updated 5/18/2006 2:50:35 PM ET 2006-05-18T18:50:35

Guests: Maria Milito; Dana Milbank

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

Domestic spying, in brief.  The administration hangs a U-turn.  It is briefing the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on everything the NSA has been looking at, maybe because the head of the Senate committee hinted he’d hold up former NSA boss Michael Hayden’s nomination to run the CIA.

Running headfirst into more polls.  Which party does the public trust to handle privacy issues?  The Democrats.  The economy?  The Democrats.  Gas prices?  The Democrats.  Immigration?  The Democrats.  And on and on it goes.  Only in counterterrorism are the Republicans even within 5 points.

And with 59 percent now saying Iraq was a mistake, why wouldn’t a dozen veterans of that war be running for Congress?

A campaign of a different kind at ground zero.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This was really the only way out, so this is life for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The last standing remnant of the World Trade Center, and the fear it will now be knocked down in the rebuilding.

Not knocked down, but deliberately buzzed.  The blowback against Barry Bonds turns into a brushback, as the tainted slugger stays stuck one home run behind Babe Ruth.  We’ll hear from the last man living who pitched to The Babe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think if Fay Vincent had been the commissioner of baseball, I think that today you’d see Barry Bonds sitting in the bleachers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And given my druthers, I’d be sitting in the bleachers with him.  They’re making me do it again.  “American Idol”, well, betting on, being obsessed by “American Idol.” look, it was this, or more of that “Da Vinci Code” crap.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The ethics of certain members of Congress currently being investigated by, among others, the FBI, federal prosecutors, the district attorney of Austin, Texas, everybody except the Visiting Nurse Association.  But not by Congress itself.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, not till now, the House picking one of its rare busy spells these days to bury—sorry, launch—probe into allegations of misconduct by at least two of its own members.  And the subpoena goes to Bob Ney and William Jefferson, NBC News learning from a congressional source that the House Ethics Committee will announce the formation of an investigative subcommittee to look into charges of improper conduct by Republican Congressman Ney of Ohio and Democrat Jefferson of Louisiana.

Both are already being investigated by the feds on allegations of corruption, Mr. Ney saying tonight he not only welcomes the House ethics probe, he asked for it.

You bet.

Here’s who will not be investigated, Congressman Tom DeLay, his decision to quit his seat in just three weeks’ time apparently already paying dividends, his trial on money laundering charges, however, still on the docket in Texas.

That most of Washington will instead this week be focusing its collective attention elsewhere, say on, oh, Thursday’s confirmation hearings for General Michael Hayden to become director of the CIA, purely coincidental, less than 24 hours before the opening of those hearings, the current director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, briefing all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees behind closed doors, the session focusing on the agency’s supersecret, supercontroversial domestic surveillance activities, the administration and the nation’s biggest phone companies now refusing to confirm or deny the existence of one aspect of that program, the NSA’s collection of domestic phone records.

That was Tony Snow’s story on the “TODAY” show on Wednesday morning, and he’s sticking to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  At this point, every phone company that was cited in that original story has said that they weren’t collecting such records.

Here’s the point.  If you’re dealing with national security, you can’t be transparent about it.  There are some things that need to be secret.  Now, again, I’m not going to confirm or deny the existence of a program that was alleged in “USA Today,” but I think it’s worth noting that the president of the United States, when it comes to matters of national security and anything else, for that matter, needs to respond not so much to polls as to the obligations of his job, which, as commander in chief, is to fight a war on terror against people who are not openly proclaiming what they want to do.

We have to find who they are.  We have to stop them before they can harm American citizens.  That’s one thing everybody agrees about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in “Washington Post” national political reporter, Dana Milbank.

Dana, thanks again for your time.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  House Republicans managed to avoid doing it for so long.  Why are they launching an ethics investigation of Congressman Ney and the one of Congressman Jefferson now?  What exactly has changed?

MILBANK:  Well, the country is getting the impression that House ethics is an oxymoron, but they have now decided to go after these two gentlemen, one Republican, one Democrat.  Pretty simple reason here, the Justice Department is after both of them.  There are actual genuine investigations going on in both cases.

So here you have sort of a foot race now.  Can the congressional ethics folks get to the bottom of this before the actual federal prosecutors do?  I’ve got my money on the prosecutors.

OLBERMANN:  It’s a free punch for Congress here.  The night before these Hayden hearings, the administration suddenly decides that it’s OK to brief all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees about a program it’s refusing to confirm exists, at least fully in detail.  What’s going on here?

MILBANK:  Well, you really shouldn’t think of this as this, the sixth year of the Bush administration.  We have to think of this as the first year of the Franz Kafka administration.  We see this in many ways.  Just last week, or two weeks ago, they said that they had exceeded the predictions of enrollment in the Medicare prescription program, but that’s because a few months earlier, they had lowered the predictions, so they exceeded them.

Now, in fairness, in this case, we’re talking about two different NSA programs.  They were briefed today on the broader NSA program reported last year, that’s involving the international phone calls, and not necessarily on the report from “USA Today,” and, of course, there may be many, many other NSA programs that we have not yet found out about.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, long distance as opposed to local, and friends and family (INAUDIBLE) investigations.

Could a little knowledge be a dangerous thing, in this instance, for the investigators, or for the congressmen, as in, could the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee learn just enough in this process to become hamstrung when it comes to asking General Hayden any substantive questions about any of the NSA spying programs or offshoots?

MILBANK:  Yes, that may have something to do with it.  Certainly, the timing is no accident.  I suspect the Democrats and the Republicans are going to be fairly hamstrung tomorrow anyway, because he’ll just say, Well, I’m going to have to talk to you about that in the closed session hearing, which they’re going to have afterwards.

But it does—it prevents the Democrats from spending several hours tomorrow morning on television complaining about how they haven’t been briefed, because now they’ve finally been briefed.

OLBERMANN:  The, sticking within the Republican Party, the relations between the president and his colleagues in that party had been strained even before the immigration debate was brought to a head by his speech the other night.  But there’s a new poll from your own newspaper that suggests that public confidence in both the president and his party are tanking.  That’s the only word for it.

The job approval rating, we’re not surprised by these things any (INAUDIBLE), any more, 33 percent now.  But that’s the all-time low being tied in this 25 years’ worth of polling.  And then when asked which party they trust to handle issues, Democrats outpaced the Republicans in every one of the issues.  Gas prices was 54 to 23.  Privacy rights was 52 to 37.  Iraq was 50 to 36.  Immigration was 48 to 34.

Only on terrorism did the Republicans come as close as 5 percent difference here, the public still preferring the Democrats 46-41.

Add all this up, is it as bad as it looks?  Or on the district-by-district basis, is it still a question of incumbent, no matter what party is affiliated with that incumbent?

MILBANK:  Well, no question these are really ugly numbers.  The ugliest of all is 69 percent of the country thinks that we’re on the wrong track.  That’s a pretty broad consensus.  And the Democrats have a 12-point advantage when you ask, Who are you going to vote for in the congressional races?  That’s much higher than even the Republican advantage was back in 1994.

Now, that’s the bad news.  The good news is, the old line about hating Congress and loving your congressman is still true.  The same poll shows 62 percent of people say they intend to support their own congressman, as opposed to 31 percent who don’t.  That number, the 31 percent, is a little bit high, but not particularly high.  And I think you’re once again looking at these things.

And even in a tidal wave year, 96 percent or some odd incumbents get reelected.  And that’s because of the extraordinary advantage they have in terms of fundraising, and because all the districts have been carved out by both parties so that maybe two dozen of them are in play.

OLBERMANN:  Gerrymandering, I believe, from Eldridge Gerry.

When, when, when, when even the war on terror starts to, to fail, is it time to go back to the original Republican bread-and-butter issue of tax cuts?  The president signed tax cuts extensions into law.  Many conservatives just honked off about the deficit as anything else.  How much is it really going to help the president to be cutting taxes with this tremendous deficit on his shoulders?

MILBANK:  Well, and also at a point where the economy shows signs of, if anything, growing too fast.  We get reports out about inflation rising too much. fears of higher interest rates.  The markets really took a beating today.  So maybe exactly what the economy doesn’t need at this point.

But as a political matter, they figure it can’t hurt.  Now, our polls showed that all of 3 percent of Americans said that taxes are the number-one issue for them in the fall.  On the other hand, only 1 percent said that deficits were the number-one issue, and that they must have interviewed a Democratic congressman for that particular 1 percent.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”  As always, sir, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  The sliding popular support for the GOP, even on the subject of counterterror, is obviously of paramount concern for the party come the November midterms, especially considering there is a large number of war veterans running for Congress this year, certainly the largest in six decades, maybe the largest ever, nearly 100, 55 of them Democrats.  At least 10 of those candidates are veterans of the most recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Our chief Washington correspondent, Norah O’Donnell, met with one of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAMMY DUCKWORTH, ILLINOIS CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I am a candidate for Congress in Illinois’ Sixth District.

NORAH O’DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tammy Duckworth is this year’s star of the Democratic Party, a war hero who lost both legs in Iraq, and is now poised to pick up a Republican seat.

DUCKWORTH:  I’m worried that our policymakers, our politicians, have not lived up to the tremendous sacrifice that our troops make every single day.

O’DONNELL:  Just a year and a half ago, Duckworth was in Iraq, one of the few women flying combat missions in a Black Hawk, with co-captain Dan Millburg (ph) at her side.

DUCKWORTH:  I heard this tap, tap, tap on the side of the fuselage.  And I, being a, you know, good Army aviator, look at Dan and swore, and said, you know, I think, bleep-bleep-bleep, we’ve been hit.  And boom, there’s a giant fireball in front of my face.

O’DONNELL:  Amazingly, she was able to land the Black Hawk.

DUCKWORTH:  Dan, who’s an EMT and a police officer in the civilian world—we’re all National Guardsmen—looked at me and said, She’s dead.  But, you know, he wouldn’t leave me behind.  He wasn’t going to leave a buddy behind.  So he came back --  Sorry.  Whoo.  He got me out of there.  And here I am today.

O’DONNELL:  Eight days later, she awoke at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

DUCKWORTH:  And my husband, when I woke up, had to tell me that my legs were gone.

O’DONNELL:  Her year-long rehab was agony, until she met with veterans of World War II, including Bob Dole, that inspired her.

DUCKWORTH:  He looked right at me, and he said, You know, it’s your generation’s turn.

O’DONNELL:  Duckworth is one of 11 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars running for Congress this year.

CHARLIE COOK, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  Two thousand and six only becomes the year of the veteran if a lot of them win.  And to be honest, I don’t think this is going to be another 1946, where you had, you know, dozens and dozens and dozens of World War II veterans not just running, but getting elected.

O’DONNELL:  Duckworth was recruited by Democrats looking for veterans who could criticize the Iraq war without being labeled weak on national security.

DUCKWORTH:  I think they’re going to greet us with candy and flowers, was the only plan I ever heard.

O’DONNELL:  And is that how you were greeted?

DUCKWORTH:  No.  I’m pretty sure that’s not how I was greeted.

O’DONNELL:  She is advocating a slow drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq and says campaigning for Congress is less difficult than she ever thought.

DUCKWORTH:  Well, you know...

O’DONNELL (on camera):  A different kind of combat, right?

DUCKWORTH:  Yes, it’s not as bad as an RPG blowing up in your lap.  So pretty much, you know, after that, I can survive anything, and I can be as tough as I need to be.

O’DONNELL (voice-over):  For COUNTDOWN, I’m Norah O’Donnell in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Norah, thank you.

The moment that sparked the war on terror, the attack on America.  Now, a debate over how to pay tribute to the devastation at ground zero.  Should developers be allowed to level the last standing remnants of the World Trade Center?

And the joyless quest of Barry Bonds to pass Babe Ruth’s home run total.  The last man alive who pitched to Ruth minces no words about today’s steroids scandal.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This week, a judge in New York has thrown out the lawsuit filed by the Coalition for 9/11 Families to block construction on the so-called footprint, where the north tower of the World Trade Center stood.

Now, the battle moves to a small piece of the hallowed ground, where the last remaining piece of the Trade Center still stands.

But as COUNTDOWN’s Monica Novotny reports in tonight’s fourth story, how long it will stand remains a very open question.  NOVOTNY?

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, most people did not even know it existed.  The last aboveground remnant of the World Trade Center is a staircase.  But not just any staircase.  These steps are perhaps the sole reason that hundreds were able to walk away from the horror alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM CANAVAN, 9/11 SURVIVOR:  This was really the only way out, so this is life for me.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  On September 11, for survivors like Tom Canavan (ph), this staircase served as a final path to safety, to freedom, to his future.

Canavan, in his office on the 47th floor of the north tower that morning, managed to escape after the planes hit, but was trapped under the rubble when the south tower fell.  After freeing himself, he saw the staircase.

CANAVAN:  It looked like a snowstorm, papers and cloudy and smoke.  But for some reason, the sun was out here on Vesey Street, and I could see the steps.

NOVOTNY:  Those steps now the last surviving aboveground piece of the World Trade Center, recently named one of the nation’s most endangered historic places.

PETER BRINK, NATIONAL TRUST FOR HISTORIC PRESERVATION:  It really is an actual part of the plaza, and the drama, the tragedy that happened on 9/11, so it’s a way for all of us who weren’t there to connect with what happened that day.  It’s that part of history that you can touch and see and know that it is the real thing.

NOVOTNY:  But this artifact currently stands in the path of plans for a new tower two, and without a strong commitment from site developer Silverstein Properties, its future remains in question.

RICHARD ZIMBLER, WORLD TRADE CENTER SURVIVORS Network:  What we want to see and hear is a commitment that the building design will be changed.  I realize that’ll cost millions of dollars, but I think that this piece of history is worth it.

NOVOTNY:  Richard Zimbler (ph), a member of the World Trade Center Survivors Network, has spent the last two years fighting to save the concrete remnant.  He lives just five blocks away from ground zero, with a view of it all from his terrace.

ZIMBLER:  I see the stairs, and I say to myself, If that can survive that most horrific attack on September 11, I can survive too.

NOVOTNY:  The comment issued by Silverstein Properties, “We recognize and appreciate the high level of interest in the staircase, and we continue to work to develop the optimal preservation strategy available under the circumstances.”

BRINK:  It really has a much greater symbolic value, beyond the particular real estate deal and the development, and so some way, that has to rise to the top and get worked out, so we don’t lose this part of our history.

CANAVAN:  The “Arizona” monument in Pearl Harbor, they put the memorial right on top of it.  They didn’t need to move it.  Can’t they do something...

NOVOTNY:  In fact, for some, this is the perfect memorial.

ZIMBLER:  That’s really a symbol for survivors, for New York in general.  We’re a little pockmarked, we’re a little scarred, but we’re still standing strong.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  As a survivor, do you feel that way?

CANAVAN:  That’s for sure.  That’s—I didn’t look much better than those steps looked on September 11.  And, I don’t know, steps going up to the sky, I think it’s pretty appropriate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now, the other stakeholder here is, of course, the Port Authority.  At this point, it appears they will cooperate with any plans to preserve the staircase.  But it is very possible that it will have to be moved to another location in order to do so.  Of course, that’s going to be difficult, because it’s obviously not in the very best shape.

OLBERMANN:  How is it that we haven’t heard of this issue before?  How is it that that staircase survived?

NOVOTNY:  You know, the Survivors Network, people there say they’ve been fighting for this for two years.  They just haven’t been able to get any publicity.  It’s only now that it made it on the list.

And how has it survived?  They say they heard stories that it was standing above a subway, part of a subway station, so they didn’t want to move it.  But they’ve also heard that it was really just dumb luck that no one bulldozed over it, and that it’s still there.

OLBERMANN:  It should stay, simply put.  I should stay.  I don’t know why there’s an issue.

COUNTDOWN’s Monica Novotny, great thanks for the good report.

NOVOTNY:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also today, fans cheer when Barry Bonds is hit by a baseball.  His own teammates do not avenge him when he’s hit by a baseball.

And the last man living who pitched a baseball to Babe Ruth says Bonds should not still be playing baseball.

And the country’s other favorite pastime, “American Idol.”  From the gambling to the mania on the Internet, another edition of stories my producers are forcing me to cover—and I will be avenged against them! -- ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As of today, Dennis Hopper is now 60, Bob Saget is now 50, Brigitte Neilsen is now 43.  And you and I are just old.

Well, most of Brigitte Nielsen is now 43.

Let’s play Oddball.

One word, Benjamin.  Plastics.

We begin in the state of New Jersey, which is apparently so stinking with bears they’re considering changing the name to Jellystone National Park.  Here at the Popcorn Park Zoo, researchers are testing the latest in antibear technology, bearproof garbage cans filled with snacks, but designed to flummox even smarter-than-the-average bears.  These fellows were unable to make a dent in the things for almost an hour.

The Bear Education and Resource Group is hoping to make the cans available to the general public, because, if you’re going to have hungry bears in your yard, by all means you want them to be angry, frustrated, and starving.

Speaking of which, we return to Chicago for more on that hot dog festival we first brought you in yesterday’s news hour.  It seems the crack staff missed the best part.  In addition to the regular eat-as-fast-as-you-can contest and induce a pulmonary aneurysm, they had the eat-as-slow-as-you-can contest, which clearly was far more entertaining.

But unlike some other networks, we are big enough to apologize and to bring you the slow hot-dog eating a day late, rather than lie and try to pretend that no slow-eating hot dog contest ever happened.  Check the transcripts.  You’ll see the smear merchants never even mentioned there was slow hot-dog eating contest in Chicago.  Just glossed right over it, and hoped nobody would notice.  For shame, and happy holidays.

Finally in Oddball legal news, we bring you the story of Todd Trapp (ph).  He’s an Eau Claire, Wisconsin, police officer.  He’s been fired for having attention-deficit disorder.  Now, my entire staff has ADD, and not the medical kind that you should have sympathy for.  Yet I have not fired any of them, and again, they are not in charge of the lie-detector machine.

More than 400 of the officer’s cases are being reviewed now to see if Officer Trapp’s ADD affected his work as the lead polygraph operator for the department.  Did you, on the night of April 14, take a .38-caliber pistol and --  Oh, look, a kitty.  Here, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty.

Speaking of lying, as Barry Bonds still struggles to pass Babe Ruth’s home run total, the last man alive who pitched to Ruth gives Bonds a verbal brushback pitch.

Paul McCartney’s personal problems could turn into financial ones.  He’s separating from his wife of four years.  She’s leaving home, having had half a billion dollars of income, since he decided he didn’t need a prenup.  Oops.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, Jimmy Hoffa.  For the second time in two years, the FBI searched an area in Michigan, acting on some kind of tip that the former Teamster might be there.  This time it’s in Milford Township.  It’s been 31 years.  Give the man his privacy.

Number two, Mary Wohlford of Decora (ph), Ohio—Iowa, excuse me.  She’s got a living will.  She’s briefed her family that at age 80 -- she’s not screwing around with this.  Her instructions are, Do not resuscitate.  And just to be certain, she’s had those three words tattooed on her chest.

Number one, two unidentified gunmen in France.  They ended the tense standoff there, once they found out the mayor didn’t have what they wanted.  But they had burst into the town council of the Paris suburb of San Denis as it began its meetings.  They waved guns and demanded two tickets to the upcoming European Champions League soccer final in Paris between Barcelona and Arsenal.

They threatened, in fact, to shoot one of the counselors in the foot.  Now, now, boys, save the violence for the soccer game itself.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For what has a man profited, the Bible asks, as the Bible is routinely translated, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  That’s chapter 16 verse 26 of the book of Matthew.  Of late it has become homerun 713 season 21 of the book of Barry.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the joyless quest of Barry Bonds continues, only now people are throwing stuff at him. 

It was 10 days ago when Bonds came within one of tying Babe Ruth’s landmark total of 714 career homeruns.  He has not hit one since.  He was not scheduled to play in the Giants’ final game at Houston and then the team wasn’t scheduled on Thursday.  But Tuesday night with the Giants already beating the Astros 11-3 in the fifth, Houston pitcher Russ Springer threw his next pitch almost behind Bonds, his second was aimed at Bonds’ ankles, his third bounced off the knob of Bonds’ bat, and the fourth:  -- touch down. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  And that ought to do it.  And it doesn’t make any sense. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Springer was ejected.  Afterwards, his teammate Brad Lidge was heard describing the plunking as, quote, “awesome.”  The Houston fans cheered, gave a standing ovation, and most tellingly, Bonds’ own teammates among the Giants’ pitchers never retaliated against a Houston batter.  Some current major leaguers openly support Bonds.  Mets’ pitcher, Billy Wagner has said as much, Torii Hunter of the Minnesota Twins has backed him, but that’s about it.  And even the last man living who can say I pitched to Babe Ruth is no fan of the steroid tinged slugger. 

Elden Auker is 95 years old now, the 11th oldest ex-big leaguer.  As a rookie in 1933 he faced Ruth and again in 1934.  He pitched for the Detroit Tigers, the Boston Red Sox, the old St.  Louis Browns.  He had a fairly sort but highly successful career that saw him win 130 games in just 10 seasons.  And one gets the feeling that given the chance Mr.  Auker would be happy to dust Mr.  Bonds right now the way Russ Springer and that he also thinks Ruth, who also used to pitch, might join them. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELDEN AUKER, FORMER MLB PITCHER:  You had to pitch to him, but you had to be careful.  I came up to the major leagues in 1933 and went into New York, and we opened up against the Yankees.  So in the third inning, we had a pitcher by the name of Carl Fisher, he was pitching, and he got into trouble, So Bucky called me from the bullpen, and I went in, and the first hitter was Babe Ruth and I threw four pitches and struck him out. 

Well, the Yankees had a third base coach by the name of Art Fletcher, he was one of the old-timers.  When I went out to start the next inning, why, Fletcher said “Hey, Bush,” you know, they call you a Busher, said, “You got ‘The Bam’ all upset.”  He said, “He came in from hitting against you and he said he had been struck out a lot of times, but the first time a damn woman ever struck him out.”  Well, I could have killed him when I got my hands on him, but later we became very good friends. 

Babe Ruth, Mickey Cocklin, Charlie Gallagher (ph) and myself. 

I pitched against him for, well, the next two or three years before we retired.  And then we played golf in the wintertime.  Babe was a great guy to play with.  You know, it’ll take you a little short step to walk along and laugh and joke and afterwards, we’d go in the clubhouse and we’d have a beer together and sit around and, you know, tell stories and talk about our game and so on.  The sport in those days was perfectly clean.  There was no cheating of any kind.  And the only cheating that went on was, of course, prohibition was on in those days, and liquor was illegal.  Well, if you want to say that Babe Ruth was drinking, having an illegal drug, it was alcohol because he used to like to drink. 

JOSE CANSECO, FMR.  MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER:  Congress does nothing about this issue, it will go on forever, that I guarantee. 

AUKER:  I think that baseball has suffered greatly from Conseco and associates and Bonds.  I think that the owners and Selig have overlooked these things and just let it go and go.  They knew that they were using drugs in those days, and there’s no reason why this had to fester and get to the point where it is today. 

ANNOUNCER:  That ball is gone! Whoa, what a shot!

AUKER:  And here we are in baseball sitting around here talking about a guy whether he’s going to beat Babe Ruth’s record, and everybody has known that the man has been on steroids and illegal drugs for quite some time. 

QUESTION:  If you’re indeed innocent of steroid use, how come you didn’t sue the first time somebody accused you of doing steroids? 

BARRY BONDS, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS:  Are we on a steroid conversation or a baseball one? 

AUKER:  I’ve never met him, but I understand he’s not a very nice person.  I don’t know whether even his own teammates like him or not.  These type of players that are in the game to cheat, they have no place in the game.  This is a national past time, and it should be kept clean.  If we’d had a strong commissioner, we wouldn’t have had that.  We wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this today. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Elden Auker who celebrated his 90th birthday five years ago by publishing his memoirs, “Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms.”  If he had been born left-handed, he’d probably still be pitching in the majors.  But, back to Mr.  Bonds, it’s not just current and former players who are unhappy, it is fans.  Even fans faced with the tantalizing prospect of being able to sell a Bonds’ homerun ball, a record breaker, for comparatively big bucks.  On May 14, in advance of the series against the Giants, a Houston-area blogger named Brian started a website called throwitbackhouston.blogspot.com.  The site’s sole purpose to instruct Astros’ fans and/or Bonds haters what they could do if they were interested in helping to taint a tainted homerun record even further. 

No. 1, go to game, No. 2, catch No. 714 or 715, No, 3, get out your Sharpie marker—your pen, No. 4, write “Cheater” on the ball, and finally, No. 5, throw it back onto the field.

Not Brian’s problem anymore, nor Houston’s.  Bonds and the Giants resume play Friday night in an interleague game at Oakland. 

Paul and Heather Mills McCartney aren’t throwing baseballs at each other, not yet, anyway, but they are tossing their marriage license back.  A separation.  Not long after Nicole Kidman confessed to the world that she still loves Tom Cruise, she has dropped the bombshell that she is engaged, and not to Tom Cruise.  Maybe her fiance does not read. 

Those stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN’s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The juniors and seniors at Cheyenne High School wet and happy, but not more happy than Casey Kenner who more than any other single person was responsible for the theme of this year’s banquet and dance—John Deere. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There’s not very many girls in my class. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Casey led a mostly male contingent that voted for the tractor-trailer theme. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We all got to voting on it and the John Deere theme won. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah. 

JON STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Why did President Bush feel the need for a primetime address?  Perhaps due to the enormous problem presented by the U.S./Mexican border and its never-ending stream of illegal immigrants, or perhaps it was due to this, his never-ending stream of—there you go. 

(APPLAUSE)

GEORGE W.  BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you and John Howard appear to be so close, don’t you have any differences?  And I said yeah, he doesn’t have any hair.  And that’s what I like about John Howard, you know.  He may not be the prettiest person on the block, but when he tells you something, you can take it to the bank. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Former Beatle Paul McCartney could be headed to divorce court.  The big money on future music stardom.  Forget the racetrack, who’s your favorite horse in “American Idol?”  And we’re really going to do it.  That’s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  “When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?  If I had been out until quarter of three, would you lock the door, will you still need me, will you still fed me when I’m 64?”  Our No. 2 story in the COUNTDOWN, Heather Mills’ answer to Paul McCartney, don’t bet on it, pal.  Sir Paul, in fact, turns 64 in exactly a month on June 18.  And unfortunately, he did bet on it.  As Keith Miller reports from London, this is not just the story of a younger wife separating from her older rock star legend husband.  It’s also a story of such a tragedy, but without a prenuptial agreement.  When I get older, losing my cash. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  She wasn’t even born when the Beatles were topping the charts. 

But it was love, love me do four years ago when Sir Paul McCartney married Heather Mills.  Today the couple issued a statement, reading:  “Given the daily pressures surrounding us, it is with sadness that we have decided to go our separate ways.”

At 38, Mills is 25 years younger than the aging rocker. 

HEATHER MILLS, FMR.  MODEL:  I love him. 

MILLER (on camera):  The British press never sang along with “All You Need is Love,” accusing the new Mrs.  McCartney of trying to control her husband. 

(voice-over):  There was a frosty relationship with McCartney’s fashion designer daughter, Stella. 

PAUL MCCARTNEY, FMR.  BEATLE:  Good, thank you. 

MILLER:  And friends say mills hated living in the shadow of a superstar. 

ADAM HELLIKER, “SUNDAY EXPRESS” COLUMNIST:  She somehow feels resentful of his success which is bizarre because she married him and is enjoying the fruits of that success. 

MILLER:  Mills, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, has her own career as an animal rights activist.  Maybe money can’t buy you love, but it can ease the pain of divorce.  With no prenuptial agreement, Mills could receive a multimillion-dollar settlement, but it is unlikely to seriously dent McCartney $1.5 billion fortune. 

VANESSA LLOYD, PLATT LAWYER:  If the families start getting involved or friends or nasty lawyers start getting involved, it will spiral out of control, and it could get very bloody in a case like this. 

MILLER:  Keith Miller, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And to another celebrity splitting, but without almost the entirety of the expense, certainly most of the interest, that the segue into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” Heather Locklear saying ba-bye to David Spade. 

The two had been dating—no, seriously—but Locklear ended the relationship with the “Saturday Night Live” veteran, according to “In Touch Weekly” magazine.  Mr.  Spade said not to be happy about getting the heave-ho.  According to a friend, Miss locklear had filed for divorce from husband Ritchie Sambora in February.  He found out via press release, now she reportedly wants to start with a clean slate.  It might be a little late in the game for that, Miss.  According to a pal, quote, “Heather isn’t in a rush to get into another serious relationship.”  The actress has been going on dinner dates with old friends and contemporaries like Steve Martin, Gary Shandling, and author, William Shakespeare. 

At least it’s working out better for another blonde and her scruffy-looking boyfriend.  Nicole Kidman says she is now engaged to country music singer Keith Urban.  Kidman herself telling “People” magazine that Urban is, quote, “actually my fiance.”  No word on when the wedding might be.  No word about what Mr.  Urban might think of his fiance’s purported feelings for ex-husband, Tom Cruise.  Kidman admitting last month she still loves him, but is she still in love with him. 

And the publisher Alfred A.  Knopf banking on the fact that someone still loves Bill Clinton, signing him for a new book deal.  President Clinton got a $10-$12 million advance for his last book, Knopf published it.  His autobiography titled, “My Life” which sold so well that there were some bootleg editions abroad.  No word yet on how much he’ll paid for this tome which will focus on the people he—people and the places that he has visited since he left office.  His goal, to promote public services and encourage citizens to get proactive.  Says the former president, and current COUNTDOWN viewer quote, “My hope is that the people and stories in this book will lift spirits, touch hearts, demonstrate that citizen activism…” all right, enough of that, and service can be a powerful agent of change in the world.  It will hit bookshelves next year or early in 2008. 

Meanwhile, idol-mania reaching a fever pitch.  The winner will be crowned in a week, but other will win big in the interim by gambling on who will make it.  An I don’t mean gambling their sanity, which is what I’ll be doing by doing this damn story again. 

That’s next, but first the time for the COUNTDOWN’s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World” excluding my producers.  The bronze goes to Mrs.  Howard Randall of Philadelphia arrested after she spent her—or sent her allegedly cheating husband to the hospital with just a little squeeze.  “While he slept,” reads the “Associated Press” report, “police say the woman grabed and squeezed a part of his male anatomy.”  Bonus point, the Philly neighborhood in which the Randall’s have lived in wedded bliss is called Nicetown. 

Runner-up, city commissioner Johnny Wynton of Miami.  Upset at delays with his flight to Houston, he worried ticket agents enough that they called the cops at the Miami Airport.  When they arrived, he told them who he was, what his job was, he suggested they do something that is anatomically impossible.  Then he threw a shoulder into one officer’s jaw and kicked another in the groin.  The results you see, your tax dollars in action. 

But the winner, oh, the psychological end is near.  Bill O explaining that the “New York Times” and, quote, “many far-left thinkers believe the white power structure that controls America is bad, so a drastic change is need.”  Hold on.  Bill, you’re saying there’s a white power structure that controls America and you’re defending it?  Does that opinion come with the sheet and the hood or do you have to buy those separately? 

Bill O’Reilly, now and forever, today’s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I got to read these contracts I sign more carefully.  I maked (SIC) a deal last week with the producers.  If I sublimate my news judgment and we do an “American Idol” segment, I get unquestioned veto power for a week over any Tom Cruise story.  I do not get is veto power over any “Da Vinci Code” story.  So they say to me, we’re going to do a story on the “Da Vinci Code,” again.  And I say, the heck we are, and they say, ah-ha, no “Da Vinci Code,” no Tom Cruise, the only thing left is more “American Idol.” 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, more “American Idol.”  How I pity me.  This week’s performance show is now a wrap.  Three wannabes, three stongs each.  Record industry mogul, Clive Davis called Bruce Springsteen personally to get permission for Taylor Hicks, that grey haired guy, to if sing “Dancing in the Dark.”  bet “The Boss” is story now.  No as much as I am, but you know.

Two of the three contestants will advance to next week’s finals when this thing will mercifully be over.  Gambling websites giving hicks the best shop at winning calling Elliot Yamine, this week’s loser. 

At least while in the middle of this waist high pool of oatmeal that is TV hype, I’m joined again by my friend Maria Milito, midday host at New York’s classic rock station Q104.3.  But unfortunately also one of the pod people, not just an “American Idol” authority, but an “American Idol” conspiracy theory authority. 

MARIA MILITO, Q014.3 RADIO HOST:  Yes,

OLBERMANN:  Howdy, Maria.

MILITO:  Hi Keith.  You know, I think you’re coming offer to the dark side.  You actually, deep down, like this story, I think.

OLBERMANN:  Bull whop.  Last week there was this controversy that we all recall with fellow, Chris Daughtry getting ousted and you assured me that the outrage over that was not manufactured, then we reported in “Keeping Tabs,” the segment on entertainment news that fans were complaining about trying to vote for this guy and getting another contestant’s phone line, instead.  Nothing ever came of that.  Can you concede that much of what swirls around the show is a lot of hype, a lot of hoo-ha? 

MILITO:  I think some of it hype and hoo-ha.  I still believe in my conspiracy theory, since I did go to the air with that.  I have to support my conspiracy theories.  But, yeah, there definitely is a lot of hype about the show.  I mean the fighting between the judges, I think it’s all hype because it makes people want to come back and watch it again.  You know, it’s great ratings for FOX. 

OLBERMANN:  Hm?  Oh! Ah, placing bets, meantime, on who’s going to win, this has become popular on the sports gambling websites. 

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And there’s another website that claims to have tallies of the telephone voting.  Is that the idol page that links off the National Security Agency website?  Do you know?  Is that it?

MILITO:  Quite possibly, but that is the website that I referred last week on your show.  It’s dialidol.com and they tally the business signals and they say they’re 85 percent correct.  So as of before actually—before I came here, they said that Elliot is out.  They predicted that Chris would be out last week, and he was. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow.

MILITO:  Go figure, right? 

OLBERMANN:  All right, so you started to explain this to me last week.  Finish this off.  Where does the mania come from?  Why are you all addicted?  I was going to say “we,” but that’s not accurate.

MILITO:  That’ll be you next season, for season six.  Yes, you’ll be addicted.  Well, last week I told you it was ageless, it’s fun to watch.  Actually the person who gave me the ride over here said it’s a distraction.  And you know, I think it’s good, it’s a simple distraction for people.  It’s also pop culture, which, you know, you’re learning.  I think also when the show first starts, with the auditions, it’s really amazing to see people think they have all this talent in the world and when they get eliminated, they get really angry and say, “ell you’ll hear about me someday”—yeah, probably in a police lineup, but you know, and then you kind of have favorites and you stick with them and sometimes it’s nice and cool to see that your favorites make it to the finalists.  So…

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, it’s touching, to some degree, on the entitlement society that we’ve created for ourselves, but no... 

MILITO:  I guess. 

OLBERMANN:  Again, I’m told, because again, I don’t ever watch…

MILITO:  You will. 

OLBERMANN:  That the results show, this week lasts an hour, they could do it in a commercial break. 

MILITO:  I know.

OLBERMANN:  I mean, we have stories that last longer than what is required to do this.  I mean, how do they—how do they fill the rest of the hour?  How do they get away with a show that’s like less than one percent stuff?  And is just dressed as all filler?

MILITO:  I was just as surprised, honestly, that it’s an hour tonight.  Because, you’re right, they can do it in five minutes.  When it’s a half hour, OK, they drag it out.  But you know, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they’ll probably have the people sing again, they’ll probably have Clive Davis talk about the artist, maybe he’ll talk about calling Bruce Springsteen. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, and there’s nothing more interesting than listening to Clive Davis talk. 

MILITO:  Clive Davis, yes.  Well, he could be talking about who’ll be the next Bruce Springsteen. 

OLBERMANN:  Because were going to need a new one after Bruce sold his song to this nonsence, aren’t we?  Do you think—seriously, do you think Bruce Springsteen just took a hit because he got touched by this show?

MILITO:  No, I think he’s probably into it.  Because, don’t forget, “American Idol” also represents the American dream, that you can—everybody has the dream that they can be something someday.  I mean a lot of these people are kids.  Taylor Hicks isn’t a kid, but you know, it’s all, like…

OLBERMANN:  But Taylor Hicks—this is the last point, here.  He’s so not a kid that it looks like he has—like he’s using adult diapers here.  Right?

MILITO:  Stop it.

He looks as if he’s got—he’s got—what’s the problem with this?  What is this?

MILITO:  Well, yeah, I have to be honest.  Last night I could only listen to him sing Joe Cocker, I couldn’t watch him.  It looks like he has to go—he looks like he has like a bad stomach cramp.  You know, like a really bad one.  But you know, also, if he becomes the “American Idol” I’m sure they’ll train him out of that.  You know.

OLBERMANN:  What?  With a whip or something? 

MILITO:  Maybe.  Maybe with a whip.  A little electric shock or something.  I mean, they’ll make him not have his face when he sings, I think. 

OLBERMANN:  Good luck on that. 

MILITO:  We’ll see. 

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito of New York radio station Q104.3.  The princess of “American Idol” expertise. 

MILITO:  Oh, thank you.  Thank you for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Many thanks.  Yeah, I’m glad we’re still friends, despite this. 

MILITO:  I know, we’ll always be friends.  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That’s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1112th 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 live from “Scarborough Country.”  

Joe, good evening.

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

END   

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