updated 5/26/2006 1:12:32 PM ET 2006-05-26T17:12:32

Guests: Craig Crawford, Richard Wolffe, Maria Milito

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, "COUNTDOWN":  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Scandal overdrive in D.C.  Why did Robert Novak phone Karl Rove in the opening days of the official Valerie Plame investigation?  Allegations of cover stories and Novakian offers of protection enswirl the Capitol, as do the images of a vice president under oath and on the witness stand in the case of the United States of America versus Louis “Scooter” Libby.

The Bureau versus the Congress.  The files of Congressman Jefferson seized by the FBI, now sealed by the president.  And the Speaker‘s lips anything but sealed, Mr. Hastert of Illinois accusing the Justice Department of a political smear campaign and threatening a lawsuit against ABC News.

And the president picks this of all days to hold a primetime news conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am still a very blessed man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Blessed and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty and guilty.  In two separate trials.  And the verdict in “American Idol”?  American ordeal more like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The winner of “American Idol” is Taylor Hicks!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Our long national nightmare is over.  This is the last time my producers can force me to cover this stupid show.  Or is it?

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  Since his former chief of staff was indicted last October, it has been inevitable, the dream of his critics, the nightmare of his supporters, the deja vu moment of his hunting partners.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Richard Bruce Cheney, Jr., vice president of the United States and a witness in the prosecution of Scooter Libby.  A full wrap-up of the Bush-Blair news conference presently with “Newsweek‘s” Richard Wolffe, as well as a report from the front lines of Capitol Hill, where dual corruption investigations have now erupted into a full-fledged war.

But we begin with the latest in the CIA leak case and what we can build out of a possible witness subpoena, an op-ed clipped out of “The New York Times” with a penknife and a phone call from Bob Novak, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald saying in a court filing revealed late last night that Dick Cheney would be a logical government witness in the perjury case against his former chief of staff, that because Mr. Cheney could, among other things, authenticate these notes that he jotted down on “The New York Times” op-ed piece by Ambassador Joseph Wilson that kicked off the scandal.  And also, he could speak to the circumstances that might have led his top aide to allegedly lie to a federal grand jury about what he learned when and who he might have told about the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and when all that happened.

According to the prosecutor‘s filing, defendant Libby shared the interests of his superior and was subject to his direction.  Therefore, the state of mind of the vice president as communicated to defendant is directly relevant to the issue of whether other defendant knowingly made false statements to federal agents and the grand jury.

New revelations also regarding two other principals in this case, “The National Journal” reporting that early in the investigation, columnist Robert Novak telephoned Karl Rove to assure the White House‘s senior adviser that he would protect him from being harmed in the investigation just three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate, a spokesman for Rove‘s attorney denying any allegation that Rove urged anyone to withhold information from investigators, his lawyer offering no comment on the “National Journal” report itself.

Time now to call in our correspondent, David Shuster, after a busy day indeed on the scandal beat.  Thank you again, David, for your time.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  By indicating he might call the vice president as a witness at the Libby trial, does that tell us anything about whether Patrick Fitzgerald might still be bringing any charges against Mr. Cheney?  Does it address the possibility, perhaps, of his being named as an unindicted co-conspirator?

SHUSTER:  Well, first of all, a source familiar with Vice President Cheney‘s thinking says that the vice president was expecting that he would be called as a possible defense witness, if not a prosecution witness, so this is not a new concept.

But regarding the thrust of your question, legal experts make two points.  First of all, they point out that if the vice president does take the witness stand, this time he will be under oath, whereas last time, when he talked to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, he was not.  So it‘s not going to be the sort of cordial question-and-answer session last time.

Furthermore, one side or the other, if Cheney‘s on the witness stand, will get to treat him like a hostile witness.  And the vice president, of course, doesn‘t want to make any mistakes and open himself up to any perjury charges, but at the same time, the vice president doesn‘t want to give up the sort of information that might convict his former chief of staff.

The second point is that while it‘s difficult, legal experts say. to predict the future, they say if you look at the past, that may be telling, and that is, based on all the documents about the vice president that have been released so far, legal experts say that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald might have been much closer to a conspiracy charge than anybody had previously thought because of all the communications between the vice president and Scooter Libby, who is indicted.

The fact of the matter is that Patrick Fitzgerald did not charge conspiracy.  Vice President Cheney has not been accused of any wrongdoing.  But all of this sets the stage for the landscape confronting Vice President Cheney as he tries to both help Scooter Libby, and at the same time, try to keep Patrick Fitzgerald from building on this investigation.

OLBERMANN:  David, did that special counsel filing tell us anything else about Mr. Cheney‘s role in this case and what it‘s going to be as we move ahead?

SHUSTER:  Well, the documents included grand jury testimony from Scooter Libby, and Scooter Libby testified that the vice president communicated extensively with him following the Wilson op-ed and that he directed Scooter Libby to speak to reporters.  The filing also points out that Vice President Cheney was focused on Valerie Wilson‘s status at the CIA.  And the extent is illustrated by an anecdote.  Scooter Libby said that Vice President Cheney keeps a penknife on the edge of his desk and likes to cut out articles, and that he cut out the Wilson op-ed, put it in his desk, and would frequently take it out to look at it again.

This doesn‘t exactly help Scooter Libby because it suggests again that Vice President Cheney had this issue on his mind, and that because it was a concern for Vice President Cheney, it makes it much more difficult for Scooter Libby to argue, Hey, I learned this information from reporters, I didn‘t learn this information from the vice president.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe indirectly from reporters, if you consider “The New York Times” your reporter there, your copy of “The New York Times.”

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Now, this other story tonight, the report that Robert Novak contacted Karl Rove in the early days of the investigation—is there a suggestion here that Novak did something wrong legally here, or did Rove?  What is the actual concern on that part of the story?

SHUSTER:  Well, legal experts say the concern that prosecutors may have had is that Bob Novak and Karl Rove may have tried to somehow coordinate their stories or protect each other to try to minimize their exposure after the investigation had already begun.  So the fear prosecutors might have had is, Well, we don‘t exactly know why Bob Novak is calling Karl Rove after the investigation has begun, and that‘s not something that any lawyer would tell you you should do, once you know that FBI agents are swarming in.

Nonetheless, there‘s no evidence, there‘s no claim that Karl Rove encouraged anybody to change their testimony.  But that‘s not the issue.  Again, the issue is whether or not Karl Rove warned—whether or not Bob Novak warned—warned Karl Rove that, in fact, he would be trying to protect him.  And again, that speaks, I suppose, to the strong-headedness of Bob Novak in this entire case.

OLBERMANN:  How would they have known Novak called Rove?  Is that the NSA?  No, don‘t answer that.

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster on the scandal beat for us in Washington.  Great.  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The scope of scandal providing an embarrassment of compelling riches in stories in the span of just one business day, House Speaker Dennis Hastert pushing back and pushing back hard against charges he‘s being investigated as part of the Jack Abramoff corruption probe, Hastert‘s lawyer accusing ABC News of libel and defamation for reporting that the Speaker is under investigation in the first place, demanding a retraction and raising the possibility of a lawsuit, ABC standing by its story.

Republicans in the House, meanwhile, they rush to defend their beloved leader, some going so far as to allege that the story was planted by officials at the Justice Department, that bit of conspiracy theory predicated on the idea that they DoJ is retaliating for Hastert‘s opposition to the FBI raid of Congressman Jefferson‘s office, President Bush stepping into that battle Thursday, calling for a cooling-off period, ordering that any documents seized in the raid be sealed for 45 days, White House press secretary Snow adding that any charges the Justice Department had been trying to intimidate Speaker Hastert are, quote, “false, false, false.”

Seems like Capitol Hill‘s going to heck in a handbasket, handbasket, handbasket.  Let‘s see if “Congressional Quarterly‘s” Craig Crawford can make it all better.  Thanks, as always, for your time, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: 

Good to be here.  Good thing we got so many lawyers in Washington because everybody needs one.

OLBERMANN:  And they all stay busy.  We‘ve got Congress fighting the Justice Department, got Democrats and Republicans on the same side, fighting together about these raids, and the president trying to broker some sort of diplomatic solution.  Apart from the “Twilight Zone” feel to this, did the president take sides by ordering this cooling-off period?  Would the impartial thing have been to just let them fight it out amongst themselves?

CRAWFORD:  I think he was taking the side of, Let‘s make it go away for now, so he could have his press conference with Tony Blair and get a few other things, like immigration, they‘d rather talk about.  This is a classic Washington trick—Let‘s study it for a while and see if everybody forgets about it, and we‘ll come to it later.  This one‘s not going away, though.

OLBERMANN:  Does the Speaker have anything to lose by pursuing a case against ABC just as aggressively, say, as Dan Rather was pursued during the National Guard document controversy, the Killian memos story?

CRAWFORD:  Well, it seems the Speaker‘s real problem is who told the ABC reporter these things.  That‘s where it started, and that should be where his focus would be, I would think.  But politicians naturally do what?  Attack the messenger.  So they often like to blame us for these stories.

OLBERMANN:  Got the plug in.

CRAWFORD:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  The Jefferson raid—it‘s not the only battle going on between Capitol Hill and the Justice Department.  How ugly could it get, given that the FBI is now also seeking to interview top members of the House about whether they were the source of leaks that uncovered the NSA domestic spying program, now that we‘re going in that direction of not just asking reporters, not just asking CIA people, but actually asking congressmen, Were you involved in this leak?

CRAWFORD:  And this is unprecedented in 200 years.  I mean, we have not seen this kind of aggressive activity, FBI wanting to do these things.  You know, anybody who—even if they slept through civics class, picked up on this notion of separation of powers, and maybe even checks and balance.  And that‘s what‘s at issue here, Keith, is this government is balanced and checked on the separation of powers between the branches in a way that really is threatened now by this administration‘s determination to make the executive branch stronger and stronger, and at the expense of Congress.

OLBERMANN:  Final note here, Craig.  Off the old-fashioned way of trying to control what‘s in the media, try to upstage the headlines, the news conference with Tony Blair—do you think that the president managed to preempt any of this, or is—or is—were those admissions that we‘ll get to a little later in the show less of a headline than some people think?

CRAWFORD:  I think those are going to be a big headline, Keith, although I think maybe, in the long run of constitutional law, these other stories are more important.  To a lot of Americans, it seems like a lot of intramural in-fighting, but these admissions about his earlier statements, I think a lot of conservative hardliners are going to be very worried about this kind of talk.  I don‘t know whose minds he‘s trying to change with this because all he‘s changing is the words.  He‘s not saying anything he did was wrong, doesn‘t regret any of his actions, just the language.  There‘s a lot more than language going on in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and “Congressional Quarterly,” as always, sir, great.  Thanks.

CRAWFORD:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  In the middle of all the political scandal and chaos, the president did try to rewrite the headlines perhaps with success, in a primetime news conference finally answering questions about his biggest regrets.  But why did it take three-and-a-half years for him to talk about a mistake in the phrase “dead or alive”?

And rare moments from presidents of the past, interviews from the archives of NBC News with Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy now available as downloads?  Ask not what your iPod can do for you, ask what you can do for your iPod!

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  Against the backdrop of almost any other presidency, the admission of a mistake from two or three years ago would hardly merit a headline.  Bill Clinton even fully admitted the Lewinsky disaster within seven months.  But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, President Bush does not admit his mistakes, couldn‘t think of one when questioned during the 2004 presidential debates.

Apparently, a couple of them just came to him.  He mentioned them during the primetime news conference about Iraq, the one he shared with British prime minister Tony Blair, the one billed in advance as not bringing with it even the promise of possible troop withdrawals.  Thus the impact of Mr. Bush‘s admissions may have been blunted, not heard, perhaps, by many.  Seven hours before Mr. Bush had stepped up to the podium, press secretary Tony Snow warned we were not going to hear about reductions in the U.S. presence.  Quote, “You‘re just not going to get hard numbers and you‘re not going to get hard dates.”  We did get something about presidential hard edge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Despite setbacks and missteps, I strongly believe we did and are doing the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then at the end of the news conference, in answer to a question from a British reporter about what mistakes he made, came the president‘s brief visit from the muse of retrospection.

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BUSH:  Saying, “Bring it on,” kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people that—I learned some lessons about expressing myself in maybe a little more sophisticated manner.  You know, “Wanted dead or alive,” that kind of talk.  It—I think in certain parts of the world, it was misreported.  And I learned from that.  And you know, I think the biggest mistake that‘s happened so far, at least from our country‘s involvement in Iraq, is Abu Ghraib.  We‘ve been paying for that for a long period of time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s bring in the senior White House correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.  Thank you for your time, sir.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the president‘s seeming reflectiveness there.  That language he used was more than three-and-a-half years ago, after 9/11.  We began to learn of Abu Ghraib two years ago.  What might have caused the president to admit the mistakes in both areas now?

WOLFFE:  Well, first of all, the president and the White House are not stupid.  They knew they had made mistakes in the 2004 election, but like one of the president‘s closest friends told me at the time, there was no way on earth he was going to pay the political price of admitting that he‘d made a mistake in the middle of an election.

What they‘ve realized since then, especially the president‘s communications advisers, is that in the latter part of last year, they were paying a price for seeming out of touch, and what they needed to do was adopt a more realistic turn (ph) about the insurgents on the ground, later, earlier this year, talking explicitly about mistakes.  And so, you know, this is a more realistic term they‘ve adopted.  They should be given some credit for it.

But of course, it is very rehearsed, everything from the mannerisms you saw, the upwards glance up at the ceiling for inspiration.  And for me, the big giveaway was at the end of that answer—I don‘t know if you could see it on camera, but the president flashed a big grin to those of us sitting in the front rows.  It didn‘t seem that he was quite as contrite as his performance.

OLBERMANN:  So there was some political legerdemain there.  There was some sleight of hand, the immediate response that we heard in many quarters to that, of this sort of astonishing landmark admission was the hoped-for result?

WOLFFE:  Well, they‘ve been building up to this for a while, and I think it‘s has been effective.  There was an uptick in the polls at the end of last year.  There‘s no question that the numbers could be even worse than they are right now on Iraq.

The president‘s trying to do two things.  He‘s trying to say, I have confidence in victory, we‘re going to be OK, because the White House calculation is that the American people can withstand a huge degree of casualties as long as they are confident that their leaders believe in victory.  So that‘s the most important thing.  But after that, he‘s got to show that he is in tune with the reality, and that‘s what all of this element (ph) of talking about mistakes and things could have gone better is really about.  And yes, it‘s a change, and it‘s a change born out of necessity.

OLBERMANN:  Even with it, and with Mr. Blair‘s mentioning about Iraqi security forces and how they could be able to shoulder the entire burden by the end of 2007, there wasn‘t much news to hold onto from that news conference.  Those who watched the thing from start to end probably earned at least a Boy Scout badge for perseverance.  Was the point of this, deflection?  Was the intent to supplant the Dick Cheney and Karl Rove headlines, or was that an incidental and this was an accident of timing?

WOLFFE:  You know, there‘s never a bad moment to talk about Iraq, really, because their feeling in the White House is that we have not paid enough attention or given enough credit to the new Iraqi government being formed.  When they talk about a turning point, yes, they‘ve mentioned turning points before, and one of the White House‘s big problems is the overhyping of events that have happened before in Iraq.  Everything has been a turning point before.

Well, this is actually a pretty big deal, a new government being formed, democratically elected.  It‘s been-a huge struggle.  And they feel it‘s just been sort of glossed over.  So repetition is the most important thing.  This president firmly believes in it.  And you know, they‘re not going to stop today.

OLBERMANN:  To that end, about repetition, of all that was and was not said in this news conference, will the president regret the one answer—concluding one of his answers about Iraq, where he said, We want to make sure we complete the mission?  Have we not heard that particular phrase before?

WOLFFE:  We have, and you know, I don‘t think these things mean anything anymore.  I mean, he was asked a question—I think it was Bill Plante of CBS, saying, you know, What does it mean when you say, as the Iraqis stand up, we‘ll stand down?  They‘re already standing up and we‘re not standing down.

So I don‘t think those cliches actually work so much anymore.  I think by far and away the more important answer from both leaders was when they were asked whether they had the moral authority to continue with Iraq, given the cost that the whole war has taken on them, and they really spoke with some passion there.  I don‘t think there‘s any question these two men think they were placed on earth to fight this war, and that‘s what they‘re going to do.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek‘s” Richard Wolffe, many thanks.

WOLFFE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Ken Lay, former FOB, friend of Bush, had a very bad day, a slew of guilty verdicts in two different trials, 10 of them.  He could now face 120 years behind bars.

Perhaps he‘ll luck out and get sent to a big house that‘s as fun as this one is in Thailand.  Laughing gas does not a prison make next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  It was on this date in 1919 that one of the great sportscasters was born.  The late Lindsey Nelson (ph) did Notre Dame football, the baseball game of the week, and for their first 17 seasons, the New York Mets.  He was almost as well known for his garish wardrobe.  Coming across a bright mosaic pattern hanging in the window of a tailor shop in Hong Kong once, he went in and asked to have a suit made out of it.  Nelson didn‘t understand the tailor‘s surprise until the suit arrived at his home six weeks later.  It was made out of drapery cloth.  What Nelson had admired hanging in the tailor‘s window were the tailor‘s curtains.

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”  We begin not in Hong Kong but rather in the Samut Takan (ph) central prison in Thailand where—what the hell is so funny, you guys?  Did we miss a “Don‘t drop the soap” joke?  No, it‘s a laughing contest organized by the corrections officials to lighten things up in the Ratchaburi (ph) big house.  All the inmates were invited to take part yukking it up.  A drug offender in the wacky outfit here managed to laugh for more than three minutes straight and was the big winner.  She‘ll go on to the national final competition at some other prison in Bangkok, although the votes—I think the votes were fixed, personally.  And as for the rest of the contestants, put them in the hole!

As for the funny stuff in our prisons, it‘s time to clear the “Oddball” desk of our latest mug shots, beginning with this guy.  Hello!  That‘s Cody Patrick Alembaugh (ph) of Ada (ph) County, Idaho.  The 21-year-old was arrested for failure to appear, although he seems to have appeared here.  Clearly, he took the Tom DeLay school of mug shot posing to a whole new level.  Welcome to the mug shot Hall of Fame.  Thank you!

You‘ll be joining Linda Ann McBride (ph) of North Carolina, who has single-handedly brought the streak of so-called hot teachers carrying on with their underage students to a crashing end.  Of course, she‘s not even a teacher, and her 13-year-old alleged partner was not her student.  Still, it will be interesting to see the if she‘ll get the same leniency Debra Lafave got.

Or the leniency this guy got from a Nebraska judge.  Similar sex offense, but Richard W. Thompson was given probation because the judge thought he was too short for prison.  I‘m sorry!  At 5-foot-1, he might be especially imperiled by prison dangers, the judge said, not to mention that he could easily escape by asking a body builder to toss him over the wall.

Not mug shots, but downloads.  What would Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon say about being on your iPod?  I am not a Black Eyed Pea!  And if you thought David Hasselhof (ph) was crying, wait until you hear me when we wrap up American Ordeal—I‘m sorry, “American idol.”

That‘s ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.  Number three, actress Cate Blanchett.  She‘s played Queen Elizabeth.  She‘s played Katharine Hepburn.  Now she‘s signed on to play yet another real-life person on the big screen, Bob Dylan.  Blanchett will portray the poet/songwriter during his, quote, “androgynous phase.”  Oh!

Number two, an unnamed dumb criminal from Memphis arrested in Arkansas, police there calling him one of the dumbest they‘ve ever seen, and a carload of marijuana and cocaine, more than a quarter million dollars worth, driving down I-30 at night without his lights on.  So that‘s why they pulled him over.  Why do you think they call it dope?

At number one, we finish up with this guy, Willis Wright of Baio, New Jersey (ph).  He and his son were arrested in Long Island, New York, driving a rental truck stuffed with nine tons of illegal fireworks, the biggest fireworks seizure in Suffolk County history.  Police pulled him over because he was tailgating.  He was tailgating a fuel tanker while driving a truck overloaded with fireworks.

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OLBERMANN:  They were two men who helped define politics in the second half of the last century, two icons representing the best and perhaps the worst of what we can expect from the office of the presidency, extent in most of our memories, but in comparatively few forms of modern technology.  In our number-three story, that has just changed. 

President Kennedy, President Nixon, welcome to the 21st century.  NBC News and Apple‘s iTunes have announced they are offering interviews heretofore buried deep in our archives as iPod downloads. 

The circumstances are often as fascinating as the content.  In 1953, David Brinkley, then a young reporter on the precursor to “NBC Nightly News,” “The Camel News Caravan” surprising Mr. Nixon, then himself a young vice president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BRINKLEY, NBC REPORTER:  Good morning, Mr. Nixon. 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Good morning.

BRINKLEY:  Could we ask you a question or two? 

NIXON:  Well, I‘m afraid I‘ve got to get down to the White House for a meeting at 10:30, but you can ride along in the car for a few blocks, if you‘d like, and maybe we can talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

OLBERMANN:  A little inside secret:  That was staged.  The programs also include outtakes.  Former President Nixon having a laugh, candidate Kennedy not happy after having an awkward laugh of his own. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIXON:  Yes, yes, yes.  I‘ll probably talk at about this level.  And I‘ll leave out all the expletives. 

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  ... our honeymoon and went to Mexico.  And I fished down there.  And that‘s the dirtiest laugh.  We‘d better just end on I went fishing down there.  Let‘s change that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As distant as some of the images and technology might seem, the real surprises may be how often the presidents of the past seem to be quoting the political catchphrases of our present. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIXON:  I don‘t worry about polls.  I don‘t worry about images.  I‘m not going to start.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  By the way, you can‘t run a war, you can‘t make decisions based upon polls and focus groups, either. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What about national office? 

NIXON:  This question I can answer categorically:  I have no intentions of becoming a candidate for national office. 

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, look, I have no plans to be a candidate and no intention of being a candidate. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And as to Mr. Kennedy, the clips follow his ascension in politics, from the House of Representatives to the Senate and finally to the Oval Office.  And in a Chet Huntley-David Brinkley interview, not three months before Mr. Kennedy‘s death, the parallels to current politics are hard to ignore. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRINKLEY:  In the last 48 hours, there have been a great many conflicting reports from there about what the CIA was up to.  Could you give us any enlightenment on that? 

KENNEDY:  No, I don‘t think so. 

BRINKLEY:  OK. 

CHET HUNTLEY, NBC NEWS REPORTER:  Does the CIA tend to make its own policy?  That seems to be the debate here.

KENNEDY:  No, now, that is a frequent charge, but that isn‘t so. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And there are other chilling echoes from the same interview with David Brinkley, an early defense of the early American presence in an already unpopular war, Vietnam. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  What I‘m concerned about is that Americans will get impatient and say that, because they don‘t like events in Southeast Asia or they don‘t like the government in Saigon, that they will then say we should withdraw.  That only make its easy for the Communists, and I don‘t think—

I think we should stay.  We should use our influence in as effective a way as we can, but we should not withdraw. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, that was in 1963, and the U.S. had lost only a small fraction of the 58,000 Americans ultimately killed in that war.  Seven years later, like Kennedy, Nixon would try to touch the same buttons President Bush currently pushes about Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIXON:  ... about the world in which we live, with all the dangers that we have in the Mideast and other areas, and I‘m sure we will be discussing later in this program.  We in the free world have to live or die by the proposition that the people have a right to choose. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A few years later, Mr. Nixon would face a choice regarding his own future.  He would resign the presidency.  In 1990, with Bryant Gumbel on “The Today Show,” he would share his thoughts on the Watergate scandal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIXON:  I‘ve indicated the mistakes that I‘ve made.  I‘ve indicated my regret about those mistakes.  And now I hope that we can look to the future and learn from the past.  For those that want me to get down and grovel?  No, I‘m not going to do that.  I have explained what happened.  I have explained why I think it should not have happened and what I should have done to have avoided it, and that‘s as far as I‘m going to do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And besides the obscure and the reflective, the downloads include pure history, the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debates.  And David Brinkley and Chet Huntley scoring the post-debate interview just days later. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRINKLEY:  One more question about the debate.  How did you think you came out? 

KENNEDY:  Well, I thought we held our own.  However, it‘s like playing Ohio State.  You have to play three more Saturdays. 

HUNTLEY:  During the next day or two, after the debate and even that night after you went to bed, did a couple of dozen things go through your head.  You said to yourself, “Why didn‘t I say this or that?” 

KENNEDY:  No, I thought that you can always improve afterwards, but I would settle for the way it went.  And I‘d say I thought it was all right. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, in their own words, among the highlights of the new hook-up between iTunes and NBC News, downloads available at iTunes.com.  More information and a preview of what‘s available at Downloads.MSNBC.com. 

And forgive the plug.  We thought the free preview was worth your time.  And, yes, you can get a download there of MSNBC‘s “Lockup: Inside San Quentin.” 

Also here, once they were two of the most powerful business executives in this country, but now Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling face long prison sentences because of the financial meltdown at Enron.  Their sentence:  to wash endless loops of highlights of “American Idol.” 

A senator bring this show up on the floor of the Senate.  Who knows what I will bring up when we discus it later?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After four years of investigation, four months of trial, in the end it took the jury less than six days to decide whether the two men former in charge of Enron committed any crime.  Our number-two on the COUNTDOWN, for Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, it probably sounded like the opening scene in the first “Superman” movie.  Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.

CNBC‘s Scott Cohn was in Houston for the verdict for us—Scott? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCOTT COHN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, nearly five years after the corporate collapse that shocked the world, it took a jury just about five days to render its verdict.  And now, a man who once was on top of the corporate world has hit bottom. 

(voice-over):  Once bound for corporate glory, Ken Lay, the founder of Enron, is now bound for federal prison. 

KEN LAY, FOUNDER OF ENRON:  Certainly, this was not the outcome we expected.  I firmly believe I‘m innocent of the charges against me, as I have said from day one. 

COHN:  But the jury disagreed.  Ken Lay guilty on all counts and, in a separate trial, a judge ruled him guilty on four counts of bank fraud.  His wife weeping at his side, Lay turned ashen as the verdicts were read. 

LAY:  Certainly we‘re surprise.  I think probably more appropriately to say we‘re shocked. 

COHN:  Jeff Skilling, the former consultant who built Enron‘s business, then resigned after just six months as CEO, guilty, too. 

JEFFREY SKILLING, FORMER ENRON CEO:  Obviously, I‘m disappointed, but, you know, it‘s the way the system works. 

COHN:  The collapse of Enron less than three months after the September 11th attacks set off a crisis in business confidence and a wave of corporate scandals.  Enron was the most complicated of all. 

For four months, jurors slogged through it all, learning arcane terms like raptors, special purpose entity, and goodwill write-down.  But in the end for jurors, it came down to truth versus lies. 

FREDDY DELGADO, ENRON JUROR:  I think all the evidence pointed that they were guilty of the charges committed.  The defense presented their case well; so did the prosecution. 

COHN:  Lay claimed whatever fraud was going on at Enron was going on behind his back.  But at the Justice Department, they say he‘s still responsible. 

PAUL MCNULTY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL:  The message of today‘s verdict is simple:  Our criminal laws will be enforced just as vigorously against corporate executives as they will street criminals. 

COHN:  But Ken Lay, now off to plan his appeal, called the message dangerous, making business as usual a crime. 

(on camera):  Lay and Skilling still blame the collapse of Enron on speculators, on the media, even the September 11th attacks.  Now, they face sentencing on this September 11th and potentially the rest of their lives in prison—Keith?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Scott Cohn in Houston for us, from CNBC.  Thanks. 

Onto yet another kind of judgment.  That the segue into our roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” this one involving the continuing legal tribulations of Michael Jackson. 

A California Supreme Court has essentially denied the pop star‘s claim to sole custody of his children.  Jackson had appealed a February ruling in favor of his ex-wife, Debbie Rowe.  That decision had re-instated Rowe‘s parental rights, which she had given up in October 2001. 

She is the mother of two of Jackson‘s three children.  The California high court declining to hear Mr. Jackson‘s appeal.  That means Ms. Rowe may now proceed with her efforts to regain custody Prince Michael and Paris.  Jackson has been living in Bahrain with his children since he was acquitted of child molestation charges last year. 

And Denise Richards is quitting her hood, thanks in no small part to Heather Locklear.  Richards reportedly moving out of her home in West Lake Village, part of Los Angeles.  She has reportedly been on the outs with Locklear, her neighbor, ever since she started dating Locklear‘s ex-husband, Richard Sambora of Bon Jovi. 

“People” magazine reported that Locklear had stopped speaking to Richards, but says Locklear denies reports she parked her car outside Richards‘ house and blasted Bon Jovi‘s “Living on a Prayer.” 

Well, we would all deny playing “Living on a Prayer” any time, any place, wouldn‘t we? 

Speaking of bad music, no, they‘re not trying to set Taylor Hicks on fire.  It‘s the grand finale, “American Idol”-style, although they have just given me an idea.  “Idol” chatter ahead with Maria Milito. 

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

The bronze to John Gomes of Boston, apparently on trial there for murder.  Apparently, he didn‘t think his lawyer was doing enough to convince the jury he was innocent, so he tried to strangle him in the courtroom.  “The jury will disregard that attempted murder.”

The runner-up, Steven Brandt of New York.  He apparently got his idea for a class-action lawsuit from a “Seinfeld” episode, but a judge has now thrown out his case against the low-fat ice cream maker.  Brandt says the stuff was not low-fat and eating it actually caused him to gain weight. 

But in a deposition, he admitted he also regularly ate traditional ice cream, McDonald‘s and Wendy‘s cheeseburgers, French friends, pepperoni pizza, beer, Corn Chips, donuts, cookies, hard cheese, eggs, bagels, peanut butter, Chinese take-out food, and pasta, and he didn‘t exercise.  “The jury will disregard that bunt cake.” 

But the winner—what a streak.  This is like Cal Ripken now.  After unsuccessfully trying to kiss the butt of Natalie Maines and Dixie Chicks, Bill O. is back on the warpath against them, ranting that the band is “far-left” and, quote, “No far-right person in this country is going to get the cover of ‘Time‘ magazine, as the Dixie Chicks are this week.  There‘s not a far-right person in this country going to get on the cover of ‘Time‘ magazine, not going to happen.” 

Uh, Bill, what about when Ann Coulter was on the cover of “Time” magazine?  Unless that was just some guy who looked like Ann Coulter. 

Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We have finally reached the end of the pop culture meltdown, but it oozed into the halls of the United States Senate. 

Our number-one story on the COUNTDOWN, in the middle of a heated immigration debate on the Senate floor, Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama took time to hail the victory of his state‘s homegrown hero, “American Idol” winner Taylor Hicks. 

This the day after the two-hour “American Idol” finale, an overwrought extravaganza that fell somewhere between “Night of 100 Stars” and “WWE Pro Wrestling Smackdown,” not that I watch this, mind you.  It all ended with the tears of Germany‘s favorite pop icon, David Hasselhoff. 

Senator Sessions was a news conference when he decided to congratulate the gray-haired guy who won. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA:  He got more votes than any presidential candidate in history got last night.  My wife cast three of those votes.  I hope nobody‘s investigating it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That a repeat of the erroneous claim made by host Ryan Seacrest, though Senator Sessions at least acknowledged that the reason 63 million votes were cast is that people were allowed to vote multiple times.  In any event, after a bevy of recording artists desperate to boost record sales, or make some sort of comeback, or win old-timer‘s day competitions, tramped across the stage of the Kodak Theater in Hollywood Meatloaf and Prince as their bookends, we finally got to David Hasselhoff crying. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, HOST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  An incredible 63.4 million votes came in.  That‘s more than any president in the history of our country has ever received. 

The winner of “American Idol” season five is Taylor Hicks! 

(APPLAUSE)

Congratulations, Taylor.  Taylor, what would you like to say to your fans? 

TAYLOR HICKS, WINNER, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Soul Patrol!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If you were David Hasselhoff, you‘d cry, too. 

Joining me once again, the only person I ever have to discuss “American Idol” with, other than my producers, who just keep drooling when they bring the topic up, the midday host at New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito. 

Welcome back. 

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3 HOST:  Thank you for having me back, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Last week, it was Trent Lott talking about how you couldn‘t be a good senator unless you watched “American Idol.”  This week, it‘s Senator Sessions.  Even Secretary of State Rice got two cents in, saying she was excited, because Taylor Hicks and she were both from Birmingham, Alabama.

Can we write this off to some sort of Southern pride thing?  Or should I get really, really scared about being an American citizen right now? 

MILITO:  Well, I don‘t think you should get really scared, but it just shows that it‘s part of pop culture.  We were talking about this.  It‘s everywhere:  40 million people watched the second hour last night of “American Idol” finals.  That‘s pretty amazing, right?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we get that every night.

MILITO:  Well, I think it‘s the most, actually, of all the seasons. 

OLBERMANN:  I get that the show is about hype and that this is part of the equation.  I get that hype is part of our—even the culture.  But where did Ryan Seacrest get the chutzpah to say that the votes were more than any president in the history of our country has ever received?  He knows that half of the mare from teenage girls with speed dial.  The other half are from my producers.

MILITO:  Stop it.  That‘s not true.

OLBERMANN:  And everybody votes 63 times. 

MILITO:  Well, that‘s true.  People do vote a lot.  But I guess it‘s just the fact, again, that people again think it‘s so important to vote for “American Idol.”  I mean, what does that say?  Right, rather than go out and vote for a president? 

Well, he also—when he said 64 million votes for one president, think about that.  I mean, 64 million people.  That‘s a lot of people voting for a TV show that‘s naming someone that‘s going to be touring the country. 

OLBERMANN:  But it‘s not 64 million people, because we know there were only 43 some-odd-million people watching. 

(CROSSTALK)

MILITO:  Right, well, people do multiple times.  And actually, you know what?  I think the average person who calls in—and I thought, too, that it was a teenage girl.  And it‘s not.  It‘s like a 40-year-old housewife. 

OLBERMANN:  Somehow in this, though, somehow in this you see a method for revitalizing American democracy, for revitalizing the presidential elections? 

MILITO:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Would you e-splain that, please? 

MILITO:  OK, this is by thought that I had today.  I think, instead of having the presidential and the vice-presidential debates, I think they should do a sing-off. 

OLBERMANN:  Ok, great. 

MILITO:  Even if they can‘t sing.  And then America can vote, right? 

Because we‘re lazy.  Americans don‘t like to go out to a polling place. 

OLBERMANN:  Our next president, William Hung.  All right, so now what are you doing about the vote, though?  I mean, that‘s the debate.  What about the vote?

MILITO:  Well, that‘s the only thing.  That‘s the only thing.  But I think people can vote from their telephones.  I mean, look, people don‘t like to go to the gym.  They like to take diet pills, right?

OLBERMANN:  Yes...

MILITO:  They don‘t like to go to the supermarket.  They like to order their food from a supermarket online.  So when the presidential election comes—bear with me—they can vote for the person.  “If you want President A, press one.  If you want President B, press two.”  And then, of course, the NSA is listening anyway, so that would take place—you know, take fraud out of the picture. 

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MILITO:  It could work.  It could work better than its working now.

OLBERMANN:  Well, all right.  I can‘t argue with your point about the NSA verifying the vote totals. 

MILITO:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  But now, on another topic, my executive producer will not stop talking about how great the show was because of all of these performances. 

MILITO:  It was.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any other program on network television that would actually feature Meatloaf at this point? 

MILITO:  You know, something was up with him.  He didn‘t sound good. 

He didn‘t look too good.  He was kind of shaky.  It threw her off. 

Katharine, I mean, she looked like kind of scared of him. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, “Who is this guy?”

MILITO:  Yes, like, “Meat what?”

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MILITO:  Yes, that was a little scary.  I felt bad for him, actually. 

OLBERMANN:  And David Hasselhoff, theories on why he cried, that he was happy about the guy winning or that he missed his car, or what?

MILITO:  No, I thought maybe he was crying about his career.  What do you think?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

MILITO:  And how he looks today, his waistline has expanded, maybe, you think?

OLBERMANN:  Or perhaps that they had him in the audience at that point. 

MILITO:  Ah, that, too, with the camera on him.  Yes, what was that about? 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So last we here—has America been had in this operation or did America have the joke on the producers of the show? 

MILITO:  I don‘t know.  I mean, you know what?  It was two hours. 

They had a lot of artists that—yes, they were there for their promotion. 

Dionne Warwick has a new CD out and Prince. 

But think about it.  Prince did a show.  Al Jarreau was part of the show.  I don‘t know.  You know, I still think the voting‘s a little bit off.  I‘m still receiving e-mails about it, that people say they called and said, you know, “I voted for this person.”  So I don‘t know.  What can you do?

OLBERMANN:  Maria, I‘ve got an idea.  As we run off, I‘ve got an idea.

MILITO:  OK.

OLBERMANN:  Recount.  Maria Milito of New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, many thanks for helping us make it palatable.

MILITO:  Thank you very much for having me.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,119th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  Good evening, Joe.

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

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