updated 12/1/2006 12:33:00 PM ET 2006-12-01T17:33:00

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Joe Trippi

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

I sent for you yesterday, and here you come today, today, today, today.  The president meets, finally, with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He‘s the right guy for Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Funny, that‘s not what national security adviser Hadley‘s scouting report said about Maliki.  “The reality on the street suggests he is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

Or was that meant to describe Mr. Bush?  Some phrases about Maliki that sound uncomfortably appropriate about the president.

Speaking of which...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANNY DEVITO:  I didn‘t go after, you know, numb-(expletive deleted).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Desperate House losers.  The right wing goes ape (expletive deleted) and (expletive deleted) itself, because Danny DeVito calls the president numb-(expletive deleted) on television.  That‘s all you guys got left?

Not that there isn‘t the germ of fascism in that.  Newt Gingrich‘s speech to the Free Speech Dinner about restricting free speech, and his dreams of “seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.”

Special comment tonight on Gingrich‘s bid to exploit terror in order to restrict freedom and somehow sweep himself up into the White House.

The radiation poisoning of the ex-Russian spy in Britain.  Whoever killed Alexander Litvenenko left a trail a mile wide, a trail of radiation that may show up on tens of thousands of British air travelers.  And now, allegations a former Russian prime minister may have been poisoned as well.

And we know who nearly killed Ken Peters, the trainer of Kasatka the whale.  It was Kasatka the whale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN PETERS:  I didn‘t know that he was under water until they started getting frantic and slapping the water.  And then they started (INAUDIBLE) running all over the place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from Los Angeles.

The snub was obvious, even if the White House was not willing to call it a snub, about as obvious as the civil war in Iraq, even if the White House is not willing to call that a civil war.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, having been stood up by the Iraqi prime minister the night before, President Bush and Nouri al-Maliki finally meet for breakfast, the morning after no less awkward than the night before because of yesterday‘s leak of a highly critical memo about Mr. Maliki from national security adviser Stephen Hadley, despite the cool body language, the president and the prime minister presenting a united front this morning in Amman, Jordan, Mr. Bush offering the Iraqi premier his public support, despite the doubts of his own administration that Maliki is capable of ending the civil war in his country.

It amounted to the presidential e equivalent of, It‘s not you, it‘s me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we‘ve been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people.

And today, we had a meeting that will accelerate the capacity for the prime minister to do the hard work necessary to help stop this violence.

No question, it‘s, it, the, it‘s a violent society right now.  He knows that better than anybody.  He‘s the right guy for Iraq.  And we‘re going to help him.  And it‘s in our interest to help him.

I know there‘s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there‘s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq.  We‘re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done, so long as the government wants us there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What might have been a more effective approach for Mr.  Bush may be convincing the Iraqis that national security adviser Hadley was actually describing not Maliki, but himself, Mr. Bush, in that now-infamous memo, entire passages of that document eerily reminiscent of criticism of the president himself in (INAUDIBLE) opening paragraphs.

“The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of advisers coloring his actions and interpretation of reality.  His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, but the reality on the streets suggests he is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action.”

And later in the document, “We must also be mindful his personal history.  He and those around him are naturally inclined to distrust new actors, and it may take strong assurances from the United States ultimately to convince him to expand his circle of advisers or take action against the interests of his own coalition, and for the benefit of the U.S. as a whole.”

Even Mr. Hadley‘s suggestions about what to do about Iraq seem relevant to the Bush White House as well, including his advice that he should “shake up his cabinet by appointing nonsectarian, capable technocrats in key service and security ministries.”

Let me call in Chris Cillizza, political reporter for the WashingtonPost.com.

Thank you for your time tonight, Chris.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Hi, Keith. 

Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Was this fiasco of the delay in their meeting the absolute pinnacle of the symbolism here, that the Bush administration does not really have a plan for Iraq?

CILLIZZA:  I think, look, I think this—no matter what the president is saying publicly, I do believe privately he is really waiting expectantly for December 6.  That‘s the day that the Iraq Study Group report becomes public, all 100 pages of.  We‘ve gotten some looks at early reports on it, but we haven‘t seen the whole thing.

Look, I‘m not surprised, at this point, that President Bush is sort of saying—pooh-poohing the idea of leaving Iraq.  Remember, this is not something that is new to this president, in terms of his philosophical approach to controversial things.

Donald Rumsfeld was going to stay as the defense secretary, until he wasn‘t any more.  Social Security reform was going to happen until it wasn‘t anymore.

This is a president who, despite what a lot of people think of him, is relatively politically savvy.  He got himself elected and then reelected.  I think he knows when to give up on a lost cause.

I don‘t think he would say Iraq is a lost cause at this point, but I do knows that he‘s certainly looking forward to December 6 as a benchmark, as a way to say, OK, I take the advice of all of these senior fellows in both parties, and let‘s try and implement this in a way that is consistent with my vision and the vision that other people have in this country.

And I think we are going to see real change happen after December 6.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ll have more on these anticipated recommendations.  A little more has come out of Baker-Hamilton.  Andrea Mitchell‘s going to report on that in just a moment.

But regardless of that savvy, did it not sound, at least this morning in Amman, that Mr. Bush is already waving off any suggestions that might come out of that about a gradual pullout of American troops from Iraq?

CILLIZZA:  Yes, it did.  And, you know, I hate to say this, Keith, but to go back, I mean, go back to right before the 2006 election.  It was a couple of weeks ago, a month ago.  It seems like a year ago to me.  But go back to then.  He was asked specifically whether Donald Rumsfeld would stay or whether he would go.  He said he would stay.

You know, a few days after the election, Donald Rumsfeld was gone.  You know, this is—I think this is a president who, at some point, in his own mind, decides when to fish or cut bait.

Now, is that time to cut bait, in many people‘s minds, long past?  Absolutely.  I do think we are reaching that point where the political pragmatist in him will take over.

OLBERMANN:  And it would be unexpected pragmatism, if that became a part of the legacy.  But we‘ll see if it plays out as you suggest.

Why is it, though, that the administration can so clearly assess the

shortcomings of the Iraqi prime minister, and those analogies that we seem

we use that seem to fit both men?  It still doesn‘t seem to see its own. 

So much of Mr. Hadley‘s document appeared to be perfectly applicable to President Bush himself.

CILLIZZA:  Look, I think because it‘s always easier to see the flaws in others than to see them in yourselves.  You know, I think the president recognized, in letting Secretary Rumsfeld go and bringing in, I assume to be confirmed, Secretary Gates, that he needed folks who were not sort of his close advisers.  He needed to bring in people who might not be his friends, might not be people he was close to his whole life, but people who are respected in the world and sort of respected to give him advice that he hadn‘t been hearing.

I think it‘s hard when you‘re in the bubble of a campaign.  And remember, the president, even though he wasn‘t on the ballot, was in the bubble of a campaign.  He had said this was a referendum, you know, on the war and how things were going, and how the American people believed the direction of the country was headed.

I think he truly believed, and I remember you and I talked about this right before the election, he truly believed that Republicans would be vindicated at the ballot box, that they would not suffer the losses that everyone was predicting.  Well, they did wind up suffering those losses.  They were not vindicated.  And I think it really was a setback to this president in terms of how he thinks about things.  It gave him pause.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, Chris, can we infer something else from the Hadley memo that sort of got—may have gotten lost in all the rest of it, that part of this issue of not really being willing to call the civil war the civil war, is the idea that perhaps the president or the administration perceives that the prime minister, Mr. Maliki, may in fact be leading one of the factions in a civil war?

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, in politics, I think, it is always important, the words matter.  You know, as much as stay the course versus cut and run, people say those were both too simplistic.  Those terms matter.  And using and not using those terms matter.

I think clearly, calling it a civil war is not in the Bush administration‘s interests, as they have spent the better part of the last 18 months pointing out that it is not.  So it would be an obvious reversal.  That‘s not something this president is known for.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Cillizza of the WashingtonPost.com.  As always, great thanks for your time and your insights.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The Iraq Study Group has not yet issued its report to President Bush, but like all good secrets in Washington, this one is proving difficult to keep.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell with an early inside look tonight at what the panel will recommend.

Andrea, good evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

The president is back in Washington, and next week he will formally receive the findings, the proposals of the Iraq Study Group.  That bipartisan group has finished its work.  The draft report is now heading to the printer.

And we have an early glimpse as to what they will recommend.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MITCHELL (voice-over):  How to find a way out of the unrelenting bloodletting in Iraq?

Former secretary of state James Baker‘s bipartisan study group was created to give the president and Congress an exit strategy.  Officials involved say their final report next week will propose changing the military mission from combat to training and equipping Iraqi forces, new security measures to control the Shiite militias, political steps to reconcile Iraq‘s religious factions, more aggressive regional diplomacy, including Iran and Syria, all pointing towards significant combat troop withdrawals next year, but no deadline.

The big question, is the president willing to change course, after saying he wouldn‘t?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, MSNBC PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  In most cases, you would think that a president in this situation would accept recommendations from all sides to wind down this war in some way.  But George W. Bush on other occasions has proven that he‘s oftentimes the exception to the rule.

MITCHELL (on camera):  Some Democrats on the study group had pressed for more immediate troop withdrawals, but Republicans did not want to tie the president‘s hands.  They didn‘t want specific deadlines.  So those involved say the bipartisan report could still give the president a parachute out of Iraq, if he‘s willing to use it, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Andrea Mitchell, our chief foreign affairs correspondent. 

Great thanks.

Meanwhile, the war back here.  The right-wing attack machine has apparently run out of high-value targets.  Bill Orally goes after Danny DeVito for his drunken performance on “The View.”  Bill, at least DeVito had an excuse.

There is absolutely no excuse to Newt Gingrich‘s bid to curb free speech, especially on the Internet, especially with a new leak tonight of an uncorroborated al Qaeda threat against—bingo—the Web sites of the stock market and the banking industry.

A special comment ahead.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With voters this month having killed the false construction that antiwar equals anti-American, right-wing commentators appear to be truly flailing for things to lash out against.  And the pickings are slim, as you will see in our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, the right wing picking new battles by grasping at straws.

Last night, our little friend at Fox declared alleged liberal anger his lead story, not Iraq, not terrorism, liberal anger.  Quoting, “You would think, with the elections going to the Democrat way, that the left in America would be happy.  But that‘s not true in some cases.  If you listen to the liberal broadcast media, the hate and venom they continue to spit out is unprecedented.”

Now, what was the claim—the evidence for that claim?  Which prominent Democrat came so unhinged as to merit Oh, Really‘s lead story?  It was Democratic National Committee nonspokesman Daniel DeVito.

As you watch this clip, play along at home and see whether you can spot any hate or venom, or if you‘re really good, whether you, unlike some people, can find a sign that he was just happy about how the election turned out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE VIEW”)

DEVITO:  I was there during Clinton‘s last stint.  Which was—which was really nice.  The place was—had that kind of Clinton feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

DEVITO:  I didn‘t go after, you know, numb-(expletive deleted).

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s a president...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Cut her off.

DEVITO:  Yes, no, I mean, you know, the guy who (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).  (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE).

BARBARA WALTERS, HOST:  You‘re waking up, aren‘t you?

DEVITO:   Trying to, like, you know, figure out what to do with our country, and our women and men in the military.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

DEVITO:  Could we (INAUDIBLE).  Donald, Donald.  OK.  Hold on.  What about a hat trick last week?  Rumsfeld, the House, and the Senate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ta-dah.

DEVITO:  Ta-dah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There you go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And some oxygen for Elizabeth Hasselback, please.

Joining us now, Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, who will help assess some of the straw-grasping efforts from the other side.

Joe, thanks, as always, for some of your time tonight.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Oh, thanks, Keith.  It‘s good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with this prominent liberal, Danny DeVito, who I believe delivered the keynote address at the ‘96 Democratic convention, or maybe I‘m just misremembering that.  So many comedians, so many actors have made fun of this president and every other president in a much less jovial manner.  What made this one tempting to try to inflate into something it doesn‘t seem to have actually been?

TRIPPI:  I think it‘s gotten that pathetic within the conservative ranks.  I mean, it‘s just unbelievable to me.  I mean, he‘s a comedian, and I think he seemed pretty happy to me.

But I don‘t understand what they‘re doing here.  It doesn‘t make any sense at all.  And it just really—I mean, the only word I‘ve got for it is pathetic.  It doesn‘t make any sense.

Instead of—I mean, they—it seems that they think that they can attack and just go—the kind of stuff that they should have learned didn‘t work anymore.  It didn‘t work for them in the last weeks of this last election, and Democrats came for—the American people came forward, actually, kicked them out, brought Democrats in.

And they‘ve just going back and doing the same thing.  And this is (INAUDIBLE) becoming so pathetic, they have no credibility.  I don‘t get it.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s move on to some of the attacks recently on actual politicians, the speaker presumptive, Speaker-elect Pelosi has been hit by the right wing for the hypocrisy of running a nonunion vineyard.  Then the local ABC affiliate in her area found out she pays better than union wages, and the state law in California makes it illegal for her to even suggest to her workers that they form a union, which they‘re free to do if they want.

In this post-Iraq fact-optional world, have the facts become openly optional for launching an attack, a personal attack on a politician?

TRIPPI:  Well, evidently, again, I mean, I think the Republicans are grasping at straws and just trying to make something out of nothing.  I‘m sure that Nancy Pelosi is going to lose tons of union support, as the Democratic Party will, because of this vicious attack of the right wing.

So I just think the whole thing is ridiculous, pathetic.  It just shows that they haven‘t learned anything from this past election.  And you look at the president doing the stay-the-course thing, and the party, and Rove and these guys, just putting out these kind of attacks still.

The American people, I think, are looking for—and I was hoping for, I think a lot of Democrats were hoping for some bipartisanship here.  Let‘s try to solve the country‘s problems and get the message that the people want change, and instead they‘re getting more the same, negative attacks, grasping at straws, pathetic.

The Republicans and the conservative movement need to do a lot better than this, or they‘re dead.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s pathetic, and then there‘s ugly.  We have this right-wing implication that you must have the right name or the right God to be American.  This fellow Ed Rogers, among others, has taken to calling Senator Obama Barack Hussein Obama.  That is his middle name.  And, of course, it is common practice to use the senator‘s middle names, especially middle names they were given in 1961 that are Obviously politically relevant in 2006.

(INAUDIBLE), to what—in what way is a response to this?  Is it to point out the racial element to this, or the religious element to this?  Or is it just to say, this beneath contempt and not worthy of any response?

TRIPPI:  Well, I mean, I think Republicans have to be very careful about this kind of attack.  I mean, when you look at what happened with George Allen when he used the word “macaca,” talking about one of Jim Webb‘s—now Senator Jim Webb‘s, or Senate-elect Jim Webb‘s, volunteers or workers, these kind of attacks didn‘t go over very well.  George Allen‘s not a senator anymore.

And I think, you know, the American people are—you know, (INAUDIBLE), I mean, you know, Barack Obama is someone who‘s doing very well right now, and I understand why they want to attack him, and why they want to take him down now before he gets moving.  But I think it‘s a big mistake to make these kinds of attacks against him.

And they‘ll—they will pay the price in 2008 if—I mean, look, if George Bush continues to stay the course, these are the kind of attacks that they make, there‘s going to be hell to pay in 2008.  And it won‘t the Democrats, it‘ll the American people doing it.

OLBERMANN:  Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.  As always, Joe, great thanks for your time.

TRIPPI:  Thanks, Keith.  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the poison spy probe getting bigger by the day.  Yesterday, concerns over how thousands of travelers might have received minimal exposure to the mystery radiation that apparently killed that ex-Russian spy.  And now, today, that concerns a former acting prime minister of Russia may have been poisoned too in a similar fashion.

And killer whales attacking.  That might explain that name, killer whales.  Details of a Sea World performance gone terribly wrong, and the latest on the trainer‘s condition.

Ahead here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was on this date in 1954, the first known instance of a earthling getting hit by a meteorite.  Ann Elizabeth Hodges (ph), a 31-year-old housewife in Silakauga (ph), Alabama, was napping on her living room couch when an eight-and-a-half-pound rock from another galaxy crashed into the roof of her house, destroyed her console radio, and then bounced off her arm and hip.

Her husband, her landlord, and the government all claimed ownership.  After a year in court, the Hodges won the rights to it.  But by then, nobody wanted to buy it from them.  Soon, Mrs. Hodges began to be stressed out by being known as the first human to get hit by a meteorite, so she donated the meteorite to the University of Alabama, where you can still see it today.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin on the surface of the sun, the place where all meteorites come from.  OK, maybe not.  My last astronomy class was in May of 1974.  I really don‘t remember.  Still, we‘re bringing you new brand-new, dramatic video of that great ball of fire in space that is responsible for all life on earth.  And it‘s also the reason we have bills on baseball caps.

This was taken with a high-powered camera on board the Japanese satellite Kinode (ph), and it shows what scientists say is the first clear picture of a volcanic eruption on the sun‘s surface.  Cool.

No, no, Timmy, not cool at all.  It‘s actually quite warm there.

To Iderabad (ph), India, where you no longer have to get on board the economy flight to Bombay to get a decent meal anymore.  Finally, somebody has brought the joys of airline dining back down to the ground for the rest of us.  It‘s Night Flight, the new airplane-themed restaurant.  Just like in a real airliner, the food is great, your dinner roll serves as a flotation device, and the captain comes out to take the orders while the busboy flies the plane.  (INAUDIBLE) that guy really is a pilot.

Finally to Florida for an update from the southern front in the war on Christmas, where a new gingerbread superbunker is under construction at the DelRay Beach Marriott.  Built with over 6,000 pounds of gingerbread and cookies, then fortified with icing for strength, Generalissimo O‘Reilly expects it to stand up to the most powerful weapons of the charging secular progressive hordes.

And afterwards, Bill, you can eat it.

Also tonight, a real-life mystery to rival anything dreamed up by Ian Fleming or John Le Carre.  A former Russian spy, killed by a rare radioactive poison.  Now another opponent of the Russian government suddenly takes ill.

And poisonous words from a wannabe future president of this country, Newt Gingrich suggesting we sacrifice our rights as Americans to stop terrorists from using freedom of speech on the Internet.  My special comment ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Stevie Long saw his mother and his sister being held at gunpoint by a robber inside their apartment in Durham, North Carolina.  So Stevie got into his Mighty Morphin Power Ranger costume, leaped into the living room, swiped his plastic sword, and shouted, “Get away from my family!  The burglar fled.  Stevie is 4 years old.

Number two, Captain Liu Zhylian of China Southern Airlines.  He says his company has calculated that every time a passenger flushes the toilet in midflight, it wastes a little more than two pints of fuel.  So he‘s suggesting you hold it in for the sake of the environment.

And number one, the Bakersfield Condors of the East Coast Hockey League.  We‘ll skip, for the moment, why a team in Bakersfield, California, plays in the East Coast hockey league.  This is rather about the promotional giveaway for tomorrow night‘s home game against Fresno.  The first 2,000 fans aged 18 and over showing up will receive a free roll of toilet paper.  And, yes, the team has a player named Kevin Assalin (ph).  Is there a hygiene problem in Bakersfield that nobody‘s talking about?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A former Russian spy dies.  Traces of the radioactive poison that may have killed him are found on at least two trans-national planes, involving potentially tens of thousands of passengers.  And another Russian, a political figure, becomes sick, possibly poisoned as well. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, it may be something less than an international plot.  And airline passengers may have avoided dangerous exposure, but for London police there is still an unsolved and ever widening mystery.  It was a week ago today that Alexander Litvenenko died in London after being poisoned with a substance called Polonium 210, a rare radioactive element, usually made in nuclear facilities. 

Mr. Litvinenko, a former Russian spy, who was an outspoken critic of Russian president Vladimir Putin, had accused Mr. Putin of ordering his murder, but the Kremlin denied any involvement and has vowed to cooperate with British authorities as they follow a trail of radiation, some of it discovered on two British Airways planes, 767s, which have traveled between Moscow and London.  Airline officials say those planes contained only low traces of the radiation, but they are trying to track down the thousands of passengers who used the aircraft over a five-week period. 

And now there is the former Russian official, currently a leader in the liberal opposition party to Mr. Putin‘s government.  His name is Yegor Gaidar and he fell ill one day after Mr. Litvinenko died.  All of which raises the question did the killer of Alexander Litvinenko leave a trail of evidence.  Our correspondent is Donna Friesen. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tonight in a Moscow hospital, another Russian is being treated for suspected poisoning.  He is former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who collapsed one week ago while giving a speech at a conference in Ireland. 

CONOR O‘CLEARY, IRISH TIMES:  I went out about 20 minutes later and saw him lying in the corridor, unconscious.  There was no blood—there was blood coming from his nose. 

FRIESEN:  Gaidar flew back to Moscow.  Doctors can‘t diagnose his illness, but suspect poisoning.  So does his daughter, who also suspects a connection with the death of fellow Russian Alexander Litvinenko. 

MARIA GAIDAR, DAUGHTER OF EGOR GAIDAR:  It happened just a day—just a day after Litvinenko was dead.  So probably it is connected.  But I don‘t see any logic. 

FRIESEN:  The web of intrigue is spreading.  Police in Ireland are interviewing everyone who came in contact with Gaidar and in Britain, experts are still following the radiation trail. 

So far 24 locations have been tested, 12 show traces of Polonium 210, the poison that killed Litvinenko.  As have two British Airways jets, one of which remains grounded.  A third BA plane in Moscow is being brought to London for testing.  A fourth Russian plane has been cleared.  But even Litvinenko‘s friends caution it‘s too soon to link his death with Gaidar‘s illness. 

ALEXANDER GOLDFARB, LITVINENKO‘S FRIEND:  He was absolutely no threat to anybody in Russia.  He was not on the enemy list of FSB vendettas, unlike Alexander.  So I would be cautious. 

FRIESEN (on camera):  Intelligence sources warn against assuming the Russian Secret Service was behind the London poisoning, saying they would have done a much cleaner job.  And they say the case is so complex it could take a long time to crack. 

Dawna Friesen, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  A reminder tonight that there is a reason the Orca‘s nickname is Killer Whale, as a trainer is dragged under water by one of the massive animals, right in front of a startled crowd. 

Speaking of dangerous creatures, Newt Gingrich and his call to somehow curb the first amendment in order to fight terrorists.  Special comment on that ahead, but now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of the day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STEWART, THE DAILY SHOW:  According to the Fox mood alert, Bush was thrilled and honored to be in Latvia.  It was much better than his mood on his recent trip to Vietnam.  There he is.  Let‘s check his mood on the Fox.  Oh, I see. 

LAURA BUSH, U.S. FIRST LADY:  Hey, here we are in front of the famous Christmas tree.  This is the big Christmas tree in the White House, the one that‘s here in the Blue Room.  If you look closely, you‘ll see that Barney and Ms. Beasley are driving Santa‘s slay at the very top. 

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  To my friends, my neighbors and to the delegates of the Liberal Party of Canada—

DEAN (through translator):  I feel privileged and I‘m very fond to be here among you this evening.  And, in fact, I am (INAUDIBLE) that I could scream, but don‘t worry.  I won‘t do so, but I could. 

DEAN:  Let me say I learned my lesson the hard way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It is a television cliche, but animals do attack.  A Killer Whale going after his trainer, an alligator biting a Florida man and Newt Gingrich trying to take a bite out of every American‘s freedom of speech.  That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The threat is right there in the name, Killer Whale.  Before the trainer, there may be no way to predict when a normally docile animal becomes aggressive or even hostile and only limited means of defense if and when it does. 

In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, one of those animals did attack, a 30-year-old Orca, performer most of her life, during a regular show at Sea World in San Diego.  And her trainer Ken Peters, pulled under water, the spectator not immediately realizing this was not part of the act.  Our correspondent is Peter Alexander.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was the last performance of the day at Shamu Stadium.  Home video shows the frightening moments as Kasatka, a 5,000 pound Killer Whale attacked one of the trainers, grabbing him by the foot and holding him under water twice. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I didn‘t even know that he was under water until they started getting frantic and slapping the water and they started pulling—running all over the place.  

ALEXANDER:  The trainer was first under water for 30 seconds.  Then, as the audience looked on in disbelief, he was dragged down again for a full minute. 

SHERRI JUSTICE, WITNESS:  The trainer finally was petting him or trying to calm him down and he was making—the whale himself was making the weirdest noise I‘ve ever heard, the squealing noise and it was constant, like something was wrong. 

ALEXANDER:  Protected by an emergency net, the 39-year-old trainer finally escaped, alert and conscious. 

CODY JUSTICE, WITNESS:  After he got away, when—and his teammates, like, took him off the stage and the whale came after him again. 

ALEXANDER:  Paramedics took the trainer to a San Diego hospital where he is in good condition, suffering only a broken foot.  It is the second incident involving a Killer Whale at Sea World San Diego this month. 

It seems out of character based on my experience this summer. 

(on camera):  Thank is the most unreal feeling. 

(voice-over):  NBC News was given exclusive access to train with Porky, one of seven Killer Whales at Sea World.  It was one of the most peaceful feelings I have ever had. 

(on camera):  What is so impressive is the size of this animal right next to you and you hear her breathing and almost concentrating on everything you‘re doing, like she senses you. 

(voice-over):  The trainers admit there is a risk when you work with any wild animal, but it is reduced, they say, by positive reinforcement, communication and training, which, they say, helped the trainer attacked Wednesday avoid serious injuries. 

Sea World officials are already reviewing the video of the attack, but say later today the shows will go on as scheduled. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, that trainer knew what he was doing.  The same cannot be said of a man in Lakeland, Florida who by his own account was high on crack cocaine when he managed to get himself caught in the jaws of a 12-foot alligator.  This may be the animal in question.  About 4:00 in the morning Wednesday, four sheriff‘s deputies responded to reports of a man screaming for help.  After wading through mud around Lake Parker, they discovered 45-year-old Adrian Afgar (ph) pinned down by an alligator.  Deputies tried to pull him free, describing it as a tug of war.  It was too dark to shoot the gator without possibly shooting the victim as well.  Eventually they freed Mr Afgar.  He was naked.  He had essentially lost one arm.  His other arm was broken.  He had suffered leg injuries as well.  Mr.  Afgar told authorities he had been smoking crack. 

And when you‘re talking about alligator wrestlers on crack it is almost impossible to segue into anything else but celebrity tabloid news, which brings us to our nightly roundup there in, Keeping Tabs.  The lead singer of the Wiggles, Australia‘s pre-schooler version of Abba, is calling it quits.  So who is the Yoko Ono in this sad story?  It turns out lead singer Greg Page, AKA the Yellow Wiggle, is not leaving for love.  Page reports that he has a chronic, but not life threatening condition, which impairs his ability to perform.  Will this break up the band?  Not to worry, band mate Murry Cook says, quote, children tend to center on one thing, so, if he is wearing the yellow shirt and has got black hair, he is pretty much Greg.  Look for Greg Pages response in an upcoming experimental solo concept album. 

In case you thought 2006 might end without somebody throwing another curve ball at Anna Nicole Smith, batter up.  A court has reportedly ordered Ms. Smith out of the Bahamas house where she had been staying, after a former boyfriend claimed he was only loaning her the one million dollar home.  Smith has said it was a gift, but it is not clear whether she remembered to get a receipt.  Smith is also not being clear about another residence, her uterus.  She told Entertainment Tonight, I think I might be pregnant again.  She later insisted she was joking.  Stay away from those alligators. 

Also tonight, using the imagery of an American city under assault.  He has launched an assault on the first amendment, part of his dream of being compelled, in some way, to take the presidency.  My special comment on Newt Gingrich next. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  There‘s a theme tonight, reactions to the NBC editorial decision to start calling the Iraq civil war, the Iraq civil war. 

The bronze to Rush Limbaugh‘s fill in host Roger Hedgecock (ph).  No, that is not really his name, is it?  OK, Roger Hedgecock, the murder rate in Baghdad, the people being killed in Baghdad, is lower than the murder rate of Washington, D.C., he says.  Is Washington, D.C. in a civil war?  Well, the statistics from the Brookings Institution are in.  The rate of death by violence in Baghdad is actually about seven times greater than that of Washington.  Nice try. 

The runner up, Billow.  Is NBC wrong about Iraq?  The answer is yes.  Then he comes back later in the show and says, the problem in Iraq is not in America.  The problem is the Iraqis themselves.  They are not fighting for their freedom.  The problem isn‘t the U.S. problem and the problem is the Iraqis not fighting hard enough, that would make the Iraq war an internal, or what we grown ups call a civil war? 

But tonight‘s winner, the bozo himself, Brent Bozell, creator of the self-described Media Research Council.  Even though in August and September alone, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace and General Abizaid and General Casey all admitted that at minimum, Iraq could be headed to civil war, Bozell said of the decision to call it a civil war, quote, probably 100 generals in the field in Iraq would disagree. 

OK, name them.  We‘re waiting.  I‘ll make it easier, just name 25. 

Brent Bozelle, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  And finally tonight, as promised, a special comment about free speech, failed speakers and the delusions of grandeur.  This is a serious, long-term war, the man at the podium cried, and it will inevitably lead to us to want to know what is said in every suspect place in the country.  Some in the audience must have thought they were hearing an arsonist give the keynote address at a convention of firefighters.  This was the annual Lobe (ph) First Amendment Dinner in Manchester, New Hampshire, a public cherishing of freedom of speech in the state with the two fisted motto, live free or die. 

And the arsonist at the microphone, the former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, was insisting that we must attach an on/off button to free speech.  He offered the time-tested excuse, trotted out by our demagogues since even before the republic was founded, widespread death of Americans, in America, possibly at the hands of Americans, but updated now to include terrorists using the Internet for recruitment and as a result, quote, losing a city. The colonial English defended their oppression with words like those and so did the slave states and so did the policeman who shot strikers and so did Lindbergh‘s America first crowd, and so did those who interned Japanese Americans and so did those behind the Red Scare and so did Nixon‘s plumbers. 

The genuine proportion of the threat is always irrelevant.  The fear of the threat is exploited to create becomes the only reality.  We will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find, Mr.  Gingrich continued, about terrorists, formerly communists, formerly hippies, formerly fifth columnists, formerly anarchists, formerly Red Coats, to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech. 

Mr. Gingrich, the British broke up our capacity to use free speech in the 1970‘s.  The pro-slavery leaders broke up our capacity to use free speech in the 1850‘s.  The FBI and the CIA broke up our capacity to use free speech in the 1960‘s.  It is within those groups where you would have found your kindred spirits, Mr. Gingrich, those who had no faith in freedom, no faith in this country and ultimately no faith even in the strength of their own ideas to stand up on their own legs without having the playing field tilted entirely to their benefit.  How convenient it is that we are told just today that the government has warned the Stock Markets and U.S. banks that it has learned of an al Qaeda threat to penetrate and destroy their web sites.  That learning followed immediately by a statement from Homeland Security that there is no corroboration of the threat. 

It will lead us to learn, Gingrich continued in New Hampshire, how to close down every website that is dangerous, and it will lead us to a very severe approach to people who advocate the killing of Americans and advocate the use of nuclear and biological weapons.  That we have always had a very severe approach to these people is insufficient for Mr.  Gingrich‘s end.  He wants to somehow ban the idea, even though every one who has ever protested a movie or a piece of music or a book has learned the same lesson, try to suppress it and you only validate it.  Make it illegal and you make it the subject of curiosity.  Say it can not be said and it will instead be screamed. 

And on top of the thundering danger and his eagerness to sell out freedom of speech, there is a sadder sound still, the tinny crash of a garbage can lid on a sidewalk.  Whatever dreams of Internet censorship float like a miasma in Mr. Gingrich‘s personal swamp, whatever hopes he has ever an iron firewall, the simple fact is technically they won‘t work.  As of tomorrow they will have been defeated by a free computer download.  Mere hours after Gingrich‘s speech in New Hampshire, the University of Toronto announced it had come up with a program called Siphon to liberate those in countries in which the Internet is regulated, places like China and Iran, where political ideas are so barren and political leaders so desperate that they put up computer firewalls to keep thought and freedom out.  The Siphon device is a relay of sorts that can surreptitiously link a computer user in an imprisoned country with another computer user in a free country.  The Chinese think their wall still works, yet the ideas, good ideas, bad ideas, indifferent ideas, pass through that wall any way, the same way the Soviet block was defeated by the images of western material bounty. 

If your hopes of thought control can be defeated, Mr. Gingrich, merely by one computer whiz staying up an extra half an hour and devising a new firewall hop, what is all this apocalyptic hyperbole for?  I further think, you said in Manchester, we should propose a Geneva Convention for fighting terrorism, which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are, in fact, subject to a totally different set of rules, that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism. 

Well, Mr. Gingrich, what is more massively destructive than trying to get us to give you our freedom and what is someone seeking to hamstring the first amendment doing if not fighting outside the rules of law?  And what is the suppression of knowledge and freedom if not barbarism?  The explanation, of course, is in one last quote from Mr. Gingrich from New Hampshire and another quote from him from last week, I want to suggest to you, he said about these Internet restrictions, that we right now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of it weren‘t for the scale of the threat.  

And who should those impaneled people be?  Funny I should ask, isn‘t it Mr. Gingrich?  I am not running for president, you told the reporter from Fortune Magazine, I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen.

Newt Gingrich sees in terrorism not something to be exterminated, but something to be exploited.  It is his golden opportunity, isn‘t it, rallying a nation, you might say, to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy.  That, of course, is from the original version of the movie the Manchurian Candidate, the chilling words of Angela Lansbury‘s character as she first promises to sell her country out to the Chinese and Russians, then reveals she will double cross them and keep all the power to herself, waving the flag every time she subjugates another freedom. 

Within the frame of our experience as a free and freely argumentative people, it is almost impossible to concede that there are those among us who might approach the kind of animal wildness of fiction, like the Manchurian Candidate, those who would willingly transform our beloved country into something false and terrible.  Who among us can look into our own histories, or those of our ancestors, who struggled to get here, or who struggled to get freedom after they were forced here, and not tear up when we read Frederick Douglas‘ words from a century and a half ago, freedom must take the day. 

Who among us can look to our collective history and not see it‘s turning points, like the Civil War, like Watergate, like the Revolution itself, in which the right idea defeated the wrong idea on the battlefield that is the marketplace of ideas.  But apparently there are some of us who can not see that the only future for America is one that cherishes the freedoms we won in the past, an America in which we vanquish bad ideas with better ideas, in which we fight for liberty by having more liberty and not less. 

“I am seeking to create a movement to win the future by offering a series of solutions so compelling that if the American people say I have to be president, it will happen?”  What a dark place your world must be, Mr.  Gingrich, where the way to save America is to destroy America.  I will awaken every day of my life thankful I am not with you in that dark place and I will awaken every day of my life thankful that you are entitled to tell me about it and that you are entitled to show me what an evil idea lurks there and what a cynical mind, and that you are entitled to do all that thanks to the very freedoms you seek to suffocate. 

Good night and good luck. 

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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