updated 10/5/2006 11:07:03 AM ET 2006-10-05T15:07:03

Guests: Paul Kurtz, Michael Musto

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

Who knew what, and how long ago?  Mark Foley‘s former chief of staff says he warned the office of Speaker of the House Hastert three years ago.  Former male congressional pages say they were warned about Foley 11 years ago.

The Justice Department asks the House to preserve the evidence and Foley‘s computers.  The conservative “Washington Times” calls for Hastert‘s resignation.  A Kentucky Republican cancels his fundraiser with the speaker, while the first lady campaigns for the New York congressman who knew of Foley‘s Internet messages but urged him to stand for reelection anyway, and who just happened to get $100,000 donation from Foley.

We will try to timeline this sorry mess and document the hurricane-strength damage control, including that remarkable mistake by Fox identifying Republican Foley as a Democrat.

And the hurricane-strength damage control in progress at the White House, version three of what Secretary Rice remembers about the July 2001 briefing about al Qaeda plots within the U.S.  First it was, she remembered nothing.  Then it was, yes, it happened, but it wasn‘t about domestic threats.  Now it‘s, none of it was new.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  She had been told that there was a domestic threat, that that was, you know, and that was the feature of the meeting.  I‘m surprised that they wouldn‘t have such a briefing for the attorney general as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of surprise, “I know a lot of people think I‘m insane and that drunk driving photo of me doesn‘t help.”  Nah, you think?  Nick Nolte finally explains why he looked like this.  “What a lot of people don‘t know is, I had just finished”—dot, dot, dot --  How will he finish that sentence?  I just finished drinking a year‘s supply of tequila?  I had just finished hot-wiring my upper torso?  I just finished trick-or-treating as Albert Einstein?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  This is Wednesday, October 4, 34 days until the 2006 midterm elections.

And Richard Nixon speaks to politicians from beyond yet again.  It‘s never the crime, it‘s the coverup.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Congressman Mark Foley is safely in the gentler penalty box that is rehab, while Foley‘s former chief of staff had to quit his most recent job today, then told reporters he‘d warned the office of Speaker of the House Hastert three years ago about Foley, and he‘s now reportedly heading to tell all tomorrow to the FBI, while a second threat of lying (ph) stretches in another direction, and still further back in time, new reports that male congressional pages were warned about a then-freshman Republican from Florida in 1995, Dennis Hastert‘s post as speaker of the House clearly hanging by a thread tonight, “The New York Times” reporting that one plan being floated by senior Republicans is for Mr. Hastert to announce that he would not seek reelection as speaker should the Republicans retain control of the House.

That would thereby save themselves a leadership fight before election day, the latest charges against the speaker coming from Kirk Fordham, as we mentioned, resigning today from his job as chief of staff for Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York.  He used to serve in the same capacity for Congressman Foley and is alleged to have protected his boss from any investigation of his behavior, Mr. Fordham saying today he is being made a scapegoat by other senior congressional staff members, quote, “At no point ever did I ask anyone to block any inquiries into Foley‘s actions or behavior.  I will fully disclose to the FBI and the House Ethics Committee any and all meetings and phone calls I had with senior staffers in the House leadership about any of Foley‘s inappropriate activities.”

It‘s Fordham who said that as Foley‘s chief of staff, he warned Hastert‘s chief of staff, Scott Palmer, in 2003, adding to ABC News that he was then told Palmer had met with Congressman Foley and that Hastert knew about that meeting.  Mr. Palmer tonight says, “What Kirk Fordham said did not happen,” the last new development of the day, the Justice Department sending a letter to the House counsel, asking that the computer and documents in Mr. Foley‘s office be protected to preserve any potential evidence as it seeks a case against Foley.

We‘ll attempt to recap the story so far in a moment.

First, let‘s bring in our own political correspondent David Shuster in Washington.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Late today, a fellow Republican congressman, Mr. Lewis of Kentucky, canceled this fundraising event he has with the speaker, Hastert, next week.  The third lead Republican in the House, Mr. Blunt, said he would have handled this differently than Mr. Hastert has.  When does this start to qualify as death by a thousand cuts for the speaker?

SHUSTER:  It‘s already started, Keith.  And, in fact, tonight, we‘ve been told by every lawmaker, every Republican lawmaker we‘ve called has said that Dennis Hastert will not be the speaker of the House this time next week.  Furthermore, some Republicans say that a group of top Republicans in the House have already started talking amongst themselves about which one of them is going to make the call to Denny Hastert or personally fly and see him and make the case that the Republicans simply cannot survive this week with him as speaker, and that he has to step down.

That‘s how serious it is for the Republicans.  They say they are dead unless Speaker Hastert resigns in the next week.

Again, Keith, they say the problem is not that Denny Hastert was the speaker of the House at a time when Congressman Foley was having these lewd exchanges with the congressional pages and the former pages, the problem, they say, has been the way that Speaker Hastert and the top leadership handled it this week.

On Monday, Hastert said that he couldn‘t remember the e-mails.  Then on Tuesday, (INAUDIBLE) he told Rush Limbaugh he suddenly had a memory (INAUDIBLE) being refreshed, and that he did remember a contact a year ago.  Now it turns out perhaps two years ago.  Republicans say the shifting stories, the shifting explanations, that in and of itself is going to cost Denny Hastert his job as speaker.

OLBERMANN:  But David, if Hastert goes down, wouldn‘t it also implicate the other Republican lawmakers, like Congressman Reynolds and the majority leader, Mr. Boehner?  Are—is there not something of a domino conceivably in effect here?

SHUSTER:  Absolutely.  And Republicans we speak with tonight, Keith, say that there‘s simply no protection for these congressmen.  For Boehner, for example, they say that his problem was that he was the first one to essentially shoot at Denny Hastert Friday night, saying, Well, I had spoken to Hastert.  Then Boehner said, No, I hadn‘t.  Then again on the radio station in Ohio, Boehner said, Well, yes, I did speak to Hastert.  Boehner‘s story has shifted all over the place.

Reynolds‘ problem, as you mentioned, is that Reynolds took money from Foley.  Furthermore, Reynolds is in a heck of a fight for his reelection seat in New York.  And that in and of itself might cause the major problem for him.

OLBERMANN:  It now appears, we‘re hearing, that male pages were first warned to steer clear of Congressman Foley, at least according to those that “The Washington Post” spoke to, in 1995.  That‘s 11 classes of pages ago.  Is there the potential here for this story to keep getting worse, no matter who resigns, as long as there are more former pages who have not come forward?

SHUSTER:  Absolutely.  And the great fear, Keith, is, when you look at the news conference that Foley‘s lawyer had last night, he went to great pains to say Congressman Foley did not have sex with any minors.  The problem with that is that the age of a minor in Florida is 18, in Washington it‘s 16.  So you still have the ugly prospect that somebody might emerge who was a page, who had some sort of relationship with Congressman Foley.

This thing could get even uglier, as long as attention is still focused on Foley, and that‘s another reason why Republicans say they need a clean break from everybody who‘s associated with this.

OLBERMANN:  And briefly, David, any guidance yet in Washington about whether or not there might have been crimes committed here outside of that definitional question that you just raised about the age of consent?

SHUSTER:  Well, law enforcement officials say that based on what we know now, just based on the e-mails and the computer messages and the text messages, that is not enough, they say, to actually charge Foley, because the point being that it is not illegal to merely have sexual banter with a minor, that it‘s got to be something greater than that.  But that‘s why they would look at the text messages and see, for example, if Foley tried to arrange any liaisons or any meetings with these youngsters at the time that he was sending his text messages.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who, as you‘ve heard there, his sources suggesting to him throughout Capitol Hill that Dennis Hastert will not be speaker of the House of Representatives this time next week.

David, great thanks for your reporting tonight.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  It is and should be the case that the Foley scandal is fodder for politics now.  But is there any evidence that those who knew, including the most powerful members of Congress, were motivated by politics in their handling of it before it became public, (INAUDIBLE) real political motive to cover up Mr. Foley‘s actions and keep him in office, not just protecting his House seat and control of the House, but preserving Foley‘s cash flow?  He has given $750,000 dollars to Republican campaigns, most of it to the RNC, the campaign committee that doles out money to House Republicans.

But mere motive is not sufficient to determine whether politics actually trumped the safety of minors.  We‘re attempting tonight to examine the correlation between what was said and what was done.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Last September, Republican Congressman Rodney Alexander learned that one of his pages had been sent e-mails by Foley.  Alexander‘s staff then contacted Speaker Dennis Hastert‘s office.  According to “Roll Call,” they were referred to Hastert‘s top political adviser.  Hastert‘s office notified the House clerk, who oversees the page program, and told Republican Congressman John Shimkus, who chairs the three-person page board.

The page board, however, is responsible for the behavior of the pages.  Member behavior is overseen by the Ethics Committee.  The Ethics Committee was not told.  In fact, Shimkus had a hint of Foley‘s interest in pages back in 2002.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2002)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And now, someone who spends a lot of time with you also, Mr. Mark Foley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But Shimkus didn‘t tell the other two members of Congress who sit on the page board about the new e-mails.  Shimkus only told Foley, and only told him to stop e-mailing the page who had come forward.

But when that page contacted Alexander‘s office, he included additional information, information not acted on, like this, “Karianna (ph) said there was a congressman that did hit on pages,” and the fact that Foley e-mailed another page, Will, who Foley said was “in really great shape.”  No one appears to have made any effort to interview Karianna or Will or determine whether Foley did not just e-mail but also hit on pages.

This spring, Alexander decided to tell two more people about Foley‘s e-mails, majority leader John Boehner and Congressman Tom Reynolds, whose primary job chairing the Republican Campaign Committee is to help it win elections, and who, knowing about these e-mails, later still urged Foley to run again this year.

Speaker Hastert first said he had only learned about Foley last Friday.  But Boehner disputed that, saying Hastert told him in the spring that it was taken care of.  Boehner first retracted his statement, but changed back again on Monday of this week.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, WLW RADIO)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER ®, MAJORITY LEADER:  I believe I talked to the speaker, and he told me it had been taken care of.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  GOP sources telling “Roll Call” that Reynolds had told Hastert earlier in 2006, shortly after the February 2 GOP leadership elections, all that coming before today‘s report that Hastert‘s office had been warned about Foley in 2003 by Kirk Fordham.  According to “The L.A.  Times,” Mr. Fordham, who had worked for Foley, used to accompany the congressman, quote, “to keep him out of trouble.”

Fordham moved on to work, until today, for Congressman Reynolds.  His campaign committee had gotten $100,000 in August from Foley.  And last week, Fordham was back advising Foley before ABC broke the story about the Internet communications.  ABC says Fordham offered an exclusive about Foley‘s resignation if ABC would keep Foley‘s instant messages a secret.

Fordham‘s own lawyer tells “The L.A. Times”, quote, “It was an attempt to shield his boss from the political storm.”  And about that resignation, Fordham credits Reynolds with getting Foley to resign.  Foley‘s lawyer says otherwise.

DAVID ROTH, ATTORNEY FOR MARK FOLEY:  This was a life decision, not a tactical one made by others.

OLBERMANN:  Speaker Hastert took credit too.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT ®, HOUSE SPEAKER:  We found about—out about it, asked him to resign.  He did resign.  He‘s gone.  We have...

OLBERMANN:  This, despite the fact that he had told reporters the day before, quote, “We really didn‘t have a chance to ask him to resign.”  Once the story did get out, it was first minimized.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There have been other scandals, as you know, that have been more than simply naughty e-mails.

OLBERMANN:  Then the Republican Party shot down Democratic calls for immediate investigations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... California.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  Mr. Speaker...

(CROSSTALK)

PELOSI:  ... as a mother and a grandmother and a leader of this House Democrats, on that I (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN:  Regardless of who is playing politics now, ABC says its source was not a Democrat, and, in fact, only Republicans knew about all this before last week.

On the issue of how they viewed it before last week, Hastert is clear.  He may not remember if Reynolds told him about Foley last spring, but he does remember whether the context was about protecting children, or protecting someone else.

HASTERT:  He would have told me that, or told me that in the context, maybe a half a dozen or a dozen other things.  I don‘t remember that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I mean, other allegations of improper e-mails?

HASTERT:  No, just other things that—what might have affected campaigns.  It‘s probably a whole stack of political things that we were going through at the time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Needless to say, politicians are spinning this like workmen at a Fiberglas factory.  Today, Congressman Reynolds loses his chief of staff.  The first lady supports Congressman Reynolds at a fundraiser.

And later, talk about spin.  First Condi Rice can‘t remember whether she got a warning about al Qaeda‘s domestic plotting on July 10, 2001.  Then her office confirmed that meeting.  Now it has helpfully pointed out the other officials who received similar warnings.  If we‘re lucky, we‘ll get to see the actual moment the buck started getting passed.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Inversely proportional to the benefits of covering up Mark Foley‘s inappropriate relationships with teenaged boys is the potential devastation being wrought upon his party now that the scandal has been uncovered.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s the kind of damage that even the first lady, Laura Bush, might not be able to repair, the most beloved current White House occupant today doing her best, though, dropping in on a luncheon for Congressman Tom Reynolds outside Buffalo, New York, only hours before Reynolds‘ chief of staff would hand in his resignation, in part because of his role in the scandal.

If you can top the immunizing effect of the first lady, how about trying to surround yourself with young children during a news conference, as Mr. Reynolds did yesterday, and refusing requests to ask them to leave, thereby preventing the reporters gathered from asking any questions about the sexually explicit nature of the Congressman Foley e-mails, and why the matter landed in Mr. Reynolds‘ inbox, as chairman of the effort to get Republicans reelected, instead of, say, with the Ethics Committee.

Let‘s call in our own Joe Scarborough of “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”  He was in the Florida congressional delegation alongside Mark Foley in the mid- and late ‘90s.

Joe, thanks for taking some time out of your prep for your show at the top of the hour.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  First, from your former vantage point, can you add anything to this story factually?  Do you recall people warning each other about Mark Foley?  Did he evidence signs of alcoholism or anything else that (INAUDIBLE)...

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no.  I mean, I knew Mark very well starting back in 1994.  I spent a lot of time with him at political events, and at meals and party functions, at conventions where there‘s a lot of drinking.  I never, I just never thought of the guy having any problem with alcohol.

And as far as warnings in the speaker‘s office, (INAUDIBLE) the fact that Kirk Fordham‘s now coming forward and saying that he warned Denny Hastert as several years ago means one thing and one thing only, and that is that Denny Hastert is dead man walking.  There is no way that a guy who plans to make his money on Capitol Hill for the rest of his life would turn against a speaker unless he thought that speaker was on his way out.

It‘s—I mean, that‘s really the most shocking news today politically, that Kirk Fordham would turn and claim—because, you know, I know Kirk very well, and I know Mark Foley very well.  These two people were inseparable.  They were as close as any two could be politically.  And there‘s just no way that he would turn on Mark Foley.  And, of course, as you said, he went to his side for the first time in several years when the ABC‘s story was about to hit.

So it just sounds like an effort to throw Denny Hastert overboard of a ship that‘s already sinking.

OLBERMANN:  And that dovetails with what David Shuster is reporting from Washington from the people he‘s been in touch with today.

But now we (INAUDIBLE) -- we have, we have Mr. Fordham‘s advisory today that he put the word out on Foley to the speaker‘s office in, in, in 2002, a dozen ex-pages saying they were warned about him when he was a freshman in ‘95.  Even in this life-in-a-blender world of modern politics, how could the most Machiavellian of political machines keep a lid on a story like this for any length of time, let alone three and a half, four years, or 11 years?  How is that possible?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I don‘t, I, I, I find that hard to believe, that actually Kirk Fordham ever went to the speaker‘s office and told him three, three and a half years ago.  I do believe the speaker was told six, seven, eight months ago.  Because, as you know, I mean, everyone talks in Washington.  And if—again, I was around Foley for a long time.  If I thought that, or if I‘d heard that he had had inappropriate contacts with pages sometime back, then certainly I would have known about it.

I just—I personally think that‘s spin coming from Kirk Fordham, who‘s right now doing what the first lady‘s trying to do, and that‘s save Tom Reynolds‘ neck, because the last thing you want to do is have the head of your congressional committee go down.  And, I mean, if he‘s down five, six, seven points in the polls the last three, four weeks because of this scandal, that‘s bad news, more bad news for the Republican Party.

It really can‘t get much worse.  But when you have the head of your congressional committee going up in flames, that‘s, that spells very, very bad news for the rest of the party.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and the polls show that.  Just briefly to run through this, according to the Zogby poll for Reuters, Democrats now holding that lead in 11 of the 15 supposed key Republican-held House seats.  Last night, from the NBC News poll, 41 percent of Americans saying that the news that they have heard or seen or heard over the past few weeks has made them less favorable toward continued Republican control of Congress.  Is Hastert being thrown under the bus?  Is that sufficient for the Republicans to respond to this?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know what, Keith?  They‘ve already hit the iceberg.  The “Titanic”‘s going down.  There‘s nothing they can do to stop this disaster from happening.  And actually, you know, Karl Rove has made the decision.  And, I mean, I certainly haven‘t talked to him, but I‘m sure he‘s already made the decision, It‘s too late, just throwing him, throwing the speaker overboard will make him look desperate.

No, it‘s all over.  You look at a race like Chris Shays, he‘s down 5 points in the Zogby poll up in Connecticut.  That is a bad omen for the rest of the Republican Party.  This could be a (INAUDIBLE) a landslide as big as 1994 or 1980.

OLBERMANN:  Joe Scarborough, who, of course, with “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” follows us every night here at 9:00 p.m., and we‘ll have much more on this story and the ramifications as it continues to evolve throughout the evening.

Joe, many thanks.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks a lot, Keith.  Appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  My pleasure.

There is, of course, damage control and spin, and much as we might like to live in a world where it does not exist, it does.  And if it is not bipartisan, it certainly is nonpartisan.  But then there is outright misdirection, perhaps even boldfaced lying.

On at least two and probably three occasions during the first run of Fox News Channel‘s “O‘Reilly Factor” last night, former congressman Foley was identified in an onscreen graphic as a Democrat.  He is, of course, a Republican.

The inaccuracy went on the air even though the O‘Reilly program is not live but rather pretaped several hours before it is broadcast.  This was not corrected during the telecast.  It was not acknowledge, on-air or off, by Fox.  Later replays of the program simply aired without the onscreen graphics.  They were not replaced by correct graphics identifying Foley as a Republican.

O‘Reilly‘s inaccuracy could have been a mistake.  Acknowledging it and apologizing for it probably would erase the lingering suspicions, though, that it was deliberate.

Of course, things aren‘t going particularly well over there this week.  This past Monday, this newscast finished in first place in the 25 to 54 audience during the second quarter of 8:00 to 9:00 p.m. hour, 33,000 more than O‘Reilly.  And the full hourly ratings, which Fox likes to wield like a club against all critics, showed this newscast had an audience 86 percent the size of O‘Reilly‘s.

How much of the audience at the meetings in rehab really need the help?  And how much just really need the hiding place?  Mark Foley‘s political problems turning rehab into a punchline this week.

Talk about rehab, nothing worse than a horse with a drinking problem. 

You can lead a horse to the bar, and evidently you can make him drink.

That‘s ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That fame is indeed fleeting can be verified by the story of boxer William Young Stribling (ph).  He was light-heavyweight champion of the world for a total of three hours.  On this date in 1923, he defeated Mike McTeague by knocking him down in the 10th round and was awarded McTeague‘s championship.  Took boxing officials the three hours to realize that their own rules insisted the championship could only change hands in the event of a knockout.  Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Stribling.

On that note, let‘s pay Oddball.

And it‘s a special edition, animals that should check into alcohol rehab, but at least they‘re not congressmen.  Starting in Jarrow (ph) in England at the Alexander Pub, where Peggy the carthorse just loves to booze it up with the regulars.  She‘s 12 years old, and she‘s been coming to the pub for years with her owner, who says he almost never lets Peggy drive on the way home.

In Colorado, the old rhetorical question, does a bear crap in the woods?  (INAUDIBLE) he‘s this drunk, he might just do this anywhere.  Look at yourself, Yogi.  Look at yourself.  You‘re a disgrace to your entire species.  Wildlife officials say the bear ate too many fermented apples, got himself so intoxicated he could barely walk, as you may have notice.  He stumbled around his suburban neighborhood cursing at passersby and falling repeatedly.  Luckily, he was shot with a tranquilizer dart before he could get to a computer and start sending instant messages to pages.

The fallout continues over “State of Denial” tonight.  First, it was Dr. Rice who couldn‘t remember getting a pre-9/11 warning on July 10.  Now, her office has corrected that, and thrown another member of the administration under the bus in her place.

And most famous mug shot ever.  Four years later, Nick Nolte is finally offering an explanation.

Details ahead.

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

A theme tonight, political panic.  Number three, Congressman Sam Farr of California, hoping to help the disaster-stricken spinach industry by holding a public spinach-eating news conference.  Small problem, he couldn‘t find any spinach for sale at area supermarkets.

Number two, Democratic State Senator Randy White of Charleston, West Virginia, trying to explain the compact disk full of photos sent to a TV station showing the married father of three standing around with two other men, and all they‘re wearing is body paint.

OLBERMANN:  And No. 1, Congressman Don Sherwood, Republican for Scranton whose story is probably best summed up by the “Associated Press” which reports that he “Says in a television ad that he‘s truly sorry for cheating on his wife but denies ever abusing the woman he had the affair with.”  And that is warning sign No. 1 to those of you politicians who think your campaign might be in trouble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  About a month ago the push began in earnest from the Bush administration; refocus the upcoming election campaign on 9/11.  And then came Bob Woodward‘s new book “State of Denial” and a disturbing story of warnings perhaps ignored by Condoleezza Rice two months and a day before the attacks.  All right, how about a re-refocus?

In our third story in the COUNTDOWN the meeting between then National Security Advisor Rice and top counter-terror experts now described as a 10 on a scale from one go 10, and Miss Rice‘s own spokesman finally confirming the session saying that Miss Rice urged Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the Attorney General John Ashcroft to receive the same briefing. 

The Woodward assertion that by July 10, 2001, CIA director George Tenant and his counter-terrorism chief, Cofer Black, presented “Intelligence showing the increasing likelihood that al Qaeda would soon attack the U.S.”  He also reported that now Secretary Rice was polite during the briefing, but that the CIA officials felt the brush-off. 

Rice had said she couldn‘t recall such a meeting.  All evidence to the contrary.  Now her chief spokesman has finally confirmed the session took place on or around July 10, 2001, but he hastens to add, “The information presented in this meeting was not new, rather it was a good summary from the threat reporting from the previous several weeks.”

That characterization contradicted in Woodward‘s book.  He described it as, “The starkest warning the CIA officials had given the White House on bin Laden and al Qaeda.”  And an unnamed senior intelligence official who helped prepare the briefing, has now described it as “A 10 on a scale of one to 10.  The briefing was intended to connect the dots contained in other intelligence reports and paint a very clear picture of the threat posed by bin Laden.”

Indeed, according to her current spokesman, now Secretary Rice asked that this same information be briefed to Secretary Rumsfeld and then Attorney General Ashcroft about a week later.  A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information about what Rumsfeld may have then been told.  Mr.  Ashcroft says he was never briefed by Mr. Tenant or Mr. Black.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, FMR.  ATTORNEY GENERAL:  If there had been such a meeting that had taken place with Ms. Rice and she had been told that there was a domestic threat, that that, you know, and that was the feature of the meeting, I‘m surprised that they wouldn‘t have such a briefing for the attorney general as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To summarize this, according to Secretary Rice‘s own spokesman, she thought the briefing contained nothing new yet apparently felt it was important enough for both Rumsfeld and Ashcroft to be similarly informed. 

Joining us now for his perspective, once again, Paul Kurtz, who, as the National Security‘s Director for Counter-Terrorism during the first eight months of the Bush administration.  Served as Richard Clarke‘s right-hand man. 

Mr. Kurtz, thank you again for some of your time tonight, sir. 

PAUL KURTZ, FMR.  NSC DIR.  FOR COUNTER-TERRORISM:  It‘s good to be back.  Thank you for asking me.

OLBERMANN:  This is the first time we‘ve spoken with you since Woodward‘s reporting of this July 10 meeting.  Dr.  Rice‘s spokesman says nothing new, it was nothing new, but the National Archives are showing that Mr. Tenant thought that what Cofer Black had told him was so important he‘d called for a car in an urgent rush and he‘s asked for an immediate meeting at the White House with Dr.  Rice.  Are these views as contradictory as they seem?  Do we know which one is closest to the facts of that time?

KURTZ:  Well, I think we have to take a Woodward‘s assertion in some context.  If you go back to the March timeframe we were getting a great deal of intelligence information coming through a variety of sources saying that some sort of an attack was going to take place—hostages, might be taken, we might have storming of an embassy and the National Security Council and the CIA and FBI were all working with a great deal of information. 

This information was being passed up to Dr.  Rice and Steve Hadley, her deputy, and dispersed among other agencies.  And if you look at the 9/11 Commission report, you know, it‘s very clear, in chapter eight of the report, that the system was blinking red.  It was clear that something was coming of a spectacular nature.  So, this assertion that this particular meeting was of a tremendous value and was something different than everything seen before, I‘m not so sure given the overall context of what was going on in the summer of 2001. 

The CIA director, Mr. Tenant, apparently disagrees intensely with Mr.  Woodward on one point saying that Dr.  Rice did understand the gravity of what he told her and what Cofer Black told her in that meeting.  But if that‘s correct and Dr.  Rice understood the gravity, did that gravity get turned off?  Did it disappear somewhere? 

KURTZ:  No, I don‘t think so.  From what she said, she asked that other principals be briefed—secretary of defense and the attorney general and that‘s appropriate, in fact that happens all the time.  When someone receives a briefing they ask that others within the administration be briefed.  So that part is normal. 

I think what the failure here that we have—failure as a government is at the strategic level.  In other words, we had report, after report, after report coming in, but the NSC the cabinet level officers looking after our homeland security and national security did not meet until September 11.  It was an ad hoc approach until that time. 

It‘s not to say, though, I want to be clear, that during the summer of 2001, a great deal of activity was underway at the operational level.  In other words, making sure the FAA knew what was going on, getting the word out to the FBI offices across the United States, getting word overseas. 

But there was no real specific information that could help us understand exactly what was coming on September 11. 

OLBERMANN:  Theoretically there could probably be a thousand answers to the question why, if this meeting be spotlighted in retrospect, this July 10 meeting, the briefing, why was not a focus of the 9/11 Commission report?  Is there one answer to that or are we just looking too hard at one spot along a spectrum? 

KURTZ:  We make may be looking at one spot too hard along that spectrum.  I think what we‘re going to see over time, as people go to the National Archives and they look at the materials that the 9/11 Commission put together that they‘re going to be different facts that will come out, if you will, that will be highlighted more than others.  And Historians will ultimately have their view, they‘ll put nuances on different events as to, you know, what ultimately happened and what was important. 

I think it is important to think about the 9/11 being a bipartisan group working together to bring together these facts in one place. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul Kurtz, National Security Council director for Counter-Terrorism at Richard Clarke‘s side in the critical months before 9/11.  Once again, sir, we thank you for your time. 

KURTZ:  Thank you for asking me.

OLBERMANN:  You heard, of course, of the president‘s remarks this week that—quoting him here, “If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party, it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is wait until we‘re attacked again.”

It‘s an extraordinary statement and an outrageous statement which again calls into question the honesty, even the collective emotional health of Mr. Bush‘s administration.  We will explore its disturbing implications tomorrow night here in a another special comment, COUNTDOWN 8:00 and Midnight Eastern, 5:00 and 9:00 p.m.  Pacific, tomorrow night here. 

Sometimes history deserves to be rewritten.  A computer programmer may now have settled a mystery.  Neil Armstrong‘s first word, first man on the moon were, what again?

And the mystery of the mug shot.  This only too four years.  Nick Nolte has finally told the back story and there were no jumper cables involved. 

Details ahead, but first, here now a special utterly self-indulgent edition of COUNTDOWN “Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  You‘ve interviewed him. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “LATE SHOW”:  He‘s been here a couple of times, yeah.

OLBERMANN:  You know the drill.  He makes a lot of mistakes and I just point them out.  And he decides to call the cops on me.  I‘m not really sure how that works. 

LETTERMAN:  Somebody called in and asked him about you on his radio show. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, he mentioned my name, and they had—as with all radio shows, the have these 10 second delays, he dropped the call.  The guy swears he said was “What are you ragging on Olbermann for” and he comes on and he goes, “You know, Mike, we have phone numbers.  We have these phone numbers of people who call in.  Could be Mike will be getting a visit from FOX security.”

(LAUGHTER)

And I‘m listening to this and I‘m going, “Thank you lord!” And then the second part he says, “And maybe his local authorities will be stopping by too.”  I thought Bill thinks he has his own police. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Crowded syllables on the moon.  The confusion over what exactly Neil Armstrong said.  And the historic moment may have been settled.  And crowed rehabs here on Earth.  As the scandal surrounding him seem close to claiming the speaker of the House.  Congressman Foley taking heartfelt stock or taking advantage of a get out of trouble free card.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Shortly after the first moon landing a comedian Robert Kline observed that if Astronaut Neil Armstrong had wanted to set up himself and family for 25 lifetimes all he had to do upon setting foot on the lunar surface was shout “Coca Cola!”

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, of course Armstrong did not, but what he actually did say and what he actually had intended to say have constituted a minor controversy for the past 37 years, two months and two weeks.

But according to an Australian scientist and Philip Raey-Smith of our affiliated British network, ITV, controversy now resolved. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEAL ARMSTRONG, ASTRONAUT:  That‘s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. 

PHILIP RAEY-SMITH, ITV REPORTER (voice-over):  It was a phrase that defined an era heard by 500 million people back on Earth. 

ARMSTRONG:  Yeah, we‘re getting the picture on the TV. 

SMITH:  Among them, British scientist, Collin Pillinger, who had particular reason to be paying attention. 

PROFESSOR COLIN PILLINGER, SPACE SCIENTIST:  He was a man who was going to grab a sample from the first extraterrestrial object ever visited.  He was going to bring this material back and in a few weeks I was going to get my hands on it.  So, you can imagine I was hanging on his every word. 

SMITH:  But maybe he and everybody else heard wrong. 

Neil Armstrong has long insisted he really meant to say “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”  Which would actually have made more sense.  But he thought he forgot the “a.”  Now scientists in Australia say he did get his lines right. 

They looked at the sound wave of the Astronaut‘s words. 

ARMSTRONG:  That‘s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

SMITH:  Close analysis of the crucial phrase reveals a definite blip just before the word “man,” proof they say that he did indeed say what he meant to. 

(on camera):  As Armstrong hurdled towards the moon in his “Apollo” module, he had plenty of time to figure out what he was going to say.  In fact, he spent six and a half-hours on the surface of the moon before he got out to take that one small step.  He knew whatever he said was going to go down in history.  But in the end, it seemed, the sheer magnitude of the event got the better of him. 

(on camera):  So that‘s one small controversy apparently solved. 

Philip Raey-Smith, ITV News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And now one other small step for this man, one giant leap into the gutter.  It is our nightly roundup of tabloid and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.”

Four years later, Nick Nolte has finally come up with an excuse for one of the most famous pictures ever.  Not one of his moving pictures—this one. 

Nolte telling the magazine called “Steppin‘ Out,” “I know a lot of people think I‘m insane and that drunk driving photo of me doesn‘t help.  What a lot of people don‘t know is I had just finished filming the “Hulk” and that‘s the hair I had from the movie.  I just finished the movie and that‘s the way a hairdresser did my hair.” 

And that hairdresser‘s name was:  Stan Lee. 

Madonna has adopted a young boy in the African nation of Malawi. 

Reportedly officials there selected 12 orphan boys for her to choose from. 

After she selected her favorite, the lucky 11 got to go home. 

In addition, Madonna is building an orphanage center there were and estimated 1,000 orphans will be fed and educated.  Specifically they‘ll be educated and fed a steady diet of her Kabbalah religious beliefs. 

Good news everybody, Sideshow Mel is back.  That‘s right, the “National Enquirer” reports Mel Gibson fell off the wagon.  Gibson‘s spokesman telling MSNBC that at the reported sighting in Austin, Texas, last month, “Gibson wasn‘t drinking anything alcoholic.” 

The “Enquirer” however, reports that Gibson was spotted drinking Budweiser, which many consider an alcoholic beverage, technically, anyway.  After Gibson was busted on drunk driving charges this summer he was order into intensive counseling for alcoholism. 

The issue of rehab, front and center in the Mark Foley scandal.  It may cure what ails you emotionally and politically.  Isn‘t it getting awfully crowded in rehab? 

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

The Bronze tonight, several patients of Dr.  Michael Koenig, a plastic surgeon in Germany specializing in breast enlargements.  He has done with they asked and then they have skipped out without paying, so local police have distributed and one newspaper has surprisingly printed photos of the evidence—the women‘s enlarged breast. 

Our runner up, Roger Ailes, the boss of FOX News, you know, Foley D.  Florida—telling a reporter today, that his organization will be fine even “If he got run over by a bus today.” 

Yeah, but how about the damage to the bus? 

And tonight‘s winners, Alton and Diana Verm of Conroe, Texas.  Father and daughter objecting to a book being read at the Conroe public high school even though Diana has been allowed to read another book instead.  The Verms want the offending title censored from the school curriculum, it‘s title:  “Fahrenheit 451” which if they don‘t know and it‘s beginning a lot like they don‘t, it‘s about a future society in which all books are censored out of school curricula and everywhere else and firemen go around burning them. 

Alton and Diana Verm, living proof of Ray Bradbury‘s hypothesis and today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The last refuge of a scoundrel use to be patriotism until scoundrels discovered rehab, and much like Otis‘ favorite cell at Andy Griffith‘s police station, it‘s getting pretty crowded in there.  Amid doctor shopping charges, Rush Limbaugh went in for prescription pain killer addiction; after crashing near the capitol Democratic Representative Patrick Kennedy checked in; after drunk driving and drunk anti-Semitic spewing, actor Mel Gibson did his stint this summer; after pleading  guilty in the Abramoff scandal; Congressman Bob Nay went in—now serving number 3,147 -- Congressman Foley that‘s you.

Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN. Foley citing addiction as a cause of his appalling behavior and promptly escaping the public limelight while leaving his lawyer to deal with the media. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID ROTH, FOLEY‘S ATTORNEY:  Mark was under the influence of alcohol at the time that he sent the inappropriate emails and IM. 

Mark voluntarily entered a substance abuse and mental health facility on Sunday. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He‘s in there for at least a month and while Mr. Foley may or may not actually have a problem, his decision to enter rehab only after he got caught exchanging sexual messages with some of the teenage boys under his employ, raises plenty of eyebrows.  Not the least on late night TV. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETTERMAN:  A couple of days ago he checked himself into rehab.  Checked himself into rehab.  Yeah, it‘s gotten so bad he had to go out and develop a drinking problem. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s in rehab, which means it only happened because he was drinking.  We‘ve all done it folks.  Drunk dialing.  It‘s just that.  In Foley‘s case it was drunk texting erotic messages to underage pages about masturbation. 

WANDA SYKES, COMEDIAN:  Alcohol might make you, you know, sleep with a fatty or pee on your neighbor‘s yard, but you don‘t turn into a pedophile.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now to assess the sudden reality in rehab is in vogue it‘s Michael Musto of the “Village Voice.”

Michael good evening.

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As I asked rhetorically earlier, Congressman Foley being just the latest to raise this question, do they need a place to get better or do they just need a place to hide? 

MUSTO:  It is a place to hide.  And also to have a lot of fun.  There‘s lots of other celebrities in there, there‘s no withdrawal going on because none of them were ever drunk to begin with and it‘s a place to escape the media, except the media are catching wise and reporters are faking their own additions to get in there and get some real scoops.  So, I‘m going to start saying this diet Coke‘s going to my head. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Not to suggest that—you can do this, but I haven‘t, that I‘m not going to suggest any of these people were not addicted or troubled by alcohol or pills or pills full of alcohol or whatever, when public figures are caught doing bad things, isn‘t addiction rehab now almost the get out of trouble, if not, get out of jail free card?  Not only can you blame bad behavior on a disease, but now you have medical records that are sealed no one has to know whether you truly addicted?

MUSTO:  It‘s truly a way to avoid repercussions of what you did and to cash in on our culture of victimization.  You know, it‘s better than saying I‘m guilty.  Oh no, I‘m not guilty.  I‘m an alcoholic, that‘s a disease.  You know, the bottle made me do it.  How‘d the bottle get to your mouth, poltergeist?  I don‘t believe in poltergeist.

OLBERMANN:  Again, emphasizing once again that maybe these people are addicted, maybe they‘re not, but wouldn‘t the claim be more credible if they went into the rehab before they got into trouble with the law.  Wouldn‘t it be great to see somebody just say, hey, you know what, I have this problem and before I harm anybody I‘m going to get myself cleaned up? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, but I don‘t think these people think about oh, I should go into rehab now so if I‘m caught doing something pervy later I can say, oh, I was always drunk.  These people don‘t have the prescience to do that, they don‘t even know what prescience. 

OLBERMANN:  As far as excuses for bad behavior, does alcohol made me do it measure up against anything?  Is there anything else now that we can point to as completion for that phrase? 

MUSTO:  I can‘t answer that because lightening as a child traumatized me.  No it didn‘t.  It‘s pathetic.  Remember when Mel Gibson said oh, the booze made me anti-Semitic.  Please, drink some Manishevitz.  You know, and then he finally admitted oh, maybe I have some issues.  Getting warmer there, Mel.  Well, I would have more respect for people saying the devil made me do it or maybe I‘m a hateful, sick perv.  When you make an excuse you really make no use for you and me.

OLBERMANN:  No, you touched on this for.

MUSTO:  It‘s an old saying.

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.  Felix Unger joins us.  There‘s rehab—you talked about it, there‘s rehab and then there‘s rehab.  When I was in L.A.  There was a media figure there who went in for drug addiction, it turned out he was on a day pass and every night he spent on a four star hotel next to the rehab facility.  If we‘re going to offer people virtual free passes on this stuff, should we be able to monitor their rehab somehow?  Should w have web cams or daily bulletins or something? 

MUSTO:  Hey, I had a great time at that four star hotel.  Kidding.  No, no, no.  No, no, no.  I would say we should have web cams except there was, actually a TV show about detoxing people, Whitney and Bobby, remember that?  Nobody watched, it was too disturbing, too much information.  I say keep it private. 

OLBERMANN:  And do you like, lastly, on the purely ironic level, the idea that a Republican ex-congressman now, should be using the example that good old liberal Hollywood entertainers have been using all these years in running to rehab. 

MUSTO:  I love it.  Irony is not dead.  Rehab is really the great equalizer.  They‘re all in there, you know, escaping and burying the hatchet, clinking with prune juice.  No matter what party you‘re in, it‘s the best party.  What I really love is Foley‘s latest excuse which is, “I lost my bookmark and that‘s why I bent pages over.” 

OLBERMANN:  OK.  I saw that one happening. 

MUSTO:  I‘m going to have a little Coke now.

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Michael Musto.  Great thanks for your time. 

MUSTO:  Bye-bye.

OLBERMANN:  Better him than me.  Better him then me.

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,250th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

I mean, saying that, of course.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Joe, good evening once, again.

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

END   

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