updated 11/15/2006 10:41:42 AM ET 2006-11-15T15:41:42

Guests: Howard Fineman, A.B. Stoddard, Jonathan Alter, John Cook, Michael Musto

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

The Iraq Study Group meets with the Democrats and with the British prime minister, who has asked Syria and Iran for help there as Iraq here becomes the centerpiece in the race for the Democratic leadership of the House, Hoyer versus Murtha.

Iraq itself a study in chaos, a mass kidnapping, the situation so confused that it may have been carried out by men dressed as police, or by actual police. with 30 victims, or maybe 150.

Back home, back home, Joe Lieberman to chair Homeland Security in the Senate.  The Democrats give him a standing ovation.

To whom do they give the 2008 presidential nomination?  Senator Clinton reportedly quitting as head of the Democratic Senate Steering Committee to concentrate on floor work, or to concentrate on a different kind of campaign, say, perhaps, Clinton versus Giuliani two Novembers hence?

The fake anthrax mailings to Letterman, Stewart, Pelosi, others.  More details and more reported on the suspect the FBI caught, and his connections to far-right-wing blogs.

A student-teacher sex scandal with some actual news on it, charges of a coverup just because the teacher was the wife of the principal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I’m hoping the school and the principal will do the right thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of sex scandals, just when you thought the proverbial fat lady had sung in this one, it’s Makris versus O’Reilly, the opera.

Worst Person in the World, basketball’s too touchy-feely coach.  Could be.

And Oprah gets dissed.  No invite to the Cruise-Holmes wedding.  Would it help maybe if she got them a couch as a wedding present?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY:  Have you ever felt this way before?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Two veteran Democratic congressmen are fighting for the House majority leadership, their differing views of Iraq at the heart of their contest, yet one of them now says their differing views are not actually different.

The Iraq Study Group has briefed the administration and the Democrats, but what is expected to be one of the key proposals in the report they have not even completed yet has apparently already been acted upon by the British.

And a mass kidnapping today in Baghdad may have ended peacefully, except we don’t know exactly how many people were kidnapped, nor whether the men dressed as policemen who did it were frauds, or the real thing.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Iraq’s real-life chaos becoming a metaphor for political chaos here.

The reality first, as best we know it at this hour.  Gunmen in Iraqi police uniforms cordoned off an entire Baghdad city block, stormed an education ministry office, and kidnapped dozens of people, initial reports suggested as many as 150.  The education minister said it was about 130.  The prime minister said it was only 30.

And just as telling about who is involved in the ongoing sectarian violence, five police officers, including the neighborhood police chief, were arrested in connection with the kidnapping.  The interior ministry tonight said 30 hostages had been freed, the Associated Press now saying that report appears to be false, the infiltration of militias in the police force one of the problems that British Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to fix immediately, telling the bipartisan Iraq Study Group through a videoconference hookup, he in London, they at the White House, that the coalition needs to support and equip the Iraqi government to rout out violence, and that resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict is key to getting moderate Muslim states to support any new plans for Iraq.

The Iraq Study Group was also slated to meet with Democratic foreign policy experts to get their input on the war today.  No word on how that meeting went, or, at this point, even if it did went.

For some political perspective on the impact here of the options

there, I’m joined now by MSNBC political analyst and senior Washington

correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine, Howard Fineman

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Seems little doubt at this point that the Iraq Study Group report is going to be the shoehorn or the parachute or whatever imagery you like about changing Iraq policy from this country’s perspective.  But who moves first, the president or the Democrats?  And can either side move before the report comes out?

FINEMAN:  Well, I don’t think either side is going to move before the report comes out, number one.  I’ve been talking to a lot of the new leadership on the Hill among the Democrats, and while a lot of them were against the war, some even voted against it initially, a lot of them voted against money for it, people like George Miller and Nancy Pelosi, and so forth, you know, they’re being very cautious here.  And they’re going wait for the report.  And they’re then going to wait for George Bush to move first.

They’re not going rush antiwar resolutions.  They’re not going to rush a vote on cutting off funding.  First of all, they’d lose the vote on cutting off funding.  Secondly, they know it’s George Bush’s war, and George Bush has to find a way out initially, before they sign on.

OLBERMANN:  But obviously, Tony Blair has already moved.  How does Britain’s politics, or at least Britain’s leaders’ decisions, impact our politics about Iraq?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think it leaves George Bush a lonely figure in the world.  Tony Blair was crucial in the runup to the war, crucial in the selling of the war, crucial in the defending of the war.  Tony Blair, who doesn’t have a lot of time left as the leader of Britain himself, is now singing a different tune, and that leaves George Bush very isolated politically, on the planet as a whole, and here in Washington.

That’s why the Democrats are hoping and expecting he will move, and they’re going to make his movement a price for their cooperation.

OLBERMANN:  A little legacy backfill for Mr. Blair in his waning days or weeks...

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  ... or months, or whatever it turns out to be.

Back here, a week ago, the administration claimed that the insurgents in Iraq were trying to influence the elections in our country.  A month ago, the president said the violence was attributable to Ramadan.  Is there a rationale from the administration for things like the atrocity that happened today?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think there is a rationale.  Unfortunately, it’s a

rationale that leads directly to Tehran, to Iran.  The only force in the

region that can slow the violence, especially the Shia-dominated end of the

violence, the militias there that are backed by the Shias and by extension

by Iran, is for the Iranians to call a halt to it.

But the Iranians are the very people that George Bush says he will not negotiate with, unless they halt their program of developing nuclear capability.

I think the reason that the Iranians are rushing to declare that they’ve already finished completing their nuclear capability is because they want to have it be a fait accompli before the world comes to them and asks them to help out in Iraq, because that’s going to happen at some point.  The world is going to go, hat in hand, to the Iranians.

OLBERMANN:  But in the interim, repeatedly, the Bush administration has voiced faith not in Iran or the government there, but in this fledgling Iraqi government, even though it appears that the interior ministry and the police corps, based on what happened today, riddled with Shiite militias, perhaps totally corrupt, at what point does the White House have to make that shift, that it’s no longer a partnership with a government that appears to be actually helping to foster sectarian violence, to sort of cut them off as the, as the, the—cut out the direct person and deal with the middleman in Iran?  Does that—is that decision eventually going to be made, and if so, how soon?

FINEMAN:  I don’t think so.  I don’t think George Bus—it’s—you never want to say never in politics or diplomacy, but I think he can’t.  I think too many millions of people in Iraq, as he has repeatedly pointed out, voted for this government, however corrupt it has come to be.  There are some cynics who say all those millions of fingers waving in the air, the purple fingers that, you know, the red fingers or so on, ended up being little more than a photo-op, at least that’s the way it was treated by this administration in terms of the management of administration of the war.

But I don’t see this administration abandoning the government.  And I don’t see the Democrats forcing them to do it.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe the Iraqis can emulate California democracy and go for a recall at this point.

FINEMAN:  Or a plebiscite, yes.

OLBERMANN:  Something.

Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine.  As always, sir, great thanks for (INAUDIBLE).

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Before the new Democratic majority even starts to combat or compromise with the White House about Iraq, it must settle an internal battle over the war, Democrats in the Senate confidently announcing their new leadership lineup today, Senator Harry Reid as majority leader, Senator Richard Durbin as majority whip, Senator Chuck Schumer in the third position, Senator Patty Murray in fourth.

But their counterparts in the House still face a serious battle over who will be the next majority leader, and what position he will take on the war.

On one side, Congressman Jack Murtha, who has advocated redeploying from Iraq for a year, on the other, current House minority whip Steny Hoyer, who has said that a precipitous withdrawal will lead to chaos.

And the sniping has already begun after soon-to-be House speaker Nancy Pelosi voiced her support for Murtha.  An article appeared in today’s “Washington Post” citing some Democratic concerns over Murtha’s alleged ethics issues, which in turn prompted Murtha to imply that the story was essentially planted by Hoyer’s people.

Quote, “I thought we were above this type of Swiftboating attack.  Of the critical issues we are faced with today, the war in Iraq is the most crucial.  The Pelosi-Murtha position on the war is the reason the Democrats are in the majority today.  Congressman Hoyer’s position has been to stay the course with President Bush from the very beginning, and like Senator John McCain, he advocates sending in more troops.”

As for Mr. Hoyer, apart from denying he’s about staying the course, he has pretty much indicated he will not engage Mr. Murtha on the issue.

I’m joined now by A.B. Stoddard, the associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper.

A.B., good evening.  Thanks for your time.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE HILL”:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:   Well, that’ll be a neat trick, won’t it?  How does Hoyer stave off Murtha without answering Murtha’s suggestion that he’s a Johnny-come-lately on withdrawal?

STODDARD:  Now, it’s really not accurate to portray Steny Hoyer as a stay-the-course Democrat on Iraq, as he -- (INAUDIBLE) off has put out statements today, the day—he has signed several letters with Murtha, and I believe with Pelosi as well, against staying the course in Iraq.

And the Democratic caucus does not see this as an Iraq vote between Stay the Course Steny and Jack Murtha, the hero of the antiwar left.  This is the—these lines are not clearly drawn.  These contests are about personal relationships, political histories, loyalties.  Jack Murtha galvanized the Democratic Party and ultimately altered the course of the debate on the Iraq war.  And it—they consider it a major contribution.  Many of them feel that that should be rewarded.

But this is really—Jack Murtha, Nancy Pelosi’s friend, versus Steny Hoyer, who has been whip and has been whipping his majority leader campaign now for a while and still believes he has the votes.  This is really going to come down to people’s personal pick.

OLBERMANN:  But it’s—the vote is Thursday, and Jack Murtha has already used the phrase “this type of Swiftboating attack,” which is probably the last thing Democrats hope to be hearing about from within their own party.

STODDARD:  You know...

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  What, but, do the, do, do the, the, the waters smooth over after Thursday, or is there going to be an...

STODDARD:  Oh, (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN:  ... Iraq debate within the Democratic Party still?

STODDARD:  No.  I absolutely believe that when this is over, Hoyer or Murtha, this is going to go away.  Is this the way they wanted to start out their second week in power?  Probably not.  It’s been a major distraction, much to the delight of the Republicans, who are still smarting from their losses.  Democrats are scratching their heads, wondering how this has blown out into the open.

And it certainly is dramatic.  But I think it will very much go away, no matter who wins.

OLBERMANN:  The Arianna Huffington blog, the- in—she cited the Democratic representative Jim McDermott as saying, let me read this exactly, “The president’s worst nightmare is to have to sit at breakfast with Jack Murtha.  Jack will be a real leader.”

Give me the pulse on the Hill right now, A.B.  Is that a plus for Murtha, or is that a negative?

STODDARD:  You know, this is an interesting thing about Jack Murtha, doesn’t fit actually into a perfect mold.  You can’t really (INAUDIBLE).  The hard-line liberals in the caucus, some of them are uncomfortable with Jack Murtha because he’s conservative on some positions, some social issues, et cetera.  But conservative Democrats in the caucus are often uncomfortable with Jack Murtha’s war stance, and many of them are backing Steny Hoyer.

So it actually is not as sort of easy to describe as it seems.

OLBERMANN:  And in the Senate with Joe Lieberman, talk about waters smoothing over, he loses the primary, he wins the seat as an independent, he gets the chairmanship of Homeland Security under a Democratic majority, and was apparently given either a standing ovation by his peers or something near it.

STODDARD:  Yes.  (INAUDIBLE)...

OLBERMANN:  Is that, is that chairmanship and the ovation anything more than just a form of, Well, we know we need you, we know you need us, stay with us?  It is, is it a, is it appeasement?  Is the Democrats trying to—the Democrats trying to lock him up and...

STODDARD:  I think—I...

OLBERMANN:  ... and not tempt him to go elsewhere, or even really be an independent?

STODDARD:  Well, of course they really don’t want him to be tempted to go the other side.  And he was elected in Connecticut by more Republicans than Democrats, and there’s all this talk about maybe he would switch sides.

But the Democrats are wise to embrace Joe Lieberman.  And I think they made the decision awhile back.  If you saw in August, the party establishment abandoned Joe Lieberman when he lost his primary.  But just a few weeks later, what people didn’t pay much attention to, is the fact that the party then really shamelessly abandoned Ned Lamont, and he heard from no one in the months of September and October within the Democratic Party was pretty much cut loose.

Once they realized that Joe Lieberman was going to win, he is going to be chairman of a very important committee.  He has good relationships with the ranking member of that committee, Susan Collins of Maine.  He’s going to have good relationships with Republicans.  And if the Democrats really intend to govern from the center in these next two years, hoping, of course, to win the White House, they will need to make nice with Joe Lieberman.

OLBERMANN:  And meanwhile, Mr. Lamont gets the home version of the U.S. Senate Game.

A.B. Stoddard is the associate editor of “The Hill” newspaper.  Thanks for your time tonight.

STODDARD:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, Hillary Clinton took a step back from her leadership position with the Dems to focus on other things.  Other things?  Something with people?

And more on the white powder letter attacks.  New details about the man charged, and those whose rhetoric may have inspired him.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Barring the unforeseen, the 2008 presidential election will be the first not to feature an incumbent of some sort, president or vice president, since Dwight Eisenhower beat Adlai Stevenson in 1952.  That has made for a very early post time for would-bes like Arizona Senator John McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who’ve already formed official exploratory committees, and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who’s already declared he is seeking the Democratic nomination.

Just as, in our fourth story, maybe, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.  As reported today, just 721 days until Decision 2008, in the Washington insider publication “The Hill,” the article headlined, “Clinton Clears the Deck.”  Quote, “After four years of proudly serving as chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee,” says her spokesman, “Senator Clinton indicated months ago to Senator Harry Reid that she’d like to focus on the work of her four committees.”

Any admission that Senator Clinton may be gearing up for a presidential bid obviously not forthcoming, but by becoming the vice chairwoman of the committee outreach today, she has reduced her responsibilities there considerably.

And as we reported yesterday, former New York City mayor Giuliani not nearly so subtle.  He has filed papers to create a presidential exploratory committee.  Of course, Senator McCain has filed similar papers, and Senator Barack Obama’s decision is still in the works.

In the works here is “Newsweek” magazine senior editor, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter.

Thanks for your time tonight, Jon

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As fascinating as a Clinton-Giuliani faceoff might be, what are the chances that we’ll get there?  And (INAUDIBLE) go Senator Clinton first.  Is the Steering Committee decision really an indicator here, or is there just so much fascination with this individual that we have the Pavlovian dog effect here, whenever the Hillary bell goes off, no matter how loudly or quietly it sounds?

ALTER:  You know, it got my attention, Keith, because why would she step down as chairman if she didn’t have, quote, “other things,” namely getting ready to run for president, that were more important?

Look, she hasn’t made a final decision, and she won’t probably before the end of the year.  But she’s put all the pieces together to move forward with this.  And it’s looking increasingly likely that she’ll go for it.  The election of ‘06 was very, very good for Hillary Clinton.  There was a question about how well she could do among independents, and even though she had a very weak opponent, she showed that independents would flock to her banner.  And she did position herself in the middle.

She also has some liabilities going forward.

OLBERMANN:  Is one of those liabilities that little sort of sunshine burst that Senator Obama provided himself, somewhat unexpectedly, before the election, and then he sort of stood to the side on the stage, not to get in the way of the election?

ALTER:  Absolutely.  You know, I think Barack Obama is a serious threat to her hopes of winning the nomination, should Obama get in.  And he’s also going to decide fairly soon.  But many of the indications suggest that he will go ahead and run for president, even though he hasn’t been in the Senate for very long.

There’s two major reasons, beyond his being a rock star in the Democratic Party right now, why Obama could be so formidable against Hillary.  First of all, he’s got a better position on the war than she does in the Democratic primaries.  In 2002, Hillary Clinton was for the war.  Obama was not in the Senate yet, but he gave an important speech in Chicago saying it was the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.  We should be concentrating on Afghanistan, and it was distracting from the war on terror, which, two years later, became the conventional wisdom.

But he was early and right on that war, which is a very, very important factor in those Democratic primaries.

The other thing that Obama has going for him is that the super-Tuesday primaries in the Democratic Party, which really determine the nomination, and (INAUDIBLE) have been so much a part of Hillary Clinton’s game plan, because she and her husband have had such a draw among African-American voters, and they dominate those super-Tuesday primaries in the Democratic Party.

But you get Barack Obama in there, and it completely changes the dynamics.  So does that mean that he’s now the front runner instead of her?  No, it’s too early for that.  But it would be really wrong for people to suggest that he’s not a formidable, formidable competitor of her in this race.  That’s it.

OLBERMANN:  The other side of this headline, Mr. Giuliani.  He’s pro-gay rights, he’s pro-choice, he’s pro-gun control, he’s been married three times, conservative analysts say the reason the Republicans lost last Tuesday was that they were not conservative enough.  Is he Nelson Rockefeller in a sea of Barry Goldwaters right now?

ALTER:  Well, the Barry Goldwaters haven’t been doing that well in the Republican Party.  So I think his problem is that he and McCain kind of split the moderate vote in the Republican Party.  The advantage they have is there doesn’t seem to be, with George Allen now, macaca’d and out of the race, there doesn’t seem to be a strong conservative alternative.

And Giuliani had great drawing power on the campaign trail all fall.  He raised a tremendous amount of money for other Republican candidates.  He could do what George H.W. Bush did in 1980, if you remember.  He had been pro-choice.  In fact, he was so much in favor of family planning when he was in the Congress that George H.W. Bush’s nickname was Rubbers.  Then he turns on a dime, as Gary Trudeau says, he puts his manhood in a blind trust in 1980, and suddenly he’s pro-life.

So you could see Giuliani start to edge over to the conservative side of the spectrum and get some people to swallow some of their problems with him, respond to his strength on national security issues.  And that could make him a very formidable candidate, especially if John McCain is looking a little bit old and shopworn in this process.  You also can’t factor out Mitt Romney, who’s a very, very impressive candidate as well.

OLBERMANN:  And I’m assuming that you mean, when you talk about George H.W. Bush, you mean galoshes.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, many thanks, as always, sir.

ALTER:  Yes, thanks a lot, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  In an unrelated topic, a student-teacher sex scandal with a real headline that has nothing to do with that sort of stuff.  Did the principal cover all of this up because the teacher involved was his wife?

And it’s not even the first allegations of family-related coverups on this topic at just the one school in Colorado.

And to our great relief, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Operation Christmas Tree.  That is a flying tree in there somewhere.  It’s either Operation Christmas Tree, or the loggers are about to taste extreme vengeance.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  November 14 is Patrick Warburton’s birthday.  Not only does he do the voice of Joe on “Family Guy,” but is one of our best character actors, having pretty much stolen “Men in Black II” with just a cameo as the weepy Agent T, and actually making something out of a short-lived TV series called “The Tick.”  Reason enough to salute him with a Happy Birthday!

Let’s play Oddball.

We might need the tick now.  We begin with the first movement on the central front in the war on Christmas, Louisville, Kentucky, where the 159th Aviation Battalion stormed in just after dawn today in a tandem rotor Chinook and dropped a four-ton Christmas tree deep into secular progressive territory.  The tree was flown in 10 miles from Indiana as part of Operation Sleighride to be the highlight of the big Light Up Louisville celebration.  Generalissimo O’Reilly is said to be pleased.  I love the smell of pine sap in the morning.  It smells all Christmasy.

To Wisconsin, where we have had our second Bigfoot sighting in the week.  And going by official Oddball urban legend rules, twice in a week, with unimpeachable witnesses, means it must be true.  And who would question the integrity of young David Redetsky (ph) of Waukesha?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID REDETSKY:  We saw just a hairy monster on the corner of the woods.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And everybody’s checked.  Harry Earl, who lives next door, was out of town that night.  But another man says he also saw Sasquatch, right over in Washington County.  He was working late at his job cleaning dead deer carcasses off the road, when he says the seven-foot beast jumped into the back of his truck and took one of the deer.  Which sounds entirely plausible to us here.

Stay with Oddball for developments on this breaking story.  Oh, please, let there be developments!  Oh, please!

New information tonight about the man sitting behind bars soon to be charged with the white powder letter attacks.  His connection to right-wing blogs and his apparent emulation of right-wing icons.

And Oprah Winfrey’s couch was good enough for Tom Cruise but evidently she is not—not good enough to attend his wedding to Katie Holmes.  Details ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN’s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.

No. 3 David Voight, as sanitation worker in Nina, Wisconsin—a Wisconsin night on the show—he found $1,900 in a discarded desk at the city scrap keep.  And honest employee, he turned the money over to the police, waited for that “nobody claims it in 90 days, the money’s yours” thing, it has been more than 90 days, the city council in Nina is claiming the money belongs to the city. 

No. 2, representative elect, Michele Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota, arriving in Washington joking about her first modest plan in office, “My No. 1 goal is to not go jail.”  Can we get all new reps and senators to make that pledge?

And No. 1, Bill Orally and Andrea Mackris, two years, one month, and one day after the famous loofah lawsuit was filed, we are told of Mr. Igor Keller’s concert -length oratorio, kind of paired down two hour-long opera called:  “Mackris verse O’Reilly.”  It will open in January.  Our advice, theatre lovers, leave your opera glasses closed during the falafel scene. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Federal authorities still expect the preliminary hearing for Chad Conrad Castagana to continue day after tomorrow.  He was arrested over the weekend, accused of mailing at least 13 threatening letters, maybe 17, filled with white powder to the likes of Senator Chuck Schumer, Speaker presumptive Nancy Pelosi, Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone, David Letterman, Jon Stewart and me. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, more details tonight, some from an FBI affidavit obtained by “Radar Online” magazine about the suspect.  According to that affidavit, on the same day Castagana was picking up the envelopes and stamps at the post office for some of his terroristic threats, he purchased a $15 money order and had it made out to Friends of Katherine Harris.  The money order, in fact, may have provided some of the trail that agents needed to trace the threatening letters back to Castagana.  The affidavit also describes him as a 39-year-old white man who lives with his parents in Woodland Hills in Southern California.  It includes details of some of the notes Castagana sent with the white powder.  One message, intended for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, but sent to the wrong Jon Stewart read, quote, “Do you know Alan Berg?  You should.  Death to demagogues.” 

That reference is unmistakable, as the FBI affidavit notes.  Alan Berg was the talk radio host murdered by white supremacists in 1984. 

There are also references to poison and demagogues.  Quote, “all of you are poisoning the well.”  One to David Letterman that read, quote, “Your kind are the real poison.”  The messages intended to Viacom Chair Redstone and Congresswoman Pelosi cannot be repeated on this broadcast.

Castagana has also been identified as a gushing online admirer of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Laura Ingraham.  And the Web site RawStory reports that many bloggers believe he is also a contributor, under a different name, to the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.  In fact, the name used is supposed to be Marc Costanzo.

Joining me now, John Cook, senior writer for “Radar Online” who has been covering all this since the news of the arrest broke on Sunday.  Thanks for your time tonight, John. 

JOHN COOK, “RADAR ONLINE”:  Good to be here, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The details of the letters I think we pretty much got.  Explain, if you can, what the link is to the right-wing blogs and what the relevance of that link is. 

COOK:  Well, we should point out the evidence is not conclusive, but -

it’s circumstantial, but it’s good evidence.  It appears that Mr.

Castagana was a poster to the FreeRepublic, which, as you know, is an online library of some of the most thoughtful right-wing thinkers out there.  And his—the Marc Costanzo alias that he used, his profile said, “Ann Coulter is a goddess and I idolize Malkin and Ingraham.”  And there are a lot of posts that suggest that he’s a big fan of Malkin and Coulter.

OLBERMANN:  For the record, as I understand it, the connection is that the fellow identifying himself as Costanzo posted something about science fiction, which he said was a rewrite of something he’d previously posted on a sci-fi site, which was written by and identified by Castagana.  But the Ann Coulter-Laura Ingraham-Michelle Malkin connection is—how is that best described?  Is that hero worship?  Or crushes of some kind, or do we know what that is?

COOK:  Well, I mean, if he is idolizing them, that sounds like hero worship to me.  I mean, I think, you know, these, Ann Coulter and Malkin, you know, they sort of present a kind of rhetorical world view where they have their troops out there, and I think he thought of himself as one of their troops and wanted to live up to their standards. 

And I mean, I don’t think we can always hold these people responsible for the actions of the least hinged of their followers, but I think it is clear that he was an acolyte of the Coulters and the Malkins, and I think that they clearly enjoy having acolytes, and they clearly sort of issue calls to action—not necessarily to send threatening powder-filled envelopes to you in so many words, but they certainly exhort their followers to let themselves be known. 

OLBERMANN:  But to that point, I mean, the part—it was one thing—an acolyte is one thing; an emulation is something else.  There were students at the University of California at Santa Cruz who protested military recruiters on their campus.  Malkin posted their addresses and their personal information on her blog, and then when people harassed the students at their homes, Malkin did the King Henry thing about Thomas Becket, “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”  I never told anybody to do anything.  And then this is the problem, right?  You can come out, you can directly encourage people to act violently.  Ann Coulter has done that.  Or you can do it in this sort of thinly disguised way, the way Malkin has. 

COOK:  Right.  But I think what Malkin wants to do is not to tell people to act violently so much as—I do think she wants to sort of introduce a kind of thuggish sort of intimidating tone into the political debate, this kind of let’s not let them boss us around anymore.  I think that’s sort of—she has got a very combative kind of truculent rhetorical pose. 

And, you know, I mean, Ann Coulter has said some, you know, absolutely ludicrous things about—she once said that, you know, “we need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, making them realize that they can be killed, too.”

When she says that, I don’t think she honestly believes—I don’t think she actually wants people who hear those words to go and physically intimidate liberals.  I think she says it because she knows that if she says outrageous things, her speaking—speaker’s bureau’s fees go up or the next book contract goes up.  She is a professional agitator. 

OLBERMANN:  Until it, you know, bursts into gunfire.  Nobody wants to see that in any direction.  It’s madness.

But ultimately, about this thing and the things like it, is it not

self-defeating for people who think they’re acting even in their own warped

view of patriotism?  I mean, you might scare the victims, although there is

no evidence of that in any of these cases.  You can annoy, maybe

inconvenience their co-workers and the people who handle their mail, but

the only thing that’s for certain in this is, if you do something like this

and I was talking to these great FBI counter-terror guys yesterday about all this—you waste hundreds of hours of their time that they could be spending on other counter-terrorism cases. 

COOK:  Absolutely.  The lead FBI agent, special agent on this case is a member of the joint terrorism task force.  And you know, reading the affidavit in support of the search warrant for Mr. Castagana’s house, there is like a Keystone Kops, where these people are literally following him around Woodland Hills, California, watching him with letters in hand go from mailbox to mailbox, looking for one where the pick-up date hasn’t passed.  And there are a lot better things than that they could be doing with their time.

OLBERMANN:  John Cook, senior writer with “Radar Online.”  We appreciate your time and your work on this story, sir.

COOK:  Thanks a lot.

OLBERMANN:  The hot for teacher syndrome is in Colorado, now.  There’s a twist though, that elevates the story above the usual sleaze—well, slightly. 

And apparently the controversy over one African adoption is not enough for Madonna, now she wants to take her kids there to pick out another baby.  COUNTDOW continues. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A teach-student sex scandal with some actual news inside it.  Was it covered up because one of the teachers happened to be married to the principal and had it already happened once this year? 

And speaking of marriages, Oprah Winfrey’s couch was good enough for Tom Cruise, but she isn’t invited to the actual wedding.  That’s next, this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We told you about it last week, it’s another story of a teacher having sex with one of her students, this time in Brighton, Colorado, female teacher, 29 years old, charged with felony sexual assault of a male student who was 17.  Happens all the time, right? 

Well, in our No. 2 story, this time the teacher’s husband was the principal of the school in question and now we find out he may have helped his cheating wife cover the alleged crime up.  And as our correspondent Jennifer London reports, this isn’t even the first time at this school, this year that such a scandal may have been covered up by a relative. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JENNIFER LONDON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Carrie McCandless, a Social Studies teacher and cheer leading coach at Brighton Charter High School in Colorado were chaperoning a group of students on a fieldtrip last month when police say she sexual assaulted a 17-year-old male student at the YMCA in Estes Park. 

But there’s more to this story.  McCandless’ husband is the school’s principal and police are trying to figure out if the school waited too long before contacting authorities to report the alleged abuse.  Police first found out about the allegations against Carrie McCandless last week from the NBC station in Denver, KUSA-9 News. 

JOHN BRADLEY, BRIGHTON POLICE DEPT:  We originally received the information, I believe it was Wednesday afternoon from Nine News, that was followed up by us. 

LONDON:  School administrators say they can’t comment because of the investigation, but McCandless was reportedly fired after the school first learned about the alleged abuse. 

WILLIAM MOLONEY, COLORADO DEPT OF EDUCATION:  Any inappropriate contact with between teachers and students is something that has be viewed in the most serious light. 

LONDON:  And this isn’t the first time police have investigated inappropriate conduct between a teacher and student at Brighton.  Earlier this year, David Mundey, Jr., a substitute teacher pled guilty to sexually assaulting a student, and he, too, has a family connection to the school.  His father is the chairman of the Charter School Board of Directors, and again, it was a question of who knew what when. 

(on camera):  Mundey, Sr.  told KUSA, that because his son was not a permanent employee, there was no legal obligation to inform parents about his son’s arrest.  In the case of Carrie McCandless, school administrators did send a letter home to parents, notify them of the current investigation, but it was two days after police were informed. 

MOLONEY:  In a setting where you have a responsibility to all these children, you are compelled, let’s say, to make that knowledge available to the proper authorities. 

FRANK LONG, PARENT:  It gives you second thoughts.  Will I pull my daughter out?  No. I don’t think so.  I’m hoping the school and the principal will do the right thing. 

LONDON (voice-over):  And authorities are hoping McCandless does the right thing and turns herself in. 

Jennifer London, NBC NEWS, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And yet another story of a middle-aged blonde and a young child leading our nightly round-up of entertainment stories, “Keeping Tabs.”

Is Madonna headed back to Malawi to adopt another child?  That’s what we hear from various unreliable tabloid news sources on the Internet. 

The pop star quoted as saying she plans to kidnap—adopt another Malawian child very quickly and a girl this time.  You may recall, Madge took a little bit of heat after she essentially showed up in the African county with a big butterfly net and too home her new son, David.  But she reportedly says she’ll give David time to settle in with the new family before she heads back to find him a sister.  Just make it quick, kid.

And the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie wedding has been cancelled.  This would be the imaginary wedding between the wax Brad Pitt and the wax Angelina Jolie.  Madame Tussauds’ in Las Vegas had planned to unveil its new Angelina Jolie figure alongside the old Brad Pitt wax figure in an upcoming fake wedding ceremony.  Wax George Clooney was to be the best man.  The guest list included wax Elvis, wax Frank Sinatra, wax Liberace, wax Ben Affleck, and wax John Wayne. 

Pitt’s reps, though, got wind of it and asked the house of wax not to go forward with the fake ceremony.  Madame Tussauds, which likes to maintain a friendly relationship with celebs, complied, which is a shame because the wax couple had already registered at the local Staples for a big new 96 pack of Crayolas.

From fake wax weddings to the real thing or the real fake thing.  No invite for Oprah Winfrey, nor for Michel Musto, he’ll be here to help talk us and Oprah through it.  That’s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”

The Bronze shared by Carl Persing and Dawn Sewell of Southern California, the tried to get some sort of associate membership in the mile-high club on a flight from L.A.  to Raleigh-Durham, what we might call heavy petting, while they were still in their seats.  A flight attendant gave them a warning where upon Mr. Persing allegedly replied, “I’m going to give you a warning to get out of my face.”  They were arrested upon arrival in North Carolina because the activity took place in Phoenix during a layover. 

Our runner up tonight, Michael Weiner-Savage, back on the radio declaring “The radical homosexual agenda will not stop until religion is outlawed in this country and the want full and total subjugation of this society to their agenda.”  Hey, fellow, you’re just nuts, huh? 

But the Gold winner, Texas Tech basketball coach Bob Knight who evidentially not be reprimanded by the university even though he grabbed and pushed the chin of one of his own players, Michael Prince last night, “Not a slap,” the school said, just Knight insisting Prince “keep his head up.”  Unfortunately Mr. Knight is celebrating his 30th anniversary of his first physical contact in public with others, in 1976 a player, 1979 a policeman in Puerto Rico, 1981 a fan, 1993 another player, his own son, 1994 still another player, 1997 another player whom he choked, 1999 an assistant coach, 2000 another fan, and last night, at least the fifth player on one of his own teams.  Having gotten at least eight previous benefits of the doubt, that’s enough.  He needs to be banned. 

Bob Knight of Texas Tech, today’s “Worst Person in the World.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally to our No. 1 story and we’re inside one week on

the countdown to the wedding of the century.  The 24th and a half century -

you know, because of the spaceships and stuff. 

               

In a moment, Michael Musto helps us temper our prewedding jitters. 

First, here’s what’s breaking today.  None of it is good news for Oprah Winfrey.  This Saturday, the big day for Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and the love-crazy couple—love-crazy, right, not some other kind of crazy couple?  Has already arrived in Italy to prepare as have some notable guests, fellow Scientologist John Travolta, Kelly Preston and Kristie Alley are in the country for the Catholic ceremony at 15th century Odescalchi castle.  One notable not on the invite list, Miss Winfrey who told the TV show “Extra” that understands the dis, she knows they have finite room for guests, but she’ll still send them a gift. 

And you get a couch, and you get a couch, and you get a couch!

Word of caution to Miss Winfrey, do not send them underpants, they’re all stocked up.  Before her jaunt overseas, Miss Holmes reportedly made a stop at a high-end West Hollywood lingerie shop, for those of you who have high ends in West Hollywood—dropping $3,000 on some fancy honeymoon skivvies.

As promised, celebrity wedding and overpriced underpants aficionado, Michael Musto of the “Village Voice” joins us. 

Michael, good evening.

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Keith.  I’m not wearing any.

OLBERMANN:  I was just going to say and also stop, I know what you’re thinking here.  The lingerie is not for Tom.  There’s a lot to get to here and we’ll start with the big picture.  What kind of differences can we expect from this wedding, a Scientistology wedding, from what you and I might consider a normal wedding, if there’s ever been one? 

MUSTO:  I think this will be a half and half situation.  This is like a Scientology version of (INAUDIBLE) Irish Rose.  I think half the room will be on their prayer beads going, “dear god, help us,” and the other half will be hooked on their Scientistology e-meters thinking “this could be the thing that finally gets me on the Paxil.” 

OLBERMANN:  E Online is reporting that the Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, will provide the rendition of “Ave Maria” at the ceremony.  Is there any chance that he could break into a little Ziggy Stardust, you know, the “ground control to Major Tom?” 

MUSTO:  No, I hear he’s actually going to sing “Oyvey Maria” or maybe “Oyvey Diarrhea.”  And Bocelli, though he’s sight impaired, as you know, and he’s brilliant, he’s the one they somehow assigned to tell the crowd, “Doesn’t Katie look beautiful?”  They’ve also shipped over Helen Keller to read the vows.  She’s going to say, “Do I hear any objections?  No?  OK.  Great.”  Helen Keller jokes. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, yeah.  There are worse ones you cold have made, she’s not going to call up and complain. 

MUSTO:  I’m a very tasteful guy.

OLBERMANN:  Let’s talk the guest list.  We check out the specs for this castle where the wedding is supposed to take place.  And it fits like 1,400 people.  So, Oprah Winfrey said she was not invited because they had to keep the guest list short.  Is there some disconnect here?  Who are we supposed to believe? 

MUSTO:  I think what Tom means is keep it short.  In other words, Katie’s the only one who’s going be there who’s going to be taller than he is.  Oprah’s too large.  Also let’s face it, when Tom thinks Oprah, he thinks yellow couch, jumping up and down, moron, idiot, ruined your career.  He doesn’t want to see Oprah any more than that her (INAUDIBLE) stores did.  So, she can just stay home with Steadman and plan her own long delayed nuptials.  Don’t you think?

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, that’s right.  We’re in the tenth year waiting for that one? 

MUSTO:  Yeah, Tome and Katie’s like a gunshot compared to her. 

OLBERMANN:  How about this other report hear that we referred to at the top, that $3,000 for special sexy-time underwear for Miss Holmes.  Did she, is it a buy one get one deal free?  Anything about what she actually purchased?  Can she return any of it if it, say, doesn’t get used? 

MUSTO:  Oh, no, no, no.  Well, it’s Victoria’s secret and it is Katie’s too, but I’ve got on it, she got 300 camisoles, 50 slips, 100 garter belts—that’s for Tom.  I’m sorry Keith, I went there.

OLBERMANN:  I told you not to go there. 

I was there.  I couldn’t help it.  But for herself, just a chastity belt with a picture of Nicole Kidman on it, just to make sure he doesn’t go there. 

Do you want more Helen Keller jokes? 

OLBERMANN:  No. I’m trying to picture that.  And maybe the Helen Keller joke would be more appropriate.

MUSTO:  It’s making you nauseous too?

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  Do you know anything more about this reporting earlier that it’s not going to be legal no matter what happens here because it is supposed to be a Catholic wedding for Holmes’ family’s benefit and oops, Mr. Cruise has been divorced twice?  I mean, what’s the legal status of this and yes, I’m asking as if it matters what the legal status is. 

MUSTO:  And you’re asking as if I know.  But yes, it is legal in certain theme parks and high roller joints and casinos and parts of Uranus.  But no, basically, it is not any more binding than Tom’s deal with Paramount.  Forget it, it’s baloney.

OLBERMANN:  And prenup.  Is there a prenup?  Who gets the spaceship? 

When will the sex tapes surface?  Go to town on this. 

MUSTO:  The sex tape, you don’t have to worry.  I hear it is under wraps it’ll never come out any more than “Days of Thunder,” part two.  But the prenup, Katie gets the spaceship, Tom gets the lingerie, neither one of them gets a career.  And as for the baby Suri, you’ll remember her.  There’s a very tough custody battle coming, but it’s between Madonna and Angelina.  They both want that trendy looking Asian Phillip. 

OLBERMANN:  And this just in, Michael, there is a sex tape, but only Miss Holmes is in it.  Ah-ha!

The one and only Michael Musto.  As always sir, great thanks for your time. 

MUSTO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN, for this, the 1,291th day since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq—and we’ve never been prouder, quite frankly.

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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