updated 11/10/2006 11:54:20 AM ET 2006-11-10T16:54:20

Guests: Dana Milbank, Jonathan Turley, Thomas DeFrank, Robert Hodierne

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

The Democrats may have taken the House Tuesday and the Senate today, but nobody gets to hang the new curtains till January.  Before that happens, the president wants the lame duck Congress to do everything he can think of.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Another important priority on the war in terror is for Congress to pass the Terrorist Surveillance Act.

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OLBERMANN:  If you hurry, maybe you can get them to pass the Alien and Sedition Act again.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER:  We’ve made history.  Now we have to make progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  How about making some progress towards restoring habeas corpus?  Or maybe stopping those presidential signing statements?  Can the Democrats live up to their brand name?  Jonathan Turley joins us.

Notice, please, it is the president and the speaker presumptive, Vice President Cheney not appearing in this picture.  Is there a statement there?

The latest analysis of the Rumsfeld firing.  It was over Cheney’s not-so-dead body.  Did Mr. Bush just cut the ties to his vice president?

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SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  The owners of the government, they have spoken.  And I respect their decision.

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OLBERMANN:  It’s a final.  George Allen concedes Virginia.  Jim Webb’s victory officially gives the Democrats the Senate as well.  There will not be a recount.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES,” CBS)

ED BRADLEY, CBS News:  I’m Ed Bradley.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  An icon of American news reporting is gone, one of the men who broke the color barrier in network journalism.  Ed Bradley, dead at 65 years old.

And as he nears the exact moment when he’ll stop being funny and start being overexposed...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Borat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  ... there’s a guy who claims he’s the real-life inspiration for Borat.  Yes, it’s the battle of the Borats.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

The new and improved Bush plan for bipartisan leadership looking suspiciously like the old governing principle, Mr. Bush does whatever he wants for as long as he can get away with it.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the message from the White House today, a kind of presidential paraphrase of Al Hague, I’m in charge here until the Democrats arrive.

In a moment, the political implications of the Democratic takeover and the busy lame duck session the president wants before then with our own Dana Milbank.

Also, the constitutional implications with noted law scholar Jonathan Turley.

But first, the menu of this day, quite literally the menu, the president, attempting to give at least the appearance of bipartisanship by inviting presumptive speaker Nancy Pelosi to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue to do some carbo loading and to chew the fat, Mr. Bush serving pasta salad, chocolate tart, but not crow nor lame duck at a lunch meeting with the Democratic leader of the House, Vice President Cheney and others in attendance.

So how come Mr. Cheney is not at the photo call that followed?  More on that in a moment.

The even bigger question mark, the tableside chat Mr. Bush had over breakfast, the chief executive enjoying a nice light fruit plate with the current leadership of both chambers of Congress, what Mr. Bush had to say in the Rose Garden later in the morning making it seem likely that the breakfast club had been strategizing ways to ram through as much controversial legislation as possible before its stranglehold on Congress is broken.

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BUSH:  It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America.  Some of these issues need to be addressed before the current Congress finishes its legislative sessions, and that means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones.

First order of business is for Congress to complete the work on the federal spending bills for this year, with strong fiscal discipline and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror.

Another important priority in the war on terror is for the Congress to pass the Terrorist Surveillance Act.  One of the most important challenges facing our country’s the war on terror, and Iraq is the central front in this war.  Our country now has more than 149,000 men and women serving bravely in that country.

Whatever party we come from, we all have a responsibility to ensure that these troops have the resources and support they need to prevail.  I’m open to any idea or suggestion that will help us achieve our goals in defeating the terrorists and ensuring that Iraq’s democratic government succeeds.

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OLBERMANN:  Ms. Pelosi, it would seem, at least hoping for the best.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI:  I look forward to working in a confidence-building way with the president, recognizing that we have our differences.  And we will debate them, and that is what our founders intended.  But we will do so in a way that gets results for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The speaker presumptive today gaining 51 a powerful allies in the checking and balancing of this White House, Virginia Republican George Allen conceding defeat in his reelection bid, thus sealing the Democratic takeover in the Senate, an initial canvass of Tuesday’s results failing to alter Jim Webb’s lead of about 7,200 votes, at least not significantly altering it, Senator Allen taking the high road by refusing to demand a recount, tossing the pigskin and a strained metaphor at a news conference this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN:  My friends, sometimes winds, political or otherwise, can blow the leaves off branches and even break limbs.  But a deep-rooted tree will stand, stay standing, it will regrow in the next season.

In this season, the people of Virginia, who I always call the owners of the government, they have spoken, and I respect their decision.

The Bible teaches us that there’s a time and place for everything.  And today, I’ve called and congratulated Jim Webb and his team for their victory.  They had the prevailing winds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The forecast for tomorrow, Doppler radar shows, meanwhile in the West, Republican incumbent Conrad Burns of Montana also conceding defeat to Jon Tester today.  The major difference there, the senator did it in writing, acknowledging that a tight election had gone in the Democrat’s favor, Senator Burns giving no indication as to what he expects to do next, except take some time off.   Quoting from his statement, “I hope there is still a good-sized buck out there, because I’m going to go hunting.”  Call the vice president.

Time now to call in our own Dana Milbank, also, of course, national political reporter of “The Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

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

Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In his remarks today, the president seemed to be indicating not only that he’s going to make a final attempt at ramming a lot of the conservative agenda through Congress before the end of the year, and also that, despite the imminent departure of Secretary Rumsfeld, he doesn’t intend any major changes towards the Iraq policy.  Is this going to be real bipartisanship or the appearance of it or not even the appearance of it?

MILBANK:  It sounds like his advisers told him that he has to be bipartisan, and he misunderstood and thought he had to be bipolar.

What’s happened here is the president came out and made this huge concession.  I mean, Bob Gates replacing Rumsfeld at the Pentagon is huge. 

It’s a whole change in policy.  It’s the ghost of his father’s

administration coming in, major concession.

Then he follows that up with, today, saying, OK, (INAUDIBLE), we’re going to ram that NSA, the surveillance program, through there.  And guess what, I’d also like to bring Ambassador Bolton back, so you can knock him down again.

It seems to me that he wants to make some sort of gesture here.  But he seems somewhat constitutionally unable to do that right now.  And that seems reasonable.  There’s going to be a lot of fighting ahead.

OLBERMANN:  But did he not just throw himself back into the briar patch without the help of any of the Democrats in renominating Bolton?  Hasn’t Senator Chafee of Rhode Island, who is now himself a lame duck, said, Listen, this is what the people voted me out of office about.  I’m not going to vote for Bolton.  Is Bolton’s nomination not going to get through?

MILBANK:  No, it’s not going to get through.  We can start calling him Ambassador Sisyphus.  It happens over and over again.  Certainly the Democrats weren’t inclined to let him through before.  No reason to let him through in a lame duck session when they are going to be in charge.

And as you mentioned, Lincoln Chafee is prepared to block it anyway.  It seems to me to be a symbolic gesture.  Maybe it was in exchange for the ouster of Rumsfeld.  He had to throw something the neocons’ way, something Vice President Cheney’s way.  But it’s purely symbolic.

OLBERMANN:  About this incentive, and I guess maybe Chafee’s behavior today suggests that there isn’t any, but what is the incentive for the congressional Republicans to go along with Mr. Bush’s plans, even the ones who are going to be there after January?  Are they not going to be the ones who would face the most direct retribution, if it comes to that, when the new Senate and the new House convene?

MILBANK:  Yes, on the other hand, what have they got to lose?  They’re going to face that retribution anyway.

You know, this is the time when you heard Pelosi’s remarks, you heard the president.  This is the time when you use words like :bipartisanship” and :consultation.”  Nobody really means it.  It’s not like we’re going to have a suddenly this kumbaya era in American politics when everybody gets together and works.

We’re going to have the sort of bipartisanship we had with President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich.  The idea is, you keep going at each other’s throats, but you are forced to compromise.  You have enough power to stop the other guy, but you don’t have enough power to get your agenda through.  That tends to be what produces results here.

It’s not about being all nicey-nicey and having pasta salad and chocolate in the Oval Office.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned Vice President Cheney relative to the Rumsfeld dismissal or ouster or resignation, whichever you prefer, and we’re going to go into depth with that with Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News” after the break.

But where was Mr. Cheney?  He was at the lunch meeting with Mr. Bush and Ms. Pelosi, not part of the photo-op that followed.  Did he just have other plans?  Or is there tea leaves to be read there?

MILBANK:  Indigestion, I suppose.  He—obviously, we’ve—it’s been made very clear that this was over the vice president’s objections, the dismissal of Rumsfeld.  They had been something of an alliance, the two of them together, a very powerful one, in the administration.  The president at his press conference yesterday said, you know, of course he retains the utmost of confidence in the vice president.

The question is not, you know, is he even in the room.  Does he really have a seat at the table right now?  Is the administration being infiltrated with a lot of President Bush 41’s advisers now?  Gates was a deputy to Scowcroft, who was the president’s father’s national security adviser.  Very much a different tone.  These are the realists, the pragmatists coming in now, and that’s what the vice president once was, but is no longer.

OLBERMANN:  The pragmatists have been let back in.  The gates have been knocked down, no pun intended.

Dana Milbank of MSNBC and “The Washington Post.”  As always, Dana, greatest thanks.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the constitutional issues now facing the Democratic majority in the next session of Congress, let’s call upon (INAUDIBLE) George Washington University law professor and noted constitutional law expert, Jonathan Turley.

Good to talk to you again, sir, under better circumstances, I think.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON

UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tell me about—are the circumstances better?  The Republican total control on government has been broken.  Is somebody going to now unravel our least-favorite act of the 21st century, the Military Commissions Act?  And what would be involved in getting it unraveled?

TURLEY:  Well, first, someone has to find where the boxes to turn lights back on in Congress.  I mean, this has been an institution that has just been a nonentity.  I mean, there’s been nothing happening in Congress in terms of oversight or serious review or hearings.

You know, the Democrats often had to hold hearings that were quasi-oversight hearings in the basement, because they would lock them out of committee rooms.

So you got to find all those keys and all those switches, I expect.

But, yes, it’s a better day, I think, for everyone.  Depending upon—it doesn’t really depend upon what your politics are, the system works better when you have branches that look over each other’s shoulders.  And Republicans should feel more comforted in an important way, because mistakes are less likely when the Congress is asking, How are you doing this?  What are you getting back?  How efficient is it?

Now, in terms of things like the military tribunals and the torture rules, we’ll have to see the appetite of the 110th Congress, the new Democratic majority, to go back and mix it up.  Clearly, their base would like them to do that.  But we’ll see what the intestinal fortitude of these leaders are.

OLBERMANN:  Do they even have to do anything, or is there a damper effect just by the presence of Democrats in control of Congress?  I mean, did somebody’s odds of winding up unjustly, if there’s a justly, I don’t know, but unjustly in Gitmo just drop precipitously, simply because of the prospect of oversight and subpoenas and such?

TURLEY:  Well, I think that, quite frankly, I believe that American citizens will be more protected in their civil liberties now that we have a branch that will serve a check and a balance.  And, you know, there’s a suspicion that, you know, the humming you hear around the city is not an early spring but, you know, paper shredders going on through the night, because most of Republicans, I think, expects a flurry of subpoenas to come out in January.

And they expect that there will be misconduct that is likely to be revealed.  It often does when you go through a period of dormancy, where there’s no oversight.

But once again, I think that all citizens can feel a little bit better.  You know, one of the reasons we have a government of checks and balances is not just for this type of partisan bickering, but it’s just that government works better when there’s more than one set of eyes on a problem.

OLBERMANN:  Even with control of both houses of Congress, though, the president made a habit of issuing these signing statements for any part of any piece of legislation he did not intend to comply with.  Do the Democrats have a means of attacking that?

TURLEY:  They do.  I mean, the most powerful means they have is the power of the purse.  And some of these new chairmen are known to exercise that power, people like John Dingell who’ll be over at Commerce, and John Conyers.  These are guys that do not suffer, you know, fools lightly.  And I—or gladly.  And I expect that they’re going to use every piece of power they have to protect the integrity of Congress.

Those signing statements have been condemned by lawyers of both parties as essentially circumventing our constitutional system.  And so the president’s going to have to cut that stuff out.  He’s now not an individual who’s exercising virtually unlimited power.  He’s going to have to share that power.  And that means he’s going to have to learn how to do it.

OLBERMANN:  We mentioned the Terrorist Surveillance Act and the president’s hopes of ramming that through the lame duck Congress before the Democrats arrive.  Is there anything procedurally the Democrats can do about this now?  Am I remembering my Robert’s Rules of Order class from Cornell correctly?  Should a Democrat now vote for it, then he gets the right to ask for another vote in the new year?  Or is that just book stuff and not practical stuff?

TURLEY:  Well, first of all, if they approve it, then they’re not going to get it back in the 110th Congress.  Why they would approve it, I don’t know.  And why the president’s insisting on it, I don’t know.

Here’s a guy who insisted he’d never needed authority to do this, even though many of us believed he committed dozens of federal crimes in carrying out this program.  And now suddenly, he can’t wait till the 110th to get it approved.  It’s much too urgent.

I—if the Democrats had took that deal, they really don’t deserve the majority.

OLBERMANN:  Your constitutional law professor of George Washington University, Jonathan Turley.  As always, great thanks for joining us.  And I suspect you and I are breathing a little earlier tonight.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.

For six years, he was one of the key men behind the curtain.  But is the vice president now on the outs with his boss, and to what degree, in part because of his attachment to his own old boss?  He didn’t want Donald Rumsfeld to leave.  The president reportedly overruled Cheney.  Does Rummy’s resignation signal any real change when it comes to a solution in Iraq?

Those questions ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In accepting the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush said, one day after his party was thumped by Democrats, that he did not want his command of the war to be influenced by politics.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, it may well be that the president has greeted the Democrats as liberators, liberators from the tyranny of his own decision to hang onto the secretary long after he had doubts.

As you may recall, Mr. Rumsfeld had offered his resignation before.  But this time, it was Mr. Bush’s idea, according to “The New York Daily News” correspondent in Washington, Thomas DeFrank, who will join us presently.

The election was the trigger.  Getting rid of Mr. Rumsfeld before election day held two evident risks, admitting a flawed policy on Iraq, and angering the president’s already disgruntled conservative base.

But according to a confidant, quote, “The reality of the situation is that Iraq is a huge political liability and Rumsfeld is the symbol of the war.  Bush understands the policy has to change, and you can’t change the policy and keep the architect,” President Bush creating obvious distance not only with the secretary of defense but also with Vice President Cheney, Mr. Bush privately admitting that much of the advice he got from both men about the war was wrong.

Let’s call in, as promised, the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News,” Thomas DeFrank.

Tom, thanks again for your time tonight.

THOMAS DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Would the election have provided the same trigger with regard to Don Rumsfeld even if the Republicans had held onto power, that the president could make that break after the election, when angering his base would be less relevant?

DEFRANK:  Well, exactly right, Keith.  I think Don Rumsfeld’s been on borrowed time for quite some time.  And it’s ironic to me that today, yesterday and today, (INAUDIBLE) some senior Republicans are saying, you know, in retrospect, maybe the president should have gotten rid of Rumsfeld beforehand.  He might have saved the Senate for us by blunting some of the anti-Iraq sentiment.

We’ll never know, of course.  But I think Rumsfeld was going to go after the election, whether the White House hung onto the House and Senate or not.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we’re going to go into that at the bottom of the hour with the managing editor who wrote the editorial in the “Army Times,” the “Military Times” papers, last week, which really might have changed at least Virginia.

In any event, back to this.  What does this mean for Dick Cheney and the neocons?  Did Mr. Bush just give them the bum’s rush?

DEFRANK:  Well, (INAUDIBLE), to a certain extent, probably so.  But bum’s rush is a little bit too strong.

Cheney’s influence on policy has been less than it used to be.  I still happen to believe personally that he’s probably the president’s closest political consigliere, but I think the vice president’s hold on policy is much more diminished.  There was a time when the vice president could kill a policy at a lower level by having one of his aides at an interagency meeting say, The vice president will not agree to this.

I think those days are over.  His patron and mentor, Donald Rumsfeld, is about to be gone.  Paul Wolfowitz is gone.  I just think, in terms of being able to dominate policy, the vice president’s influence is not as strong as it used to be, especially since Iraq policy is going to have a lot to do with what Bob Gates thinks and what Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton think.

OLBERMANN:  But is that as far, as far as it’ll go with the vice president?  Because Mr. Bush gave Cheney the big endorsement yesterday, and I don’t know many people noticed the irony there, that he did so minutes after he explained that he had lied when he gave Rumsfeld the big endorsement, the same big hug, last week.

Could anybody be saying to him, Get Mr. Cheney to retire for health reasons, get rid of some of these neocons, him included, maybe get people in there who can not only help you the rest of your term, but could set your party up to some degree for the 2008 presidential election?

DEFRANK:  Well, I think there are probably some people around who are thinking that.  But I don’t think there’s anybody who’s going to say that to the president.

Let’s face it, the vice president is an elected official.  The notion of easing him out of a constitutionally mandated office to which he was elected is a little far-fetched, and I don’t think Dick Cheney, and I’ve been dealing him for 32 years now, I don’t think Dick Cheney would go quietly.  And I don’t think that’s going to happen.  I just think that’s a nonstarter.

OLBERMANN:  Just came to mind because it was—I think it was Spiro Agnew’s birthday was Monday.  That’s why that popped into my head.  In any...

DEFRANK:  Well, Dick Cheney has never been accused of taking money in brown bags.  I mean, you can’t equate this vice president with Spiro Agnew.

OLBERMANN:  No, sir, certainly not.  Just a joke.

But last thing here, a question that I keep asking, and Mr. Bush referenced the Baker commission on Iraq, Tuesday night Howard Dean did the same thing in an interview on our election coverage, many other prominent Democrats did that.  Is that going to turn out to be the president’s golden parachute out of Iraq?  Is that the big nonpartisan, Oh, we have to rethink things now, because look what James Baker brought?

DEFRANK:  Look, when the president went along with this idea of this commission co-chaired by Jim Baker, one of his father’s closest friends, that was the signal that Iraq policy was going to change.  It wasn’t going to change before the election, but it was going to change after the election.

I think that deal has been done quietly in back rooms and through back channels.  And I think a lot of people have known that was coming.  That’s a foregone conclusion.

OLBERMANN:  That’s why everybody’s quoting it, I guess.  Thomas DeFrank, the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News,” great reporting on the relevance to Mr. Cheney of Mr. Rumsfeld’s departure.  And great thanks once again for joining us.

DEFRANK:  Thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Not sure exactly whether this deer was suicidal, asked to resign, or simply just blind.  Why else would it run into a store called Target that has a big bull’s-eye on the front?

And this gentleman claims the character of Borat is based on him. 

Assuming it’s true, why on earth would he admit to that?

Those stories ahead.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ordinarily, we preface our nightly roundup of the weird an anniversary like the anomaly that November 9 was the birthday of both Carl Perkins, the singer who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Carl Sagan, who invented the stars.  But we have to acknowledge the 1,097,000 of you who were good enough to attend last night’s live airing of this newshour, including the 493,000 of you in the coveted 25 to 54-year-old audience.  Or at least that’s how old you say you are.  Known so many of you were coming, I would have brought more news.  Thank you.

Let’s play Oddball.

And speaking of attendance, we begin at the Target in West Des Moines, Iowa, where apparently the War on Christmas is starting a little early this year, because not only do they say, Happy holidays, we have video evidence here that this reindeer can’t come into the shop without being hassled by the secular (INAUDIBLE), whatever they are.

OK, it’s a regular deer.  But I guess they all look the same to the redshirts at Tar-je.  The eight-point buck was chased around the aisles for about 20 minutes before he left without making a purchase.  We can expect the discrimination and the slip-and-fall lawsuits any...

*

OLBERMANN:  It’s a regular deer. I guess they all look the same to the red shirts at target. The buck eight point buck was chased around the aisles for the about 20 minutes before he left without making a purchase.  We can expect the discrimination and the slip and fall lawsuits any time now.

To Oslo, headquarters of the Guinness Book of World Records Day.  Hundreds all over the world came together to attempt the set the world record for most Guinness World Records set in one day including here, Cathie Jung with the world’s smallest waist.

And Mr. Jackie Bibby here with all the rattlesnakes in his mouth.

(MUMBLING).

Some guy broke a bunch of concrete blocks. A few thousand people got together to kiss in Italy. We don’t have time to play all that stuff. We’re not even sure if they broke the most records after all, where we played (ph) Guinness. A snake in the mouth.

Finally, a little parental discursion might be advised for this video which might possibly show the world’s dumbest human. He is reportedly a 22-year-old British soldier, home on leave, and apparently so drunk that the thought sticking a bottle rocket in his rear end was a good idea. It wasn’t. Hey, ass-amus.

Yes, his friend certainly got a laugh, but the soldier, brave and smart enough to have survived a tour of duty in Iraq, found the hospital nursing injuries and world famous on the internet. Do we really need to tell you not to try this at home? Apparently.

Now that Don Rumsfeld is on his way out and Bob Gates is on his way in, what will actually change when it comes to this administration’s policy in Iraq? We will ask one of the many people who called for his ouster, the editor of Military Times Newsgroups.

Speaking of guys on their way out, Kevin Federline apparently wanted to one -up his soon-to-be ex-wife trying to ditch her before she ditched him, trying to get more money out of her. Classy guy.

Those stories ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN’s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.

No. 3, OK, here’s the next one, Carrie McCandless, 29-year-old Social Studies teacher at the high school in Brighton, Colorado, accused of sex with a 17-year-old student. Felony charges recommended. And the punch line, she’s the wife of the school principal. Oh, here we go.

No. 2, Ron Artest, basketball player and rapper. You’ll remember last year he led the charge of the Indiana Pacers into the stands to brawl with the fans during a game with the Detroit Pistons. His first album is finally out. A service that counts the actual scans of CD sales, that in its first week Artest’s “My World” sold exactly 343 copies.

And No. 1, “Rove.”  Not Karl Rove, the 4-year-old racing horse. The colt ran in the second at Churchill Downs in Louisville on Tuesday, Election Day, finished last. Hold your guffaws, please. Hold your guffaws.  The winner of that race Tuesday was named, “Special Interest.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To this hour 2,837 American military personnel have died in Iraq. Untold thousands of Iraqis have died, too. Thousands more have fled their homes. Thousands more are living in fear.

Tonight, in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, there is at least the glimmer of hope for a new approach to solving the catastrophe created by a misbegotten invasion, or at minimum, a post invasion without a plan.  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is leaving, unrepentant, as he indicated today, to the end.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  If you were going to give yourself a letter grade for your performance as secretary of defense, what grade would that be?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY:  Oh, I’d let history worry about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No need to wait for history as the American people and their president have weighed-in already this week. The question who is his successor, Robert Gates, the man being nominated the succeed Rumsfeld? And to what extent can he salvage that disaster in Iraq?

Gates is a veteran of the Air Force, but a creature of the intelligence community, having risen from CIA analyst to director. He served in six administrations, both Republican and Democratic. Currently, he is part of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, that Baker group, already working on recommendations for a new plan there.

Two years ago, he cochaired a study on Iran, finding the U.S. was unlikely to succeed in overthrowing that regime urging Mr. Bush to open a dialogue with Iran. Some of the Democrats likely to run the relevant committees are already expressing relief that the nomination of Mr. Grates.  both for their ability to work with him and for his ability to affect change.

Let’s bring in Army Times Publishing’s senior managing editor, Robert Hodierne, whose papers may have helped usher Mr. Rumsfeld out the door with their extraordinary editorial in the issue this week which called for his ouster.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

ROBERT HODIERNE, ARMY TIMES PUBLISHING:  Always a pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s start with the elephant who was conspicuously absent from the living room today, Vice President Cheney. He reportedly had fought hard for Rumsfeld to stay. Mr. Gates appears to represent a drastic shift from the certainty of the Cheney ideology to the pragmatism of the—of the first President Bush, Mr. Gates’ old boss.

Have we seen not simply an agency shift, but maybe the most visible sign of a full-scale revolution in how Mr. Bush will approach Iraq? Has Mr.  Cheney kind of been lame ducked here in a certain degree?

HODIERNE:  Well, I think there’s a duck hunting and Cheney joke there someplace, but we’re not going to go look for that one.

The game, I think, changed with the appointment of this commission.  These guys, Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton are no fools and I suspect that they and their representatives, as they’ve talked with general officers in Iraq, have gotten an earful. Nobody in the upper levels of the military command wants to be recorded as the guy who is in favor of exactly the way this war has been conducted up to this point. So, I’m sure they had some very frank discussions with those leaders. And that’s when the change took place. Mr.  Gates’ nomination to replace Secretary Rumsfeld, becomes sort of the visible manifestation of that.

OLBERMANN:  It will be Gates’ first job within the Pentagon. Is it clear that he can do things to improve in Iraq that Mr. Rumsfeld could not or would not do?

HODIERNE:  Well, I think that remains to be seen. He’s a very skillful fellow who’s been around at the upper levels of Washington power establishment for a good long while. He knows how the game the played. And I think that right now, in a strange sort of way, he’s the most powerful guy in Washington. He’s the one guy who can’t get fired from his job.

OLBERMANN:  The Democratic Congressman Rush Holt, who’s a former intelligence officer, sits on the intelligence panel, told the “Washington Post” about Mr. Gates, quote, that he, “.developed a reputation for pressuring analysts and managers to shape analytical conclusions to fit administration positions.”

Is this something that you’ve hard and regardless, was that not the central problem that got this country into this mess in the first place?

HODIERNE:  I don’t know the extent that he did that and I’d like to know a great deal more about that. Any time somebody in the middle levels of an intelligence agency makes a recommendation or a finding that isn’t endorsed by his boss, suggests that it was shaped and colored to suit political needs. So, we need to know a great deal more about that. And I’m hoping that the hearings that Senator Warner is going to conduct on this, will get at some of those issues.

OLBERMANN:  I would be remiss if it did not get your viewpoint on the $64,000 question, sort of hindsight question here. Your four papers are read not just by serving military personnel, but by their families. If instead of waiting until Tuesday to show Mr. Rumsfeld or Wednesday to show Mr. Rumsfeld the door, if the president had done it last week, last month, last summer—do you know the Republicans would have had an easier time at the polls on Tuesday, or are a more difficult one and particularly as it relates to Virginia with all the military connections in that state?

HODIERNE:  I think absolutely if they had replaced Secretary Rumsfeld, say last spring, early summer, they could have taken some of the sting out of Iraq war as a political issue. Assuming, that at the same time they did that, they came up with some more plausible course setting for the war in Iraq that would convince Americans that the administration had finally figured out that things aren’t going very well over there and we’re prepared to make a change.

OLBERMANN:  Robert Hodierne, the senior managing editor of “Army Times,” “Navy Times,” “Marine Corp Times,” “Air Force Times,” great thanks for your time tonight and for joining us.

HODIERNE:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, Ed Bradley in memoriam. The veteran CBS reporter who, among so many other things, helped break through the race barrier to become one of the most respected journalists in television.

And from a true journalist to an utterly fake one. Borat, now facing accusations that he copied someone else’s character. You mean there are two of them? Those stories ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN’s “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONAN O’BRIEN, “LATE NIGHT”:  Huge story, earlier today, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced he is stepping down.

(CHEERS)

Yeah, Rumsfeld said, “I made the decision after it became clear that I couldn’t do my job effectively and then I waited three years.”

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The holiday season is on his way and we have the first sighting of Santa. Carl Sergeant (ph), took out his board and went windsurfing on the Penobscot River. He takes the board out in honor of the troops overseas and for tradition.

CARL SERGEANT (ph), WINDSURFING SANTA:  It’s just a way of getting in the Christmas spirit.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  May god continue to bless Virginia and the Untied States of America. Thank you all.

Final pass here. Final.

All right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  One of the greatest of the modern newsmen, “60 Minutes” correspondent, Ed Bradley has died of complications of leukemia. A look back at his life and his legacy, next.

And talk about art imitating life imitating art imitating life a guy claims he’s the real guy behind a fake guy played by a real guy.  Explanations ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was perhaps the textbook definition of the circle of life. Ed Bradley who broke into broadcast news during the era of civil rights protests, won the last of his 19 Emmy Awards on the retrospective on the 1955 murder of Emit Till, a 14-year-old African-America from Chicago, mutilated and murdered in Mississippi after he allegedly whistled at a white woman.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, American journalism has lost one of its titans with the death from leukemia, today, of Ed Bradley, many of us, including our colleague Brian Williams, have lost one of our friends and role models.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He was a towering figure in television news who just by being so good at what he did, meant so much to so many.

MIKE WALLACE, “60 MINUTES”:  If he asked a tough question, they enjoyed it. It was really true. And—and integrity was at the bottom of everything.

ED BRADLEY, “60 MINUTES”:  General, how long would it take for this missile to reach the Untied States?

WILLIAMS:  He was born in a tough part of Philadelphia, at the start of World War II. He started in radio before being hired by CBS News in Paris. He was then off to Saigon where he was wounded in Cambodia while covering the Vietnam War.

BRADLEY:  I could see the blood and the thought I had was, “Oh god, they’re going to cut my arm off.”

WILLIAMS:  Ed Bradley blew through racial barriers while he rocketed to the top. White House correspondent for CBS News, then 25 years at “60 Minutes.”

BRADLEY:  I’m Ed Bradley.

WILLIAMS:  He found a way to turn celebrities into human beings. He landed so many of the big interviews and had fun with all the rest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That’s the hard part. You have to sort of (SNORTING).

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS:  He loved good conversation and jazz music. Howard Stringer knew Ed for 40 years and was his long-time producer at CBS News.

HOWARD STRINGER, CHAIRMAN, SONY:  Somehow he stood there four-square for all the virtues that you come to respect in our business. And everything about him suggested integrity and perspective and thoughtfulness and caring.

BRADLEY:  Thank you very much.

WILLIAMS:  He won every award including 19 Emmys. He worked with the greats and traveled everywhere and still found time to enjoy what life offered.

Recent heart bypass surgery slowed him down a bit, few people knew of his struggle with leukemia.

BRADLEY:  I’m Ed Bradley...

WILLIAMS:  Ed Bradley was a happy soul, a free spirit who always said it was Liza Minnelli who talked him into getting his ear pierced back when few men did. But it was always his work that snapped the rest of us to attention. Off camera, he understood he was a role model and in turn he was a monitor to countless others, who can today say they learned from the very best.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You had a sense that it meant something, that it was worthwhile. It was meaningful.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  No possible segue then into our nightly roundup of celebrity and tabloid news, so we’ll just start.

With the spinning of the Britney Spears divorce filing has switched into second gear. Kevin Federline reportedly just as eager to get out of that marriage as was the misses. Federline had spoken to his own lawyer about divorcing Mrs. Federline more than a month before she filed papers.  That according to TMZ.com. He was looking to get a healthy payoff too, but the prenuptial agreement reportedly provides that Federline receives only receives 20 percent of the value of their $10 million Malibu estate, plus spousal support for one year, about $250,000. He’s going to have to sell the hat.

TMZ also knocking down reports that Federline got news of the divorce via text message from Ms. Spears. Hate you, mean it.

And the awe inspiring love story of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes might have to wait for it official blessing. The planned marriage in Italy may not be legal. The priest of Bracciano, Italy, where the couple planned to get hitched on the 18th says his parish cannot marry Mr. Crumes—Mr.  Cruise and Miss Holmes—Mr. Crumes—because they do not have all the paperwork finished.

Mayor says, “I don’t think it will be legal.”

Complicate ding matters, Cruise had wanted to have a legally binding Catholic ceremony, since Miss Holmes’ parents are both Catholic, but the priest says that’s not possible since Cruise has been twice divorced.

Meanwhile, a local electrician is busy rewiring the castle where the ceremony is to be held—got to put in those landing lights for all those shuttles from the planet Zenu.

An illegality regarding the ride of actor Daniel Baldwin. He has been arrested on suspicion of car theft. This Baldwin was stopped in Santa Monica yesterday while driving an SUV, a white GMC Yukon. A spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department says, “The car belongs to an acquaintance of Mr. Baldwin. But he had no permission to take it.” No father explanation provided, but the mug shot, oh, right into the hall of fame.

Which of these two characters will you be talking about tomorrow? One has made a fortune out of the identity of Borat. The other says he’s the real deal. That’s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The Bronze, this is the first nonevent specific medal in the history of the award. We’re announcing he had deliberately deceived his own audience so he could continue to broadcast propaganda for the right wing.  Comedian Rush Limbaugh becomes Admitted Liar Rush Limbaugh until further notice.

Runner up, Christopher Golden, alleged carjacker from Ohio. Police say he took at knifepoint an SUV away from a 79-year-old man named Charles Zeiger in Deltona, Florida. And knife still in hand he proceeded to ask his victim for directions to the highway. The man actually gave them to Mr.  Golden, but Mr. Golden promptly crashed the SUV into a utility pole.

But our winner, Bill-O. Is he still on the air? Crying in his spilled electoral milk. Mr. O’Reilly has announced, “I think the Iraqis have got to step up and at least try to fight for their democracy instead of being the crazy country of Shia and Sunni. I don’t ever want to hear Shia and Sunni again.”

See, that was the problem at the time the war started, Bill-O. You had never heard of Shia and Sunni before, either.

Bill Orally, today’s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After establishing a solid beach head on the coast, last weekend’s invasion of America will spread far and wide this coming weekend.  In our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, Borat blows the lid off Hollywood and a rival may be poised to blow the whistle on Borat.

Borat, if somehow you don’t know, is the fake Kazakh journalist played by Sacha Baron Cohen whose movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” opened at No. 1 last weekend with a massive take of $26 million, thus it must be good, that’s massive because it was only showing in 837 theaters. That all changes tomorrow when Borat goes into wide release and Mr. Cohen appears on every radio station more powerful than your cell phone.

But don’t expect to see him in Russia where, no kidding, the Federal Culture and Cinematography Agency for make good of Russia—I made the last part up—anyway, they’re banning Borat, even Kazakhstan didn’t ban the movie film.

But now there’s an even greater threat to Borat, his name is Mahir Cagri. He hails neither Kazakh nor Uzbek, nor any other stan, he is Turkish and he became a minor phenomenon in the late ‘90s thanks to his website IKissYou.org, which he launched to make new friends, especially new lady friends.

Now he’s claiming he’s claiming he’s the original, real Borat, even though Cohen says his character is based on a character of a Russian doctor.

COUNTDOWN analysis of archival footage does suggest some stylistic similarities between the character and the other character. In fairness to Borat, however, there are also significant differences. For instance, Borat is extremely involved in politics, even conducting a whistle stop tour of Washington earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORAT:  I would like make a comment on the recent advertisements on television and in media about my nation of Kazakhstan, saying that women are treated equally and that all religions are tolerated.

These are disgusting fabrications. These claims are part of a propaganda campaign against our country by evil nitwits Uzbekistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mahir, on the other hand, has a different kind of diplomatic relation on his mind. His is a message of love, a message delivered through song.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHIR CAGRI, SUING BORAG:  My eyes are green.

I have a car.

I like music.

I kiss you. I kiss you.

My name is Mahir Cagri.

I kiss you. I kiss you.

My name is Mahir Cagri.

I kiss you. I kiss you.

I am dark.

I am tall.

I like tall.

Give me a call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:   The recap, his name is Mahir, he is tall, give him a call, and his name is Mahir. Of course, assuming the name really is the real the real Borat. That still leave the question, is it a real, real Borat or a fake, fake Borat?

That’s COUNTDOWN, for this the 1,286th day since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq. I’m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, goodnight and good luck.

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

END   

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