updated 6/1/2006 12:08:04 PM ET 2006-06-01T16:08:04

Guest: Zack Bazzi

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

Haditha.  The president speaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If in fact the—you know, the—laws are broken, there‘ll be, there‘ll be punishment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the political punishment, the administration taking a pounding.  Why didn‘t the Johnson or Nixon administrations suffer similarly for the far more atrocious events of My Lai in Vietnam?

“The War Tapes,” telling it like it really is.  An Iraq documentary from National Guardsmen who served a year there.  The film, praised for honesty by those who support the war and those who oppose it.  One of the three soldier-producers joins us.

The battle is joined by Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Americans know we have to change direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The campaign is for reelection to the Senate, unless she changes direction.

A negative-positive.  Lance Armstrong cleared.  He did not use performance-enhancing drugs to win the 1999 Tour de France.  And the other six years?  Nobody checked.

And, of course, the big news from the “TODAY” show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

KATIE COURIC, HOST:  I‘ll never have a partner like you again, because I‘ll never be working with a partner again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right.  Gene Shallit is back.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENE SHALLIT, MOVIE CRITIC, “TODAY”:  Isn‘t it ironic?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

An entire year has now elapsed since Dick Cheney declared that the insurgency in Iraq was in the last throes, 12 months in which another 833 Americans in uniform there have been killed, the death of one of them on November 19, a roadside bombing taking the life of Marine Lance Corporal Miguel Tarrazes sparking the incident for which the entire war may ultimately be remembered.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Haditha.  Tonight, a first look at the evidence, a first statement on the atrocities by the American president, “The New York Times” reporting that the U.S. military investigation into the incident has turned up evidence showing that all of the Iraqi civilians killed at Haditha, up to two dozen of them, had gunshot wounds.

That directly contradicts claims by U.S. Marines that the victims had been victims of a roadside bombing, American military investigators also saying that the killings appear to have been an unprovoked attack by the Marines, apparently in retaliation for the death of Corporal Terrazes, White House press secretary Tony Snow saying yesterday that President Bush learned of the killings only after a reporter from “TIME” magazine started answering questions about it, Mr. Bush making his first public comments about the allegations today, after a meeting this morning with the president of Rwanda.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The Marine Corps is full of men and women who are honorable people, who understand rules of war.  And if, in fact, these allegations are true, the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture, that proud (INAUDIBLE) culture will be reinforced, and that those who violated the law, if they did, will be punished.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Thanks for your time, Dana.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Doubtless it is ringing implausible to many that the president could not have learned about this till the first “TIME” stories in March.  But My Lai, the worst atrocity of Vietnam, occurred in March 1968.  Essentially, nobody knew about it till March of 1969, the first news report wasn‘t until September 1969.  Does the president, in this case, deserve the benefit of the doubt on this one?

MILBANK:  Well, I think he‘s getting it so far, and it is certainly plausible that people at every level were trying to hush this up as much as possible.  So I‘m not hearing a lot of criticism of the president inasmuch as a coverup is concerned.

Where the president is potentially more vulnerable is in the environment that allowed this sort of thing to occur, and are people going to make a connection saying that, you know, a president saying, We‘re fighting terrorists who are not protected by the Geneva accords, does that create the kind of environment that a 19-year-old Marine can interpret as meaning it‘s OK to do this sort of thing?

OLBERMANN:  Also, if the president does get the benefit of the doubt, if he did not know, or we just have to assume that, does that actually raise more disturbing issues about the chain of command, about the prospect of an actual coverup within the military, as you suggest, at various levels?

MILBANK:  Well, it certainly does.  It‘s not even the prospect of a coverup.  There obviously has been a coverup, because false reports were filed indicating that these people did not die by gunshot wounds.  Now, the question is, how far up the chain of command does it go?  Nobody knows, or certainly nobody outside of the military right now knows exactly how far that‘ll go.

Now, we‘ve been, you know, six months since this occurred, a few months into an investigation already.  I think there‘s a bit of patience now.  But some information is going to have to be coughed up soon.

OLBERMANN:  The political fallout, arguably the closest that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld came to losing his job was after Abu Ghraib.  Haditha will presumably eclipse Abu Ghraib.  Could it eclipse Don Rumsfeld?

MILBANK:  Well, it certainly could.  It‘s almost—when you get to some—an atrocity of this sort of magnitude, it‘s almost larger than Donald Rumsfeld.  I mean, if he were to resign, so what?  The damage has been done in the Arab world.

Now, it‘s not an immediate political problem for the administration, because obviously nobody‘s directly blaming the president for this.  The question is, if this causes the operation in Iraq to continue to go south, things really deteriorate there, that is where the president will take a beating in his political popularity, which is already about as low as one can go.

OLBERMANN:  And back to My Lai for a moment, and the comparison is unbalanced, because there were 500 or more civilians slaughtered at My Lai.  But it seems as if, if there has not been more of a political impact here now, at least there is a bigger ceiling for potential political impact with Haditha, certainly, than there was from My Lai for either President Johnson, who was on the watch when it happened, or President Nixon, who was on the watch when it broke.  Is there a reason for that?

MILBANK:  Well, My Lai is one comparison, but let‘s think of Abu Ghraib as the other comparison.  One person died as a result of the torture and abuse in that prison.  So we‘re talking at least two dozen here.  It—the problem is, this is much more intricately involved with the war effort itself.  The president said just last week that the problems at Abu Ghraib, we‘ve been paying for that for a long time.

Now, by every indication, this is something that‘s going to play at least as badly, if not worse than that, in Iraq and in the Arab world.  So that, I think, is the relevant comparison here, and that‘s why this is—could be absolutely devastating.

OLBERMANN:  And the president does what about it just from a political point of view?  How best does he protect himself and his interests and the country‘s interests?

MILBANK:  Well, look, you‘re sitting at 30 percent in the polls, you can‘t do much about it politically.  And when—an atrocity of this sort, it sort of—you know, all Americans have to be in this sort of a situation together.

They can hold out for a little while longer, allow the investigations to go.  John Warner in the Senate has said before long, he‘s going to start his investigations.  And something‘s going to have to pop.

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

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Whatever the truth about Haditha, the theory of the fog of war has been proved yet again.  And while accusations continue to fly from opponents and proponents that Iraq has been exaggerated or sugarcoated, could there possibly be an objective viewpoint?

A new documentary called “The War Tapes” may be the closest thing yet.  Instead of actually getting embedded with the New Hampshire National Guard, filmmaker Deborah Scranton gave cameras to the troops and asked them to film their experiences during their year-long deployment from March 2004 to 2005.  The footage from three of those soldiers has been edited into a 97-minute film, which opens in New York Friday and then nationwide next month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE WAR TAPES”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every soldier eventually wants to go to combat. 

It‘s a natural instinct.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you let fear get to you, then you‘re not going to be doing your job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every single time you go out there, it‘s attacks, it‘s unbelievable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One of those three Guardsmen, Sergeant Zack Bazzi, joins me now.

Thanks for your time tonight, sir.

SGT. ZACK BAZZI, NATIONAL GUARD:  Glad to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Why the documentary?  What do you think people will take away from it?

BAZZI:  Actually, I‘m not sure.  It seems to me like people, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, seems to me that they take away what they want out of it.  Sort of like the Mona Lisa smile.  I‘ve seen the Republicans (INAUDIBLE), you know, pro-troops kind of movie.  And I‘ve seen Democrats say, you know, it reaffirms their thoughts all along that this war has been a mistake.  So I guess it‘s up to the viewer to decide.

OLBERMANN:  How do you feel about that?  I mean, in a sense, you‘re, you might be saying that what you‘ve done plays into both hands.  On the other hand, it sounds as if, and many of the reactions have been from both sides, Hey, this is fair and this is honest.

BAZZI:  Yes, I think so.  I think it‘s authentic look at our daily

lives in Iraq.  And, you know, for better, for worse, the good, the bad,

the heroic and the sometimes gruesome has been captured in this film.  I

think the director, to her credit, Deborah Scranton, did a good job.  She -

I remember roughly a week before we deployed, she came down, stood in front of the unit, and gave her spiel, and she gave us one promise, that she will not lean in any way politically in this film.  It will just be a raw, authentic look into our daily lives in Iraq.

And I think, to her credit, she‘s done a great job.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you something of this story of the moment.  Obviously you were not at Haditha, you‘re still in the service, you can‘t address it specifically.  But from the beginning of this war and in many other wars, we have heard from other soldiers, from spokesmen from the Pentagon, that the insurgents in this case use women and children as shields, and very often you can‘t tell who‘s friendly and who is not.

What was your experience in that regard?

BAZZI:  Again, this unfortunate incident reinforces the difficulties that we as soldiers face in this war.  The rules of engagement are fairly clear, but the battle assignment is often not clear.  You don‘t know friend from foe, civilian from a, you know, from enemy, and so on.

So it‘s difficult experience sometimes for soldiers trying to tell those two apart.  But, you know, unfortunately, you got to do what you got to do.  And I think, to our credit, the United States Army, we do follow the rules of engagement most of the time.  And things like that are just isolated incidents.

OLBERMANN:  Will you be returning to Iraq?

BAZZI:  I‘m a happy and proud staff sergeant in the New Hampshire National Guard, and if they call up my unit, I‘ll be there with them.  Probably so.

OLBERMANN:  What has stuck with you from your experience there?  Is there one image that springs immediately to your mind every time you hear that word Iraq?

BAZZI:  Maybe an RPG coming my way in my Humvee, or an ID going off.  Those usually tend to stick for a while.  But also (INAUDIBLE) in respect to, and there‘s more humane things.  My squad, for example, was attached to an Iraqi police station for a couple of months, and just every day sitting there, getting to know the Iraqi policemen and sharing the difficulties of the job with them, and just exchanging mundane, you know, mundane information about our culture and their culture.

To me, it meant a lot, because I think the essence of this entire operation, at least how I choose to interpret it, is to help the Iraqi people and democratize them.  And whatever little I could do in my own little way, I was very proud to do so.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  You were there a year, you‘ve been back a year.  Give me your media review.  Is the media on the whole showing proportional amounts of good and bad coming from there?

BAZZI:  Well, I‘m no media critic, so I guess my opinion is not fairly qualified one.  But, you know, the war is hell, and for the media to try to capture it, they can only attempt to do so.  I don‘t think—think it‘s very difficult to get the real thing.  And no matter how hard they try.  But I think the U.S. media, you know, tries its best to capture what‘s it like over there.

OLBERMANN:  Sergeant Zack Bazzi, great thanks for your time tonight. 

Good luck with this.  And great thanks for your service to our country.

BAZZI:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  Thanks for having me over.

OLBERMANN:  Also, what could be a major shift in the U.S. policy towards Iran.  It comes with major strings attached, though, the Bush administration agreeing to face-to-face talks with that nation about its nuclear program for the first time in more than a quarter century.  The catch, Iran would first have to stop enriching uranium, Secretary of State Rice indicating the U.S. is prepared to go either way, join in those talks with Iran, or demand sanctions.

Tehran has already dismissed the offer as propaganda, saying it is not in its country‘s best interest to stop enriching the uranium.

Also here, pure politics, a new term arrives at the trial of David Safavian.  What on earth were Jack Abramoff‘s champions?

And Hillary Clinton officially kicks off her campaign.  But for which job is she running?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You can talk all you want about golf junkets to Scotland, the Republican lobbyist who bankrolled them, and the resulting corruption investigation that has implicated at least two U.S. congressman.  But heads only really turn, as it was so memorably phrased in the movie “The American President,” when there is art.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, we now have photos, Kodak moments capturing one of Jack Abramoff‘s infamous golf trips to Scotland, made public in federal court on Tuesday, that at the trial of David Safavian, the former White House procurement chief, and the first person brought to trial in the Abramoff scandal.

Our correspondent David Shuster joining us now from the Potomac and its usual smelly self with a first look.  David?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Keith, the photos came out during testimony this week from the government‘s star witness, who described how Jack Abramoff obtained inside information from David Safavian.  David Safavian, of course, stands accused of lying about Abramoff to investigators.

The witness in this case is Neil Volz (ph).  And when you look at the photo, he‘s the one there on the left in the black crew-neck sweater and glasses.  Volz is the former chief of staff of Congressman Bob Ney.  That is Congressman Bob Ney they there in the gray T-shirt.

Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition, he is the one who is wearing jeans and penny loafers, not exactly golfing attire.  And as for Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who picked up much of the bill for almost everybody on this jaunt, he is on the end there with the jacket and white cap.

This golfing trip came just three weeks after Abramoff sought information from Safavian about government properties and contracts, and here‘s another photo on board the Gulfstream jet.  And a final photograph introduced as evidence shows four members of Abramoff entourage at St.  Andrews, presumably preparing to tee off.

The issue at trial is whether David Safavian lied to investigators at the General Services Administration when he said Abramoff had no business with the government.  And a secondary issue was whether Safavian lied about the actual cost of the golf outing.  Witnesses have described $500-a-night hotel rooms in London, $100 rounds of drinks, $400 rounds of golf, and, of course, the travel to and from Scotland on board the Gulfstream jet.

The prosecution does appear close to wrapping up its case.  Today, for example, a government ethics official testified that she would not have authorized David Safavian to go ahead and take this trip if the ethics official knew that Safavian was providing inside information to Abramoff.

And one final note, Keith, and that is, there has been some testimony this week about what Jack Abramoff described as champions.  Champions was apparently the term that he designated for members of Congress that he felt he could do business with that were going to be returning favors to Jack Abramoff based on some of the favors Abramoff was giving to them, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  George Orwell would love that term.  We know about the favors that Mr. Abramoff did in just getting those gentlemen to Scotland.  We know there‘d mentions of the drinks and the golf once they got there.  And obviously he, from the picture on the Gulfstream, he bought at least one of them a newspaper.

Do we know of any, anything else?  Was there anything else once they, once they got to where they were going in that, in that plane?

SHUSTER:  Well, actually, once they got to Scotland, Neil Volz testified that he and his former boss, Congressman Bob Ney, were not particularly strong golfers.  In fact, their handicap was apparently so insufficient that the local clubhouse rules prohibited them from playing at St. Andrews.

So enter Jack Abramoff.  Volz testified that Abramoff had a fixer at the golf course, and the fixer enabled Congressman Ney and his former chief of staff to bend the rules, bend golfing etiquette, and play several rounds of golf.  As one observer noted this week, one wonders what it must have been like to be in the foursome behind them.

OLBERMANN:  Now you‘re screwing with the great game of golf.  Now you‘re really—now they‘re really pissing me off here.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster, great thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And please let us know when the shots of Mr. Abramoff and the president come back from the Fotomat.

SHUSTER:  We will.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of pictures, this is perhaps the most famous mug in the world, but, oh, if the Mona Lisa could only talk.  Wait, a Japanese scientist says she can.

And cyclist Lance Armstrong can now talk too, and say that he‘s been cleared of drug charges at the 1999 Tour de France.  And about the rest of his career...

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was on May 31 of 1678 that the annual fair in Coventry, England, decided to celebrate a legendary figure with the first-ever Lady Godiva procession.  A little-known of her purported bareback ride through that city‘s streets back around the year 1045 or so is that it was part of a tax protest, the kind of event that has clearly lost its edge in the last thousand years.  To her, then, we dedicate...

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Bellingham, Washington with hope, finally, for curing America‘s addiction to oil.  No, the government has not decided to stop subsidizing the oil companies.  Ha, ha, ha, ha!  Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ahh -- 

Don‘t be silly.

No, I‘m talking about these guys and their car that runs on cow crap.  Look at it go.  It‘s a hybrid developed by students at Western Washington University.  It will succeed for the next 10 and then will all be mysteriously destroyed.  Goes zero to 60 in six seconds, gets 43 miles to the gallon using biomethane from cow dropping.  You just pull up to a farm, you connect your hose to a cow, and you‘re --  Oh, no, there—apparently there‘s a whole scientific process, and --  Boring.

Far more significant tech news, let‘s go to Tokyo, where a leading Japanese audio expert says his machine can tell us what the Leonardo da Vinci‘s famous Mona Lisa sounded like.  Dr. Matsumi Suzuki usually uses his skills to assist in criminal investigations, has spent months reconstructing the Mona Lisa‘s skull, measuring her head, and plugging all the data into the computer to give us this exact recreation of the Mona Lisa‘s voice.

MONA LISA:  Oh, God, Leo, how long do I have to sit here in this dress?  It‘s so itchy.  And these shoes, oy, they‘re killing me.

OLBERMANN:  Mona Lisa sounds exactly like Liz Winstead (ph)?  Just as I imagined.

Finally, to India, for a story that‘ll make you feel much better about our health care system.  Meet Jamuna Prasad Chaturvedi (ph), the blindfolded doctor.  Now, now, before you get too upset, he doesn‘t wear an actual blindfold, he just uses his hands to cover up his eyes, ears, and nose.  He chants for a while.  Then he makes his diagnosis.

I think you have a broken arm.  And you have a broken arm, and you have a broken arm, and you have a broken arm.

But doctor, I --  Remember George Carlin‘s joke, that statistically, there has to be literally a worst doctor in the world?  And his punchline?  And somebody‘s got an appointment to see him tomorrow.

Senator Hillary Clinton officially kicks off her reelection fight, railing against the administration for dismissing inconvenient facts.  Is it all a big dress rehearsal for Hillary in 2008?  Not a big dress, but a big dress rehearsal.

And where will this woman be in ‘08?  Was the big farewell really part of the most nefarious conspiracy ever conceived by guilty man?  Now, that‘s a tease, huh?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, the makers of Jesus Pan.  No, it‘s not a religious variant on marzipan, it‘s a cooking surface inscribed with his likeness, so that the next time you want a pancake or a grilled cheese sandwich with the savior‘s face on it, you don‘t have to wait for eBay.

Number two, Clara Jean Brown of Daffy (ph), Alabama. Fortunately, she‘s OK, but you have to doubt she‘s laughing this one off.  During a bad thunderstorm, she stood in her kitchen and prayed for her family, because they were on the road coming back from the beach.  She says she had just said Amen when she was hit by lightning.

And number one, Michael Jamal Bluntson of West Palm Beach, Florida, one of two men accused of trying to hold up a bank in the nearby city of Indiantown.  He wrote a hold-up note threatening to blow the bank up.  Unfortunately, he wrote the note on the back of his own bank statement.

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OLBERMANN:  Not sure about the numerology here, but it is 888 days until the 208 presidential election and Senator Hillary Clinton has already accepted her party‘s nomination.  Of course, the nomination was for a second term to the United States Senate, but in our No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN, many at the New York state Democratic Convention were watching for eye ticks and listening for a secret code in hopes of diving whether Senator Clinton might be starting to lay the groundwork for a presidential bid. 

The Senator did address issues with national scope and resonance, including the war in Iraq and improving FEMA post Katrina.  But as those subjects imply, there was nothing new particularly.  Most of her speech in Buffalo was naturally New York centric and actually preced her formal nomination but the state democratic party.  But the senator did predict broad democratic victories in November and in that there was at least a hint of things to come. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  We need new leadership and I believe we‘re going to start seeing that happen this November.  We‘re going to be electing democrats across New York and across America because Americans know we have to change direction. 

With hard work, we will take our country back.  I will be there fighting every step of the way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The senator‘s 18 minute biographical video at the convention was full of testimonials about the work she‘s done for New Yorkers, it was book ended with words from her husband.  The former president‘s presence there, potent, at least, in its imagery. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s going to be quite a moment when the sitting vice president performs his last official duty and that is to swear in the new United States senator from New York, Rick Lazzio. 

H.  CLINTON:  (LAUGHING)

BILL CLINTON (D), FMR.  U.S. PRESIDENT:  The so-called experts counted her out a lot of times. 

H.  CLINTON:  You can‘t care what people say about you.  And in New York, they say it in every language. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She is the most egregious, the most offensive. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I think that everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for. 

B.  CLINTON:  Just attack, attack, attack. 

H.  CLINTON:  Look, I knew I was taking a big risk and I knew that it would get hard, really ugly even. 

B.  CLINTON:  She could have had a much easier life and more like lucrative life, but it wouldn‘t have been her life. 

H.  CLINTON:  The United States Senate is where decisions are made that affect people‘s lives.  Why should I shrink away and not do that? 

B.  CLINTON:  From the time Hillary was a child, she was embued with a notion that in order for her life to have meaning, she had to do something more than succeed in personal ways, that she had to give something back. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  New York republicans have now chosen Senator Clinton‘s opponent, given their low expectations, he would seem less a candidate a more a sacrificial lamb.  The ex-mayor of Yonkers, New York, John Spencer, who a year ago said that District Attorney Jeanine Pirro didn‘t have a Chinaman‘s chance of winning the endorsement of conservatives. 

Let‘s call in the senior editor, columnist for “Newsweek” magazine, NBC political analyst Jonathan Alter.  Also the author of “The Defining Moment:  FDR‘s 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope.”

Thanks for your time, sir. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps we would be naive to think that the senator would have used her state‘s party convention to do anything overt about a presidential bid, but even conceding that, did that speech underwhelm, did it deliberately underwhelm?  What was it about? 

ALTER:  Well, it was senatorial, you know, and she‘s running for the Senate.  She‘s going to win overwhelmingly.  Pretty much everybody who counts in New York State thinks she‘s been a terrific senator and most democrats in the country do.  But that‘s not a very good dress rehearsal for the presidency, Keith, because four of the last five presidents have been governors.  Senators talk Senate speak, it doesn‘t play very well, it doesn‘t stir the soul.  She doesn‘t have a lot of rock ‘n‘ roll in her, and that would help if she wants to run for president. 

OLBERMANN:  And about the Senate campaign ahead, the republicans have now chosen this candidate, who has the Chinaman‘s chance remark hanging around his neck, he‘s also a man only joined their party in 2002.  A.  are they missing a chance to take a chunk out of Hillary Clinton in this campaign?  B.  could she be hurt by the fact she‘s not likely to break a sweat in the campaign? 

ALTER:  Well, to the question “A” you have to understand the people who want Hillary for president now are mostly republicans.  You know, this is something that the secret is, democrats think she‘s a great Senator, they don‘t think she can win for president and so the pressure for her to run—all of the tub thumping for her to get out is coming from conservative republicans who are licking their chops at the possibility of Hillary running for president.  So they don‘t want to cut her up in a Senate campaign.  They just as soon that she does so well in this campaign that she goes into the presidential race with a big head of steam.  So, counter-intuitively, it would actually be in the democrat‘s interest for her to get a little batting practice, a little spring training, before she goes out into the presidential.  She‘s only been through one campaign, Keith, six years ago.  So it‘s really—it would be helpful for her to go out there and have a tougher opponent than the mayor of Yonkers. 

OLBERMANN:  Her campaign, in any event.  Only one of her own campaigns. 

ALTER:  Right.  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  And image question:  Everybody analyzes her, talk about her politics, her appeal, her—the poorizing (ph) effects, they seem to ignore, I think, a much more visceral element.  Can she overcome that speaking style?  I don‘t want to pick nits here, but I get this feeling like, when I‘m listening, that the teacher has caught me chewing gum. 

ALTER:  Yeah, and you know, especially in contrast to her husband.  Remember the Coretta King funeral, it was a bad event for Hillary politically because she doesn‘t—nobody does, but her limitations are especially stark juxtaposed next to Bill Clinton.  And there‘s also the question of whether the country wants to go Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton.  That‘s not exactly the politics of the future that the Clintons are always talking about. 

Hillary today used the phrase “new leadership.”  Hillary Clinton is not really new leadership.  She brings her husband back in for another eight years to stay in the White House?  It‘s not at all clear that this is going to be appetizing for the American people, and there‘s a certain school of thought in the democratic party that‘s getting larger by the day that she could stay in the Senate and become one of the great senators in American history and let somebody else go out there and run for president so we can move into the future. 

OLBERMANN:  And that addresses that campaign issue of her husband‘s effervescence.  I it her greatest campaign asset or is it her worse liability in the campaign? 

ALTER:  I think it‘s a real liability for her. 

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter, “Newsweek” and NBC and “The Defining Moment:  FDR‘s 100 Days and the Triumph of Hope,” as always, sir, great thanks for coming in. 

ALTER:  Thanks a lot, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Lance Armstrong giving thanks as far as the 1999 tour de France goes he‘s in the clear.  Those who accused him, in fact, are now themselves accused. 

Speaking of accused, Dixie Chicks.  Guess where on the pop and country music charts their controversial new album has debuted?  Those stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘ “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cars aren‘t meant to fly.  Occasionally they do.  It‘s amazing no one was seriously hurt.  Here it went airborne and then right into the side of “Hecks.”  Look how high that car got off the ground.  I‘m 5‘9”, the hole, it‘s way up there.  And look at the size of the hole.  Imagine if it were a Cadillac or a Hummer. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know how he got the car to fly. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cars shouldn‘t fly. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I don‘t see how it happened. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Zepheous (ph).

JEREMIAH WEAVER, SPELLING BEE CONTESTANT:  Zephyus (ph)?  Can you spell that?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Our next call is from Malibu, Hawaii.  Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, this is Malibu, California. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go ahead. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to try to be really calm while I‘m talking about this, but I‘ve been alive for 11 presidents.  I‘ve never seen anything like this in my life.  I belong to an organization called “Operation Helmet.” 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We just found the website.  It‘s operation hyphen helmet.org.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And is this Cher? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you for calling again. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Conspiracy theories ahead.  Who is really behind the TV toss-up that lead to Katie Couric‘s big sendoff?  And the drug allegations against Lance Armstrong.  Were the French out to get him?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Not to say that the subject of steroids in sports is probably far more pervasive than any of us realize, but around the ballparks these past few weeks, a lot of reporters, some executives, even some players have been helping me compile a list of suspects, baseball players whose careers spiked in odd ways or who succumbed to sudden injury or illness or other signs of steroid use.  And that list compiled entirely off the top of our heads, has already crossed the plateau of 100 names.  Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, in that context, it‘s understandable that a piece of good news about another athlete actually accused of drug use in one particular event could get exaggerated into a total exoneration.  A special investigator has cleared cyclist Lance Armstrong of charges that he doped up during the 1999 Tour de France.  The rest of his career, not addressed.  The piece of good news now from our correspondent Mike Taibbi.

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Last August, a French newspaper claimed new tests on Armstrong‘s 1999 urine samples were positive for the performance enhancing hormone EPO. 

LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST:  I have never doped. 

TAIBBI:  He denied it right away on CNN‘s “Larry King Show.” 

ARMSTRONG:  When I peed in that bottle, there wasn‘t EPO in it.  No way. 

TAIBBI:  Today, unequivocal support for Armstrong‘s claims of innocence.  Dutch investigator Amil Freeman (ph), said his independent probe for the International Cycling Union exonerates Lance Armstrong completely with respect to alleged use of doping in the 1999 Tour de France.  A relieved Armstrong said in a statement, his accusers “have been out to discredit and target me without any basis and falsely accused me.” 

(on camera):  One cycling world expert said that every turn in this story is big news in Europe, especially in France.  But that in this country Lance Armstrong is seen simply and forever as a hero. 

BOB ROLL, OUTDOOR LIFE NETWORK:  Lance Armstrong, cycling hero, from the United States of America.  Cancer survivor and completely exonerated of any charges whatsoever. 

TAIBBI (voice-over):  But he‘s also been a hero on the defensive.  Pressed to explain his breakup with music star, Sheryl Crow and to keep denying those doping rumors as he did to the “Today Show‘s” Ann Curry. 

ARMSTRONG:  Never.

ANN CURRY, “TODAY SHOW”:  Not once?

ARMSTRONG:  Not once.

TAIBBI:  The denials, a part of his story no matter who says he‘s clean. 

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  With that, we segue to the celebrity and entertainment stories of keeping tabs and the new album from the group Dixie Chicks has been out for a week, no one really expecting too much since, as you know, they alienated their fan base with those controversial political statements.  Billboard charts are in, Dixie Chicks are No. 1 with a bullet.  Almost 526,000 copies of “Taking the Long Way” were sold in the first week it was available.  Top of the charts, despite minimal radio airplay and the absence of a hit single.  The number exceeds industry projections, particularly with the hostility towards the singers from rightwing commentators and other country music folks. 

Just last week at the academy of Country Music Awards show, the singer Reba McIntyre quipped that the band was singing, quote, “With their foot in their mouths.”  Well, Reba, I guess the foot is on the other hand now, isn‘t it? 

We told you last Thursday that Michelle Rodriguez of ABC‘s “Lost” had checked into the L.A.  County jail to begin serving a 60-day sentence.  She‘s out already.  It‘s been 60 days since last Thursday?  No wonder my vacation seemed so short.  Did time mysteriously bend and she actually spent 10 years marooned on a tropical island in the fifth dimension like some ridiculous TV show.  No. The jail was overcrowded; the sheriff‘s department has suffered budget cuts of $180 million.  They have no room for nonviolent offenders with terms of less than 90 days.  So Rodriguez served about four hours and a half.  Oh, what a mindbender.

Speaking of lost, it‘s a final for Katie Couric.  Her farewell, how it ties into the damndest conspiracy theory you‘ve ever heard.  This goes everywhere from President Bush to Boy George.  That‘s next.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.” 

No. 3, Ad (ph) Vandenberg, one of the founder of Holland‘s Charity Freedom and Diversity political party.  Nice name for a party except their only political aim is to lower the age of consent from 16 to 12.  They‘re pedophiles.  Conveniently, in a recent poll in Holland, 82% of respondents said the government should do something to outlaw the party, let alone pedophilia. 

No. 2, Merman (ph) Robinson, far right republican now seeking the congressional seat from 13th district of North Carolina, and setting a lovely tone for this year‘s campaign by running a radio ad already in which he says of his opponent, quote, “If he had his way, America would be nothing but one big fiesta for illegal aliens and homosexuals.”  Gay bashing, immigrant bashing, Hispanic bashing, you left out Terri Schiavo, pal. 

But our winner, John Gibson of FOX News claiming the lead in the race for the biggest rationalization of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), quoting John, “If Iraqis know their own history, they know massacres have been committed in Iraq by warring parties from millennia piled on millennia.  This is the part of the world that was in on the massacre game early,” unquote.

Well, that‘s already then.  What‘s one more massacre, huh?  John Gibson, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Look, its Not all about me, all evidence to the contrary.  But nine long years ago, I left “Sports Center” and broke up my partnership with the great Dan Patrick, fortunately just temporarily.  I mention this because “Entertainment Weekly” magazine later compiled its list of the 100 greatest moments in TV and that partnership was 53rd on that list.  The only thing from the “Today Show” was when they put the monkey J.  Fred Muggs on the program in 1954, that ranked 34th.  Here‘s my point, my last show on “Sports Center,” they gave me 35 seconds to say good-bye, and in the commercial break before it, the producer gets into my earpiece, and says “can you cut it to 15 for get the volleyball scoreboard in?”  Katie Couric‘s been saying good-bye for 56 days!

Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN, the startling truth that ties the departed “Today Show” exco-host to both the Killian memos and Boy George in a moment.  First, how can we miss you if you, if you don‘t go away?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATT LAUER, “TODAY SHOW” CO-HOST:  And good morning and welcome to “Today,” on a special Wednesday morning.  I‘m Matt Lauer and for one final time I‘m going to turn to my right and say good morning to my friend and colleague, Katie Couric.  Last day.  How are you feeling? 

KATIE COURIC, “TODAY SHOW” CO-HOST:  Oh gosh, I‘m feeling happy and sad and completely out of control, and you know how much I like that. 

LAUER:  Yes, exactly. 

We‘re partners, you know, and we have been partners over these last 10 years, 13 years in total the—in every way possible.  Not that way.

Yeah.  Wait a second. 

COURIC:  And I know I‘ll never have a partner like you again, because I‘ll never be working with a partner again.

I leave this morning not with a heavy hard at all, I mean sadness because of how much I will miss you all, but with a very full heart, filled with love and memories, and yes, gratitude.  So, thank you all so much. 

LAUER:  Cheers!

COURIC:  Thank you so much.  Everyone in TV land, thanks so much. 

LAUER:  Cheers!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  So that is what you saw.  That was the surface, perhaps that was the cover story.  In an age of slight of hand, of deception and conspiracy, how could that possibly have been all there was to it?  The faint uneasiness has been nagging at you in those rootless moments just between night and dawn, at least that was not in vain. 

A COUNTDOWN exclusive, how Katie Couric fits in the middle of a journalistic political entertainment nexus of conspiracy that will leave you asking, do you really want to hurt me, do you really want to make me cry? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  It began on September 8, 2004.

DAN RATHER, “60 MINUTES” HOST:  We have new documents and new information.

OLBERMANN:  On “60 Minutes,” Dan Rather reported that the organization had in its possession copies of previously undiscovered documents questioning President Bush‘s service, or perhaps lack thereof, in the Texas Air National Guard, the “Killian memos.”  But within hours bloggers had discovered the memos had issues, serious issues.  Dan Rather and CBS News got into the war and of the historically dubious typewriter and an amazing sequence of events was set in motion.  The subsequent political frenzy may have hasened Mr. Rather‘s retirement, may have delayed it, but either way, it certainly started this remarkable sequence of events that might contain the true explanation of the “Killian memo‘s” saga. 

RATHER:  And to each of you, courage. 

OLBERMANN:  And thus, had the first domino, fallen.  Mr. Rather was all faster that a calico dress in a West Texas prom night and so was a chain reaction that would change the face of TV as we know it, from black rock to 30 rock.  Katie Couric was the next domino. 

COURIC:  I‘ve decided I‘ll be leaving “Today” at the end of May. 

OLBERMANN:  After Bob Schieffer‘s interregnum.  Couric would become Rather‘s successor as the next anchor of the CBS evening news.  And that opened up her job on “Today.” 

COURIC:  NBC has asked me to co-host the “Today” show.  And I.

OLBERMANN:  So, Viara bolted ABC to take the chair next for Matt Lauer because Couric had grabbed Rather‘s chair and that meant there would be an open chair on everyone‘s favorite female gab-fest, to fill the air as penny loafers, they would need a class act on “The View.”  someone distinguished. 

ROSIE O‘DONNELL, COMEDIAN:  What did I do?  I‘m fat, I yell, and I sometimes say the “F” word. 

OLBERMANN:  In other jobs these would be considerable drawbacks, on “The View” they‘re a positive boon.  And thus would fall the next domino.  O‘Donnell, even after the debacle of her Broadway musical about Boy George called “Taboo,” will replace the departing Viara, who‘s replacing the departing Couric, who‘s replacing the departed Rather.  But there‘s one condition, if O‘Donnell, Star Jones has to be out.  The couch is not big enough for the both of them, possibly literally.  And as you can imagine for Star, rumors that she‘d be kicked off the show hit her like a football in the face. 

Now that free-loading husband of hers is going to have to K-Fed on the coattail couch and get his own jobby-job.  As for Ms.  Jones, there is no telling where she‘ll end up.  Perhaps drama, perhaps CNN at 8:00 Eastern, perhaps the offensive of the Philadelphia Eagles.  And all of this, the straight line from Star Jones‘ job search to O‘Donnell to Viara Viara, to Couric, to Rather—all of it started with those “Killian memos” and the source Bill Burkett.  No Bill Burkett, maybe he‘s still on the CBS evening news.  Katie Couric might still be on NBC, Meredith Viara might still be on “The View.”  Rosie O‘Donnell might still be out of work. 

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m sorry to say this on camera, but I did throw up in the morning.

OLBERMANN:  And Star Jones might still have a job.

STAR JONES, “THE VIEW”:  Yeah I‘m Hercules, Hercules, Hercules.

OLBERMANN:  So, who generated those documents the “Killian memos?”  Who tipped off the rightwing bloggers about the issues?  What could their motive possibly have been?  It remains a mystery, one no man may ever solve, unless.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And to clarify, Star Jones is still one of the hosts of “The View,” but one last domino waivers to and fro amid the conspiratorial froth that is life.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,126 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.”  Joe, good evening.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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