updated 7/26/2006 10:48:38 AM ET 2006-07-26T14:48:38

Guests: Dana Milbank, Michael Musto

BRIAN UNGER, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Hezbollah rockets rain down on Israel as Israeli bombs batter Beirut. 

This, as Israel hits a U.N. observation post.

Also tonight, diplomacy yields this wisdom.  Call it even a revelation.  There is war because there is an absence of peace.  So that‘s the problem.

Meanwhile, in the absence of peace, day 14.  The latest news from all the fronts.  Richard Engel in Lebanon, Martin Fletcher in Israel, and Tom Aspell on the diplomatic front.

Mr. Maliki goes to Washington.  As Iraq careens closer to anarchy, our commander in chief calls for more troops in Baghdad.

Is “R” the new scarlet letter?  A Republican Deep Throat tells reporters he‘s not proud to be GOP.  What‘s he rebelling against?  Whatcha got?  Iraq, Katrina, Dubai ports, immigration.  A sign Republicans are cutting and running from the president.

Where do you build a monument to your love for a TV host?  On the Web.  Pat O‘Brien‘s lady friend has a blog, and she made this video of her and Pat shadow-kissing.  It‘s www.odear.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT O‘BRIEN:  She also called me demented.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  And good evening.  I‘m Brian Unger, in for a vacationing Keith Olbermann.

The Middle East conflict has been raging for some 3,000 years, for the last 58 of them, nearly continuously.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, while it is safe to say that no one ever realistically expected the current violence to be solved overnight, at times, day 14 of the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah really did sound an awful lot like “The Middle East for Dummies,” Secretary of State Rice calling on the former poli-sci professor within today, telling reporters in Ramallah that the real problem in the region is that there has not been a sustainable peace.  Palestinian President Abbas in agreement, having that violence is the result, quote, “of the absence of peace.”

Now that that‘s been cleared up, hammering out a cease-fire would seem to be a mere formality.

In the meantime, Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas traded fire yet again today, the showdown now heading into its third week.

We begin tonight with the latest on the violence on both sides of the border, starting with Martin Fletcher in Haifa, Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello, Brian.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah said on TV tonight that the conflict will enter a new phase beyond Haifa.  He said he won‘t accept humiliating conditions, and he said his fighters will begin rocket attacks deeper inside Israel.

(voice-over):  After a two-day lull, the heaviest bombardment so far.  Israeli war planes sent bombs slamming into 10 buildings in south Beirut that Israel said housed Hezbollah members.

On the ground too, Israeli troops today fought bitter battles, sometimes house to house, in the Hezbollah stronghold town of Bint Jubail.  The Israeli army says it killed at least 20 Hezbollah fighters, including their top commander in south Lebanon.

Today, the army announced plans to carve out a narrow buffer zone free of Hezbollah fighters, and hold it until an international force moves in as part of a cease-fire deal.

Hezbollah fought back too, pounding northern Israel again with rockets.  A 15-year-old Israeli Arab girl killed by a direct hit on her house.

Tragedy was avoided when three rockets fell in the grounds of Haifa‘s largest hospital, hitting open space.

(on camera):  The Katyusha is full of these tiny ball bearings that are aimed to kill and hurt as many people as possible.

(voice-over):  A stern warning from Israel‘s prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER:  We will not hesitate to take the most severe measures against those who are aiming thousands of rockets and missiles against innocent civilians for one purpose, to kill them.

FLETCHER:  While Olmert stuck to his hard line, Secretary of State Rice did win one concession from him.  Israel will allow humanitarian aid to enter Lebanon.  Today, America‘s first shipment arrived in Beirut, 40 boxes of medical supplies, proudly presented by the American ambassador.

I‘m Martin Fletcher in Haifa.

Now over to NBC‘s Richard Engel in Tyre, Lebanon.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over):  In Tyre, bread is now so precious, we found it being loaded into ambulances heading south to villages that have been cut off by the fighting.  What‘s left is handed out to families in this lifeless, empty city.

(on camera):  Among the only cars able to move in the streets now are ambulances like this one, going door to door, distributing medicine that‘s quickly running out.

Dr. Hussein Selyman (ph) is a general practitioner.  His office is now an ambulance, his patients are the refugees flooding this city.  Already, he‘s found an increase in communicable diseases like colds, fevers, and diarrhea.

DR. HUSSEIN SELYMAN:  After two, three days, they are all sick.

ENGEL:  In the basement of a hotel, crowded, hot, swarmed by mosquitoes, we found a new group of refugees, dozens of Lebanese Americans.  They have come back for a family reunion.  They said Israel has destroyed their village.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Every day they take, like, turns to bomb a house, every day, every day.

ENGEL:  Nineteen-year-old Zenab Shaheem (ph) told of a desperate escape this morning, leaving relatives behind.

ZENAB SHAHEEM:  We need cars, we need transportation.

ENGEL:  Some begged to be put in the trunks of cars.  Zenab‘s mother says her grandmother refused to take up a seat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She wouldn‘t come with me because she didn‘t want to leave my other sisters there.  She said, No, if they‘re dying, I‘m dying.

ENGEL:  We gave Zenab a phone to call her sister in Michigan.

SHAHEEM (on phone):  They‘re hitting the houses.  They‘re hitting everything.  We almost died in (INAUDIBLE).

ENGEL:  In another nearby village, several members of Mada Mansour‘s (ph) family did die.

MADA MANSOUR:  And my husband, he die.  There I have this boy and two girls.

ENGEL:  She said many others are dead too, buried under rubble.

MANSOUR:  Just help us.  Please, please, please, please.

ENGEL (on camera):  It is easier to see the Katyushas being launched than film them, Brian.  Hezbollah, which actually has a press officer here, has come and told journalists and warned them, in fact, not to try and—try—not to try and film those outgoing launches, Brian.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  Richard Engel in Tyre, Lebanon.  Thank you.

As Martin Fletcher reported, Hezbollah pounded northern Israel with rocket fire today, including the port   city of Haifa.

That‘s where our correspondent Tom Aspell is standing by.

Thanks for your time, Tom.

Tom, what is—

TOM ASPELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Brian.

Well, another active day--  I‘m sorry.  Go ahead with your question.

UNGER:  No, no, no, no, you please go ahead.  What is the situation there, as you see it?

ASPELL:  Well, it‘s been an active day, and I think Hezbollah telling Israel it‘s still there.  They fired nearly a 100 rockets in northern Israel today, including a volley of 16 rockets down into Haifa, some falling in the sea, some falling on land here near the port of the city, near the main hospital.  Five people injured in the port of Haifa this afternoon.

And up in northern Israel, one 15-year-old girl killed when a rocket struck her house in a village in northern Israel.

But everybody‘s saying that the army continuing its fight around Bint Jubail, saying that they have killed a top Hezbollah commander in the area, and also saying that they will now encircle and move forward to create a rocket-free zone in southern Lebanon, Brian.

UNGER:  Tom, is there any surprise in northern Israel at the strength of these attacks by Hezbollah, these—

ASPELL:  Well, I think they‘d been led to believe from the very beginning that Hezbollah had something like 10,000 or 12,000 rockets, the Israelis saying they have destroyed about 2,000 rockets and launchers.  So people are still expecting more to come the other way.

But I think they‘re surprised, after two weeks of heavy air strikes and artillery, the Israelis have fired probably about 30,000 artillery shells into the zone of southern Lebanon, that those rockets are still coming.  And in one way, it‘s Hezbollah‘s way of telling the Israeli army, Come further into the country, we know the ground, and we will continue to fire rockets in the meantime.

UNGER:  Tom, what is being proposed is this 19-mile buffer zone.  Would that be wide enough to protect places like Haifa from, from, from this Hezbollah rocket fire?

ASPELL:  Well, I believe some of the longer rockets—I mean, Haifa‘s already more than 30 miles from the Israeli border, so obviously it‘s not going to cover that.  But I think what the Israeli intelligence is telling the government is that the longer-range missiles are fired from places like Tyre, for example, from the hills above Tyre.

But certainly the first aim of the Israeli government is to get rid of those Katyushas, which caused so much damage.  They‘re a short-range rocket.  So I think when Israel talks about creating some kind of security zone or a buffer zone, as you would refer to it, they probably mean to extend their forces further north, perhaps all the way to the Litani River, and making space for any kind of international force to come in between Israel and what‘s left of Hezbollah above that line.

UNGER:  Tom, on, on, the, the diplomatic front, diplomatically speaking, is, is, is there any sign of what southern Lebanon might look like, you know, after the day after the fighting stops?

ASPELL:  Not for the moment.  I think they‘re concentrating first on getting the details of any force that would be able to go in there.  They‘re not even announcing any kind of plan towards a cease-fire until they‘ve worked out who could contribute to that force, who would command it, and where exactly they would go on the ground.

In the meantime, of course, Israel reserving the right to continue going after Hezbollah, either in Beirut or anywhere in Lebanon.  And certainly Hezbollah‘s response has been negative, due to the fact they continue firing rockets into Israel.

So a bit of a standoff at the moment, and nobody expecting this to end anytime soon.

UNGER:  Tom Aspell, live for us tonight from Haifa.  Thank you very much, Tom.

In Iraq, insurgent death squads seemingly gaining the upper hand there.  President Bush promises to send more troops to Baghdad, but he and Iraq‘s prime minister part ways on the war against Hezbollah.

And the president falling victim to cut-and-run himself, his own party trying to figure out how to distance itself from the president in advance of the midterm elections.  But is doing it in a bizarre, anonymous media event the way to go?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Speaking at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy in November 2003, President Bush laid out his foreign policy vision.  Thus, quote, “Iraqi democracy will succeed, and that success will send forth the news from Damascus to Tehran that freedom can be the story of every nation.”

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, nearly three years later, the president‘s mission is being thwarted by realities on the ground.  Damascus and Tehran are behind Hezbollah in the current conflict in the Middle East, and sectarian violence in Iraq is killing an average of 100 people in Iraq a day.

Today, at least 34 people died in a series of suicide attacks, roadside bombs, drive-by shootings, and assassinations, including one American soldier, this as the prime minister of Iraq paid his first visit to the United States, standing with President Bush to announce their latest joint solution to the violence, more troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Coalition Iraqi forces will secure individual neighborhoods, will ensure the existence of an Iraqi security presence in the neighborhoods, and gradually expand the security presence as Iraqi citizens help them root out those who instigate violence.

This plan will involve embedding more U.S. military police with Iraqi police units to make them more effective.

Prime minister advised me to support this plan.  He and General Casey have agreed to deploy additional American troops and Iraqi security personnel in Baghdad in the coming weeks.  These will come from other areas of the country.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER:  ... that by monitoring the reality on the ground, we will able to ensure the success, especially what happens against the innocent people.

BUSH:  It‘s a new democracy‘s emerging, and there are people who are willing to use terrorist techniques to stop it.  That‘s what the murder‘s all about.  People fear democracy if your vision is based upon kind of a totalitarian view of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

UNGER:  A fear of democracy doubling up as the president‘s answer later in the same news conference as to why there is also renewed violence in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Terrorists are afraid of democracies.  And what you‘ve witnessed in—in—Israel, in my judgment, is the act of a terrorist organization trying to stop the advance of democracy in the region.

We want to address the root causes of the violence in the area, and therefore our mission and our goal is to have a lasting peace, not a temporary peace, but something that lasts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNGER:  I‘m joined now by MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Pat, thanks for your time tonight.

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thank you, Brian.

UNGER:  Let‘s start with the president‘s explanation of what is happening in the Middle East.  He says, the president says, he wants to attack the root cause of the violence to ensure a lasting peace.  Yet according to him, the root cause is that terrorists hate democracy.

Now, how can this administration begin to address the complex, serious issues that underlie this conflict here when the analysis seems to be as simple, perhaps, as terrorists hate democracy?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think that‘s very simplistic.  Terrorists do hate Americans, and they do hate Israelis, but they hate us not because of who we are, which is a democratic, peaceful, Western, mightily successful republic, they hate us for what we do.

The perception in the Middle East is that the United States is not only propping up Israel, but providing her with weapons, guns, to repress the Palestinian people and to dominate the Arab world.  I think they perceive us as an imperial power in Iraq, imposing our ideas and ideology on the Iraqi people.  I think the Americans are hated as occupiers in Iraq.

But there‘s a number of causes of hatred there.  The Palestinians, of course, want their own state, but there are Muslim, Islamic peoples, who want to drive Israel into the sea.  They don‘t believe they belong there.

So there‘s all these causes.  And terrorism is simply a weapon.

Brian, in an oddity this week, Benjamin Netanyahu, who‘s a friend of the United States, celebrated the bombing of the King David Hotel by Irgun 60 years ago this July.  That is one of the signal acts of terrorism in the 20th century, and it was one of the acts that ignited the Israeli war of independence.  Everybody in that region has used terrorism as a tactic.

UNGER:  Back here, the U.S. is supplying millions of dollars in aid to help Lebanon, having already provided the bombs to Israel that are now destroying Lebanon.  Do you think anyone at the administration is kind of seeing this irony?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I hope they‘re seeing it, and I hope they realize what they‘re doing.  We not only have given Israel the planes and bombs to destroy Lebanon, they have the president‘s blessing for two more weeks or one more week to do this.  They have the unanimous support of Congress, which makes us morally culpable for what is happening in Lebanon.

Now, part of what is happening is, Hezbollah is being degraded and attacked, as it should be, for firing 100 missiles today.  But at the same time, there‘s a humanitarian crisis, and a potential disaster of Lebanon, Mr. Bush‘s great success as a democratic state, collapsing into a failed state, like an Afghanistan before we went in there, like a Somalia, like a Sudan.

If something like that happens, I think we will end up, as I believe we are in Iraq today, worse off than when we began.

UNGER:  Before we talk about Iraq, I want to ask you, on the broader war, the White House put out a press release citing a “Los Angeles Times” editorial by conservative Max Boot, which, among other things, called for Israel to act against Syria.  It seems the same people who pushed for war in Iraq are pushing for an expansion of the broader war.  Do you worry about what‘s next for the United States?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I worry—I mean, Mr. Boot is a neoconservative.  He‘s not a real conservative.  And he‘s got—had this agenda, and the neoconservatives have it, which is to get Israel and/or the United States to attack both Syria and Iran, to widen the war, to have the United States and Israel allies fighting all these rogue states, as they call it.

Yes, I‘m deeply worried about it, if the president of the United States listens to this.  I think a wider war would be a disaster from the standpoint of this country and ultimately of Israel, because I think it would ignite the war of civilizations that I don‘t want, but some of these neoconservatives do.

UNGER:  Then let‘s go for the bottom line then.  Is the policy

failing?  Is the Bush doctrine just failing?  Or is it just—are we being

or perhaps are people being impatient to see the end result?

BUCHANAN:  The Bush doctrine, which calls for (INAUDIBLE) -- I mean, not letting rogue states get access to weapons of mass destruction, is being defied by North Korea and Iran.  The democracy project the president has, has been exploited by the Islamists in Egypt, on the West Bank, in Gaza, in Lebanon.

The one success was Lebanon, where there was a working democracy in the Arab world.  That‘s now being destroyed by Israel‘s shock and awe campaign, and the enormous destruction attendant to it.

So it‘s hard for me to look at this whole situation, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and say that there‘s any success for the president‘s policy at all, or America‘s policy, or America‘s interests, or ultimately the interests of Israel.

UNGER:  And forgive me, I‘m jumping around a little bit here.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

UNGER:  But in Iraq, the violence there seems to escalate, and it doesn‘t seem like Iraqi forces are any closer to standing up so U.S. forces can stand down.

BUCHANAN:  Well, here‘s the problem in Iraq.  Zarqawi, who is a genuine devil, kept killing Shia in order to ignite a Sunni-Shia war.  And before we got him, I think he succeeded, because now you‘ve got death squads working out of the police and the interior ministry of Shias, committing reprisals and murdering Sunnis.  You have neighborhoods dividing, you have ethnic cleansing, basically, going on, ethnic separation going on.

And I think the—we are on the path toward a religious civil war, unless this is damped down.  I can understand why the president is putting the troops in Baghdad.  That is the heart of this battle right now, and it is not a pretty picture anywhere today in that part of the world.

UNGER:  So much in the region to cover, but we have to end there.  Pat Buchanan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you, Brian.

UNGER:  Well, time to get some comic relief from this troubled world.  What is with the spat of European head butting?  First man-on-man head butts, now man on beast?

And speaking of beasts, Christy Brinkley‘s cheating husband tries to get back in her (INAUDIBLE), back on her good side, rather, by begging forgiveness through a “New York Post” gossip columnist.  Very romantic.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  I‘m Brian Unger, sitting in while Keith Olbermann is on vacation.

And we pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news now, for a quick segment of the goofy stuff you might otherwise miss.  Consider it a warmup act for Keith‘s big appearance tonight on “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO” this evening.

So now, let‘s play, once again, Oddball.

And we begin with another exciting episode of things jockeys do to horses when they think no one is looking.  That‘s feisty racehorse City Affair there, throwing jockey Paul O‘Neill, and there‘s O‘Neill head-butting the horse.   I don‘t think that was called for at all.  O‘Neill has since apologized for the incident, but the horse racing authority is likely to suspend him, at least.  The angry horse was later quoted as saying, Don‘t worry about me, my nose will heal, but he‘ll be a little three-foot shrimp for the rest of his life.

And to Buffalo, New York, where they treat the animals a little better, apparently.  Take this cute little kitty cat stuck in the storm drain on the side of a busy highway.  Oh, how will they ever get that little guy out of there?  Well, we all know how much cats love water.  There you go, worked like a charm.  Firefighters simply stuck a hose in the hole, and up floated Mr. Pickles.  He‘s going to be just fine, everyone.  In fact, one of the DOT workers says he wants to bring the kitty home for his little daughter.  And again, it has been swimming in sewage.  Surprise.

Finally, to Mexico City for the grand unveiling of the world‘s most expensive bottle of tequila—are you ready for this? -- $225,000 a pop.  And if you want salt and a lemon, forget about it, chump.  That‘s going to be another two bucks.  The company says it‘s not just the 100 percent blue agave tequila that makes it so expensive.  The bottle is made of platinum and is adorned with extravagant artwork.  The tequila itself, cheap swill, just garbage, really.  Even the worm says it stinks.  Oh, but what a bottle!

From Oddball to oddball politics.  An anonymous Republican rips apart the president and the state of the GOP in bizarre fashion, and then, after so doing, decides to go public.  What‘s behind that stunt?

And speaking of going public, Christy Brinkley‘s cheating spouse apologizes to his wife, not through flowers, not through jewelry, but through his attorney.  That‘s definitely true love.

All that and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  There‘s big trouble brewing for the president within his own party.  It‘s coming from a prominent republican we all know and from another who tried, at least initially, to keep his identity a secret.  More on that in a moment, but first, in our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, Senator Arlen Specter, who led the charge to clip the president‘s wings on domestic wiretapping is now taking aim at the president‘s unusual practice of issuing signing statements, and Mr. Specter wants Congress to have the  authority to sue the president. 

Senator Specter said yesterday he will introduce legislation which will “authorize the Congress to undertake judicial review of those signing statements with a view to having the president‘s acts declared unconstitutional.”  Mr. Specter, not alone in his criticism, the task force of American Bar Association said the signing statements, more than 750 of them raise constitutional issues because the president is supposed to either sign a bill, veto it, or take no action, but instead President Bush indicates he will interpret the legislation as he sees fit with regard to national security or where portions of a bill seem to overlap with his own constitutional authority. 

Well, when Woodward and Bernstein were first contacted by “Deep Throat” for their clandestine meetings, the setting was a parking garage in Roslyn, Virginia, the time of the secret rendezvous was 2:00 a.m. Well, yesterday in Washington another secret meeting took place between a political insider and reporters, nine of them, this time for lunch, out in the open, no underground parking garage, no late night cab rides or exchanges of secret messages.  The political insider, a republican, a candidate for Senate.  The reporters from newspapers, magazine, and TV a detailed account of the meeting was chronicled in the “Washington Post” today.  The republican candidate‘s name identity was not, his identity off the record. 

But today this twist, the candidate‘s staff identified this informer as Michael Steele, Maryland‘s lieutenant governor running to take the Senate seat being vacated by democrat Paul Sarbanes.  Mr. Steele‘s staff outed him after what was supposed to be anonymous comment, because he failed to mention his positive remarks. 

While not disclosing any criminal conspiracy in the Oval Office, what was on the record was remarkably candid, incendiary, downright accusatory of the Bush administration‘s failures, like on the war in Iraq:  “It didn‘t work.We didn‘t prepare for the peace.people want an honest assessment from the administration, and they want to hear the administration admit we thought this, and it didn‘t happen that way, and guess what—it didn‘t work, so we‘re going to try Plan B.  Let‘s call it what it is.  We thought this was going to be a different kind of engagement.”

And this on the response to Hurricane Katrina, “A monumental failure of government.in 2001, we were attacked and the president is on the ground, on a mound with his arm around the fireman, symbol of America.  In Katrina, the president is at 30,000 in an airplane looking down at the people dying, living on a bridge.  And that disconnect, I think, sums up, for me at least, the frustration that Americans feel.”

On the republican Congress, “We‘ve lost our way...the spending, the finger-pointing, not getting bills passed.just shut up and get something done.”

And this on running for election as a republican, “It‘s an impediment, it‘s a hurdle I have to overcome.  I‘ve got an ‘R‘ here, a scarlet letter.if this race is about republicans and democrats, I lose.” 

Well, COUNTDOWN can now reveal on television one of the reporters at that luncheon.  National political reporter for the “Washington Post” and MSNBC analyst, Dana Milbank. 

Good evening, Dana. 

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

UNGER:  Dana, the mystery of “Deep Throat” took about what—over 30 years, this took seven hours, this is a little strange, no?

MILBANK:  Oh, this is my kind of story.  All I had to do is show up for a free lunch.  I even got to eat desert. 

UNGER:  Dana, when the meeting was still a secret, OK, in this meting where the president is being taken to the woodshed on a host of issues, did you ever think you were getting played here, because it was kind of public, in a public restaurant, because at one point you write Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist walked over to the table, shook the candidate‘s hand and said, “He‘s the best”? 

MILBANK:  He might not have said that had he known what the actual content of the conversation was.  We were a back room there, at this—at Charlie Palmer‘s, a steakhouse on Capitol Hill.  And typically these sorts of briefings are either off the record or done in some anonymous fashion.  These guys toyed with going on the record, ultimately the decided against it, so now it‘s the worst of all worlds, so they find out it‘s him anyway, and sort of looks like a coward. 

UNGER:  Assuming that there was no political or broader political play here on behalf of all republicans, why did he originally not want to go on the record with his identity? 

MILBANK:  That beats me and I suspect perhaps he wasn‘t really there to deliver this kind of message, it‘s 100 days from the election, he wanted to meet some political reporters who might be covering the campaign, instead he got stuck with me. 

UNGER:  Now, he obviously changed his mind about staying anonymous. 

But what do you think he was hoping to get out of it then? 

MILBANK:  Unclear.  I mean let‘s face it.  If you‘re running for the -

a republican running for the Senate in Maryland, you need to reach democrats.  Democrats are ahead of republicans two to one there.  The president has 32 percent popularity there.  It only stands to reason that you‘d want to distance yourself from the president from national republicans and appeal to democrats.  It was smart politics, that‘s why I thought it made sense for him to deliver this sort of remarks on the record in the first place. 

UNGER:  Were you surprised to hear that remarkable line, “I‘ve got an ‘R‘ here, a scarlet letter?”  I mean, wow! What motivates that kind of shame? 

MILBANK:  Well, that kind of shame will come when the president‘s at 32 percent.  I think what‘s very important to note is that Michael Steele is a very serious conservative.  He was with the republicans in Congress in the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, to ban flag burning, he‘s supported the president‘s decision to veto the embryonic stem cell research bill, so I think what you do when you‘re in that kind of a position and you‘re running in a state like Maryland where they haven‘t—it‘s been a quarter century since a republican was in a senate seat there, you need to distance yourself at least rhetorically. 

UNGER:  How does all this change now that he has decided that this should be public, that he should be on the record?  I mean, do you think that his image changes somewhat here?

MILBANK:  I‘m not so sure.  I mean he‘s running somewhere between six and 10 points behind whoever the democratic nominee is going to be and as usual the democrats can be counted on for their share of fratricide, so he could very much have a competitive race there.  This has to play well with democratic voters in Maryland, the question is if he‘s—has he alienated enough republicans?  Now other republican candidates are probably angry at him everywhere because we spent this whole day as a guessing game, you know, was it Mike DeWine in Ohio, was it Chafe up in Rhode Island, or Tom Kane in New Jersey, or even George Allen in Virginia?  So, everyone‘s wondering if the other candidates are going to be a little angry at him now. 

UNGER:  In this meeting, during this lunch, he cited both the government‘s failure in responding to Katrina and the Dubai Ports deal as seminal moments of Bush administration being out of touch.  Are we starting to see, where cut and run was a charge leveled at democrats on the war, it sounds like it‘s the republicans who are cutting and running here from the president? 

MILBANK:  Well, it‘s yes and no.  I mean, the words were very sharp there and he was quite clear in saying I don‘t want the president to come and campaign for me.  But when you think about it, if it‘s Iraq and if it‘s Katrina those are pretty safe areas to criticize the president on.  Everyone now, including republican leaders in the Congress has pretty much been criticizing the president on this, so even though he was very powerful and the words he spoke were quite candid and forceful, when you come right down to it, they‘re relatively safe areas that he chose. 

UNGER:  Well, the mystery is over.  National political reporter for the “Washington Post,” MSNBC analyst, Dana Milbank.  Thank you so much for your time. 

MILBANK:  Thanks a lot, Brian. 

UNGER:  Is your every move being watched by surveillance cameras? 

Even your most private moments captured by perverts with hidden cameras. 

The downside to better, smaller video equipment. 

And Pat O‘Brien, he weathered some embarrassing phone calls.  Now his love life is playing out in the shadows for all the world to see.  Details and analysis with Michael Musto ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  Is there an epidemic of hidden cameras capturing you in the act of all sorts of various stuff you don‘t want to be caught doing?  And celebrity relationships, what‘s lurking in the shadows for Pat O‘Brien?  And Christie Brinkley‘s husband begging to be taken back.  Those details are ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:  If you ever get that nagging sense that someone somewhere is watching you, turns out you‘re probably right.  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, the proliferation of high-tech surveillance cameras catching everything and everyone unawares including one man who happened to be doing something very private, alone, when he found out he was caught on tape.  As he‘s been caught on camera once, we won‘t be showing his name or face, but here‘s NBC‘s John Larson with the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For more than a year this man had been a regular donor at a sperm bank in Pasadena.  But one day after completing his mission in a paper cup he looked up and noticed a hole in the ceiling. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  When I saw a small camera, with a wire going into the ceiling tiles, I didn‘t know where it was going, I didn‘t know how long it‘d been there. 

LARSON:  Or where those private moments might turn up? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They could be on web sites, they could be on pornographic videotapes, they could be anywhere.

LARSON:  He‘s suing the sperm bank, Pacific Reproductive Services, the company denies filming anyone and suggests that his account is fabricated. 

(on camera):  But his story has alarmed already concerned privacy advocates who say in this increasingly wired world you got to wonder, is someone always watching? 

BILL BROWN, SURVEILLANCE CAMERA PLAYERS:  The camera‘s presence here, unannounced, I believe is an intrusion in privacy. 

LARSON (voice-over):  Bill Brown gives tours of surveillance cameras on public streets in Manhattan. 

BROWN:  Who is there to reassure me or you or you that this camera, every night, isn‘t watching a woman undress in a building across the street? 

LARSON:  Public safety advocates point to crimes that surveillance cameras‘ helped solve, like the kidnapping and murder of little Carly Brucia.  In London, surveillance cameras helped identify terrorist bombers, but didn‘t prevent the attacks.

Closer to home we‘ve all seen nanny cams, violent baby-sitters caught on tape.  And the technology is only making things easier. 

JOHN DRESDEN, SPY TECH AGENCY:  So, you‘re only limited—you know, to your, by your imagination. 

LARSON:  Cameras so tiny they can be hidden in sun glasses, a button, a necktie are, or even a pen.  No permit required and no way to keep them out of the wrong hands. 

DRESDEN:  But I‘m sure there‘s some that obviously slip through the cracks, they come in and they just want to want to buy a camera and they walk out the door. 

LARSON:  We‘ve gotten used to being watched and hidden camera footage of bad guys caught in the act.  But behind the grainy images you also have to wonder who‘s really watching and what are they looking for? 

John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UNGER:  And on to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” 

And the man who never needs a hidden camera to reveal his inner-self, David Hasselhoff.  Get ready for David Hasselhoff, the musical.  For real.  Hasselhoff is flying to Melbourne, Australia to star in the musical extravaganza based on his life.  It includes dancers, borrowed from the musical, “Chicago” and “Jekyll and Hyde” and will include segments inspired by the “Young and the Restless” and “Knight Rider,” glaringly omitted, “Baywatch .”  Hasselhoff says, “I am also doing a heart rendering set on my life and the mistakes I have made.  It sounds like a bad joke, but it is really going to be a good show.”  Totally campy.  Ah, but will he be shedding tears?  Who knows, but Hasselhoff says if it ends up in Vegas, how great would that be?

And finally, this programming note, that should your day be incomplete without the vacationing Keith Olbermann, and as a COUNTDOWN loyalist, how could it not be?  This heads-up that COUNTDOWN‘s fearless leader can be seen tonight on the aptly named “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”  Set your TiVos, that‘s tonight on NBC at 11:35 p.m. Eastern and Pacific. 

Christie Brinkley‘s very public marital mess takes yet another bizarre twist.  Her cheating husband begs to be taken back by using a New York City gossip columnist.  Michael Musto analyzes that and the mystery of the shadow—shadowy kissing couple when COUNTDOWN returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNGER:   In our No. 1 story, two American celebrities we‘ve come to know and love over the years, two American icons who I‘m not ashamed to admit, as a younger Unger, I had posters all over my bedroom walls.  It‘s Christie Brinkley and Pat O‘Brien.  Ms.  Brinkley‘s marital mess is taking another strange twist, while Mr. O‘Brien is making waves on the internet again, and not for elicit phone messages this time, although we‘ll air some of those anyways.  No, this time it‘s tender.  In a moment, Michael Musto joins us for analysis. 

First we begin with the Brinkley story, and with her marriage to Peter Cook in shambles after the revelation of two extramarital affairs with two teenage employees.  Mr. Cook has decided to say “I‘m sorry.”  Cook telling the “New York Post‘s” Cindy Adams in an exclusive interview, through his attorney, “For a time I‘ve tried to prove how much I love here.  This is an aberration,” adding amid tears, “I‘m sorry.  I‘m contrite.  I‘m stupid.  Foolish.  No Excuse.”

I‘m not saying that Brinkley deserved to be cheated on, but this reporter has seen the movie “Vacation” where, well, Christie Brinkley practically wrecked the Griswold family and I think there may be a little karma involved here. 

Now to Pat O‘Brien and last time it was Pat on the phone, there was some chatter about getting a hooker, getting crazy and getting some coke. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

PAT O‘BRIEN, JOURNALIST:  Let‘s get crazy.get some coke.hire a hooker.  If you agree with this.(INAUDIBLE) and say “yes,” God, you‘re so (expletive deleted) hot!”

(END AUDIO CLIP)

UNGER:  Now those tapes were followed by a visit to rehab for Mr.  O‘Brien and now it‘s a tape of a different kind making the rounds on the internet.  This time it‘s a sweeter, gentler Pat O‘Brien on girlfriend, Betsy‘s, blog.  There tons of photos of the lovebirds on the featured—featured on this blog.  Pat and Betsy at industry events, Pat and Betsy hanging with celebrities like Sugar Ray Leonard and an unmasked Gene Simmons.  There‘s is a visit to roam where Pat sported the light blue outfit with a light blue fedora, hat there, and there are the sexy shadow pictures. 

Now this is Pat O‘Brien photographed in lip locked silhouette with sweetheart Betsy and if one photo‘s not enough, if you scroll down, there‘s a music video with dozens of sexy smooching pic romantically cut together.  We did not edit this, this is the actual video.  How do we know it‘s Pat, you ask?  Well, it‘s pat in the hat. 

Let‘s call in the one and only Michael Musto of the “Village Voice” to make some sense of this.

Michael, good evening. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Brain, it‘s really me, not a shadow. 

UNGER:  Michael, first of all, I mean, would you consider this a tribute video?  It seems kind of harmless, nothing to be ashamed of. 

MUSTO:  I think it‘s harmless and sweet considering it‘s the nasal TV host and the woman who‘s the object of that intended three-way, with him and that coworker he was harassing, you‘ll remember that.  No, I‘m kidding.  This is a really a wonderful asthmatic sleaze bag and the woman who loves him.  It‘s beautiful in lovely silhouette, very touching.

UNGER:  There is a gun being held to my head or actually in my ear and it‘s saying this.  Can we, you and I watch this shadow video together and just you tell me, just—let‘s talk about our feelings? 

MUSTO:  Well, I‘m feeling that she‘s brave to give somebody with that much mucus and that much facial hair, I‘m also glad he finally harassed somebody and they harassed him back.  It‘s a beautiful match.  I‘m kidding.  They‘re nice people.  I really have no feelings about this, Brian.  It‘s like watching slides of tofu, sleazy tofu in silhouette. 

UNGER:  There the weeds and—OK, moving on to the Brinkley matter, Peter Cook has, you know, apologized through his lawyer to Cindy Adam, in what sounds more like a sort of a hostage plea for help in (INAUDIBLE) can this thing sort of get anymore bizarre than this? 

MUSTO:  It is bizarre, because men always apologize when they get caught, not when they‘re doing it.  And when he was cheating on Christie with the 17-year-olds, he wasn‘t feeling very sorry, he wasn‘t feeling a lot of love for Christie at that point.  This thing has become such a circus.  That singer came forward and said, “oh I had a relationship with him too.”  Congratulations, so what.  And then the teen girl comes forward and says, well “he seduced me with gifts.”  Yeah, and it worked.  What does that make you?  And now poor Christie is TV, did you see the Miss Universe pageant?  There‘s a commercial with here advertising age defying makeup that makes you look 25 again.  Guess what?  That‘s not good enough, you got to look 17, Christie. 

UNGER:  Taking a step back and looking at this.  You have Christie Brinkley, two hot teenager, bajillions of dollars at stake here.  Where does this rank with the whole pantheon of celebrity break-ups?  I mean, does Billy Joel have a shot here at Christie on the rebound? 

MUSTO:  I say it ranks somewhere between Paris and Stavros and Ethyl Merman and Ernest Borgnine.  It‘s very, very minor, but it‘s become so public and messy, it‘s become huge, even Pat O‘Brien thinks it‘s scandalous.  But yeah, she should definitely call Billy Joel again.  I mean, people use to call them the princess and the frog, I think.  But, he‘s looking better now.  Isn‘t he?  Unfortunately he use to sing to Christie “I Love You just the way You are” and nowadays men are singing, love you just the way you were.  It‘s really hard our there for a woman—a pimp, whatever. 

UNGER:  Michael, you know, I was going to just get coffee this morning and all along the newspaper boxes there on the fronts of the papers, where this story dominates all of those tabloids.  Is that just a New York thing or is this getting play everywhere? 

MUSTO:  It‘s a really sick human nature kind of thing and I love it because I make a living out of sleazy gossip.  I could care less about war-shmar.  What war?  I want to hear about trashy personal lives of people that we really didn‘t care about two weeks ago. 

UNGER:   OK, now I‘m just going to get sleazy.  I have no other—I just am.  The Peter Cook had these relationships with this woman and then again—why cheat?  I mean, why cheat with this girl?  I mean she‘s.

MUSTO:  Well, as Billy Joel also said, “don‘t want clever conversation.”  They don‘t care about the conversation that runs out, they want a fresh piece of meat when the wife turns 52 or wins an Oscar, whichever comes first—they trade them in.  They keep the receipt, get the younger model. 

UNGER:  The one and only Michael Musto.  Thank you for joining us tonight.

MUSTO:  Thank you, Brian.

UNGER:  That‘s all we‘ve go for this edition of COUNTDOWN. I‘m Brian Unger in for the vacationing Keith Olbermann, thanks for watching. 

Our MSNBC coverage continues now “Scarborough Country,” Rita Cosby, once again in for Joe.

Hi there Rita.

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

END   

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