updated 5/12/2006 11:44:04 AM ET 2006-05-12T15:44:04

Guests: Dana Milbank, Jonathan Turley, Ken Bazinet, Maria Milito

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

Another NSA spy scandal, collecting the records of your phone calls.  Every time you and I made a call with AT&T, Verizon, or BellSouth, the estimate, tens of millions of Americans affected, the goal, to, quote, “create a database of every call ever made inside this country.”

Could it possibly be legal?  Could it possibly be of the remotest relevance to a war on terror?  Could it possibly be a bigger political disaster for the White House?  Or its wish for new boss of the CIA who was in charge of the NSA when they dreamed this nightmare up?

The good news, if you lost Aunt Gertrude‘s number, or that of the girl you met, maybe the NSA has it in your file.

The Jack Abramoff file shows only two White House visits.  That might be plenty.  During one, his host was Karl Rove, and his goal was getting White House jobs for two Abramoff associates.

And, oh, here we go, the mother of all stories my producers are forcing me to cover.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Chris, you are going home tonight.  The journey ends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This guy Chris Daughtry (ph) voted off American, what‘s it called, “American Ideal”?  Breaking news, the reason he‘s gone may have nothing to do with the voting.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

George Orwell intended his novel “1984” to be a work of fiction, perhaps a warning, certainly a commentary, on the perilous clouds he saw forming in the world of the late 1940s.  Memo to the Bush administration, “1984” was not a how-to manual.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Big Brother has got a little black book, and it‘s yours, U.S. officials confirming that the National Security Agency has secretly collected the phone records of tens of millions of Americans, detailed information on almost every call made and received within the United States for about the last three years, Americans waking up to the bad news this morning, the story exploding off the front page of “USA Today” that the NSA Is using its massive computers to crosscheck a vast database of phone call and e-mail traffic, looking for patterns that might somehow reveal terrorist links, officials insisting the NSA is not listening to nor recording conversations.

Nice, but not necessarily exculpatory.  And who gave them the info?  The nation‘s three largest telecommunications companies, AT&T, Verizon, BellSouth, 200 million customers among them.  Only one such company, Qwest, refused to cooperate.

By lunchtime today, President Bush forced to interrupt his schedule to defend his government‘s policy, his justification fourfold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  First, our intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates.  Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.

Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.

Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.

Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.  We‘re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.  Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president did not mention the threat of Goldstein.  As you might expect, the disclosure complicating the nomination of General Michael Hayden, the former head of the NSA, who would become director of the CIA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE:  Everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of the Congress, House and Senate, are briefed on all NSA activities.  And I think I just leave it at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Charitably speaking, many members of the Senate somewhat less keen on General Hayden than they were when his nomination was announced at the beginning of the week, the “USA Today” report kicking off a veritable firestorm on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  For shame on us, in being so far behind and being so willing to rubber-stamp anything this administration does, Republican-controlled Congress refuses to ask questions, and so we have to pick up the paper to find out what is going on.

We ought to fold our tents and steal away.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The largest database ever assembled in the world, a database of every telephone call made by every person in this room and witnessing this committee hearing, narrowly tailored?

LEAHY:  Are you telling me that tens of millions of Americans are involved with al Qaeda?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to the legalities, if any of this.  First, the realities.

Let‘s call in “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank.

Dana, welcome back.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The administration can‘t possibly believe they‘re going to get this past just their own base, can they?  I mean, is this kind of thing, a record of every private phone call ever made, (INAUDIBLE) exactly the kind of things true conservatives have been railing against in government for years?

MILBANK:  Well, it depends on what we mean by “true conservatives.”  The libertarians certainly have pretty much already had it with the administration, and that‘s why the president‘s support is so low, in part, as my colleagues have been reporting, that conservatives have been abandoning him in large measure.  And, you know, to—if he‘s at 31 percent in the polls right now, that obviously means a lot of erosion among his most faithful supporters.

So it is quite a predicament here.  The reason the whole NSA story wasn‘t exploding before is because they were saying, We‘re talking about foreigners, we‘re only talking to people who are talking to al Qaeda.  Americans are going to take a very different look at this, if it is, in fact—they now realize that all their 900 numbers are being kept somewhere near the Beltway.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  Would the president have been better off politically to say, Yes, we did this, here‘s why.  It allows us to set up these computer programs that might trap terrorists using pay phones, some little detail, some throwing of a bone of truth in here, rather than saying what he did, “We‘re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans,” especially considering that there, you know, that this question of mining is debatable.

But there‘s no question, there aren‘t shades of meaning here.  Clearly, they are trolling through the person lives of millions, tens, hundreds of millions of innocent Americans.

MILBANK:  Well, it depends on what the definition of trolling is.  Did he mean it in the fishing sense?

But very difficult.  I mean, I must say, the way this administration knocks down stories when they wish to deny one, the response you got today, I think you can more or less take to the bank as saying, Well, this is fairly true.  Plus, the “USA Today” report is basically a more extensive report, following smaller elements of this have dribbled out and hints of this.  There were earlier lawsuits from private companies indicating just this.

So I think it has essentially been confirmed by the government.  And there‘s no good way to handle this.

OLBERMANN:  But the president‘s statement, this one, the one we heard, basically boiled down to, Trust me, I didn‘t break the law.  Trust me, this is why there hasn‘t been another attack.  Trust me, this kind of story being published hurts our country.

Does he, does anybody in that building with him understand that all the polls, all the demographic breakdowns of all the polls, all the political breakdowns of all the polls, indicate that he‘s already used up all his trust-me points, that almost nobody, even in his own party, is willing to just take his word on something like this any more?

MILBANK:  Right, and you left one out.  He says, or he or Hayden today said, We tell all the appropriate people, which is basically a way of insulting the vast majority of members of Congress, who are the inappropriate people to tell about this.

So, look, he clearly has exhausted credibility, as you point out, according to the polls.  But it actually, as I‘m sure you‘ll get into later in the show, is really a legal question, is, can the president say, It‘s legal because I say it‘s legal?  Civil liberties are safeguarded because I said they are?

Normally in our system, Congress has to agree with him.  And if there‘s a dispute, it has to be resolved by the court.  The president is not his own judge and jury.

OLBERMANN:  Tangential to this, we‘re learning that the Bush Justice Department dropped the domestic spying investigation, because the investigators were denied security clearances.  Probe was limited in scope, covered only the conduct of the department‘s own lawyers who approved domestic spying.  But does that not give the appearance of yet another cover-up to come, that the administration might deny security clearances to anybody who tries to investigate anything involving the NSA?

MILBANK:  Well, it certainly raises the question, can it, this administration, or any administration, investigate itself?  We don‘t have the independent counsel statute any more, so that can happen.

The real issue here is, is Congress going to investigate?  You have Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying, No way, I‘m perfectly satisfied.  Now, he‘s going to get an earful from Arlen Specter and from some others in the party, and certainly from Democrats.  But there‘s no indication yet of any—still of any congressional will to investigate.  And short of that, you can‘t count on the administration to do it themselves, obviously.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, let me use the I-word.  We‘ve talked many times about the kind of chain reaction that would be involved if the Democrats got the House or the Senate, and this, and either or both in the fall, and they thought it would have real impact on the conduct of the government and if the politics smelled right, that they could conceivably attempt to impeach the president for making up the laws as he‘s going along.

This thing is a relatively easy to understand concept.  Your phone calls, my phone calls, the viewers‘ phone calls, are on record somewhere, you know, whether it‘s a phone call to a minister or a phone sex line, it‘s on a record somewhere.  Is that kind of easy to understand issue likely to impact that long-term question of whether or not this president would get impeached by some Democratic-controlled Congress?

MILBANK:  Well, look, surely they would like to.  That‘s a long way off, even the very question of Democrats taking over the Congress.  You can see them sort of building the political case now.  Ed Markey, a Democrat in the House, was talking about the NSA should be Now Spying on Americans.

They‘re getting ready to make this a real political campaign.  The Democratic strategy so far has been not to use the I-word, but to say, We‘re going to have investigations and let that lead wherever it may.

So that, you can interpret as code word for something else, whether it‘s censure or impeachment, some other form of punishment.  But what they are offering is investigation, and they seem to be getting some traction.

OLBERMANN:  You know how they say there‘s no I in “team.”  Well, there‘s an I in “investigation,” and an I in “impeachment.”

Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.” 

Give me a call sometime.  Great thanks.

MILBANK:  I‘ll do it secretly.

OLBERMANN:  The NSA program obviously political anathema.  But is it even remotely legal?  We‘ll ask Jonathan Turley.

Speaking of legal, the White House says there was nothing improper about Jack Abramoff‘s 2001 visit there.  He was only meeting with Karl Rove.  How is that the good news?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE) some of the political ramifications of the NSA domestic call-tracking program.  Now, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the legalities.

Despite the Communications Act of 1934, which states that phone companies cannot give out information on their customers‘ calling habits, three of the four telecommunications giants, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, responded to the NSA request with almost no fuss.

The lone holdout was Qwest.  According to “USA Today,” the NSA started aggressively courting the company to hand over phone records, suggesting a refusal would not only compromise national security but also cost Qwest future classified contracts with the government.

But the company Washington still worried it might be violating the law, quote, “Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest‘s lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court.  According to the sources, the agency refused.  The NSA‘s explanation did little to satisfy Qwest‘s lawyers.  ‘They told Qwest they didn‘t want to do that because FISA might not agree with them,‘ one person recalled.  For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest‘s suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general‘s office.  A second person confirmed this version of events.”

I‘m joined once again by the professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, Jonathan Turley.

Thanks for coming back, Jon.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The simplest, broadest question here, could this program possibly be legal?

TURLEY:  Frankly, I don‘t see how it can.  If what was said in “USA

Today” is true—and there‘s been no denial of any of the essential facts

it seems to me, once again, to violate federal law.  It is true that courts do not require a warrant to get the phone number of targeted individuals as part of a criminal investigation.  But there is no law that allows the government to do this type of operation.

OLBERMANN:  The choice that the government made not to go to FISA or the attorney general, is that in some way an acknowledgement that the NSA took a good guess at this and a good look at it and said, Well, this is probably not going to get approved by a FISA court?

TURLEY:  Well, it‘s a very interesting admission, because they went to the attorney general to try to get a signoff on the domestic surveillance program.  And they ran into one of the most conservative lawyers in the government, James Comey.  And James Comey refused.  He said, I don‘t see how this is lawful.  Then they went to John Ashcroft in the hospital and even Ashcroft balked and said, I‘m not comfortable with this.

So they could have had two lessons.  One is, maybe we should do things lawfully.  Instead, they learned, Let‘s not ask people to sign off on these things.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  The president says that everything he authorized was lawful.  Would he have authorized the NSA to collect these phone records, or could that OK have come from somewhere lower in the chain?

TURLEY:  Well, if he did not authorize this program, we are living in dangerous times indeed, because we would have a rogue agency.  Only the president of the United States should be the one to approve this type of massive operation.

So I would assume that he did.  But when the president says, I would never authorize something that‘s unlawful, you know, it has a lot of people chuckling, because most experts believe the domestic surveillance program, which was disclosed in December, is unlawful, and indeed is a federal crime.

OLBERMANN:  When you were here 24 hours ago, you said that the president‘s understanding of his own powers was unprecedented, that he, quote, “believes that he has the inherent authority to violate federal law.”  Does the “USA Today” article, does this story basically vindicate that point of view that you expressed?

TURLEY:  Quite frankly, I think it does.  Every time we have looked under the rug, we have seen this president going to the edge of law and beyond it.  And that is consistent with his view that he can violate federal law when he believes it‘s in the nation‘s interest.  And that‘s not just national security laws.  In his signing statement controversies, he has taken the same position, I, on domestic laws that range from environmental to affirmative action.

This is a president who believes that he can define what the law is or ignore it.  He‘s also a president that created his own judicial system just on the other side of the border, and he says that he can try people by his own rules and execute them.  Well, that combines the legislative, judicial, and executive powers of this government in one person.

OLBERMANN:  Incidentally on this—and it is (INAUDIBLE) incidental -

ordinarily this might be the lead story—are the phone companies up the creek here legally?  Are there class-action lawsuits to be filed here?  Would you sell your AT&T stock right away?

TURLEY:  I hope they are sued.  I know they‘re being sued in one case. 

I think Qwest has really come out of this, I, with considerable courage.  You know, these companies are not supposed to simply hand over millions of bits of information on a wink and a nod.  They have to confirm that the government agent or the government official, including the president of the United States, is acting with legal authority.  And Qwest did exactly the right thing.

And I expect there are going to be customers with AT&T and Verizon and other companies that are going to be asking, Why did you do this?  What was the authority shown to you?  Because I got to tell you, I‘ve spent a day now looking for the possible authority that they would use for this operation, and I‘ve come up with nothing.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, again that tangent here that almost got buried in the middle of this, the Department of Justice abandoning the investigation into the original NSA domestic spying program.  I asked Dana Milbank about the politics of that.  (INAUDIBLE) now, and, let me ask you about the way that this happened.  DOJ says it couldn‘t get clearance, security clearance to do this.  But doesn‘t almost every high-level investigation mandate some sort of clearance?  Didn‘t the CIA leak investigation require clearance?  Why did they give up so easily on this investigation and not the others?

TURLEY:  Well, I think it‘s clear that this administration is not going to do a serious investigation of itself.  And what is really troubling is that the intelligence community controls clearances.  I have a clearance.  I‘m involved in an NSA-related case.  They control those clearances.  So they control the ability of people to investigate their own alleged crimes.  Now, there‘s an obvious problem with that.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Turley, constitutional law expert, great thanks once again.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Just remember the story of the commentator during the wiretap paranoia of the ‘70s who said, whenever he picked up the phone, instead of saying, Hello, he‘d just bark out, “[Blank] J. Edgar Hoover.”

Also today, frantic moments on the freeway in Florida.  A bull on the loose.  Your cattle and traffic report ahead.

And the cattle call that is “American Idol.”  The shocking surprise ending, and even more shocking news that the guy voted out may have had reason to want it that way.

But most shocking of all, I‘m talking about this.  Mass firings of producers ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On the theory that it‘s only getting worse and will only continue to get worse, it was on this day in 1812 that a new international craze was introduced to England and was immediately attacked as disgusting, and worse, immoral.  It was the waltz.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Seminole County, Florida, with, speaking of the daily dance between good and bad, the COUNTDOWN Cow Chase of the Week.  We got ourselves a regular wrangling rope show here on the side of State Road 417 about, oh, 47 miles from DisneyWorld.  Two real, live cowboys were on—

I‘ll stop that now—were on hand to wrestle this runaway bull, just like in the Old West.  Get that dogie tied to a road sign before he wanders into the path of an 18-wheeled stagecoach.  Yee.  Haw.

Now a story that makes absolutely no sense.  Somebody in Yowga (ph) County, Ohio, is complaining that someone else is stealing the manure out from behind Amish horses.  You heard me.  The horses are tied to hitching posts while the owners go shopping, and somebody is picking up their droppings.  But it‘s not the guy the city pays to pick up the droppings.  He‘s all fired up about this, apparently.  A full and complete investigation is planned, including a thorough NSA report on every phone call made by an Amish person in the last six months.

Speaking of manure, there are those Jack Abramoff Secret Service logs.  Not exactly complete seeming.  But one of the two admitted visits may be a gold mine.  Mr. Rove, Mr. Abramoff is here.

And entertainment scandal too, the shocking ouster of this Daughtry guy on “American Idol.”  Was it not quite as shocking as it seemed?  There‘s a conspiracy theory, to say nothing of the conspiracy to get me to cover this manure.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Lance Kocses of Seminole, Florida, in trouble after he failed to yield the right-of-way and drove into a police car.  Of course he failed to yield.  While he was driving, he was eating.  He was eating a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

Number two, seven activists in Copenhagen.  Their protest at the Danish Finance Ministry, they‘re complaining about cutbacks on student grants.  They poured 440 pounds of cooked spaghetti with sauce on the steps of the ministry.  They called it a Youth Buffet.  The ministry said the cuts were an effort to get students to finish school faster.

Number one, speaking of that, Johnny Lechner.  He‘s an undergrad at the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, and he‘s just decided to pass up graduation this year, again.  You‘ve heard of the term “professional student”?  Here‘s Johnny.  He‘s completing his 12th year at the school.  Twelve.  Says he likes it in there.  The dating is great.  It‘s safe. 

Johnny, you‘re 29 years old now.  You‘ve been a senior since 1998.

Here, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We have an explanation of why the Secret Service released incomplete records of Jack Abramoff visits to the White House.  Two administration officials telling the “New York Times” that the White House had decided that the settlement of the lawsuit did not require more complete visitor logs to be made public.  There will be a similar decision tomorrow from the White House that the sky is actually a nice shade of vermillion. 

However, in our No. 3 story in the COUNTDOWN, the administration may have actually outsmarted itself, if that‘s the right term.  Fifty percent of the info it released on Abramoff mainlines directly to Karl Rove.  As for those two visits we do know about, an anonymous source telling the “New York Times” that Abramoff‘s visits—his first visit, anyway, March 2001, was to Mr. Rove.  Topic of discussion, two people Abramoff wanted to get work in the Interior Department.  Neither candidate hired. 

Second visit, January 2004, with an unnamed official office in the office of Management and Budget, the topic of the discussion, Abramoff‘s desire to buy the old post office in D.C. That is also a focus in the investigation of indicted former White House procurement official, David Safavian. 

And there‘s apparently another congressman now under scrutiny as part of the expanding probe into the Duke Cunningham scandal, Representative Jerry Lewis, not getting any laughs as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.  Sources telling the “Los Angeles Times” that federal prosecutors are investigating allegations that he earmarked projects that benefited clients of a lobbyist Bill Lawry.  Lawry‘s firm also lobbied for defense contract Brent Wilkes, your genial host at those Watergate poker parties, also known as the briber of Duke Cunningham.  Lewis, for his part, denying any wrongdoing, says he is not aware of any investigation.  But the latest allegation raised the stench of corruption even high enough that it reached the nose of the House majority leader. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MAJORITY LEADER:  The wheels of justice are turning, and clearly members who—members and staff who have been involved in ah—in—um—in questionable activities are in fact, being investigated.  We‘ve had a number of staff who‘ve pled guilty over the last few months, and this is—this is a sordid spectacle. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To help us see more clearly the sorted spectacle, I‘m joined by the White House corresponded of the “New York Daily News,” Ken Bazinet. 

Thanks for your time again, Ken.

KEN BAZINET, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to Cunningham in a bit, but this new information about Abramoff‘s visits to the White House.  Because the records don‘t seem to be complete, the only thing we know for sure is he visited Karl Rove, or that we know that for sure.  The Secret Service picks that record as one of the two that they released.  Is there anything to the knee-jerk reaction here that somebody in the administration does not mind seeing Rove linked to Abramoff? 

BAZINET:  I think Karl Rove has more friends in the administration than he has enemies.  Certainly there are people who are willing to whisper to a reporter that Karl Rove is a bit of a ball and chain for the president, but he‘s seen as far too much of an asset to be, you know, sort of put out on the chopping block as, you know, an example of who Abramoff is meeting with. 

OLBERMANN:  How telling is it that they did meet and the subject was appointments in the Interior Department?  Is that a typical thing for Karl Rove to be doing? 

BAZINET:  It‘s typical for Karl Rove to be doing with someone who raised more than $100,000 for the president‘s reelection campaign in 2004.  You know, Jack Abramoff is “Super Jack,” I mean, he is not, you know, your run-of-the-mill lobbyist and you can never discount the fact that he was out there raising funds for the campaign.  So, I think it‘s safe to say in Washington, D.C., money can buy access. 

OLBERMANN:  The explanation, apparently, that the White House says it did not release all the records of the Abramoff visits because it interpreted the lawsuit as meaning it did not have to.  Judicial Watch was the organization that asked for the logs, asked for everything from 2001 on.  I‘m missing something here.  How is it that the White House could be selective in the request for everything? 

BAZINET:  I think you‘ve just heard the folks in Bushland ask the question or say, you know, it depends what the definition of is is.  It‘s they‘re interpretation, what they‘re doing is, is their sort of hiding behind Secret Service standards and procedures.  There were two swipes of a card, literally, similar to a press pass, which were handed to Abramoff and this happened when he entered on the two known dates, now.  And because there were a swipe of a computer card, that was a computer-generated records.  So, there you have those official records.  From there the Secret Service says other times that people like Abramoff entered, they were on larger guest lists, they were part of larger groups, they were part of ticketed events, and the Secret Service doesn‘t necessarily issue appointment passes for that, and therefore no swipe of the card.  The White House is sitting back, saying well we‘re giving you all the computerized records and that‘s what they‘re standing by right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Conveniently, though, of course, if Abramoff ever called the White House, we now have that on the record somewhere.  Let me ask you about Congressman Lewis and the Cunningham scandal.  Conventional wisdom has been this issue is a nonstarter campaign-wise, because the public assumes all politicians are at least corruptible, if not corrupt.  But this is a lot of republicans in a row.  Could that—democratic idea here, “party of corruption” label, could that stick? 

BAZINET:  It could.  This is a little bit different from Abramoff.  The allegations here have, you know, basically the chairman of House Appropriations, Congressman Lewis doing favors for lobbyists in the form of earmarked, you know, multi-million dollar projects.  With Abramoff you had a case of maybe she was shaking down Indian tribes, that‘s not a direct use of taxpayer dollars.  The allegations that I think, you know, Congressman Lewis is, you know, basically facing at this point, they say that, hey, you‘re using taxpayer dollars.  So, I think that‘s very different. 

OLBERMANN:  Ken Bazinet, the White House correspondent of the “New York Daily News,” once again, great thanks for your time. 

BAZINET:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also today, two missing hikers saved by another missing hiker, a hiker who disappeared a year ago.  It‘s an extraordinary story. 

And Howard Stern versus CBS is peace at hand.  These stories developing, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SUTCLIFFE, ESPN:  It‘s not that busy, man.  It‘s not that busy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s the best city in the National League to play golf in, seriously? 

SUTCLIFFE:  Best thing in the world, bud, where is it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  San Diego. 

SUTCLIFFE:  Right here, man.  You can‘t beat it.  George Clooney. 

You‘ve been reading about all that?  You been seeing all that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George Clooney? 

SUTCLIFFE:  He‘s up there with—he‘s up there with the congress, he‘s trying to get everybody to go there and solve that thing. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  Britney Spears was on the show last night and while she was here in the theater her baby was driving around looking for a parking place. 

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Connie Gittles thought she had an agreement with the alligators that lived nearby.  One gator learned the hard way.  The six-foot reptile snuck up on her while she was gardening and took a bite out of her leg.  It only took a second for Gittles to strike back hard. 

CONNIE GITTLES, WHACKED A GATOR:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  After going toe-to-toe with the reptile, she ignores her injuries and does something which would make any gardener proud; she picks up the hose and goes back to work. 

GITTLES:  I‘ve got my watering day is Tuesday.  It‘s got to be Tuesday morning. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  How a backpack left by a hiker who disappeared a year ago

saved two hikers who disappeared a week ago.  And a disappearance of a

different kind, dumped from “American Idol” was Chris Daughtry a victim of

I‘ll do this story but I‘m not calling this guy a victim.  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The textbook premise of any rescue is fast, precise, perfectly planned work.  Sometimes the textbook works, sometimes the textbook could not be more wrong.  Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, hikers rescued by a man who disappeared a year ago.  But first, a textbook story.

A Russian helicopter crashed during a joint rescue exercise with Japan in the sea of Okhotsk, near Sakhalin Island.  The crew was practicing responses to oil spills, going to the aid of ships affected by such of spill, the helicopter made a hard dive into the water.  For a hopeful moment it seemed as if the pilot was regaining control, but then the rotor blades hit the water and craft came apart.  Thirteen people rescued, three were injured, the pilot died on the way to the hospital. 

Brandon Day and Gina Allen, meantime, admit they wondered if they‘d even be that lucky.  Separated from their hiking group outside Palm Springs, they spent three days in the wilderness, encountering no one.  Their hopes for rescue were small and unrealistic.  They needed a miracle, and they got one, from a dead man.  Our correspondent is Jennifer London. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Gina Allen and Brandon Day are lucky to be alive. 

BRANDON DAY, RESCUED HIKER: I should have played golf. 

LONDON:  The young couple from Dallas came to Palm Springs for a sales conference, but ended up lost and alone in the snowy San Jacinto Mountains. 

GINA ALLEN, RESCUED HIKER:  We just ventured off the trail just a real short time and found ourselves completely lost. 

DAY:  That first night was extremely cold.  We weren‘t wearing heavy winter gear by any means. 

LONDON:  Two days after they lost their way, the couple discovered an abandoned campsite and inside a discarded backpack, they found a diary.

DAY:  Mr. John Donovan was writing that he was in a place where he was in a place where he wasn‘t going to be found, nobody knew to look for him.  It was dated exactly a year ago to the day we found it. 

LONDON:  John Donovan is a missing hiker from Virginia, who was 60 years old when he vanished here a year ago.

DAY:  The situation was extremely dire.  You know, coming to the realization that we had no true control of our destinies, at least felt we couldn‘t get our way out of this. 

LONDON:  Brandon and Gina also found a book of matches among John‘s other things and started a fire.  That saved their lives. 

DAY:  The fire that I set was large enough for everybody to see, so I pretty much burned up a couple acres.  But.

ALLEN:  They saw the smoke. 

LONDON:  Rescue teams found Brandon and Gina cold, dehydrated, scared, but happy to be alive.  And the couple knows that if one year ago John hadn‘t gotten lost, they would have never been found. 

DAY:  I have a lot of sympathy for the Donovan family.  If anything, they can hold solace in the fact that him losing his life saved two others. 

ALLEN:  You‘re kind of given a second chance, now.  And so those small, little details that weigh you down all the time, really don‘t matter very much when you‘re standing on a rock, praying for a helicopter to see you. 

LONDON:  Gina and Brandon escaped the mountain with a few cuts and scrapes that will quickly be forgotten.  But something they‘ll always remember, the man whose tragic ending gave them a new beginning. 

Jennifer London, NBC News, Palm Springs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No segue possible then into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  Howard Stern may soon be free from a lawsuit which CBS slapped him earlier this year.  There‘s talk of a settlement.  A lawyer for CBS told the judicial hearing officer in the case, that the two sides were, quote, “Very close.  We have an agreement,” he said, “but there are details that have to be worked out.”  Sterns‘ lawyer, Peter Parcher, confirmed it.  Lawyers said they would return to court next week if they have not finalized a deal.  CBS sued Stern for breach of contract, saying that Stern misused its airtime to promote his jump to Sirius satellite radio.  As to attorney Peter Parcher—Peter Parcher picked a peck of picked peppers, a peck of peck of pickled peppers, Peter Parcher picked.  More on that story as it develops. 

Meantime, Simon Cowell doesn‘t have his hands in enough talent shows already and Regis Philbin is not on TV enough, Mr. Cowell will be producing another talent show with Mr. Philbin as the host.  It‘ll be on NBC, called “America‘s Got Talent.  It will air two nights a week through the summer—this time dancers, singers, comedians.  Philbin said, quote, “For years I‘ve thought about hosting a variety show on television, but I could never put it together in my mind, finally here it is and I‘m thrilled to be part of it.”  Cowell is a producer on this one, but not apparently resident sourpuss.

So my bosses are trying to get a slice of the “American Idol” success pie, but there‘s so many questions about “Idol” just now.  This ouster Chris Daughtry, was it rigged?  Was it punitive?  Should I give a rats backside?  Another story my producers are forcing to cover.  That‘s next.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list for nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

The bronze, Michael Cohn, an L.A.  psychologist, and Alfred Rava, his attorney, they‘re suing the baseball team, the L.A.  Angels, because at a Mother‘s Day promotion, the Angels gave out special tote bags to women 18 and over, but they did not give Mr. Cohen one.  He‘s claiming discrimination, he‘s claiming decimation, ask damages of $4,000 to each man who went to the game last year. 

There‘s a part two, this attorney, Mr. Rava, seems to have made a hobby of this.  He‘s been part of at least 37 lawsuits since 2003, most of them claiming discrimination because of lady nights at bars or discounted tickets to theaters for women. 

The runner up, the owners of the venerable British soccer team, Arsenal, and the stadium at which it has played for nearly a century, Highbury.  As it moves to a new stadium, Arsenal had been selling off the seats from Highbury until it was discovered that the paint on those seats contained traces of cadmium.  It is a toxic medical—metal that, among other things, can reduce men‘s fertility. 

But the winner, radio commentator Neal Boortz who said that offering counseling to kids traumatized by shooting in schools was just an attempt to sell them on the idea that government is, quote, “responsible for everything.”  He said there should not have been counseling offered to students at Columbine.  “I had a friend,” Boortz said, “that died of leukemia.  Never once did they run a bunch of damned counselors into the school the next day assist me in getting my feeling out about this issue.”  Yeah Neal, and look how good you turned out.

Neal Boortz, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was simply a bribe.  If I would suspend my, we don‘t cover this “American Idol” who-ha rule for one show, I would reserve the right to veto any and all Tom Cruise stories for a week, no matter how much my producers whined or told me about solid quarter hours or said, “No really, this is important.”  Thus, the No. 1 story, this “American Idol” who-ha.  You can hear, I can barely say it.  It‘ll hurt now, but you‘ll thank me when you don‘t have to listen how Cruise explaining from the planet Skyron how he loves spending time at home with his fiance and baby and will do so in a year now.

Besides which, there is breaking blockbuster conspiracy theory “American Idol” scandal news.  It could even dovetail back into that NSA phone log spying stuff.  If the ouster of Chris Daughtry really was fixed, look at it this way, at least the government knows who you voted for and exactly how many times you called.  So how about this, maybe the guy took a dive?  In our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN here‘s the moment that grabbed everyone‘s attention. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, HOST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:   A lost people predicted Chris, that you could be the next “American Idol.”

(APPLAUSE)

SEACREST:  Chris, you are going home tonight.  The journey ends. 

America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  That was great television, like watching “Hamlet.”  So, it says here, did the previous night‘s performances justify this result?  Who knows, but here are samplings from all four:  Mr. Daughtry, then the gray-haired guy, and the girl that Simon Cowell said was shrieky, and finally the funny looking guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito is not only New York‘s top classic rock disk jockey on Q104.3 Fm, but she, like many other, otherwise intelligent adults, is obsessed with “American Idol” and may even have some breaking “Idol” news. 

Hi Maria.

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3 DISK JOCKEY:  Oh, you sound so thrilled to say that. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed I am.  So, the story behind the story, here, suggest that is his exit was, if not prearranged, at least it was sort of foretold last week? 

MILITO:  Well, OK, from an anonymous source, this morning, I heard that he has his page on MySpace and last week he posted that his band was signed.  Well, that can happen, so rather than—have him disqualified if he gets to be the “American Idol,” they eliminated him, because she—

Katherine really should have been out, because she forgot the words to Elvis Presley songs, OK?  That‘s unacceptable.  That‘s unacceptable.  And she even knew it.  She had that look of shock on her face, plus Ryan Seacrest, he drags it out.  Anyone who watches “Idol” and you will next season.

OLBERMANN:  No.

MILITO:  I‘m going to get you into it. 

OLBERMANN:  No.

MILITO:  No, I will.  That‘s my—that‘s my project now, for a year.

OLBERMANN:  Good luck. 

MILITO:  Thank you.  But, Ryan Seacrest drags it out—drags it out to the final two people.  But he was very quick and you had it on the air, he‘s very quick, he said, “everyone thought Chris, you were going to be the American Idol, but Chris, you‘re out,” like he said, “Chris, you‘re out” and said everybody was shocked, so, I don‘t know.  I.

OLBERMANN:  All right, you‘re a music pro, you‘re a media pro. 

MILITO:  Oh, yeah. 

OLBERMANN:  You know both of these industries.  Do you buy it?  The implication that the fan voting in here is not the only deciding factor on the show? 

MILITO:  Well, I think it‘s a large part of it, but the judges kind of sway it by what they say.  Next week, the judges are giving songs, one of the songs they have to say, the judges are deciding.  So, I don‘t know.  I won‘t say it‘s a “fixed” show, but I think they sway it a little bit. 

OLBERMANN:  In your job, you deal with the public nonstop. 

MILITO:  Oh yeah.

OLBERMANN:  .e-mails and people calling for requests.

MILITO:  Absolutely.

OLBERMANN:  ...Passers by on the street.  Gauge, for me, the level of public reaction to Daughtry getting offed as opposed to the other “Idol” stories over the years. 

MILITO:  OK, 100 percent of the e-mails that came in, people said, I‘m done, I don‘t care who wins.  They‘re not watching anymore.  And in all the years that “Idol‘s” been on, sixth season right now, I never heard that before.  People are very passionate about this because they really don‘t think he deserved to be eliminated last night. 

OLBERMANN:  And do they suspect something‘s wrong with it, this time, that there really has been some tampering one way or the other, whether it‘s the explain that you had there, or there‘s another? 

MILITO:  Well, I talked about the—my conspiracy theory.  They said it was a possibility, but people said, you know, I don‘t want to watch it anymore, I don‘t care.  How could the shrieky girl, who should be on Broadway, find, put her there—how can she win over him?  But, I did learn this.  Before I came here, I did some homework. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MILITO:  There‘s a website unrelated to “American Idol,” like officially, and it predicts who will be eliminate, and last night it predicted that, before it happened, that Chris would be eliminated. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow. 

MILITO:  Wow-wee, huh?

OLBERMANN:  Does it have anything to do with the NSA phone scandal or anything like that? 

MILITO:  It just might, because supposedly they count the busy signals.  I don‘t know—you know, computer geeks, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  Now, he‘s been offered a gig by this band, Fuel? 

MILITO:  By Fuel, yeah.  And actually that was hinted at on Ryan Seacrest‘s radio show this morning, and then they it tonight on “Extra,” that, you know, he‘s going to be singing with Fuel. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, but can he doing that and his band get a contract at the same time? 

MILITO:  Not—but he can‘t be the “American Idol”. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, I mean—I‘m just saying those first two things aren‘t mutual. 

MILITO:  Yeah.  So, maybe that was—maybe that‘s what the reality was of what was on his MySpace.  I don‘t know. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, my executive producer is obsessed by the stuff that happens the show, my staff is, my long-time friend and radio partner, Dan Patrick, watches “Idol.”

MILITO:  Everybody is.

OLBERMANN:  People I respect, people I admire, people I tolerate.  What am I missing?  Tell me.  Sell me on this.  Why should I care when I so obviously do not? 

MILITO:  Well, we have to get you to care about it only because all of America cares about it.  You know, last week there was something in the newspaper that said there is a part of the country that thinks it‘s just as important to vote on “American Idol” as it is to vote for president. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.

MILITO:  All right.  Which—whatever.  That‘s a little sad, but true.  I mean, some people believe that.  I guess you‘re missing a little bit of pop culture.  I guess a lot of people live vicariously through Simon Cowell.  I do.  Even though I have a microphone.  And maybe you could a little bit even though you have a camera. 

MILITO:  Yeah.

It‘s just—it‘s a fun show and it‘s ageless. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.

MILITO:  Ageless.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s in 20 million homes just like radon. 

MILITO:  I know.  I know.  I have a year. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question.

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Why don‘t you play more Sweet and Paul Revere and the Raiders on your show? 

MILITO:  Well, call me and request it.  And I‘ll play more of Paul Revere and Sweet if you watch “American Idol” next season.  How‘s that?  Is that a deal? 

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll both be unemployed.  Maria Milito, middays on New York‘s Q104.3.  And budding entertainment insider and “American Idol” expert, and for me, just for me now, the only redeeming part of doing this story.  Thanks, pal. 

MILITO:  Oh, thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,106th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.   Keep your phone calls brief.  Good night and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with the view from our own American Idol, Joe Scarborough, in “Scarborough Country.”

JOE SCARBOROUGH, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  God bless you.  Did I hear you say Sweet, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Sweet.

SCARBOROUGH:  As in “Ballroom Blitz,” Sweet?

OLBERMANN:  You bet.

SCARBOROUGH:  They rock, Baby.  They rock.

Thank you so much Keith, and by the way, watch out for that spy behind your back.

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

END   

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