just joined the Mile High Club.

The Komodo dragon a staple of the comedy of Bob and Ray.  It did not come up in Stephen Colbert‘s performance at the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner, although there were a few symbolic suggestions that some people should go fertilize themselves.

But you missed the laugh lines about comedian Rush Limbaugh and the random drug tests he‘ll have to take.  Brings a new meaning to the concept of investigating leaks, hah?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, a policeman in Triere, Germany, arrested by his colleagues after they recognized him in surveillance tape of a bank robbery.  Oh, and they noticed the car he drove away in too, his girlfriend‘s.

Number two, Rene Crete (INAUDIBLE) Montpelier, Vermont.  A suspect in the heist of some hub caps.  Police say they had no trouble finding him because he was covered in paint.  The owner of the auto salvage lot that Mr. Crete allegedly hit had winged him several times with a paintball gun.

And number one, Eddie Murphy reportedly set to make “Beverly Hills Cop 4.”  Only a cynic would suggest that this plot might contain some kind of arrest of a man in women‘s clothing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I went in 1998 and had to sit next to Betty Curry, got to hear President Clinton get up and eclipse the comedian.  Rest of the night, pretty much like the sports Emmys only without the good canap’s.  For me that was my last one until further notice. 

Our third story in the “Countdown,” every once in a while however, the White House correspondents dinner produces some news or at least some controversy, Imus.  Not if Sedric the Entertainer is the comedian nor Ray Romano.  When it‘s a guy who spoofs conservative cable television every night, that‘s a different story. But before Stephen Colbert, it was presidential double or W double, Steve Bridges.  Several liberals in the audience were reported in satisfactory condition after this sight induced seizures.  That was the opening act. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL‘S “COLBERT REPORT”: Wow.  What an honor, the White House correspondents dinner, to actually, to sit here at the same table with my hero George W. Bush, to be this close to the man.  I feel like I‘m dreaming.  Somebody pinch me.  You know what, I‘m a pretty sound sleeper. That may not be enough.  Somebody shoot me in the face.  Is he really not here tonight? Damn it.  I stand by this man because he stands for things.  Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares.  And that sends a strong message that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world. 

The greatest thing about this man is he is steady. You know where he stands.  He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday.  Events can change.  This man‘s beliefs never will.  I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least and by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq. 

See who we got here tonight.  We have General Mosley, Air Force chief of staff. We got General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.  They still support Rumsfeld.  You guys aren‘t retired yet right? Right, they still support Rumsfeld.  I mean, nothing satisfies you.  Everybody asks for personnel changes.  So the White House has personnel changes and then you  write, oh, they are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  First of all, that is a terrible metaphor.  This administration is not sinking.  This administration is soaring.  If anything they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Hindenburg. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Among the 2700 in the audience for that intimate gathering, our friend Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post.”  Welcome back to this planet.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”: Good evening Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I like Stephen Colbert a lot and believe me, I‘m all for smacking down presidents.  I have done to one from each party in my tenure here.  But was this the right tone at the right venue? Was there a line crossed here in some way?

MILBANK: I don‘t think he crossed the line. I just think he wasn‘t terribly funny and he had the misfortune of following Bush who actually did put on one of the better performances of his presidency.  I think if you look at Colbert‘s career progression, I think the high water mark was when he had you on the show Keith and it‘s pretty much - I mean we‘re just on a downward spiral there right now. 

OLBERMANN: I‘m sure that‘s the way he views it Dana.  Is there not usually something closer to a fair fight? I mean in ‘98, at the apex of the Lewinsky mess, Bill Clinton got up and did a joke about the new magazine about reporters and journalism called “Content” and he intentionally mispronounced it “content” and then he asked, why would they call a magazine about journalists content and after we all finished laughing at ourselves and laughing ourselves hoarse, Mike McCurry pretended to correct him and tell him it was actually “Content” and then Clinton said why would they call a magazine  about journalists “Content?”  Is it Mr. Bush‘s fault that he did not seem to give as good as he got in the deep hitting material or is it somebody else‘s responsibility?

MILBANK: And we should also add that “Content” is now out of business (INAUDIBLE) says about our industry.  Look, you know, I think in these kinds of cases, often the guy with the lighter touch comes out a little bit better.  I can tell you sitting in the hall there, people were astounded, particularly looking from our tables as opposed to seeing it on television, it was almost impossible to tell which one was Bush and which one was the impersonator.  The president is used to getting abused.  He didn‘t get anything worse than he got at Coretta Scott King‘s funeral which was certainly a bit more outlandish than this.  So I think he probably comes out ahead in this whole thing. 

OLBERMANN: And in something of an irony, it seemed that as far as a large majority of mainstream media goes, Colbert was not the story here.  The look alike was.  Did the White House win at least most of the PR battle in this?

MILBANK: Yeah, I think they won the PR battle that night and that and about $400 billion will balance the Federal budget.  Some of Bush‘s best lines—remember the famous dinner when he is in the black tie and he refers to all the other people in black tie as my base.  Great line, but it‘s been haunting him ever since, so it‘s unclear what these comedy dinners do for you.

OLBERMANN:  Ultimately, given the history and I made reference to our colleague Mr. Imus in the past, what about the future here? Should it have one?  Does it need tighter regulations, smaller crowd, hold it outdoors mid winter? Where does this go from here?

MILBANK: We go through this each year saying we have had enough.  First it was Fawn hall showing up and now we‘re all the way to George Clooney. I think what‘s happening here is everybody—you go to the Bloomberg party afterwards and you have cucumber martinis and the problem is everybody forgets how dreadful the evening was.  And so therefore, we are unprepared when the whole thing occurs again next year.  I saw a number of your producers with the cucumber martinis at the Bloomberg party, so I expect we‘re going to be right here again next year. 

OLBERMANN: They are all out sick today and I was told that they had like dental problems.  Howard Fineman e-mailed me about the cucumber martinis.  Were they potent or that bad?

MILBANK: Didn‘t they have a special cucumber drink at the screaming Viking in “Cheers” when you could have it bruised or slightly bruised?  It was the best I‘ve ever had and I was able to drive home. 

OLBERMANN: Before you go to chime in on this question that was raised about the possibility of taking the TV cameras out of all or most of the White House press briefings?

MILBANK: I would love it, never going to happen because the networks call the shots in this business, but put them on.  Let everybody posture for a couple of minutes at the start of this and then we can get down to some actual news business.  It‘s good for us ink-stained wretches anyway.

OLBERMANN: Networks call the shot.  Don‘t you forget it Dana Milbank. 

Many thanks for joining us as always.

Also today, whether or not they gained something from it or were appalled by it, we do not know, but Americans certainly went to the movie about flight 93 in its first weekend in theaters. 

And the deal is done for comedian Rush Limbaugh.  For the next year and a half, random drug tests.  Please express yourself into the cup, buddy.  Details ahead here on “Countdown.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Art does not have to make you happy.  Art that does not make you happy can on occasion help you heal.  Whether that is true for the movie “United 93,” can be answered only by those who have seen it. But in our number two story in the “Countdown,” an extraordinary number of people will be able to give an answer.  In its first weekend of distribution, the film finished second nationally in box office totals, nearly $12 million worth of tickets, almost as much as a new Robin Williams comedy.  As to how those who went felt afterwards, a snapshot from our correspondent Lisa Daniels. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA DANIELS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Few moviegoers wanted to return to that day, but many said they needed to. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is very emotional but it puts a closure to what happened to that day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We heard a lot about sacrifice but this film gives you an inside look at that word put into action. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to see exactly what happened on that flight even though I knew what the ending was going to be. 

DANIELS: The film where silence at the end was more telling than applause. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There wasn‘t a sound in there when it ended. I mean it was amazing.

DANIELS: Some movie goers admitted they were tense walking in. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am a little bit.  I am.

DANIELS: What are you nervous about?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t know really.  I mean it brings back a lot of sad memories. 

DANIELS: And conflicted walking out. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was wonderful. I mean it was very well acted. 

It was amazing.  But it was a movie. It wasn‘t a documentary. 

DANIELS: But for some, watching the tragedy unfold in real time was too close to real life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s like being in September 11th, right all over again. It was like being in the same specific day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was worth going to see it, definitely.  I just got out of the movie, so it‘s kind of—it was intense. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can‘t describe it.  I can‘t.  It‘s hard. 

DANIELS: Some wanted to forget what they saw even though they knew they never would. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn‘t a movie.  This was, I felt like I went to a funeral.  I‘m all shaken up.

DANIELS: Which maybe exactly what director Paul Greengrass was hoping for, a reminder of how 40 ordinary people were united by courage even at the very end.  Lisa Daniels, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN: A reminder, a caveat here, “United 93” is distributed by Universal, by the parent company of this network. 

There is no segue possible in our roundup of celebrity entertainment news.  Keeping tabs, we‘ll just change subjects and the plea bargain without a plea is official now.  Rush Limbaugh‘s deal with Florida prosecutors filed with the Florida court.  The news in this, he has to undergo random drug tests for the next 18 months meaning, harkening back to what we said earlier, that now when he whizzes all over himself, at least there is a good reason for it. 

One count of doctor shopping will remain pending against Limbaugh until November 2007.  It will be dismissed at that time if he has not violated any law in that time and continues his (INAUDIBLE) or rehab rather and not tested positive for anything, particularly on prescribed medication.  He also cannot own a gun.  For a moment, Limbaugh seemed to be headed towards an on air self deprecating joke about his mug shot but at the last moment, he managed to pull vanity from the jaws of modesty. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH: After the program was over at 3:00, my attorney Mr.  Black met me here. We climbed into a car. We went over to the Palm Beach County jail where I was booked on this single charge, filed a not guilty plea, went in there and smiled for the mug shot.  Mug shot got posted all over television Friday night.  Many people referring to it as a publicity photo.  And I must say folks, it is one of the nicest photos of me that has ever been taken. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Mr. Limbaugh‘s attorney, Roy Black, cautioned the news media not to call Limbaugh‘s surrender to the Palm Beach County Sheriff‘s Office last Friday an arrest, since he was never handcuffed. But a spokesman for that department said that was not true.  During the booking, Limbaugh was technically under arrest.  And while no specifics about the random drug screenings were revealed, there is no truth to the rumors that Limbaugh will also be tested for steroids and meat loaf. 

And if veteran rocker and now drug resistant sexagenarian Keith Richards fell out of a tree or off a jet ski and had to be tested to see if he‘d hurt his head, how could you tell?  The New Zealand Sunday “Star Times” calls it a Humpty Dumpty moment, quoting a doctor who says Richards was injured in Fiji after climbed up a coconut tree and fell.  The newspaper reported that he hurt himself after having climbed up a coconut tree and falling off, hitting his head.  Another newspaper reported the rocker hurt himself after falling from a Jet Ski. No confirmation on either mishaps, but a spokesman for the Rolling Stones says Richards was hurt, had been airlifted along with his wife to a hospital in New Zealand for observation. 

Hey miss, what is this thing here? We know what this is, Anna Nicole Smith and the Supreme Court.  Madam, when we said submit your briefs, that‘s not what we meant. 

First time for “Countdown”‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world .  The bronze goes to the Cablevision Company serving Yonkers, New York.  It hit a 62-year old retired school teacher with a bill for $1,400 for pay per view porn and gangster rap specials.  It says that if she didn‘t order it, somebody else in her house did.  She points out she lives alone. Her only regular visitor is her 81-year-old mother and quote, “I don‘t think she wants to watch porn.”

Runners up, Ronald Arnold and Ryan Dawson of Wilsonville, Missouri, accused by prosecutors there of force feeding a bowl of vodka to an eight-week old puppy.  The dog has recovered. Hopefully they have not. 

But our winner, Bill O, announcing that there is quote, “very powerful far left cabal and these guys have made inroads, inroads particularly at NBC News.”  Here we go. He also insisted Fox News is not a right wing enterprise and then declared his conviction that he also believes in brownies and elves.  Bill O‘Reilly now and forever, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: Not a loud argument, but neither has it been entirely silent.  Should there be live or taped television coverage of the arguments before or at least the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court? Let me ask it another way.  How about an Anna Nicole Smith reality TV show starring the justices as the rest of the cast? Our number one story in the “Countdown,” the Supreme Court case of court jurisdiction based on her pursuit of her late husband‘s money that involves Ms. Smith and the first one to repeat the old line from “Laugh In,” here comes the judge, is banned for life.  The court has decided in Ms. Smith‘s favor, a unanimous decision overturning various lower court rulings that kept her from collecting the $474 million she was once awarded from her late husband‘s estate.  This does not mean she automatically gets $474 million, just that the Federal courts were entitled to rule on the case.  Despite their age difference, 63 years, the playmate and Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II married and lived happily ever after.  In this case after, you know, Mr.  Marshall died 14 months later and her 67-year-old stepson has spent a decade resisting her efforts to get any of his biological father‘s money.  The no cameras at the Supreme Court thing denied us the chance to cover the ruling, that and the fact that Anna Nicole Smith wasn‘t there for it.  Still, that‘s no excuse not to recreate the whole thing using our new genre of journalism, Anna Nicole Smith‘s Supreme Court public theatre. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I‘m here for the oral argument.  I miss my husband.  My husband, my husband, um, what‘s his name?

Howard.  His name was Howard. 

Yeah, Howard.  (crying) Howard!

Can we get on with the cross-examination?

Justice Thomas, that‘s not appropriate. 

Shut up, rookie!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN: Court TV‘s Washington correspondent Savannah Guthrie has survived more than her fair share of puppet theaters. Welcome back and I‘m sorry.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: It‘s always puppet theater right before me.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s what you get for covering Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith.

GUTHRIE: Good point.

OLBERMANN:  Are we certain that the fact that it was Anna Nicole Smith had nothing to do with the court even hearing this case? I mean technically was it really Supreme Court level worthy?

GUTHRIE: It actually was even though Anna Nicole Smith brought a lot of attention to this case, it really boiled down to a classic case of a jurisdictional fight between the state probate court and the Federal court and today the Federal court won and it really was as boring as that. 

OLBERMANN: And you got to cover both the boring and the unboring portions? What joy.  Did we catch the flavor at all in puppet theatre or not?

GUTHRIE: I‘m happy to say that our Supreme Court justices comported themselves a lot better than your portrayal.  Anna Nicole Smith was there as well and she also behaved appropriately.  As your video shows, she was dressed very demurely. She didn‘t make any comments to the reporters and all the throngs of network photographers literally falling over themselves to get a shot of her.  The only thing she said was respect for the court, something I think her lawyer told her to say. 

OLBERMANN: They worked on memorizing that for quite a while.  So essentially, all she won is the right to keep suing correct?

GUTHRIE: Exactly.  Unfortunately for her, she‘s not going to get a big fat check in the mail tomorrow.  She‘s just going to go back to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court and her former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall is extremely motivated.  I don‘t think this is one of those cases that‘s going to quietly settle and go into a good night.  He wants to fight.  I‘ve ran into him at the Supreme Court on the day of the oral argument.  He looked me in the eye and he said she is never going to see a penny of this money, never.  I think he wouldn‘t mind spending his last dime just to keep fighting her. 

OLBERMANN: And legally where does that stand? Is that his argument is just she doesn‘t deserve the money or has he got something to stand on that we‘d understand as laymen looking at the law?

GUTHRIE: Well, it is pretty arcane, but he has about five or six arguments he wants to press in the ninth circuit and one of them is that the state probate court already decided this issue.  And so the Federal court had no business getting into it.  But her lawyers would say no, the state court never got into the specifics of what she claimed in Federal court.  So it‘s all kind of boring lawyer talk and I‘m sure they have lots to fight about for years and years and years in the Federal court. 

OLBERMANN: And based on your legal expertise, what does this ruling mean for other artificially enhanced, extra (ph) or occasionally over medicated diet plan spokes women who have married men 63 years their elder, who then die shortly thereafter and they have to sue the estate for the money?

GUTHRIE: It‘s an excellent day for those people wherever they are. 

OLBERMANN: Are there vast throngs of them suing Savannah, do you know, or is this the only case like this that we know of that‘s working its way through the system?

GUTHRIE: I think Anna Nicole Smith is pretty unique, but all kidding aside and what the Federal court did today, what the Supreme Court did today is clear up a lot of confusion about whether a Federal court can ever step into state will matters.  And for that, I mean that‘s why the Supreme Court took the case and they have resolved the issue and given some guidance and that is after all, what they are paid to do. 

OLBERMANN:  Could the substance of this thing actually ever wind back up in the court or is that Anna Nicole‘s last visit, the one that we‘ve been showing the tape of, 33 times this hour?

GUTHRIE: No. I mean theoretically she could lose again and appeal again in the Supreme Court or vice versa and they could land back at the Supreme Court again.  I don‘t think it‘s terribly likely, but it can certainly happen. 

OLBERMANN:  It depends on what Justice Thomas has to say.  Savannah Guthrie of Court TV, pleasure having you back on the program.

GUTHRIE: Nice to see you.

OLBERMANN:  Many thanks. That is “Countdown” for this the 1,096th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees lose. Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with the view from “Scarborough Country.” Good evening Joe.

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

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