updated 8/30/2006 11:07:19 AM ET 2006-08-30T15:07:19

Guests: George W. Bush, E.J. Dionne

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you will talking about tomorrow?

Katrina, one year later.  A region still in ruins marks the day the storm hit.

The president touts improvement in the Gulf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I stood in Jackson Square, and I said, We‘re going to help you, and we delivered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  As is former FEMA director Michael Brown says he was the victim of White House talking points.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HARDBALL”)

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR:  To sit there and go and television and talk about how things are working well, when you know they‘re not behind the scenes, is just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The politics of Katrina.

And the politics of disagreement.  If you criticize the war on terror, are you being a fascist?  That is the word Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used when he lashed out at administration critics, liking them to those who appease the Nazis.  By gum golly, those are salty words.

Donde esta Ernesto?  Tropical storm number two may brush over Florida, but cause problems with the Carolinas and beyond.  We are tracking Ernesto.  Could it ever reach hurricane status again?

And the circus has left town.  Or has it?  The John Mark Karr world tour winds down.  The Boulder DA takes full responsibility for bringing the former man with a mullet for the most expensive DNA test in Colorado history, complete with a side of prawns, of course.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It did burn me out a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart, sitting in for Keith Olbermann.

One year ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and this week President Bush made landfall in the Gulf, yesterday in Mississippi, and today in New Orleans, Mr. Bush acknowledging there was much to be desired in the government response back then, and there‘s much left to do today.

What he has been less willing to concede is that Hurricane Katrina did lasting political damage to his presidency and created a loss of faith in voters and even fellow Republicans.

In an exclusive interview today, NBC‘s Brian Williams tried to find out whether Mr. Bush is aware of the hit he has taken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS:  You have apologized for the damage, but what about the damage to your presidency?  And, Mr. President, here‘s what I mean.  Most of the analysts call it your low point.  A lot of Americans are always going to believe that that weekend, that week, you were watching something on television other than what they were seeing.

And Professor Dyson from the University of Pennsylvania said in our broadcast last night, it was because of your patrician upbringing, that it‘s a class...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Dyson doesn‘t know—

I don‘t know Dyson, and Dyson doesn‘t know me.  But I will tell you this, when it‘s all said and done, the people will down—you know, here, down here know that I stood in Jackson Square, and I said, We‘re going to help you, and we delivered.  And that‘s—what matters, Brian, is that we help the good people here rebuild New Orleans, and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi.  And we‘re going to do that.

You know, commitments in politics sometimes mean nothing.  I made a commitment that means something, and that‘s what‘s going to happen.  And, look, I understand people second-guessing decisions, and Professor Dysons of the world say things.  My heart and my soul is to help these people.  And they know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  We‘ll have more of that interview a little bit later on in the program.

While the president today said he takes full responsibility for the federal response, former FEMA director Michael Brown took the brunt of the blame.  Yesterday, Mr. Brown said on “HARDBALL” that, from the get-go of storm management, the White House communications folks were concerned about image management, even when it conflicted with reality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HARDBALL”)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You admitted it was a mistake for you to play along with the White House message during (INAUDIBLE) -- Katrina, and you said that that message was a lie.  What was the lie?

BROWN:  The lie was that we were working as a team, and that everything was working smoothly.  And how we could go out—you know, I beat myself up almost daily for allowing this to have happened.  To sit there and go and television and talk about how things are working well, when you know they‘re behind the scenes, is just wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  After some of the nation‘s top journalists saw for themselves what detractors call a disconnect between reality on the ground and the White House message, the President Bush suffered some of his toughest political moments.

There was his failed nomination of Harriet Miers, which alienated much of his Christian right base.  There was the outsourcing of port management to a company based in Dubai, drawing fire from some of Mr. Bush‘s staunchest supporters in the war on terror.

And, of course, there has been Iraq.  A poll taken last week showed a majority of Americans, 53 percent, now consider the invasion of Iraq a mistake.  Fifty-one percent say they consider the war in Iraq separate from the war on terror.  And 46 percent said America is focused too much in Iraq and not enough elsewhere.

Now, during his interview with Brian Williams today, President Bush says he stands behind recent political remarks by members of his administration.  The reference was prompted by a new theme being sounded in the defense of the war and in attacking its critics.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spelled it out clearly today, with a history lesson on the run-up to World War II.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Over the next decades, a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be accommodated, then the carnage and the destruction of then-recent memory of World War I could be avoided.

It was a time when a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion set in among Western democracies.  When those who warned about a coming crisis, the rise of fascism and Nazism, they were ridiculed or ignored.

I recount that history because, once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  In Mr. Rumsfeld‘s analogy, terrorists are Nazis, Mr. Bush is FDR, and critics of the war, it is understood, are Neville Chamberlains, the British prime minister who failed to oppose the rise of Nazism.

Vice President Cheney yesterday also suggested that those who criticize the war in Iraq are attempting to appease terrorists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some in our own country claim retreat from Iraq would satisfy the appetite of the terrorists and get them to leave us alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  COUNTDOWN contacted Mr. Cheney‘s office to find out who he was saying has made this claim.  His staff would not name anyone, but directed us to a previous speech of Mr. Cheney‘s in which he referred to Congressman Jack Murtha and Connecticut senatorial candidate Ned Lamont.

We gave Mr. Cheney‘s office an opportunity to dispute the notion that he was referring to them.  They declined to do so but also were unable to identify a single instance when either Murtha or Lamont said that leaving Iraq would make terrorists, quote, “leave us alone.”

Of course, it‘s impossible to know whether the debate over Iraq and terror would be different today if Katrina had not happened, or if it had not changed public perception of the presidency.  But as my dad tells me, Ally (ph), you don‘t know what if, you only know what did.

So how did a natural disaster one year ago change politics in the past 365 days?

E.J. Dionne is a “Washington Post” columnist and a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution.  He joins us now to help just track Katrina‘s impact on the political landscape.

And E.J., let‘s start just simply with the basics.  How did Katrina change the way people, media, politicians see Mr. Bush?  Where was the president, let‘s say, 367 days ago?

E.J. DIONNE, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, you know, I think that‘s a good way to ask the question.

It‘s good to be with you, by the way.

Because I think the president had run into trouble in the course of the year before Katrina happened.  First, he tried to—his privatization of Social Security, which went down very badly.  Then, as you mentioned earlier, there was the whole battle over Terri Schiavo, where a lot of Americans, including conservatives, were not on the side of those trying to rip that case out of state courts and put it in federal courts.

The month of August was actually a very a bad PR month for the administration, because it focused—the news focused on Karl Rove and Valerie Plame and all that.

So that the foundations of, I think, the president‘s popularity were already rickety when the hurricane hit.  The hurricane then became, I think, extremely important, because when you go back and look at why did George Bush beat John Kerry in 2004, the last 4 or 5 points he got to win that election did not come from ideological conservatives, came from middle-of-the-road people who kind of trusted him more to protect us against unexpected threats.

And when he failed, when the administration failed in Katrina, he sort of threw away the best card he had to play with public opinion, and it reversed the presumptions.  People used to give him the benefit of the doubt.  After Katrina, people started asking a lot of questions and making a lot of criticisms.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk a little bit about today‘s remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  Can you explain to me why a fascism analogy, of all of the analogies one could make, why that one?

DIONNE:  Well, I think if you polled on the word “fascists,” it would be about the most unpopular word imaginable.  Everybody from left to right is against fascism.  And obviously, that allusion to Neville Chamberlain.

What they‘re trying to say is, Anybody who opposes our policy in Iraq is some kind of sell-out who‘s going to appease the enemy.  And what they‘re clearly trying to do is, they‘re clearly trying to shift attention away from specific questions about failures in Iraq, about why isn‘t Iraq going better.  No one‘s saying any of the things they claim their opponents are saying.  Their opponents are mostly saying, How did you guys make such a mess of this war?

But I also think they‘re trying to get Republicans to vote in the fall.  Conservatives—a lot of conservatives are very unhappy.  A lot don‘t like the big spending, the, you know, the big deficits.  They‘re split on immigration.  There are studies that show Republican can be made to be more enthusiastic about President Bush if you seem to draw this hard line on terror.

So I think a lot of this is directed at the president‘s core supporters, who might not vote this fall.

STEWART:  All right.  Before I let you go, I do want to play two sound bites for you.

First, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from today.  Let‘s listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD:  Any kind of moral or intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  All right, moral and intellectual confusion.  Now, in light of that comment about confusion, here‘s President Bush characterizing the fight back in ‘04.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We‘ve actually misnamed the war on terror.  It ought to be the, the, the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies and who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  OK, E.J., frankly, now, I‘m confused.

DIONNE:  Well, that last one sure doesn‘t fit on a bumper sticker, does it?  I mean, they‘ve been trying to rebrand this effort over and over again.  You had that long thing the president said, which I can‘t remember, even though it was a couple of seconds ago.  Then you had the war on terror.  Now you have the war on Islamofascism.

I think it sort of reflects the difficulty they‘ve had in making their core case, which is, this war in Iraq is intimately linked to the war on terror.  Now, as you showed earlier, a majority of Americans reject that link.  And that‘s very dangerous for the administration.

STEWART:  E.J. Dionne with “The Washington Post.”  Thank you so much. 

My pleasure speaking with you.

DIONNE:  Great to be with you.  Thank you.

STEWART:  Ahead, much more of Brian Williams‘ exclusive interview with President Bush.  The president on his relationship with his father, and his feelings on his impact if his presidency were to end today.

And in his brother‘s state of Florida, residents there are hoping tropical storm Ernesto causes no major headaches.  We‘ll have the latest from the Florida coast and find out if the storm‘s expected to strengthen again.

You are watching COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The sad federal response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster tarnished this administration‘s record.  The war in Iraq has not helped restore any luster either.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Brian Williams asks President Bush in an exclusive interview about that and about the public perception of his presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS:  When you take a tour of the world, you know, a lot of Americans e-mail me with their fears that, you know, some days they wake up, and it just feels to them like the end of the world is near.  And you go from North Korea to Iran to Iraq to Afghanistan, and you look at how things have changed, how Americans are viewed overseas, if that is important to you.

Do you have any moments of doubt that we fought the wrong war, that there‘s something wrong with the perception of America overseas?

BUSH:  Well, those are two different questions.  Did we fight the wrong war?  Naturally, I have no doubt.  The war came to our shores, remember that.  We were—we had a foreign policy that basically said, let‘s hope calm works, and we were attacked.

WILLIAMS:  But those weren‘t Iraqis.

BUSH:  No, no, they were—they, they weren‘t—no, I agree, they weren‘t Iraqis, nor did I ever say that Iraq ordered that attack.  But they‘re a part of—Iraq is part of the struggle against the terrorists.

Now, in terms of image, of course I worry about American image.  We, we—we‘re great at TV, and yet we‘re getting crushed in the PR front.  I personally do not believe Saddam Hussein picked up the phone and said, Al Qaeda, attack America.

WILLIAMS:  The folks who say you should have asked for some sort of sacrifice from all of us after 9/11, do they have a case, looking back on it?

BUSH:  Americans are sacrificing.  I mean, we are, we are—you know, we pay a lot of taxes.  The Americans sacrificed when they—you know, when the economy went in the tank.  Americans sacrificed when, you know, air travel was disrupted.  American taxpayers have paid a lot to help this nation recover.  I think Americans have sacrificed.

WILLIAMS:  Mr. President, I know how much you love deep psychological examinations of yourself.  While you were at Kennebunkport this last weekend, people talked about your relationship with your dad.  People mentioned that former president Clinton has been a guest at Kennebunkport more often in the last few years than you have been.

BUSH:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  And there was a lot of speculation.  Your spokesman, Tony Snow, recently all but said it‘s because of the way your father chose to end the first Gulf war that bin Laden saw weakness enough to strike the United States.  Is there a palpable...

BUSH:  Trying to figure out where you‘re going here.

WILLIAMS:  Is there a palpable tension when you get together with the former president, who happens to be your father?  Lot of the guys who work for him are not happy with the direction of things.

BUSH:  I know.  Listen, this—my relationship is adoring son.

WILLIAMS:  Do you talk shop?

BUSH:  Sometimes, yes, of course we do.  But, but—that‘s a really interesting question.  I mean, it‘s kind of conspiracy theory at its most rampant.  My dad means the world to me as a loving dad.  He gave me the greatest gift a father can give a child, which is unconditional love.

And yes, we go out and float around there trying to catch some fish and chat and talk.  But he understands what it means to be president.  He understands I have, oftentimes have information that he doesn‘t have.  And he also understands how difficult the world is today.  And I explain my strategy to him, I explain exactly what I just explained to you down there, about how I view the current tensions.

And he takes it on board, and that he leaves me with this thought, I love you, son.

WILLIAMS:  If your administration ended today, would you be satisfied with the record thus far?  Again, the view out there, I think, if you asked nine out of 10 presidential historians, high point, bullhorn in the rubble of the buildings that came down.  Low point, we‘re standing on it.  Is that fair?

BUSH:  You know, first of all, there‘s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I‘m concerned.  I think that you can‘t judge a presidency based upon a moment‘s notice.  I believe you have to take—eventually, my standing in history will be judged by people 30 or 40 years from now, who will be able to take an objective look at whether the decisions I made led to peace and prosperity.

You know, this is a job where there—you, you just—you make

decisions, and you think—do what you think is right, and you let people

But recognizing that people are going to say what‘s on their mind at the moment.

But I read three histories of George Washington last year.  The first president of the United States is still being analyzed by historians, which ought to say to this president and future presidents, do what you think is right, and eventually historians will figure out whether it made sense or not.

WILLIAMS:  We always talk about what you‘re reading.  As you know, there was a report that you have just read the works of a French philosopher.  Can you tell us...

BUSH:  “The Stranger.”

WILLIAMS:  Tell us the backstory of Camus.

BUSH:  The backstory of the book?

WILLIAMS:  Well, what led you...

BUSH:  Well, I...

WILLIAMS:  ... what led you to this?

BUSH:  I was in Crawford, and I said, I was looking for a book to read, and Laura said, You ought to try Camus.  Also read three Shakespeares.

WILLIAMS:  This is...

BUSH:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  ... a change.

BUSH:  Not really.

WILLIAMS:  You, just a few years ago, were...

BUSH:  Wait a minute.

WILLIAMS: --reading the life story of Joe DiMaggio by Richard Ben Cramer (ph), if memory serves.

BUSH:  (INAUDIBLE).

WILLIAMS:  You‘ve been on a Teddy Roosevelt reading kick.  You (INAUDIBLE) discussed...

BUSH:  (INAUDIBLE)...

WILLIAMS:  ... the last time we were here.

BUSH:  ... (INAUDIBLE) -- well, I‘m reading about the Battle of New Orleans right now.  I‘ve got a eclectic reading list.

WILLIAMS:  And now Camus.

BUSH:  Well, that was a couple of books ago.

But let me, let me, look, the key for me is to keep expectations low.

WILLIAMS:  Is that what everyone doesn‘t get?

BUSH:  I don‘t know, Brian, what they get or don‘t get.  Let me—you know, my life—look—here—here...

WILLIAMS:  (INAUDIBLE).

BUSH:  ... here‘s the thing.  I don‘t (INAUDIBLE).  Here‘s the thing. 

The great thing about the presidency is, you‘re totally exposed, and people spend a lot of—particularly if you‘re making decisions, and hard decisions, people spend a lot of time not only analyzing decisions, they analyze the decision maker.  And I understand that.

But a president must never let him get off—let, let that get him off track.  (INAUDIBLE)...

WILLIAMS:  Even if you‘re frustrated that we‘re getting something wrong?

BUSH:  You have to do what you‘re thinking.  If we‘re getting some thing wrong, we change it.

WILLIAMS:  How have you been read wrong?

BUSH:  Oh, I don‘t know about read wrong.  I mean, (INAUDIBLE), I frankly don‘t pay that much attention to it.  I don‘t want to hurt people‘s feelings about...

WILLIAMS:  Still not watching television, huh?

BUSH:  I watched a good baseball game.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Brian Williams with the president.

For continuing remembrances of Katrina, stay with us here at MSNBC.  Tonight at 10:00 is the premiere of “Rising from Ruin,” a documentary following the lives of three families hit hard by Hurricane Katrina.  That‘s “Rising from Ruin,” hosted by my good friend Lester Holt, tonight at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, only on MSNBC.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN, the formerly conjoined Herron (ph) twins hit a milestone.  They are finally out of ICU, and now doctors are beginning to focus on their psychological recovery.

Laughter is the best medicine.  So we‘ve ordered a prescription of Oddball for everyone, free refills, as long as you‘re able to stay on your blow-up doll.  Oh, like you haven‘t done that before.

OK.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

And once again, we take a short break from the real news of the day for the world-famous goofy news segment.  Tonight, a special weird drunken sports from other countries edition.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin along the Buwosko (ph) River in St. Petersburg, Russia, for the annual Festival of Whitewater Rafting and Inflatable Women.  That is the fourth annual Bubba Babba (ph) Challenge 2006.  One hundred and fifty swimmers and their blow-up companions brave the icy water and rapids for the one-kilometer race.  Contestants have to complete their date—I mean, with their dolls—to be eligible for the big prize, a free hotel room and a bike pump.

What is he doing?

Oh, to the (INAUDIBLE) to the United Kingdom, home of the big annual World Championship of Bog-Snorkeling.  It‘s snorkling in a bog.  That‘s the drinking part.  A hundred competitors here drinking booze from toilet plungers and braving the muddy bog water without the benefit of a sexy flotation device.  They swam the length of the trench and back without using conventional swimming strokes, taking special care there not to drown.

A new world champion was crowned, Mr. Hayden Pitchbull (ph) of Wales, of the bog-circling pitchforks (ph), obviously.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN, Florida hoping for no surprises from Ernesto, the tropical storm making its way through the state overnight.  We‘ll get the latest look at the conditions and the latest on the storm‘s track.

And JMK, John Mark Karr, this just in, he‘s still a big fat liar. 

We‘ll take a look back at the media circus surrounding this sad story.

All that more ahead.

But first, time now for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Theresa Mayerik, principal of Morton High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  This year, she began strict enforcement of the school‘s dress code by suspending 128 kids on the first day of school, 10 percent of the student population sent home for wearing baggy pants, (INAUDIBLE) tops, low-cut shirts, and graphic T-shirts.  An extra day of summer vacation, that‘ll learn ‘em.

Number two, a woman known only as Mrs. Li from Wohato (ph), China.  No one was injured in the head-on collision between her car and another this week.  Officials say the accident occurred when Mrs. Li let her dog take a shot at driving the car.

She says the dog always liked to sit on her lap with the little paws on the steering wheel, so she figured she‘d just give him a chance to work the pedals too, because animals who sniff each others‘ butts to say hello should really be responsible for 2,000 pounds of metal.

And number one, Dan Ruefly of Akorkick, Mellarillin (ph).  I think that‘s how you say it.  For more than a decade, he has commuted to Washington, D.C., across the (INAUDIBLE) Woodrow Wilson Bridge, one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the region.

Seven years ago he was even in a bad accident on that bridge, badly injuring his hip.  Last night just after midnight, Ruefly blew up the Woodrow Wilson bridge.  It was a controlled demolition.  He won a contest for the honor of pushing the plunger.

It is sweet revenge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Three, two, one, plunge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Just over year after Hurricane Katrina passed over Florida, one of eight storms in the past two years, residents in the Sunshine State are prepping for rain, lots of it. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the fifth hurricane of the season, Ernesto, actually he‘s been demoted.  Ernesto has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but that still has enough force to make NASA want to get its expensive space shuttle off the landing pad and into a warm, cozy hanger.  Now the trip was suppose to take 12 hours, but then the storm shifted course slightly, allowing the Space Agency to reverse their decisions six hours into the move, and return the spaceship to the launch pad in preparation for a possible flight next week. 

But while NASA thinks the shuttle “Atlantis” will be able to weather the storm, many Florida homeowners still recovering from last year‘s hurricane season, are not so sure they will.  Our correspondent Mark Potter is in South Beach Miami where residents are waiting on Ernesto. 

And Mark, what‘s the biggest concern for people there right now, wind or rain?

MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, it‘s really rain.  This is not much of a storm, in fact it was just described by the director of the National Hurricane Center as mediocre.  That hasn‘t turned out to be very much, but there is still a concern and it does have to do with the rain. 

In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, Miami-Dade, Broward County, there are some 20,000 homes that still have those blue roofs—those blue tarps on the roofs, that were damaged during last year‘s hurricane season, primarily by Katrina and Wilma, and the concern is that the winds the we‘re feeling now could blow the tarps off and then the rain, five to 10 inches or rain, could get inside those houses, collapse some of the walls, and the ceilings.  And so officials have urged all the residents of those houses to seek other shelter for their own safety.  We don‘t know how many people did that, but we do know that officials are very concerned that people could be hurt if those walls crumble because they get wet. 

But again, it‘s not very much of a storm.  It certainly could have been worse, but there are still concerns on the part of some people down here. 

STEWART:  And I am wondering about all those folks who also live in mobile homes.  That must be still a big issue. 

POTTER:  It is and people who lived in mobile homes and on the beach areas were all urged to evacuate to higher ground to some other shelter, go to other people‘s homes, very much a concern. 

STEWART:  All right.  We all know that this could have been lot worse.  It‘s the fifth named storm of the season, could have been a hurricane by now.  Why did it fall apart—Mark. 

POTTER:  In one word, Cuba.  The storm actually started to dissipate when it hit the southern edge of Haiti where two people where killed, and then it hit the southeast coast of Cuba, it went across the Sierra Maestra mountain range and stayed over Cuba for quit some time and while it was there it was torn apart and it was never able to recover, even thought the storm later exited the north coast of Cuba, heading for Florida where it is now, about to make official landfall here, but it could never recover.  Even though the waters out there in the Florida Straights are 88 degrees, just perfect for the development of a storm, the storm, by that time it was so disorganized it was never able to build up past a tropical storm status and will not become a hurricane. 

STEWART:  So Cuba helped Florida in this case. 

POTTER:  Uh-huh. 

STEWART:  Uh-huh.  Mark Potter, in South Beach.

POTTER:  Absolutely did.  Absolutely did.

STEWART:  Miami, thanks a lot, Mark. 

Even though Ernesto is slated to hit Florida as a tropical storm, their neighbors to the north a little bit nervous.  Officials have issued a hurricane watch for the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas.  We‘re joined now by NBC Weather Plus meteorologist, Bill Karins. 

And Ernesto seemed to have a little bit of wanderlust—Bill.

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  Yeah, this storm is going to defiantly going to be interesting in the future here, because this storm, Alison, as he was just talking about, has kind of done a little like, well, tourism.  It went to Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, now it‘s going to the Keys in South Florida.  And then it‘s going to take that path all the way up the East Coast, and this is where things get nervous because it‘s one thing for rain in sandy soil there in Florida, it‘s a whole different ballgame when you get that heavy rain in the mountainous terrain here of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, even some of that higher terrain there in New Jersey.  And that‘s the big concern. 

Heading through the Labor Day weekend of all things, too, so Saturday into Sunday is when we really could see some of the worst weather going through that entire region. 

Now, we have to talk a little about what‘s going to happen in South Carolina and Georgia.  It‘s been a long time since Georgia and Savannah and even Charleston has been hit by a storm.  With this forecast path, coming off the coast, here around Daytona Beach, it‘s going be over the warm water here for about 12 to 24 hours.  Now, this time it didn‘t strengthen down the Florida Straights for South Florida, it‘s still a change it would restrengthen here, and head up maybe as a strong tropical storm, or possible a weaker Category 1 hurricane.  And this area has a lot of old trees, it hasn‘t been hit by a hurricane in a long time around Charleston.  We would definitely have a lot of downed trees with all of those dead tree limbs, so that would probably be the biggest concern.  After that, Alison, it‘s going to be that flooding concern as we continue to watch this storm tracing up further towards the north. 

STEWART:  And Bill Karins, I am going ask you to keep me honest, five storms, not hurricanes, right, I misspoke? 

KARINS:  We‘ve had five tropical storms, this was the first hurricane.  I can almost argue that was barely a hurricane.  It was like 12 hours, Alison, that was it.  This year has been very polite, we‘ve been very lucky so far. 

STEWART:  All right, knock wood. 

KARINS:  I know, knock something, right?

Knock plastic.  Knock anything you got.  Meteorologist, Bill Karins with NBC Weather Plus, thanks a lot.

STEWART:  Three weeks after doctors separated the Herrin twins, the 4-year-old sisters are out of intensive care.  Now doctors are making sure they recuperate psychologically, as well. 

And poor Paris Hilton, her new album, so not a hit.  And so not a hit with Cher‘s son, either.  A little kiss and tell, Hilton style.  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Every department of my administration (BEEP) response to last (INAUDIBLE).

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR:  Brothers have to be perfective.  Except for mine, I have to be protective of him.

Oh, yeah, he‘s married, three kids, but his wife is just a control freak.

Yeah baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Kyra, your mic is on.

JAY LENO, “TONIGHT SHOW”:  I guess the guy is just crazy.  He—it looks like John Mark Karr will not be charged with a crime.  But the good news, woo, he‘s now free to go back to teaching.  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jenny has traffic.

JENNY, WXII WINSTON-SALEM TRAFFIC GIRL:  All right, I‘m all nervous, but here‘s my rap.  All right, you‘re gonna have a good, good drive today.  There ain‘t no problems on the major roadway.  Lookin‘, lookin‘ at country club things a look pretty good like Robin Hood.  Now I‘m movin‘ across the Triad (ph), yo, it ain‘t too bad, no, no, no, no, no now things look nice on 68 and I know you ain‘t going to be late.  So that was your traffic rap today.  Ma‘am let‘s get some weather from our weather girl, (INAUDIBLE), come on give it to us the weather, boy, give it to us, word. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh boy, Jenny, it‘s weather guy, by the way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  A look into the future for the Herrin twins.  How ill the formerly conjoined sisters cope mentally after their separation? 

And a look back on the whirlwind media frenzy surrounding John Mark Karr from suspect to liar and every crazy twist in between.  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In so many important respects they were two people living as one for four years.  Kendra and Maliyah Herrin were born eight weeks early and joined at the abdomen and pelvis until 22 days ago.  In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, after 26 hours of separation surgery, their condition is improving.  The twins moving from intensive care to separate recovery rooms.  After four years of literally sharing the same space, even the same organs, the young girls will have to learn to live alone after being in each others constant presence as long as they can remember.  With more on how the Herrin twins will need to make that vital adjustment, our correspondent is Ed Yates from our affiliate KSL in Salt Lake City. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED YATES, KSL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Primary Children‘s support team is learning right now just from simple things Kendra and Maliyah do and don‘t do.  Those cues will become even more evident when the girls leave intensive care and later when they go home. 

KATIE STEVENS, PRIMARY CHILDREN‘S HOSPITAL:  These girls are only four, but they‘re extremely bright, and they‘re very connected.  So sometimes we find out what is going on with one by the reaction of the other. 

YATES:  Katie Stevens, who heads up medical social work at Primary, says it‘s important to understand how the girls are adjusting psychologically to their separation. 

STEVENS:  How comfortable are they in being apart?  Of course we want to encourage them to be independent.  We also want to respect the fact that they haven‘t been independent. 

YATES:  Again, little things.  Kendra takes a wagon ride, then comes back.  Down the road as the girls maneuver more, learning how to distribute on their own bodies. 

STEVENS:  What‘s it going to be like if one of you goes somewhere and one of you doesn‘t, how can you still communicate with each other?  How can you still maintain the closeness they had without being conjoined? 

YATES:  Body language, verbal cues, play patterns, all these come into play once the girls leave ICU.

(on camera):  A doll in a hospital gown, building blocks, Playdough, for example the girls may want to mold something, then tresh it.  Play therapists say that cue is OK since it‘s an outlet for frustration or agitation. 

(voice-over):  Down the road, brothers, and sisters have always played with Maliyah and Kendra at home as one.  Now they‘ll have to share that time with both.  And for Kendra and Maliyah.

STEVENS:  If they had something they were both kind of playing with it.  Now they‘ll have separate space, with separate things, the whole dynamic will be different. 

YATES:  Ed Yates, at Primary Children‘s.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Turn to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”  In a Simpson double feature, and if only I was talking about Homer and Marge.

Songbird Jessica Simpson, at the very start of a very massive P.R.  blitz for her new album has just lost her voice.  Her publicist says because of a bruise on her vocal cord the former Mrs.  Nick Lachey has been ordered to stop singing by doctors.  That edict doesn‘t extend to her sister, Ashlee, who famously got busted lip sinking on “Saturday Night Live.”  The recent rhinoplasty poster girl just landed a gig playing with Roxy Hart in the London stage production of “Chicago,” meaning she‘ll be Tony Blare‘s problem until the end of October. 

Speaking of blond wannabe singers, surprise, surprise, Paris Hilton‘s debut CD has tanked.  In its first week the self-titled “Paris” sold a paltry 75,000 copies in the U.S. putting it at the bottom of the Billboard charts, despite the release of the first single “Stars are Blind.”  And to pump (ph) sales Hilton‘s record label rushed out her second single, “Turn it Up” but most people wanted to turn it off.  And the hotel chain heiress is facing a new embarrassment in addition to her album flop. 

Cher‘s son, Elijah Blue Allman, went on the “Howard Sterm Show” last night to relay that he had had sex with Paris Hilton before she was famous.  Now he added that he was so worried he might catch a disease off Ms.

Hilton, he scrubbed his nether regions with Tilex after the encounter. 

Now, according to MSNBC.com‘s Jeanette Walls, a source claims Paris Hilton is “not happy” about his comments, even though he described her as a sweet girl.  And I‘m sure that sweet girl bit made up for the Tilex comment, Elijah. 

Now, if you‘re planning a wedding sometime over the coming months, watch out, wedding crashers may be on the way.  Inspired by the hit film, “Wedding Crashers,” NBC has given the green light to a reality TV series of the same name.  The show will feature hidden cameras following improvisational actors as they go undercover at real weddings.  It‘ll be produced by Ashton Kutcher and other producers from MTV‘s “Punked.”  An NBC vice president said, this series has a big upside potential for hidden camera humor.  So hide your wedding plans now, if you show up at mine, someone will die.

Patsy Cline said it best, “Crazy.”  The man in the media, the Boulder district attorney meets the press to do some splainin‘ (ph).

And the press meets John Mark Karr.  Karr and Cosby, will this ever end?  That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  When John Mark Karr became a suspect in the killing of JonBenet Ramsey he claimed he was with the girl when she died.  The 10-year-old case suddenly moved to hyperactive center stage for almost two weeks, but late yesterday the revelation that his DNA did not match that at crime scene led the Boulder district attorney not to file charges against him, and as they say, let the recriminations begin. 

In our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, yes our long national cable news nightmare is over, just not for the Boulder D.A., Mary Lacy.  Ms. Lacy stepped up to full responsibility today for every inch of the investigation, including the expense of getting Mr. Karr back to the U.S.  and she was well aware of some public anger. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY LACY, BOULDER, CO DISTRICT ATTORNEY:  The decisions were mine, the responsibility is mine and I should be held accountable for all decisions in this case.  Last night I was preparing to leave, I received a telephone call and he said, this was a voicemail, he said you should be tarred and feathered and run out of town and I want to you call me and tell me you are going to resign.  His first question was, why didn‘t you surreptitiously take DNA in Bangkok before you took this person into custody> We did.  We took surreptitious DNA on multiple occasions. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  But the bottom line, D.A.  Lacy said was it a pristine sample was need and ultimately that meant getting Mr. Karr to Boulder. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LACY:  I‘m not embarrassed.  I feel bad for a community that questions what we did because, you know, they‘ve lost some trust in the system.  Before you become judgmental, try to place yourself back in our spot starting in May and coming forward, would you have made decisions differently or would you have found flight and safety of children an important factor?  Important enough to proceed the way we did? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Today‘s 90-minute news conference came complete with one unwelcome interruption. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(FIRE ALARM)

LACY:  Oh my gosh.  We had nothing to do it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The fire alarm is going off.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  A fire alarm seemed fitting in a case that sets off all kinds of false alarms and often sent the media scurrying over the most minute details and for the record, COUNTDOWN does not exclude itself from that judgment.  Here‘s some of the highlights or perhaps lowlights. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  NBC NEWS has learned that JonBenet Ramsey‘s father believes that authorities in Colorado have made some sort of arrest in connection with his daughter‘s murder. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John Mark Karr, a 41-year-old man who has been charged in connection with the death of JonBenet Ramsey. 

IAN WILLIAMS, ITN NEWS:  He was picked up from his cell at that immigration detention center in the middle of the afternoon. 

Intriguing Lieutenant General Suap (ph) who is the of the immigration police and said that he has invited Karr to sing along the Bee Gee‘s song, “Words,” after Karr had told him that he liked that band.  But, Karr declined the offer. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are also getting in brand new video right now.  You may not believe this, take a look.  This is video from 1987 of John Mark Karr singing at a friend‘s wedding.  You can see him here, playing the guitar; he‘s got much longer hair, much more hair, quite frankly.  John Mark Karr here, holding up a pair of shorts hiding his face.  Incredible. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The journey home has begun. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  JonBenet Ramsey‘s confessed killer flying back to the U.S. in the lap of luxury.  On the menu, pate, roast duck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Fried king prawns and chocolate cake. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Steamed rice, broccoli and chocolate cake.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Champagne, drank beer and wine. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Karr had roast duck with soy sauce and yellow noodles.  And meal No. 3 consisted of pizza, chocolates and Evian water. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s like the BBIB (ph), let‘s be honest about it.  So, you can understand when he goes to the bathroom there will be 20 people watching him on him. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Any idea what‘s on the menu today for him? 

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  He is going be getting jail chow. 

CONTESSA BREWER, MSNBC NEWS:  There‘s a lot of traffic outside the courthouse.  Inside what we‘re looking at is a ceiling. 

RITA COSBY, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  As we‘re looking again, this is the ceiling of the courthouse there in Los Angeles. 

BREWER:  There‘s the ceiling of the courthouse. 

COSBY:  (INAUDIBLE) to be getting underway, and again, looking at the picture, that is the ceiling. 

BREWER:  There‘s the ceiling tiles we are getting to know by heart at this point. 

OKWU:  We‘re told from inside the courtroom that a glass box has been transported into the courtroom and they‘re putting it into place. 

BREWER:  Michael, let me interrupt you, I got to just clarify here, when you say glass box, is that your assumption that—or are you getting details that this is a person-sized glass box that he‘s actually going be in it or are you talking about a small glass box? 

OKWU:  No, we‘re certainly not talking about a small glass box.  He was expected to be placed in some sort after of a cage—Contessa. 

BREWER:  Michael, are you prepared to be on John Stewart‘s Comedy Central show tonight, talking about your big glass box and how many people are going to be inside it? 

OKWU:  I know I was really dancing around that, Contessa.  But you know, my duty as a correspondent is to bring you latest from the courtroom and... 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is breaking news out of Long Beach, California it is our understanding at this moment, that this is the airplane that has been sent to pick up John Mark Karr. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s cuffed, he‘s shackled, they‘ll put him in the back of the plane, they‘ll sit him down, and he won‘t be drinking alcohol. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re looking at a picture, also, on the right side of your screen of a small—relatively small turbo cropper, just taking off from Long Beach Airport. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The International Astronomical Union coldly announced in (INAUDIBLE) today, Pluto is dead.  Ouch!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Breaking news into MSNBC, wheels on the ground in Boulder, Colorado. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Looks like they‘re going to go ahead and make a right-hand turn, so that‘s where they‘re going, not sure—the destination as far as we know is the Boulder County jail.

STEWART:  KUSA is reporting that the John Mark Karr DNA is not, I repeat not a match. 

COSBY:  And now we‘re getting word no charges will officially be filed against John Mark Karr. 

BREWER:  OK, I wanted to ask you about the picture making the round. 

There you are pressed up against the car window. 

COSBY:  He gave me a 30-45 second stare looking only, seemingly, at me. 

BREWER:  Did that creep you out? 

COSBY:  It did creep you out. 

BREWER:   Was he creeped outlook out looking back at you? 

COSBY:  Yeah.  Well, he—yeah, yeah, it was worse for him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  The John Mark Karr media circus from Bangkok to Boulder to bust.  Look for the sequel, “Smut in Sonoma” as Karr will be facing child porn charges there.  That‘s it for the Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN, I‘m Alison Stewart for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching.

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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